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Arrow 1.21 "The Undertaking" Review: Be Honest

    This week’s episode of Arrow, “The Undertaking,” was written by Jake Coburn and Lana Cho and directed by Michael Shultz. The show remains as tightly plotted as it started the season and has solidified itself as my favorite new show this year. The stunt/fight team on this show is the best in television – and I’m including network and cable: Kudos to James Bamford and Jon Kralt and their fantastic group of stunt actors, doubles, and performers. While I will point out specific performances that really stood out for me below, I also want to acknowledge the superb acting across the board on this show. Everyone is able to bring an emotional truth and through line to their performances, and they are all still able to hit the comedic moments just right too. This week’s theme centers on the tension between lies, deceptions, and being honest – with yourself and those around you.
     This week’s flashbacks reveal the beginnings of “The Undertaking.” It’s revealed that a small group of concerned, well-placed Starling city citizens had taken the law into their own hands, including Robert Queen (Jamey Sheridan), Malcolm Merlyn (John Barrowman), and Frank Chen (Chin Han). The group is using blackmail to convince the worst crooks to contribute to saving the city. Ironically, the first criminal the group discusses is Adam Hunt, the first man on the list Oliver hunted in the “Pilot.” Hunt was killed in episode 9, “Year’s End” by the Dark Archer (Barrowman). It quickly becomes apparent that neither Walter (Colin Salmon) nor Moira (Susanna Thompson) knew about the Undertaking at this point.
    Barrowman delivers an amazing performance. His grief over his wife Rebecca’s death is palpable and makes Merlyn somewhat sympathetic. However, he’s also clearly, though subtly disturbed as he outlines that the only solution for The Glades is to completely level it. Queen and Chen are both already afraid of Malcolm and collaborate to thwart his plan by buying up land in the Glade. Chen double crosses Queen and is the one to plant the bomb on the Queen’s Gambit. Moira clearly knows nothing about the bomb on the boat. While she might have sanctioned Robert dying, she certainly wouldn’t have happily let her son get on the boat and sail away. So I’m curious about the conversation in which Malcolm chillingly tells Moira that he’s sorry he had to take Robert away from her and Moira tells him she’s to blame. Obviously, there is more to the story to come.
    We also learn that Robert’s motivation for trying to clean up Starling City is that he accidentally killed a councilman who was trying to extort money from him. Moira is less appalled by the old murder than the fact that Robert is not going to stop Malcolm from destroying the Glades and she has him promise to stop it. Now this task, like the list, has fallen to Oliver (Stephen Amell). Interestingly, Malcolm tells Robert that “One man alone can’t save this city.” That’s why Malcolm has banded together with the others. It’s also why Oliver needs Diggle (David Ramsey) and Felicity (Emily Bett Rickards) – and I suspect he will need more on his team as time goes on. In another nice throw back to a thread we’ve seen throughout the season, we learn that Malcolm’s plan involves making the leveling of the Glades look like a natural disaster. A company called Unidac is providing the ‘markoff’ device. Malcolm references the Science Division and his dealings with the Science Division have come up before.
    In the present, Diggle and Oliver are still on the outs. Felicity tries to play peacemaker with both of them and is rebuffed by both. Rickards delivers her usual outstanding performance. Felicity is delightfully blunt, awkward and funny. I hope that the character can keep innocently opening her mouth and speaking before realizing what she’s just said. One of the best moments in the show is when she tells Oliver “it feels good when you’re inside me” referring to hearing his voice in her ear piece. We also get to see Felicity finally meeting Laurel and the rest of the Queen clan. Felicity gets to go into the field to help find Walter and shows that she can be resourceful and brave in addition to smart and funny. I’d be worried that now that Walter has been rescued, we might be losing Felicity on the team, but I suspect that she’s caught the bug of helping Starling City, and she really cares about Oliver and Diggle now. She’s just too big a part of the team to simply walk away.
    Amell gives arguably one of his best performances to date in this episode. Oliver self-lessly counsels Laurel (Katie Cassidy) to go and talk to Tommy (Colin Donnell). He tells her to do what they hadn’t done, which is to talk and to be honest. Of course, Oliver is still denying his own feelings. In an interesting twist, the most honest character is Tommy. Laurel says to him, “if our relationship is going to end, at least let it end honestly,” and Tommy tells her that she belongs with Oliver because Oliver still loves her. We also get to see Oliver and Laurel’s relationship in the flashback. Amell’s portrayal of the shallow, spoiled rich boy who is afraid of commitment, and who is aimlessly drifting through life is a stark contrast to the driven man defending Starling City at the cost of his own happiness. The Oliver who is the Hood is a good liar because he has to be to protect himself and those around him, but it’s also a little shocking to see how easily and well he lied to Laurel before boarding a boat to cheat on her with her sister.
     The two scenes that Amell really knocks out of the park, however, are the scene after he discovers Moira has lied and the final scene with Laurel. The anger and hurt from Moira’s betrayal are palpable when Felicity finds him sitting alone in the dark. When Laurel confronts him at the hospital and tells him what Tommy said, Oliver tells her he just wants her to be happy. But when she pushes him to go and tell Tommy that there is nothing between them, Oliver has finally reached the saturation point. He tells her he can’t because it would be a lie, and he has enough lies in his life. A quick shout out to Katie Cassidy for this scene as well. She’s been fantastic all season as well, but in this final scene, you can literally see her have her breath taken away by Oliver’s speech. Of course, what the consequence will be is still up in the air. If Oliver does go back to her, does he tell her the whole truth about who he is? Or does he only tell her some version of the truth? How honest can he be with her?
    In the final scene, Oliver is finally honest with Diggle and goes to him to apologize and tell him he was wrong about Moira. He’s also honest with himself in admitting that he needs Diggle’s help to take down Malcolm and the others involved with the Undertaking.
    My final comments for this episode have to be for the two amazing fight scenes. Oliver rescuing Felicity in the casino was a terrifically choreographed fight. Frankly, I just assumed it would be highlight of the episode, and then we had Walter’s rescue. That sequence which resulted in a hallway littered with bodies was positively balletic. Oliver taking one guard down by bouncing his head off the wall three times on the way down was only one highlight. I have to admit that I’ve been following the tweets from set, and everyone has been saying how amazing and huge the fight scenes are in these final episodes of the season, and I’ve been somewhat sceptical that they can get much bigger than what we’ve already seen, but this week has proven they can. I can only imagine what’s coming up in these final two episodes.
    Are you excited for the final two episodes? I’m anticipating a return of the Dark Archer to defend his Undertaking and to have a re-match with the Hood. I also can’t wait to have our team of Diggle, Oliver, and Felicity back together. I’m still holding out hope that Moira will somehow be able to explain her involvement. I’m looking forward to finding out what’s happening on the Island – and how that is going to inform what’s happening in the present. Let me know what you thought of this week’s episode and what you most want to see before the end of the season in the comments below.

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