'Arrow' Review: 'The Undertaking' Delves Into Malcolm's Motive
The month of May is exciting for TV watchers. Seasons come together in the month of May, as the weather truly turns to beauty, with the promises of excitement and resolution in many TV shows across networks and cable channels. Spring began in late March but the sense of renewal and promise that's part of one's idea of spring doesn't kick in until the first day of May. May ends with the unofficial beginning of summer, and it begins with excitement. Similarly, May sweeps has excitement. May sweeps certainly gave me a sense of renewal as a blogger. The long grind of the TV season is nearly over. Stories come together. There's an immediacy that episodes in the middle of a season don't have. For example, I forgot about the Walter storyline. Now that May sweeps have begun, the show remembers Walter, and the search for him produces one of the best fights I've seen on television in years.
"The Undertaking" is a great episode of television mostly because it finally delves into Malcolm's motive, what specifically led to Robert's murder, why Oliver left with Laurel's sister, where and who took Walter while answering the question about whether or not he's alive, if Malcolm kept his word. Arrow's a solid series with a confidence about its episodic structure, a confidence in its cast and crew, and is thus able to tell great stand-alone episodes until the time is right to show the cards for the main story of the season. Oliver's endured his 'screw everything up with the people I care about' phase last week, but he's back to ass-kicking mode in "The Undertaking" for the sake of the people he cares about. He doesn't deal with the conflict of choosing between two people he cares about, aware that he'll let down whoever isn't helped. No, Oliver works quickly to find out what's going on under his nose.
Every superhero has a weakness whether it's something like kryptonite or a psychological thing. Oliver's reluctant to assume his mother's culpable in the Queen's Gambit sinking or in Walter's disappearance. Moira's his mother, and family's everything to him. We've seen Oliver wrestle with unseeing/unknowing his mother's motivations. The lead to Walter's whereabouts happens by accident. Oliver targets the accountant for a company that's laundered money to Cayman Islands. He just wants those victimized to be repaid. Felicity happens upon evidence of a kidnapping-for-hire the same day Walter disappeared. Oliver puts his Game Face on and goes to work.
"The Undertaking" pulls together the disparate elements of the season. Robert's self-described sins were vague in the "Pilot," and Oliver didn't know what his father meant. He knew Robert wanted to save the city--it was his dying wish, so Oliver honored that wish. Moira's involvement wasn't explicitly known, so "The Undertaking" makes it explicitly unknown. Malcolm's plan for the salvation of the city is revealed. Everything we've seen follows Malcolm's pitch for saving the city. Malcolm wants to wipe The Glades out--destroy the city to save it. Malcolm's plan for Starling City is more expected than not. I mean, villains in superhero stories try to destroy cities. Malcolm's focus on The Glades is motivated by the death of his wife (she died in The Glades). He believes the salvation of the city begins with The Glades' obliteration.
So, Malcolm's plan is standard for a villain, but what follows the plan reveal informs the characters behavior since the series began. Moira's motivations were tough to figure out since she worked with Malcolm to sink her husband's boat. Why would she do it? The thought of her husband murdering bad folk to make up for one murder horrified her, and the thought of The Glades destruction horrified her. Robert was murdered for one thing or the other. He seemed to be in an impossible spot. Plus, he made the mistake of going behind Malcolm's back. Robert planned to take Malcolm down before Unicaid finished the nuclear act of God weapon. The farewell flashback scene before the Queen's Gambit sets sail for a few weeks is full of regret, dread, and foreboding. Moira knows what awaits and is powerless to stop Oliver from sailing. Oliver's going because Laurel freaked him out when she brought up moving in together, and Robert wants to distance himself from batshit crazy Malcolm Merlyn. All the while the audience knows the ship will sink, and everything will change.
Oliver hasn't been as angry as he is in "The Undertaking." The flashbacks juxtapose hood Oliver with playboy Oliver. Playboy Oliver was care-free and oblivious and hood Arrow is anything but--his veins nearly pop out of his skull when Malcolm asks after Walter's health. Oliver's visceral anger is effective especially without doubts and conflicts. He confirms his worst fears about his mother and learns the truth about who's been running the show, and it leads to the greatest fight scene I've watched on TV during the 2012-2013 season. I'm a huge fan of Oliver kicking ass, but he wipes the floor with over a dozen men in less than 90 seconds. It's an impressive piece of stunt choreography, and directing by Michael Schultz. Steven DeKnight once said fight scenes need to show an aspect of the character for it work. The fight shows everything Oliver is feeling. It shows he won't stop until every person responsible for what's happened to him and his family are lying on the floor.
What's left for Oliver is winning. Oliver's endured self-doubt, alienating his loved ones, but now he's motivated by the horrible truth. Superheroes don't wallow. Well, they wallow for a little and then they get mad and stay mad. I dug the emphasis on the past and how it informs the present. "The Undertaking" is actually a transition episode, a set-up for the final two episodes of season one. Transition episodes are hit-or-miss. Some shows slow the pace down and choose to be meditative. Arrow didn't. This episode had its meditative moments but it had action. Arrow succeeds when it balances pathos and action. Now the stage is set for the denouement of the season, and it should be a ride.
-Felicity was awesome this episode. She got into Alonzo's secret casino, made herself known by cheating, and then watched as Oliver kicked ass and got what he wanted out of Alonzo about Walter.
-Oliver asked for Diggle's help. The episode cut before Diggle answered. I'm guessing Diggle will accept after a few seconds of him calling Oliver an asshole for screwing him on the Deadshot mission.
-We're still left hanging after last week's crazy conclusion to the island flashback. I don't care about Laurel and Oliver. I want more Shado/Oliver.
-Tommy's transitioned nicely as a heel.
-Jake Coburn & Lana Cho are the credited writers. Michael Schultz (Everwood alum!) directed the episode.