Arrow #1.23 “Sacrifice” Review (Matt’s View) Arrow #1.23 “Sacrifice” Review (Matt’s View)
Matt Tucker's review of the first season finale of CW's hit series Arrow. Arrow #1.23 “Sacrifice” Review (Matt’s View)

SacrificeBoth of GreenArrowTV’s reviewers are taking on last week’s Arrow season finale! You can read Derek B. Gayle’s review here.

Summary: A gripping finale that at first seems to resolve in pat fashion unleashes the unthinkable to soundly wrap the first season and leave us with many questions.

If you have not seen this episode yet and do not wish to be spoiled, do not continue reading!

Recap

Oliver is captured by Malcolm rather than killed but escapes. Felicity is taken into the station by Quentin Lance and questioned about activities that appear to have aided the vigilante. Oliver calls Lance as the Hood and warns him of the coming danger to the Glades. Lance relays the information to his superior and is subsequently relieved of duty. After a confrontation with Tommy where he reveals the truth about Malcolm, Oliver speaks with his mother to find out where the Markov device will be used during the Undertaking. Oliver asks Laurel to stay out of the Glades, as Tommy gets confirmation from Malcolm that everything Oliver said was true. Shaken by her conversation with Oliver, Moira calls a press conference and warns the city about the Undertaking. Oliver and Diggle go to confront Malcolm, as Felicity enlists Lance to diffuse the Markov Device. Thea is afraid for Roy and runs to the Glades to get him to safety. Diggle is injured and Oliver has to face Malcolm alone for a third time.

As Lance disables the Markov device, Oliver finally overcomes Malcolm after a brutal battle, stabbing him through the heart with an arrow. As he appears to die, Malcolm reveals there is another Markov device, which activates and carries on the Undertaking. With Glades collapsing in earthquakes, Roy gets Thea to flee as he stays to help out other residents. Laurel is at CNRI to save important documents and files and gets trapped by building debris. She’s rescued by Tommy, who confesses how much he loves her. Though Laurel gets free, Tommy is caught in the collapsing building. Oliver races to CNRI after Felicity explains it is in the heart of the destruction. Instead of Laurel, Oliver finds Tommy and is with him as his best friend takes his last breath. The majority of the Glades is revealed to be destroyed.

For a full recap of this episode, visit our handy episode guide.

Review

There were two distinct points where the Season 1 finale of Arrow seemed to pull punches and one couldn’t help but feel a bit letdown. It was especially jarring given the solid character work done throughout the episode and overall strong pace & plotting. The first was the rather simple way the Fyers-fighters — yes, we will be auditioning names for our lovely cadres of heroes, past and present — managed to avert the building danger to the Chinese airways and economy, effectively razing the entire opposition force on the island. The second was erstwhile hero Quentin Lance snipping a wire near last second to pull the Glades from the maw of destruction and offer salvation to the city he’d sworn to protect. Both triumphant, if slightly hollow, moments that would’ve been fair if not spectacular ends to season-long arcs. Moments that could have terrific payoffs in the next season but otherwise felt deflating given the time and audience investment in those particular stories. Just as soon as a faulty sense of closure even had a moment to introduce itself, they went and did it. They destroyed the Glades.

Reading advice to actors recently about being adventurous and not being caged by your own expectations as to how a scene plays as specifically written, the parallels to writing and plotting were clearly evident. The best of shows, the best of stories are the ones unafraid to take chances, undeterred by risk to carry thoughts out to their furthest extreme and to see how that truly affects characters. After witnessing all of the risks taken over the season — how often have we praised or decried the showrunners for the blistering pace of the series in this first season and how, for the most part, they haven’t artificially held back events from taking place? — this conclusion was the only one that would have made sense. Not simply for the inherent cliffhanger possibilities, and certainly not because it has become a comfortable pattern for them to push story forward in big ways. This is simply a show not afraid to grow and evolve, and as they more or less say, change is the reward for growth.

This is all but exemplified in Oliver’s journey this season. Malcolm Merlyn, his revealed arch-nemesis, boils this season’s struggle down to one key phrase: “You don’t know in your heart what you’re fighting for.” Oliver returned to Starling City with one focus: to avenge his father’s death and clean up the city on his behalf. In the end, the list, that precious list of names supposedly cobbled together by his father, proves to be a ruse. Not a full MacGuffin unrelated to the real story, but misdirection and a misfocus for Oliver’s true mission. In reality, it was Malcolm’s hitlist more than it served to be the vigilante’s, the outlying associates of his Tempest group who needed to be carefully watched or eradicated to persevere his ultimate ambition. With the list effectively put to rest, and this new horror before him, the Hood as vigilante has died. Now, the Arrow (or Green Arrow) as hero will rise, his heart now filled with the fight he was meant to have. Growth and change.

Oliver makes another key statement about himself, realizing it as much as he makes Laurel aware of it during their touching scene at the mansion right before everything goes to hell. He talks about his time on the island chipping away all of the external junk that clouded his earlier life and becoming the man he is truly. Yet, while much of that is true as witnessed by how much change Island Oliver has had, culminating in his choice to kill Fyers to save Shado rather than taking the promised easy escape from the island, the same can really be said of Oliver over the course of this season. The Oliver left in the rubble of the Glades is hardly the stone-cold man who returned from the island 7 or 8 months ago. He chipped away much of the new exterior he’d built up from his time on the island — more we have yet to see — and became someone who could connect with his family on a thoroughly different level than he ever had before. In addition, he found that he couldn’t do this all alone and, consciously or not, built a group of support that he absolutely relied upon to take on an unbeatable threat. One of the best moments of this final chapter was Diggle throwing down the truth about Oliver confronting Malcolm, how both he and Felicity are essential to the cause, and asking Oliver to trust why he brought them both in. Calling in Lance as an auxiliary member of Team Arrow was icing.

Lance’s direct involvement in the Hood’s efforts — not just foretelling a growing relationship akin to the well-known Batman-Commissioner Gordon one as next season unfolds — underlines a very essential aspect of both the series and the finale itself: the role of parents and the effects of their sins on their children. All season long that base relationship of parent to child has been the vital component to making the series work. Oliver & Thea to Robert & Moira and Moira & Walter. Laurel to Quentin and Dinah. Tommy to Malcolm. Even Shado to Yao Fei. While Lance makes a peace with his daughter in [premature] goodbye that hopefully spells further growth for them going forward, Oliver and Tommy both confront their parents, revealing the elders’ true characters. Moira’s public confession after Oliver’s dressing down of her was thoroughly unexpected and yet fully within character. Aside from that brief moment at the end of the pilot where she appeared to be World’s Worst Mommy, Moira has been thoroughly burdened by her involvement in Malcolm’s affairs, looking at every moment for a way out of this mess while protecting her nearest and dearest. That she took Oliver’s words to heart about someone in the family doing something to stop the impending tragedy offered her the opportunity for redemption and her best play to take care of her family. It was a bold and arresting move, no pun intended. Unfortunately for Tommy, approaching his father revealed something far more dark and sinister.

Oliver pointed out to his best friend that he knew what kind of man Malcolm was all along. It wasn’t just that Tommy felt abandoned when his father left for two years following his mother’s death. Tommy instinctively knew the man had changed, and while he rebelled against him for leaving, there was always something deeper Tommy hadn’t allowed himself to accept. The hurt he feels when Malcolm owns up to everything Oliver accused him of doing, followed by that barking invective about the scum of the Glades who killed and contributed to the death of Malcolm’s wife, is palpable and heartbreaking. He’s not just a man afraid of this dark beast his father had become. He’s afraid of what it will mean for him as well. In fact, the episode does some good fakes to make it appear as Tommy would inherit his father’s cause. Who really could’ve predicting what was to come?

Long expected to take over the role of the Dark Archer — we mentioned the commonly held belief that Tommy’s story would mirror the Norman & Harry Osborn of Spider-Man fame dynamic back during our winter hiatus roundtables — especially as the character of Merlyn was renamed Tommy Merlyn in DC Comics’ New 52 initiative, there was a counterthought that perhaps Malcolm would be the one to survive and that Tommy losing his life would drive him over the edge into full-on anti-Oliver territory. The thought of Tommy being killed off wasn’t completely out of the realm of possibility, and yet it still came as a huge shock. This especially true following the apparent death of Malcolm at Oliver’s hand. How could both Merlyns die? Where would Green Arrow’s nemesis be in the future? And yet, the moment he came back to rescue Laurel trapped in the crumbling CNRI, Tommy being a goner was all but a certainty. The building falling down on him was one thing, but the impaling was gruesome and final, leading to one of the most emotional scenes of the entire season. While it could never top the moment between Tommy and Oliver in “Dead to Rights” when Ollie reveals he’d never intended to tell his best friend his secret, the crushing work between Stephen Amell and Colin Donnell here absolutely solidified the importance of this relationship on Oliver for the remainder of the series. Oliver having to lie in the face of Tommy’s raw honesty in order to give his friend peace in his final moments encapsulated Ollie’s whole dynamic and yet likely marked the exact moment of change for him. It was a devastating moment perfectly punctuated by crane out to reveal the leveled section of city to close the episode.

One thing to take comfort in, as executive producer Marc Guggenheim as pointed out through his press cavalcade following the finale airing, is that flashbacks play a large part in the series. So, even though we’ve lost the character of Tommy Merlyn and appear to have lost his father, as well, we’ve likely not see the last of the talents of Donnell and John Barrowman, who both shined throughout the finale. Barrowman, in particular, found another gear as Malcolm fully shifted into evil mode. This was a man as corrupted by the death of his wife as the criminals he sought to slaughter were by the Glades. No longer governed by reason but his own, a switch needed to be seen to fully ascribe the black hat to the elder Merlyn. The reveal of Oliver’s identity and the revelation of the truth to his son allowed for it and Barrowman took to it with relish. This wasn’t just someone twirling a mustache. This was a man with purpose who got lost in the darkness, and that moment when he snaps at Tommy completes the shift. It’s a commanding performance, complemented by an extraordinary rooftop fight that felt like a realistic culmination of everything the Hood and the Dark Archer had done. The moment Malcolm bests Oliver for a third time and locks him in a choke hold, calmly telling him to give in, was chilling and note perfect for the character, topped only by the revelation of his redundancy plan. Stellar work. (Let it be known now that this reviewer does not believe we saw Malcolm take his final breath like we were led to believe.)

Praise should also be given to series star Amell, who has so much ground to cover throughout the episode. Not enough can be said of the subtle way he continues to distinguish the younger version of Oliver on the island, and yet we were witness to the slight shift to someone less naive and closer to the present-day Oliver when he steadily takes out Fyers with an arrow. Oliver’s stern way of dealing with his mother, holding back but not masking his disappointment in her involvement in such a horrific plan; his sense of hope in explaining to Laurel how he wasn’t changed but revealed during his island experience; the cold demeanor that quickly gives way to trust and brotherhood when Diggle offers his hand in partnership, and just as quickly reveals his fear at not knowing how to actually defeat Malcolm; the three different times dealing with Tommy, first in Verdant with the momentary faked sunniness replaced by steely resolve, followed by the brief business-like interlude at Merlyn Global, and finally the scene of such naked, wrenching emotion at Tommy’s death. One thing that remained consistent through the season and was driven home by the finale is that this is Oliver’s story. Even when the focus is briefly on another character, a different plight, the series never loses sight of its star and its reason for existing. Given everything he must accomplish in this episode, Amell has proven more than capable to hold the trust of that character, of that focus. This felt like the start of a hero, though not the start of his journey, and Amell wears it all like his natural skin.

In keeping with the hero theme, there was something slightly elegant but thoroughly involving about Roy Harper’s story this time out. Rather than some obsessive focus on the vigilante, we get a taste of Roy’s natural heroism in service to the people of the Glades, his people. In fact, it could dare be said that this was the first time we’ve really been engaged by Roy the hero, and it bodes well for his evolution, informing his likely-to-come apprenticeship with the Hood. Setting aside the all-too-convenient moment of Thea finding Roy in that given alleyway, his takedown of two thugs was an impressive feat, but the scene also showed his vulnerability in not thinking through the entire situation first. More impressive, though, is the moment at the bus when he knows to his bone he can’t leave. Not only are we left with a sweeping romantic beat between Roy and Thea, but also a swelling sense of pride and appreciation for Roy accepting his calling. Haynes continues to prove a nice addition to the cast, and this solidified Roy’s journey as a main thread to anticipate in the next season.

“Sacrifice” wraps one of the stronger first seasons of a series in recent memory. It puts a fine point on a high level of genre storytelling that has been missing on television since a series like 24 folded. Technical achievements, of course, continue to impress, including a spectacular score by Blake Neely that was positively cinematic at points. Special mention should also be given to stunts and effects teams, with particular notice to the technicians who crafted that stunning practical explosion of the enemy encampment on the island, as well as the fight coordinators behind Oliver’s & Malcolm’s showdown.

Where do we go from here? It’s the question everyone should be left with following a season finale for an action-adventure drama like this. By turning everything on its head in the final act, “Sacrifice” more than accomplishes this mission. Guesses abound and are sure to be discussed and debated, the tell-tale sign of a story worthy of the investment. More than just wrapping up storylines from the year, this installment manages to close out the opening chapter on a narrative that is really only beginning. How does Oliver move on from vigilante to hero? What will become of Moira? What is the aftermath of the Glades destruction and how does that change the criminal landscape in Starling City? With Fyers’ campaign ruined and everyone obliterated, what does the past-future on the island hold for Oliver, Shado, and Slade? Is Malcolm truly dead, and if so, what does that portend for any villain named Merlyn in the future, if there is to be one now? What will be the next threat to occupy Oliver’s life for the next year? And how do you top destroying 24 blocks of a major metropolitan area? The old adage “always leave them wanting more” holds ups very well here.

Most important, Arrow gave fans of the genre a show to cheer about, and “Sacrifice” gave us a finale worthy of being proud.

Odds & Ends

  • The final fight between Oliver and Malcolm had an extra level of GA goodness to it for fans of both Arrow and Smallville — The latter series’ Oliver Queen at one point resided in an apartment within the clocktower that served as the backdrop of the rooftop fight.
  • While an absolutely worthy and vital cause, the in-episode “PSA” for not texting and driving between Thea and Roy as they raced through the trashed streets of the Glades was cringe-inducing.
  • Oliver’s chain climb to free himself, which appeared to be 100% Stephen Amell, was an insane marvel of physical strength.
  • How the heck did Oliver just know that Laurel was at CNRI? Sure, he could assume given Laurel’s headstrong personality, but when last he’d seen her, he asked her to stay out of the Glades.
  • Using the exploding arrow during the fight with Malcolm was superb. Of course, there had to be severe suspension of disbelief that it didn’t take out Malcolm’s hand, let alone his arm, his face, his chest, etc.
  • I still have a hard time believing that as gifted as Felicity is she would leave as sloppy a trail of her activities in service of Oliver as she did.
  • Malcolm breaking Oliver’s bow in “Darkness on the Edge of Town” and Ollie having to use his bow from the island made for a nice symmetry with his description to Laurel of what the island did to and for him.
  • Moira stating her full name, Dearden appearing to be her maiden name, reinforced the connection made earlier in the season between Thea and the comic character of Mia Dearden, aka Speedy II.
  • Malcolm revealing to Tommy that he shut down his mother’s clinic in the Glades because he didn’t want her work destroyed by the Undertaking was a nice character moment for the elder Merlyn.
  • Not sure what was going on, but there was a rather weird camera zoom out during Felicity’s exit outside of Queen Consolidated just before Lance first confronts her.

Want to read another take? You can find Derek B. Gayle’s review here.

Matt Tucker Editor/Senior Writer/Reviewer

Matt Tucker is a stage and film actor, writer, Seattleite, comics nerd, sports fan, and aspiring person. Someday, he’ll be a real boy. He's an editor and senior writer for KSiteTV network (GreenArrowTV, DaredevilTV) and the sports blog Sonics Rising. He's also Movies/TV editor at SmarksOn. Follow him on Twitter at @MattBCTucker.

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