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Arrow 1.23 "Sacrifice" Review: Not Tommy!

    Now that was a season finale! Arrow closed out its freshman season as strongly as it began. “Sacrifice” was written by Greg Berlanti, Marc Guggenheim, and Andrew Kreisberg and directed by David Barrett who also directed the second episode. Just as they have all season, the writers delivered a tightly woven script that threaded the theme of sacrifice throughout the episode. There were the amazing fight scenes we’ve come to expect and a disaster of epic proportions that was masterfully shot. And just to top it all off, there were some amazing performances in this episode. The one thing that we as viewers were asked to sacrifice was Colin Donnell’s Tommy. Quite frankly, Donnell has been knocking his performances out of the park all season, and I’ll happily swallow any implausible solution that sees him come back next season.
    No fewer than five characters talk about sacrifice in this episode. Interestingly, virtually every reference comes back to Oliver (Stephen Amell). Malcolm (John Barrowman) tells Oliver that he will never win against him because Oliver doesn’t know in his heart what he’s fighting for or what he’s willing to sacrifice. Felicity (Emily Bett Rickards) tells Quentin (Paul Blackthorne) that she used to think the Vigilante was a criminal, but he seems to be willing to sacrifice a lot to save the people of Starling City, and she thinks that makes him a hero. Quentin tells his Captain that he’s willing to sacrifice catching the Vigilante if it means saving people because rules are no good if they don’t protect people. Oliver tells Moira (Susanna Thompson) that Robert (Jamey Sheridan) sacrificed himself on the life raft so that Oliver could live, and Oliver refuses to let Moira sacrifice thousands in his name now. Finally, Fyers (Sebastian Dunn) asks Oliver if he is willing to sacrifice his freedom to save Shado (Celina Jade).
    Each of these moments has something to say about Oliver and his mission as the Hood. It was his father’s sacrifice and his final words telling Oliver to live which is what he realizes he’s fighting for when Malcolm has almost killed him and that is what he draws on to kill Malcolm. Oliver has sacrificed his freedom in order to become the Hood and saving people as the Hood has made him a hero.  The problem with saving everyone, of course, is that it often means he can’t save the one – like Tommy.
    Moira finally does the right thing in this episode. She calls a press conference and confesses everything about the Undertaking. Her atonement is complete when she begins “I have failed this city.” She admits her complicity but stresses that she only participated to try to save her own family. She names Malcolm as the mastermind and also lists a number of the people he’s killed. Of course, warning the people of the Glades sets off a panic to get out of the Glades as well as mobs of looters. I thought there was a good chance that one of the sacrifices we would see would be Moira losing her life, but in the end, she sacrifices her freedom, and in her last scene in the episode, she is arrested.
    It was great to see Quentin Lance come full circle and defend the Vigilante and work with him to try to stop the Undertaking. Blackthorne’s call to Laurel (Katie Cassidy) is arguably his best scene on the show to date. His request that she not “die with him” by cutting herself off and making an island of herself as he did when Sarah died resonated with the journey that Oliver has been on over the course of the season. It may also foreshadow Laurel and Oliver’s reaction to Tommy’s death.
         If there was one thing that I was a little disappointed with in this episode, it would be the portrayal of Laurel in this episode. When Laurel shows up at the Queen mansion, she seems like an insecure teenage girlfriend. And why does she go to her office in the Glades? I have no idea what they are all doing running around answering phones and carrying files back and forth – it’s an evacuation – no one is going to be calling for a lawyer just yet. But why would she go to her office when she was warned repeatedly not to? Finally, she is reduced to the damsel in distress whom everyone must run to rescue: her father, Tommy, and Oliver. That’s not to say that all of her scenes were bad. The scene with Oliver is fantastic – but mainly for Amell’s performance. The look on his face when he looks down at Laurel is the happiest and most content we’ve seen all year. He’s clearly embraced his love for her. I love his realization that the Island didn’t change him: “those five years didn’t change me. They just scraped away all the things that I wasn’t and revealed the person I always was. The person you always saw.” Oliver tells Laurel that “No one in my life is who I thought they were, except you.” Cassidy’s best scene is the one with Laurel on the phone with her father. Cassidy is great in the emotional scenes, but I hope that next season we see the smart lawyer and the kickass woman we had glimpses of earlier in the season. Of course, the big question going forward is how she and Oliver will deal with Tommy’s death. Tommy is the one who saves her after confessing that he came to her because he loved her. I can’t help but wonder if that doesn’t drive a wedge between Laurel and Oliver, it may at least keep Laurel from loving Oliver without feeling profoundly guilty.
    Thea (Willa Holland) does get to be a bit more proactive than we’ve seen her yet. Like Laurel, she ignores all warnings to the contrary and goes to the Glades to rescue Roy (Colton Haynes).  I loved that Roy stops to help the guy in the alley – and shows some pretty good moves! – and Thea shows up in the nick of time to brain the guy holding a gun on Roy: “Guess I have wicked aim.” Runs in the family maybe? I’m excited to see where they take these two next season! Roy is clearly dedicated to helping people regardless of his personal sacrifice. He may be from the wrong side of town, but he’s clearly worthy of Thea’s love. His self-lessness is a great counterbalance to her former selfishness. I’m looking forward to seeing more of Roy’s backstory too.
    As Manu Bennett (Slade) is a regular next season, we are most likely going to get a lot more flashbacks to the Island next season. However, the flashbacks tonight, very nicely wrapped up the storyline on the Island so far, and beautifully dove-tailed with where Oliver began the season and with the plot of the present in the episode. I’m going to pause once more to gush about the writing on this show – It’s not surprising to see a well-crafted finale, but this show has had the same great plotting and attention to detail in every episode this season. Phenomenal. In this episode, the flashbacks show how Oliver has learned to work with a team and truly care about both Slade and Shado. We also see him make his first kill. I was somewhat sad to see the end of Fyers, but it was so satisfying to see Oliver kill him and make the transition from playboy to something more, to start to peel away those layers as he told Laurel.
    In the present, we see the real fruition of the team of Diggle (David Ramsey), Felicity, and Oliver. Diggle insists that he’s coming with Oliver to face the Dark Archer. He tells Oliver that he’s not alone – he has both himself and Felicity now. He also tells Oliver that “a soldier never lets a brother go into battle alone.” Diggle has been a great partner for Oliver, and it was very satisfying seeing them end the season in harmony. Once again, though, I can’t help but wonder if Tommy’s death won’t make Oliver try to push Diggle away again in an effort to protect him. Oliver does try to protect Felicity by ordering her out of the Glades and trying to forbid her from having anything to do with the device. Felicity has had a great character arc over the season, and this episode really shows how far she’s come. She’s obviously shaken by Quentin pulling her in for questioning, but she refuses to leave when Oliver tells her to, and she agrees to work with Quentin to defuse the bomb. This, of course, confirms that she’s working with the Vigilante, so it will be interesting to see if that has any consequences next season. Though given that Merlyn Global is behind the Glades disaster, it seems unlikely that anyone will care they were hacked. I loved Felicity simply stating that she would be defusing the device while Diggle and Oliver went after Malcolm and the matter of fact way she says if she doesn’t who will. It’s been said that your fear is proof of your bravery and the little squeals and obvious terror of Felicity throughout the quake are proof of how she has overcome her timid nature and sacrificed to help Oliver.
    In an episode with some truly great performances, John Barrowman’s stands out. Assuming that Malcolm is as dead as the last shot of Barrowman would imply, I will be very sad not to see him back next season. Malcolm is clearly mad, driven so by the grief over the death of his wife, yet that grief also makes him a sympathetic character to some extent. In the scene in which Malcolm confesses to Tommy, Barrowman is truly frightening. Donnell’s reactions as Tommy are the perfect counterpoint to Barrowman’s performance. His shock, fear, and horror at what his father has done clearly mirrors the audience’s reaction. In a nice reference to a previous episode, we learn that Malcolm shut down Tommy’s mother’s clinic because he didn’t want to see it leveled with the rest of the Glades. He tells Tommy that she wanted to “save this city.” Saving or failing the city are, of course, important touchstones in the show. Malcolm clearly feels that the city has failed her. He chillingly tells Tommy that the people of the Glades all deserve to die, the way she did. Tommy tries to stop his father but is clearly outmatched. Even though Tommy knows that his father has to be stopped, it is more endearing that even though his father hasn’t been a good father to him, Tommy still doesn’t want to see him killed. It was perfect that Oliver lied to Tommy in the end and spared him the knowledge that he had killed his father, so Tommy could die at peace.
    The fight scene between Diggle, Malcolm, and Oliver was a bit disappointing in how it was shot. It’s always my personal feeling that I don’t like a lot of close-ups and quick cuts in a fight scene to ratchet up the tension. The fight between Oliver and Malcolm on the rooftop more than made up for it, however. Kudos one last time for this season for the fantastic fight choreography and stunts under James Bamford’s stellar leadership. The fight scene at the very beginning of the episode is also a work of art. I loved watching Amell get out of the chains and then use them to take out his opponents.
    It was a great touch to have Oliver flash to his father telling him to live as Malcolm is choking him to death and to find in that moment the core of his mission. My only quibble with the scene is Oliver driving the arrow through himself and into Malcolm’s heart. It clearly looks like the arrow had to go through Oliver’s own ribcage and lung to get to Malcolm, which really ought to have incapacitated Oliver a bit more... but I’m willing to hand wave that.
    I’ve saved my final comments for the unbelievably emotional climactic scene between Tommy and Oliver. Amell and Donnell are both fantastic in this scene and it’s heartbreaking on so many levels. Tommy’s wish at the beginning of the episode that Oliver had died on the Island so obviously cut Oliver deeply, yet even though he walked away from Tommy, he didn’t stop feeling like his best friend and is concerned for his safety when he finds him hurt at Merlyn Global. Oliver’s first concern it getting Tommy to safety, little realizing that Tommy will go directly to the Glades to try to save Laurel. Oliver knows what it’s like to have your faith in your father stripped away, and he clearly doesn’t want to hurt Tommy further. It was heart wrenching watching Oliver lie about killing Malcolm. I have to admit that I was right with Oliver, pleading with Tommy to open his eyes. Oliver is clearly going to have a lot of guilt over Tommy’s death going forward next season.

    Great performances, great writing, and terrific stunts have quickly made Arrow one of my favorite shows. I can’t wait to see where they take us in season two! I think it’s going to be a long summer... What did you think of the finale? Was it everything you hoped for? Were you shocked and disappointed by Tommy’s death? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below. I’ll be posting a season review in a week or so, and I hope you’ll come back to speculate on that too.

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