Arrow Ep 1.21 ‘The Undertaking’ rebounds with a strong, focused episode

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The Undertaking
Arrow Season 1, Episode 21 ‘The Undertaking’
Directed by Michael Shultz
Written by Jake Coburn & Lana Cho
Airs Wednesday nights at 8pm ET on The CW

Often, I find myself thinking about shows that would be better served with shorter seasons, both past and present. Would LOST not have gone down so many rabbit holes with 30 less episodes? Would The Killing be my mortal enemy had it not been provided the opportunity to mislead people for 24 and a half episodes? I suppose the answer is subjective, but episodes like ‘The Undertaking’ make Arrow a very interesting case for a shorter, less network-friendly season length, where there couldn’t be all these goofy bad guys and weekly misdirections and vagueries to superficially extend dramatic tensions.

First of all, there’s not a single moment spent on that damn island in ‘The Undertaking’, which alone is a blessing from the television gods. Nothing says “We’re wasting time” more than Yao Fei changing sides a dozen times, and about 25 kidnappings that work for ten minutes until someone shows up to break them out. Further, there’s really no bad guy of the week to speak of (save for the casino owner, who has about four seconds of screen time) which allows the writers to finally start revealing important plot details we’ve been waiting months for.

Understandably, things get off to an awkward start when everyone in the Queen family is like “Holy crap, we forgot about Walter!”. We haven’t even heard a whisper of his name in episodes, and it’s laughable how quickly he becomes a relevant topic on the show, both for Moira and the conspiracy that’s been sitting on the sidelines for a month or two. Thankfully, the weakest moments are in the beginning, and once Thea and Laurel have shed their respective tears over Walter and Tommy’s ice cold demeanor (respectively), ‘The Undertaking’ gets right down to business.

I’m not sure how necessary the flashbacks really were – and in fact, were a bit counter productive at times. The only other weak spot in the episode was the final flashback of Robert going on his fateful boat ride. Laurel showing up to kiss Oliver goodbye didn’t serve the purpose the writers were hoping (that they had some kind of special connection): it really just made Oliver look like a dick while he’s calling her sister and instructing her to drive around the block while he disposes of Laurel. Hey, Oliver was a scumbag to Laurel – but they’re made for each other?

Admittedly, romance is not Arrow’s strong suit, and the rest of the material more than made up for it. Episodes like ‘The Undertaking’ are always enjoyable on dramas, but are also a little frustrating. Did we have to wait 21 episodes to find out Frank Chen sold out Oliver’s father? I don’t think so – and the rest of the material is largely fill-in, save for the random fact of Robert killing some councilman who tried to bribe him in the Glades, which somehow justified in his mind, the complete decimation of part of Starling City (which would easily kill thousands of people who like graffiti and petty crime, as we’ve seen).

But we’re finally getting to the point, and Arrow at least allows itself to have some fun on its way there without twiddling its thumbs for too long, putting Stephen Amell in that awful “Oliver in the past” wig, and letting Felicity out in the field with her hair down for a little work at the casino, which brings a much-needed female character with some personality and wit to the heavier, more dramatic tones Moira and Laurel’s character are taking (Oliver: “You look like you haven’t slept.” Laurel: “Too much crying.”). Felicity’s slowly grown on me over the season, and she becomes less and less of a dork with a crush on Oliver (able to point out his flaws, instead of gushing over his awesomeness), and more of an intelligent woman who plays an integral emotional role of Oliver’s journey, providing support to both Oliver and Diggle, damaged men who can’t get out of their own way.

And now we’ve got a focus for the next two episodes: Walter’s back in the picture, and Oliver’s gearing up to take on Malcolm (and hopefully confront his mother about all her inconsistent characterization and motivations). Roy Harper will play some role in this – the Hood’s going to need some help until Diggle gets back on the team in the finale (c’mon; we all know it’s going to happen), and last week, Harper talked about seeking out the Hood because he thought he’d found a purpose. Thea’s definitely going to cry and need a hug at some point, and unfortunately, Laurel and Oliver are going to reinforce their complete lack of chemistry in this world (he cheated on her with her sister because he wasn’t ready to move in with her? C’mon Laurel!).

I’ve had a lot of complaints about how many wasted opportunities Arrow‘s had over the season – and with the island crap lurking in the background with all the lame bad guys, there are certain flaws this show may never fully reconcile. But for the first time in awhile, tonight’s episode provided entertainment without completely dumbing itself down or living in vagueries, which was a pleasant surprise considering the last few offerings. ‘The Undertaking’ may only give me a little hope for the resolutions to follow in the finale (and the inevitable last minute twist to leave us with sweaty armpits until September), but it’s there. A little.

 

Other thoughts/observations:

– Felicity: “It feels good to have you inside me… wait.”

– Walter has a beard, but his head is still perfectly clean shaven… although I suppose a man his age could be completely bald. It did look quite silly, though – especially when he laid on the bed with his little fake shit bucket with the fake shit stain on it.

– last week, Tommy broke up with Laurel because he thought she had feelings for Oliver. This week, it’s because Oliver has feelings for her. Make up your mind, dude!

– Laurel starts crying at least four times in this episode. EMOTIONS.

– Also, Oliver confesses that he’s still in love with Laurel, which they thankfully don’t play as a huge emotional moment with massive orchestration behind it.

– the fight scene in the hallway is conveniently dark, so we can’t see the stuntman doing the heavy lifting.

– why is Moira cool with The Undertaking now? She begs Robert not to do it, the man who is orchestrating it kills her husband… and she’s still down with genocide? That seems… odd.

 

— Randy

 

 

 


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