‘Arrow’ Season 1, Episode 21 Review – Harsh Truths

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Steven Amell in Arrow The Undertaking Arrow Season 1, Episode 21 Review – Harsh Truths

Despite having good intentions in regards to Oliver and Laurel’s future, last week’s episode struggled to find a balance between that underdeveloped relationship and the overall plot, which Arrow has been building ever since Malcolm Merlyn was still referred to as the Well-Dressed Man.

If anything, the stalling efforts of ‘Home Invasion‘ gave the audience a good look at one of the pitfalls of trying to do a 23-episode season of television. Thankfully, Arrow returns this week with a more defined episode that works primarily because it progresses the season’s storyline while paying off some lingering subplots that have been hanging for some time.

But more than simply paying off several longstanding plot threads, ‘The Undertaking’ manages to open the door for the finale, while also giving us a great glimpse at the motivations that have brought the series to this particular point in time. Most notably, the episode paints a clearer picture of Malcolm Merlyn’s vision for the Glades by establishing the circumstances in which his plotting the murder of thousands of innocent people might somehow be justified in his mind. In order to do that, the story brings us back to just before The Queen’s Gambit set out on its ill-fated journey, which, as it turns out, is one of the first pieces of Malcolm’s plan.

John Barrowman and Jamey Sheridan in Arrow The Undertaking Arrow Season 1, Episode 21 Review – Harsh Truths

Flashbacks have been a fixture on Arrow since the series premiere, but with the possible exception of ‘The Odyssey,’ one would be hard-pressed to find a better use of the flashback sequences than this episode, and there certainly isn’t a better example of their use as they pertain to the immediate story at hand. Normally, an episode will tell two different stories set five years apart, while lining them up thematically. But other than involving Oliver, the two stories often have little to do with one another. In ‘The Undertaking,’ however, the flashbacks forego anything to do with the island, Yao Fei or Slade Wilson, and instead connect directly with the implementation of Malcolm’s plan. And, in fact, by episode’s end, we see a truck driving a mysterious device into Starling City to bring forth the Glades’ destruction.

But perhaps the most compelling aspect brought about in this hour is Oliver’s inadvertent discovery of evidence leading him to Walter Steele (who, as you’ll remember, was kidnapped by Malcolm to ensure Moira’s involvement in his plan). While investigating a crooked moneyman, the Hood winds up with a laptop, which, with the help of Felicity, eventually reveals the name of Starling City criminal Dominic Alonzo, who runs an illegal casino and a kidnapping ring.

Seeing as how Oliver and Diggle are still on the outs after the Hood’s no-show during the attempt to nab/terminate Floyd Lawton (a.k.a. Deadshot), it’s up to Felicity to offer an assist by planting a bug in Alonzo’s office. The coincidence of Diggle’s departure from Team Arrow gives Felicity the chance to realize her motivation for joining forces with Oliver in the first place: to locate Walter Steele.

Stephen Amell as Oliver Queen in Arrow The Undertaking Arrow Season 1, Episode 21 Review – Harsh Truths

Felicity’s involvement, combined with her inexperience in the field, leads to one of two excellent action set pieces for the episode that seem to depict just how brutal Oliver can be when the life of someone he cares about is on the line. The attack on Alonzo’s casino ends with the Hood believing Walter to have been murdered, which Oliver then takes to Moira and Thea, telling them an FBI buddy of Diggle’s has information that Walter’s no longer alive.

The misinformation not only leads to the Hood finding out that Moira is in fact a part of the Undertaking, but that Malcolm Merlyn is the man behind it all. Moreover, Oliver’s trailing of his mother gives him clues to the actual location of Walter Steele, who is still alive (say what you will about Malcolm Merlyn, but that guy is true to his word). This leads to the aforementioned second action set piece, in which the Hood literally drops in on a building in Blüdhaven and begins to tear its occupants apart in a ferocious hallway battle that’s reminiscent of Oldboy and The Raid (particularly the repeated bashing of some guy’s head into the wall as he collapses to the ground).

In the end, Walter is safe and Oliver is no longer completely in the dark about the Undertaking, or the identities of those involved. But most importantly, as the flashbacks of a young, irresponsible Oliver reveal (other than the name dropping of Ted Kord), ‘The Undertaking’ isn’t merely about Malcolm’s plan, it’s also about the events that led Oliver to become the man he is today.


Arrow continues next Wednesday with ‘Darkness On the Edge of Town’ @8pm on The CW. Check out a preview below:

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  1. great episode. I like what they did with Oliver and Laurel, although I’m not yet sold on the two, so far they’ve lacked chemistry. I just pray to the TV gods that this doesn’t turn into another Smallville and he’s with her but doesn’t tell her and then its Clark and Lana all over again, pull the trigger cuz Hello Dimitri wants him some Black Canary :)

    Note to villains don’t piss off Oliver Queen cuz he will go to town on you, that raid scene was pretty intense. looking forward to the season ender. one other thing i love Felicity Smoak and she was certainly smoking in that dress, Damn. Oh and Diggle was it just me or was he being a bit of a Jackhole.

  2. Great episode! I’m gla alot of plot questions were answered. But I enjoyed seeing pre island flashbacks and the events leading up to the ship taking off. I’m more happy about Moira’s queens involvement as it seemed like she was just doing what was nessecary to keep her family safe.

    Bludhaven was awesome and hope we soo more of it even though we won’t be seeing nightwing. Amell to me at least had a stand out performance tonight.

    Two lines really stood out and got me excited as I was watching it.
    First was when felicity was being held as said “your not like my partner” lol
    And the second was when Oliver found out how he has to infiltrate the prison an goes “I got something”
    It was freaking awesome and speaking of the prison cool fight scenes. Show needs more of them! Always enjoy it when he takes down a Tom of guys.

    Nice advancements in him and laurel though I hope they save that for season 2. And not rush it in two episodes.

    And nice to see. Him and diggle back together sort of. Diggle is apart of Ollie and his crusade. Didn’t feel right without him. Though I do wish Oliver had a better speech with him admitting he’s was wrong.

    And final thought. Things are about tk go down with merlyn! That look in his eyes. Damn.

  3. Based on others and this review, I would agree that this was a good episode. The flashbacks were interesting as it was different and ,yes, the two extended fight scenes were good. Huge improvement since the beginning of the show where the choreography was awkward. It actually seemed like a Man armed with a Bow and Arrow can take all those men without being in a compromising, awkward position.

    While I know Ollie and Dinah will end up together, I really think these scenes need work in season 2. They can have this love story without it being too much of a soap.

    Felicity was great as always. I hope John gets to do more in these last two episodes. I want there to be a partnership between them. The Ted Kord line was excellent. The plot advancement of the actual Undertaking is good. They finally brought Walter Steele back in the fray and returned to the Moira may be bad sub plot- two aspects of the show that I feel were sort of dropped for a while.

    Overall I think it was a pretty interesting episode that leads to a potentially great finale.

    Anybody else get Batman Begins/ The Dark Knight Rises vibe concerning the plot lol

    • Yeah, using an earthquake machine on the Glades smells like Rises…

      • Or Begins…

        • That has nothing to do with Batman Begins

  4. I think that was one of the best episodes of the season… plot was tightly packaged with great revelations and pay off and the fight scene was one of the best action scenes this season and the episode was loaded with easter eggs…

    Besides the obvious Bludhaven reference, we also got a mention of Ted Kord (aka The Blue Beetle) and the device was a “Markov” device which hints to Brion Markov, the character of Geo-Force, which kind of hints at what kind of weapon they will be using on The Glades..

    But the best easter egg was when Laurell and Ollie mentioned their friends Ray and Jean, which was a reference to Ray Palmer (aka The Atom) and his girlfriend Jean Loring…

    While these characters might never show up, it is nice that we are seeing them mentioned in the larger world of Arrow…

    Cant wait for season two…

      • what if Dick is still being Robin in Gotham right now?

        • There’s no way to tell, is there? It’s never been established if there are any heroes/vigilantes outside of Starling City. I thought they might have explored the idea that Laurel’s mom was the first Black Canary given that Dinah Drake married detective Larry Lance (or does that change too since Laurel’s dad is named Quentin?). Guess we’ll have to wait and see.

  5. Loved the ep. The flashbacks to before oly got to the island were great. U can tell how much he changed. Love how their making Merlyn the main bad guy looks like season 1 is gonna end with a cliffhanger. Olycity moments were awesome need more of them. Oly rescuing walter was pretty insane no one messes with arrow =D

    • what if Dick is still being robin in Gotham at this point?

      • Not sure, why mention Bludhaven if he’s Robin though? He only moves there to become Nightwing.

        • well it would explain why all these villains seem to prefer hiding out in bludhaven, the lack of vigilantes

  6. another great episode. I missed the island flashbacks but these were really interesting and gave some good insight into other characters. cant wait for the finale!

  7. I was almost considering that the device would be the Weather Wizard’s Weather Wand. I know that WW is usually a Flash villain, and is a really lame villain, but his wand could definitely do the damage in the way that Malcolm Merlyn wants.

    • They would not need a semitrailer for a wand.

  8. Hilarious lines from Felicity. She’s so good at delivering straight-faced humor.

  9. i have the move raid redemption annnnnnd raid seem to sell ot more But aweeesome ep

  10. This is definitely an important episode, and one of the best of the show.
    One thing that really annoyed me though, was the inconsistency of Ollie’s beard, not in the flashback, but in the present day shots (they probably forget to apply them in the prison rescue & the hospital but suddenly reappeared when he’s visiting diggle’s home). Probably that’s me nitpicking, but IMO Amell kinda lost his badass charm when he ditch the beard. Anyway, I hope the final 2 episode delivers something spectacular.

    • I noticed that too. But with him being clean shaven in the flashbacks, I feel that there’s really no way around that while shooting and editing a weekly TV show…

      • It was strange seeing him clean shaven. Especially with the flashback wig.

  11. This episode blew my mind, felt like it reached the potential brewed from the start of the series. My favorite moment was when Oliver gets hit with the pool stick, instead of recoiling just stares at the guy and then taking him out with his own slightly shorter stick.

  12. Arrow has been one of the few series I look forward to watching this season, though I never cared much for the hero while I was growing up. All of the nods to the DCU were well done, though I have to confess missing the one about Ray and Jean. As a fan of Blue Beetle, I hope we’ll see him at some point. It sure feels like we might get a glimpse of Dick Grayson.

    I liked that the flashbacks were focused more on the happenings leading up to the Queen’s Gambit being sunk. I won’t say I sympathize with Malcolm but his plight does seem more sympathetic. The scene where he spoke to Robert Queen about his wife’s murder was especially effective and some of John Barrowman’s best acting on the series. The moment was second only to the fight sequence where Oliver rescued Walter (who I think knows who The Hood is).

    Last week I thought it might be Thea or Tommy who doesn’t survive season one. After last night, I’m having to wonder if it won’t be Moira.

    • Oliver’s facial reaction when he heard Malcolm’s voice in the hospital scene was pretty intense

      • Yes it was. I think Malcolm realized it too. Should be fun watching them square off.

      • he seemed to mouth the f bomb.

  13. Nice change of pace getting non-island related flashbacks… still had that pseudo cliffhanger flashback from last week.

    I also like the small nods to DCU characters… keeps it interesting.

    Moira looks younger now than she did when the series began as does Malcom. Felicity is hot, even in nerd-mode (probably hotter for nerds like myself).

    • The makeup artists tended to go overboard with Malcolm early on. Maybe he made them switch to the skincare products he created. Susanna Thompson, who portrays Moira, has a classy look and has aged quite well. It’s hard to think of her as Lt. Col. Mann from NCIS now.

      Felicity’s meeting of Dinah was especially fun.

      • Holy crap. She is from NCIS. I am mad i never even caught that.

        • I think that’s a sign she’s doing her job well. :)

  14. Isn’t 21 episodes for one season a bit much?

    • Like money and good looks, you can never have too much Arrow.

      • I think it was originally for 13 and the network picked up 8 more based on high ratings. 22-23 seems to be the norm anymore. But, yes, it does tend to be a bit much. I think they could tighten up their plots with 16-18 episodes or fewer.

        • I mean I guess if the show is good, but wouldn’t it be smarter for DC to have more seasons than just a few seasons with a bunch of episodes?

          • Smallville ran the same number of episodes per season as Arrow and lasted a decade.

  15. I enjoy this show a lot. Can’t wait till more characters are revealed. I love the nod to other DCU characters too. A few episodes a go when Laurel’s mom had visited, before leaving she indirectly referenced the Flash but saying she was going back home to Central City and she will get there in a flash. So cool that it made me wanna see the Flash in the show. Heheheh!

  16. Great episode,


    Laurel talking about getting a place for her and Oliver was a glaring plot inconsistency.
    When Oliver first got back and goes to Laurels place he says, “This place hasn’t changed at all.”

    Did any oe else notice the blonde lady getting an arrow in her chest during the casino fight?

    • That was an inconsistency! I did not even catch that! I will have to watch again for any throwaway lines like maybe she lived with her dad but that dad moved out (not likely). It did seem like she was living with her dad and if Ollie remembers her apartment then that is a glaring inconsistent plot detail and I think what I said above is the only answer to that…

    • yeah i noticed the lady with the arrow, i just assumed she was reaching for a gun or that she just got in the way. i laughed though. anyways, i was surprised at the amount brutal ass-kicking that went on in this episode and actually was clapping when Oliver threw glass in someone’s face and stabbed that guy with a pool cue. Also, his barely controlled super pissed face at the hospital when Malcolm showed up was brilliant. All in all i liked this episode, my only problem was that in the beginning of the episode when he attacks the accountant and has him up against a wall, he was pretty close to him and the room was well lit… that dude totally knows what you look like, even if you’ve got some green make-up paint across your eyes. I mean in the beginning of the series Oliver went out of his way to take out lights and what not, now he’s just being lazy.

    • To offer up an alternate possibility regarding Oliver’s “This place hasn’t changed at all.” comment: The apartment might have belonged to Sarah. After her disappearance, Laurel might have moved into the apartment as a way of remembering her sister. Yes, there’s the issue of betrayal but also the logic of the apartment being under a lease. While empty, it could very easily have become Laurel’s haven away from her parents who were grieving and splitting.

  17. Maybe Malcolm’s wife should have called 911 instead of a narcissistic business tycoon.

  18. I want this season to be over so my pre order of the show can finally make it home!!! UGH! I haven’t seen an episode yet!

  19. Batman Begins plot with The Raid choreography….

  20. Great episode.

    Felicity and Oliver forevah!

  21. Wow. Haven’t seen the episode yet (airs here monday, I won’t get to see it until tuesday) but….

    Finale is in 2 weeks time? As in, season one will be over? But it only just freaking came back! These US shows and their screwy air dates, just do a 10 episode season then instead of a mid-season break, have episodes 11-20 or whatever as season 2. Makes far more sense and doesn’t feel like the show is going on forever with the show on air then suddenly it isn’t for a month, then it’s back on for a month, then another month long break, then back on for a couple of weeks before it ends.

  22. Unlike everyone above, I was really disappointed by this episode. The narrative was done so blandly that a baby could have made it more interesting. Specifically, the scenes in the casino were just painful to watch. I did enjoy the well fleshed out scene between Laurel and Tommy and every scene John Barrowman was in. Barrowman continues to remind me why I like this series in every stitch of dialogue he chews through.