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"Any undertaking of value is worthy of patience."
This is the third or fourth episode of Arrow in a row that felt far more concerned with setting up the upcoming finale than delivering a satisfying self-contained installment. There's always a fine line when shows try to find the balance between episodic and serialized storytelling, however, The CW's comic book series has always been more successful when it swayed towards the former. Bring in the villain of the week, preferably a well known rogue from the DC Universe, and have Oliver Queen's ever expanding team of crime fighters foil their plans as well as evade (or aid) the police. That's not to say that building towards a year ending big bad like Malcolm Merlyn isn't worthwhile (who isn't looking forward to a rematch of the fight from "Year's End" between his Black Archer and Ollie's Green Arrow?) but the show also has to ensure it doesn't get lost in the long game and forget its winning formula. How can you go almost all of "The Undertaking," the third last episode of the first season, without a scene of banter between Oliver and Dig? Quickly clear up the rift created in "Home Invasion" and get the two together on screen. Like we'd rather watch Robert, Malcolm and Frank plot and scheme.
"You think you scare me more than the people I work for?"
Maybe that's not exactly fair since some of the flashback sequences were interesting but mostly the explorations into the distant past felt like the Arrow episodes of the distant past, namely full of exposition and clunky dialogue. Almost all the scenes taking place before the infamous boat-ride between Robert, Malcolm, Moira and Frank contain nothing but endless amounts of talking about their plans, the ones they initially hatched and then Malcolm's modifications. Some of the flashbacks also had that feel of a prequel, where you kind of already know most of what's going on and therefore the only excitement comes from a recognition of the events, not the actual drama. For example, the entire goodbye between Laurel and Ollie was just a rehashing of events we've heard about over and over, the only purpose here is to reiterate how big a scumbag he was before the incident with the Queen's Gambit. Oh, and speaking of the Gambit, that line from Robert about 'taking the boat out' made me groan. That's the kind of prequel non-sense I'm taking about. Before getting to the plans, "The Undertaking" opens with a convenient action sequence that just happens to help with the installment's central question: Where's Walter?
"One man alone can't save this city."
I had a few puns lined up there. Where's Waldo? Where's Wallace (for fans of The Wire) but I opted to play it cool. Now, back to the shakedown at the heavily fortified opening office: Ollie's able to retrieve a bunch of (just random) stolen funds from various people who failed this city and has Felicity start sorting the data in order to return it all to its rightful owners. The Smoak also tries her darnedest to convince Oliver to apologize to Dig and bring him back into the fold but of course that's the lesson for the end of the episode so instead we have to rely on these two to do everything. While the heroes are sifting through the information in the Arrow Cave, Moira and Thea just happen to be talking about Walter after his life insurance. It's so sad losing Walter, it's like losing Robert all over again! Cue the flashback and the aforementioned exposition where all the cabal's plans, both past and future, are laid out for us. It turns out that Robert wasn't really that bad of a guy, well, actually it's complicated. He did something bad but the list isn't a list of his buddies but, similar to his son, a list of people to target in order to improve Starling City. All of the group's members have personal reasons for wanting to clean up the Glades, Robert's is to atone while Malcolm's is much more, well, vengeful.
"You're going to be really upset when you meet my partner."
The Glades took his wife and since their undertaking isn't making any progress, Malcolm was to try an alternative approach. Wiping the 'slate' clean and rebuilding from scratch. In the present, the same 'start from scratch' approach is being applied to Arrow's main romance, with a large portion of "The Undertaking" (flashbacks included) devoted to the Oliver and Laurel love story. Tommy was sick of being second choice and dumped Laurel last week and the first place she turns is to Ollie for council. He lies to her about his best friend's cold feet even though he won't lie later about his feelings. But that's later! After Laurel has once again confronted Tommy, who's looking a lot like his father these days (a line I did like since it suggests him possibly being a future villain), and been told that she and Ollie belong together. How nice of Tommy to put her in harm's way! One thing to not want to be the fall-back guy but another to stop caring for someone's safety. Then come those ridiculous flashback scenes between the lovers to hammer home how much he's changed from the immature douche-bag. The love thread ends in the present with Laurel coming to him for help, again, and for some reason being surprised that he's still hopelessly in love with her. Big shock.
"Let the kid take the boat out with the old man."
Now that the relationship nonsense is out of the way (and to be honest, Ollie had more chemistry with McKenna and The Huntress than Laurel... Felicity too), it's back to finding Walter and finding out more about these nefarious plans Malcolm hatched over give years ago. First, remember the files with all that stolen money, well they just happened to also contain a nice lead about the possible whereabouts of Oliver's missing step-father. Sweet score. Since this scumbag Alonso has been running an underground casino for a while and seems like a genuine danger known by all, it's weird that Arrow has never targeted him before. And don't say it's because the guy has an 'army of security,' that's all the more reason for the vigilante to take him on, especially one as hot heated as the Hood. But alas, he's out there and might have some info so it's time for Felicity to do some field work. She even tries to bring Dig into the fold, however, he's waiting for the green man himself to pay him a visit with an apology in hand. The Smoak and Ollie go ahead with their sting operation, snapdragons and feeling good inside, with her successfully card counting her way into Alonso's office. She even manages to plant the device but the show, rightfully, decides not to skip an action sequence. Too bad Arrow's efforts are all for naught. Walter's dead.
"They'll get what's coming to them..."
Or is he? Of course not. But the bit of misdirection, whether intentional on Ollie's part or not, does make Moira run right to Malcolm and allow her son to hear what's really going on. Well, some of what's going on. He knows his mother is involved and also how to track down his missing step-father. And the extraction of the latter was quite fantastic, with Arrow clearing out an entire hallway of henchmen in the heavily fortified tenement in Bludhaven on his way to rescue Walter. What they still don't know, however, are the specifics of the undertaking or how far his father went to try and stop it from happening only to be betrayed by his buddy Frank. Don't worry, he already got his in "Salvation", when Moira pinned her failed hit on Malcolm on Frank. So much scheming! So Malcolm (and Moira) still plan to level the Glades in order to save them and near the end of the episode we see UNIDAC finally delivering on their five year promise by delivering the 'natural disaster' to Starling City. With only two episodes remaining, not to mention how serialized these last few have been, I bet some significant sparks fly in the Black Archer versus Green Arrow showdown next week before Arrow's actual season finale. Dig will be there to help, thanks to Ollie's apology (and their one scene), but who else will lend a hand? Walter? Moira? Roy? We'll see... I say Roy.
Arrow returns with Episode 22, "Darkness on the Edge of Town," next Wednesday at 8 p.m. ET on The CW.