Stars:  Stephen Amell, Katie Cassidy, Paul Blackthorne, Colin Donnell, Susanna Thompson, Colin Salmon, Willa Holland, David Ramsey, Emily Bett Rickards, John Barrowman, Manu Bennett
Teleplay: Marc Guggenheim & Andrew Kreisberg
Story: Greg Berlanti
Director: David Barrett
Network: The CW, airs Wednesday Nights
Original Telecast: May 15, 2013

As season finales go, “Sacrifice” was satisfying enough.  The scope and scale of the episode was larger, and everything in it moved faster than what we’ve seen before.  Compared to any of the 22 ARROW episodes that preceded it, the lighting was starker, the camera moved more fluidly, and the action sequences were more ambitious and came at a quicker pace.  Plus, the budget for extras, sets, and CGI was clearly increased because we spent a lot of time watching stuff get smashed in Starling City.  But somehow it all wasn’t enough.  The crazy energy this episode tried to bring felt obligatory, and it made me question the pacing of the last several episodes.  By the time we got to “Sacrifice,” virtually every secret that ARROW had been keeping from its audience had been revealed, and all that was left for it to do was stage a big, noisy, by-the-numbers showdown between our hero, Oliver Queen (Stephen Amell) and the evil Malcolm Merlyn (John Barrowman), with a ticking clock in the background.  That’s what we got in the finale, and while it was entertaining to watch this play out, there was simultaneously nothing left to reveal about either of the principle combatants, nor anything else in this season’s storyline.  With few surprises remaining, all that was left was to show us which characters would live and which would die.  And while this tension kept me interested throughout the episode, when the “sacrifice” part of “Sacrifice” finally rolled around at the end, it wasn’t actually surprising enough by itself to mitigate how unsurprising everything else had been.

The episode begins with Oliver waking up chained to the ceiling in a dank industrial space by Malcolm, who had knocked Oliver out at the end of the last episode.  Now that Malcolm knows Oliver is actually the hooded vigilante, he tells Oliver that he won’t be able to defeat him because he doesn’t know in his heart what he’s really fighting for.  Malcolm does, apparently. But not so much that he’s got a good plan to deal with Oliver.  His plan appears to be A) Chain Oliver up for a while.  B) Leave Oliver alone in this room knowing that Oliver totally understands what his master plan is, C) Wait for his high-tech earthquake device to destroy the entire neighborhood of The Glades, D) Do something with Oliver.  At this point I knew the episode was in trouble, because Malcolm’s not exactly coming across as a criminal mastermind here.  Obviously Oliver stays in that room for maybe another two minutes after Malcolm closes the door behind him, and leaves Oliver to escape in relative privacy.  It’s like Malcolm has never seen a James Bond movie.

What follows is a lot of racing around looking for Malcolm’s earthquake device.  Felicity Smoak (Emily Bett Rickards) is deterred from her duties as Oliver’s eyes and ears when she’s picked up for questioning by Detective Quentin Lance, (Paul Blackthorne).  Quentin knows she’s involved with the vigilante after his tech guys went through her computer and found out she’s been hacking networks all over town in the service of cases the Hood was involved in.  But a last minute phone call from the vigilante himself informs Quentin of Malcolm’s plan and enlists him in the quest to stop it, and gets Felicity off the hook for now.

Also now interested in stopping Malcolm’s plan:  Moira Queen (Susanna Thompson).  After Oliver confronts her about her involvement with Malcolm, and informs her that his father, (her husband), Robert Queen, sacrificed himself (via a bullet to the head) in order for Oliver to survive after their shipwreck.  Oliver’s not about to let anybody else die to protect the Queen family’s secrets.  He wants her to help stop Malcolm’s plan regardless of what she thinks he might do to their family for their insubordination, and Moira actually goes one step further by holding a televised press conference and giving away Malcolm’s entire plan to the rest of the city.  This allows ARROW to show much more racing around, as Starling City’s residents frantically flee The Glades, all the while looting and committing street crimes.  It also gets Thea Queen (Willa Holland) involved in the episode, as she decides to race into The Glades to save her boyfriend Roy Harper, (Colton Haynes), who lives there.

Meanwhile, there’s racing around in the flashbacks to Lian Yu Island this week as well, and we watch the finale of ARROW’s second storyline play out.  Edward Fyres (Sebastian Dunn) tries to implement his own evil plot to blow up a Chinese commercial airliner with surface-to-air missiles, but Younger Oliver, along with his friends Shado (Celina Jade) and Slade Wilson (Manu Bennett), escape and thwart it, as it was always a dead certainty that they would.  It was nice to see the birth of Oliver’s confidence in this sequence, as Oliver shoots his first arrow at a person, and it kills Fyres, who had been using Shado as a human shield.  But since this all ends with Younger Oliver, Shado and Slade as the last islanders standing, but still stuck on this island for the foreseeable future, we’re likely stuck with another round of this island storyline next season, and I’m not sure there’s anything left there that I’m interested in.  We’re pretty much up to date with Oliver’s back-story now, aren’t we?

Back in the present, Malcolm’s criminal mastermind status takes another hit as he sticks around in his penthouse after killing the SWAT team that’s come to arrest him.  Malcolm has been waiting there in his “Dark Archer” costume for Oliver and his sidekick, John Diggle (David Ramsey) to arrive so they can watch his earthquake device destroy The Glades from a good vantage point. That’s what he says, anyway.  Presumably he was just lying in wait so he could kill them.  This raises some questions:

1)    The jig is up at this point.  The cops know Malcolm’s responsible for several murders and the impending earthquake.  Did he ever think about leaving town, or was it more important for him to stage a final battle with Oliver, (a guy he could have already easily killed at the beginning of the episode)?  Seems like he’s making too much work for himself here. Also, he’s not big on the concept of “Plan B.”

2)    Why isn’t he surprised that Oliver shows up with Diggle?  His “Gentlemen – I’ve been waiting for you…” speech seems to account for the presence of a second assailant in a way that I’m not sure he would have had knowledge of.

3)    Archery.  It is a hell of a coincidence that both of these guys shoot arrows and have costumes that look like one another’s if they didn’t actually coordinate them in some way, right?  ARROW never explains why its main characters independently got super into arrows.  Who copied whom?

I’d be willing to overlook some of this if  “Sacrifice” gave us anything in the end that we hadn’t seen before.  But, for all the rushing around, this finale really doesn’t go anywhere unexpected.  Quentin, (aided by Felicity over the phone) defuses the earthquake device at the last minute, sparing the city most of the damage, but Malcolm planted a second one that does go off, and gives us some CGI of collapsing buildings in downtown Vancouver.  The crucial building collapse is the one that houses the law firm run by Laurel Lance (Katie Cassidy), who’s been torn between her love for Oliver and for his best friend (and Malcolm’s son) Tommy Merlyn (Colin Donnell) all season.  At first, when part of the building collapses on Laurel, the sword of Damocles hangs precipitously over her as the final moments of the episode tick down.  But ARROW chooses to resolve its central love triangle in a way that leaves you with a more tenable boy-girl ratio at the end.  Tommy saves Laurel, then dies in the building collapse.

Tommy was a good, decent character, and knowing that ARROW’s creators intended to kill him off makes me understand why they spent so much time displaying his goodness and decency.  Obviously his death tugs at your heartstrings a great deal, but it doesn’t actually shock.  Short of turning Tommy into a sidekick or a villain next season, there wasn’t much more to do with his character once his father’s plot was foiled and he officially lost the race for Laurel’s heart.  This option was probably much better than the other two, at least dramatically speaking.  It obviously sucks for Tommy himself.

The main thing that ARROW’s finale seemed to leave unanswered, (and I’m not sure whether this was intentional or not), was whether or not Malcolm actually died at the end.  At the culmination of their final fight scene, Oliver stabs him in the chest with an arrow, (of course), and he collapses after gleefully revealing the existence of the second earthquake device.  But when Tommy asks Oliver with his dying breath whether Oliver killed his father, Oliver says no.  It didn’t occur to me that this was true after the fight scene, but maybe it was?  I have no idea what ARROW would do with a living Malcolm next season, but I’d appreciate the show leaving a few loose ends after a finale that doesn’t otherwise give us many.

So although the finale of ARROW’s first season didn’t excite me, it was, overall, an incredibly strong debut season for a very entertaining series.  I struggled at times with whether its creators had the tone of the show right, and they clearly didn’t leave themselves enough story to tell at the very end, but I give them credit for being consistent in their themes. It’s apt that a show about the sins of the father being passed down to the son ends with a son literally being crushed (and impaled) by his father’s legacy.  I wish them the best as they revisit this idea again in the coming seasons, and I really hope they are able to find something interesting to do with that island.


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Article: TV Review: ARROW – Season 1 – “Sacrifice” – Season Finale

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