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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