While there has been a lot to like about the first season of ‘Arrow,’ I’ve had plenty of complaints. Since the show came back in 2013 from its mid-season break, ‘Arrow’ has seemed more interested in everything except the fact that it’s a superhero show, such as the dead-on-arrival love triangle between Oliver, Tommy, and Laurel. There was the patently absurb Oliver-Diggle double-date episode, Oliver’s ill-fated relationship with McKenna Hall that went nowhere, and a litany of bad romantic monologues seemingly every episode.
Compounding the problem was the series’ so-ill-fated-its-almost-commendable attempt at keeping a flashback story going while trying to service an impossible number of stories involving a bloated cast of characters. Too many times, the omnipresent and mostly-undefined “What’s wrong with Starling City” got pushed aside in favor of Laurel’s vamping, Thea and Roy Harper’s canoodling, or side quests like Detective Vance’s hunt for his dead daughter.
In essence, ‘Arrow’ was a superhero show that stopped feeling like a superhero show. On a week-to-week basis, the series veered away from the action-packed crime procedural-on-steroids romp it was early on, and dangerously close to standard CW fare: a swamp of bad characters, bad acting, and unearned emotion.
That’s all prologue now though, because on Wednesday night, ‘Arrow’ officially became a superhero show. And it was damn good.
It goes without saying that “Sacrifice,” the season 1 finale, was the best hour of ‘Arrow’ this season. With a season’s worth of storylines wrapping up, you’d expect nothing less. But what blew me away is just how freakin’ ballsy this hour was; and that’s even before the gut-punch shocker that capped it off.
The episode opened not super promisingly, with Oliver escaping a little too easily from Malcolm’s captivity. But it was a necessary cheat, because what followed was one of the most action-packed thrill rides I’ve seen on television this year.
To sum it up: Malcolm Merlyn is ready to enact “The Undertaking,” his plan to use an earthquake machine to wreck the low-rent district known as “The Glades” as revenge for his wife’s murder. It’s up to Oliver & Co. to stop him.
Admidst an hour of great, fun moments, two in particular stood out.
First, the whole ‘getting the gang together’ vibe was just fantastic. This wasn’t Oliver fighting alone; this was every character we’ve gotten to know teaming up to save the city. Well, except Thea and Roy, who kind of did their own thing. But watching, for example, Felicity work with Detective Lance was an absolute treat, as was Lance disarming the bomb.
Too often on ‘Arrow,’ Oliver has come off as an unlikable loner. He’s treated his friends callously and selfishly, and been wrong in most of the arguments he’s engaged in, which has made it hard to root for him. But the Oliver in the finale was exactly what you’d expect him to be: a superhero. Kudos to Stephen Amell, who I’ve been hard on for much of this season, for turning in his best performance to date.
The other standout moment, and in my opinion the best scene of the entire season, was Moira’s press conference. This was an entire season’s worth of story coming to a head in a one-minute scene, as Moira finally breaks out from under Malcolm’s thumb and warns the city of his plan. It’s a moment of triumph for a secondary character, one that felt 100% earned – and Malcolm’s furious reaction sold it beautifully.
And perhaps most cleverly, ‘Arrow’ was able to have its cake and eat it too with the resolution. The crew does stop the machine, but as Malcolm reveals with his dying breath (following an intense fight with Oliver and Diggle), he created a second machine which does, in fact, destroy some of the city. A clean victory over Malcolm would have felt a little underwhelming; this way, the audience got to experience the joy of Lance disarming the machine just in time, followed immediately by the horror of the second one activating and wreaking havoc.
Of course, ‘Arrow’ saved an even bigger moment of horror for the end. Following the earthquake, Laurel is trapped in a damaged building, and Tommy rushes in to save her from under a slab of concrete. But while she gets out unharmed, Tommy himself can’t escape the building collapsing. Oliver finds him just in time for one last conversation, and just like that, Tommy Merlyn is dead.
I don’t know what’s more of a shock: that the show would kill off Tommy, one of its better actors and primary characters; or that the Oliver-Laurel-Tommy love triangle actually had a pay-off! I was prepared for that to be an ongoing albatross for the series, but I am so happy to be wrong – even if it means losing Colin Donnell.
“Sacrifice” was not just a phenomenal episode of ‘Arrow’, it was a phenomenal hour of television. It was everything that this series should aspire to be.
Here’s hoping that in season two, the show will bring this kind of focus to the table each week with a clear idea of what ‘Arrow’ is: a kickass superhero show.