Arrow Episode 23 - Sacrifice (2013): TV Recap
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After being defeated and captured by Malcolm Merlyn, Oliver is chained up and delirious, dreaming or remembering his father’s final two-pronged plea: 1) right my wrongs, and 2) survive. Malcolm uses a bucket of water to wake Oliver from this reverie, and tells Oliver that he will always lose because he doesn’t know in his heart what he is fighting for.
Once Malcolm leaves, Oliver is lucid enough to climb to the top of his chains and drop to the floor, his body weight breaking the pipes he was hanging on. He takes out two of Malcolm’s thugs, and is about to get shot by a third when Diggle shows up to take him down. Luckily, Oliver keeps a tracking device in his boot.
As Felicity is leaving the Queen building, having discovered the earthquake generator’s schematics, Detective Lance stops her. Although it’s nighttime when he catches up with Felicity, the next scene is in the daylight in the police station’s interrogation room. I suppose he wasn’t in too big a hurry to question her about her hacking activities. Turns out the police’s computer expert has been able to track down all of Felicity’s illicit cyber activity: hacking into Blackhawk Squad’s security, researching arrows from a company called Sagittarius, and analyzing water samples to locate the Vertigo supply. These cases all have to do with the vigilante, so it’s not too hard for Lance to piece together that Felicity is the hood’s girl Friday. Before Lance can get any information out of her, Oliver calls him to let him know about the Undertaking. Since this is a bigger problem than a hacker who might know who the vigilante is, Lance lets Felicity go, but on her way out, she defends her boss. “You know, I used to think the vigilante was a criminal too, but it seems to me, whoever he is, he’s willing to sacrifice an awful lot to help the people of this city. Kind of makes him a hero, doesn’t it?”
This statement is key in getting Lance to rethink the hood, but it also explains the theme of this episode and the entire first season. Firstly, Felicity recognizes Oliver’s “sacrifice,” the title of this episode. This word is used throughout the episode to describe various characters’ motivations. He is of course sacrificing what we would assume would be an epically fun existence as a billionaire playboy, and is willing to sacrifice his own life if need be, to live up to his father’s dying wish and to make sure his father’s sacrifice, taking his own life so his son would have enough provisions to live, was not in vain. Secondly, Felicity’s offhand remark that Oliver is “kind of” a hero perfectly captures his growth as a character and why he’s at odds with Detective Lance in the first place. In the series premiere, Oliver kills several people just to keep his identity safe. Although he has preached a righteousness of purpose throughout the season, telling others who kill (or who want to kill) that they are nothing like him, he hasn’t changed his M.O. much: when he escapes Malcolm Merlyn’s lair, he kills two thugs on his way out. These guys are certainly on the wrong side of Oliver’s mission, but they could have easily been knocked out and subdued rather than killed. So why did Oliver snap their necks? Probably because he didn’t need any hired guns wandering around who know that Malcolm Merlyn had Oliver Queen tied up in green tights hanging from his ceiling. Does the good work that Oliver does and has done since he returned from the dead cancel out all the somewhat avoidable death that he brings with him? Can he really be called a hero when he’s not just skirting the law with a few breaking and entering charges or some illegal hacking, but also flat out murdering people? The answer, of course, is “kind of.”
Lance furthers the theme of sacrifice by taking the vigilante’s warning to his lieutenant. He admits that despite leading a task force to catch the vigilante, he’s been in contact with him on several occasions, and has gotten good intel from him. He’s willing to sacrifice his career by making this admission, and he’s willing to sacrifice catching the vigilante, if it means saving people’s lives. This gets Lance immediately suspended with no help forthcoming from the police.
As Moira packs up Walter’s clothes, Oliver confronts her with the express purpose of stopping the Undertaking. He finally reveals the truth about his father’s death and the sacrifice he made. Though Moira is trying to protect her family, Oliver can’t go on living knowing that she sacrificed thousands more in his name. During this conversation, Malcolm calls to tell her that the timetable for the Undertaking has been accelerated: it’s going down tonight!
As Oliver heads out to stop the earthquake, he meets Laurel downstairs. She’s concerned that history is repeating itself after she woke up and he was missing from her bed. “Will you tell me what’s going on with you?” Oliver wants to tell her so many things, like what happened on the island. Those five years didn’t change him, they just scraped away all the things he wasn’t, revealing the person he always was, the person Laurel always knew him to be. “Nobody in my life is who I thought they were, except you.” He then warns her to stay out of the Glades. He can’t say why, but she’ll find out soon enough, one way or the other.
Moira, inspired by Oliver’s passion to stop the Undertaking, has called a press conference revealing Malcolm’s plans. She admits her complicity and is led away by the police, but at least gives the residents of the Glades a chance to get out. (I’m not sure why after Lance’s warning and Moira’s confession the Starling City police aren’t doing more to discover the whereabouts of the earthquake machine.) Thea is extremely upset with her mother. She leaves the mansion to find Roy because he lives in the Glades, and probably doesn’t have a phone or a television, so there’s no way for him to know that he should leave the Glades unless Thea is there in person to tell him.
Knowing that the seismic device can be set on a timer or activated via a transmitter, Oliver plans to split the team up: he tells Diggle to find the device while he goes after Merlyn. Diggle is not a fan of this plan, because he thinks Merlyn will kill Oliver. “I know. He’s beaten twice, and I don’t know how to stop him.” Oliver is preparing to make the ultimate sacrifice, but Diggle won’t let him do this. “Oliver, you are not alone, not since you brought me into this…” Noticing Felicity, he amends his statement, “Us into this.” Rethinking his plan to utilize all his resources, Oliver plans to confront Merlyn with Diggle, and assigns Felicity to walk Detective Lance through deactivating the device.
Oliver and Diggle find Merlyn behind a false wall in his office. The three of them start a melee that results in Diggle being wounded by a throwing knife and Oliver chasing Merlyn to the roof. Meanwhile, Lance has found the device and is ready to be talked through the deactivation process, but there’s only seven minutes left on the timer. Instead of evacuating the Glades, Roy is trying to help innocent people caught in the looting and rioting. He is able to stop two punks from beating an old man, but a third punk has a gun. That is, until Thea throws a bottle at his head and knocks him out. Perhaps her excellent aim presages “Speedy” becoming the hood’s net sidekick instead of Roy? Roy and Thea begin their escape until they run across a bus filled with trapped passengers. Roy jumps out to save them, and sends Thea on her way.
On the roof, Oliver and Merlyn continue their fight. Ollie shoots an arrow at Merlyn, which he catches, just like in last episode’s fight scene, but this time Oliver has made a slight modification to his tactics. He shot an exploding arrow, which knocks Merlyn to the ground. Merlyn recovers and grabs Oliver in a choke hold, which triggers his memory of his father telling him to survive. Going completely on survival instinct, Ollie grabs a loose arrow from the ground and stabs Malcolm. “Thank you for teaching me what I’m fighting for,” Oliver says, “but my father taught me how.” With word from Felicity that Lance has stopped the device and Merlyn finally on the ground instead of Oliver, the Undertaking appears to be finished until Malcolm tells Oliver that he learned redundancy from his years as a businessman. A second seismic device goes off, starting an earthquake that Felicity can feel in the arrowcave and that starts shaking the CNRI building with Laurel inside.
Felicity turns out to be okay, as the damage is contained to the east side, but the same can’t be said for Laurel. Detective Lance tries to make it to her office, and Oliver leaves Merlyn to get there in time. Laurel is pinned under debris, and can’t make it out until her savior, Tommy, arrives. He declares his love for her, and sends her outside, but is caught in an aftershock. Detective Lance won’t let Laurel go back inside after Tommy, but Oliver goes in a back way to find him. Unfortunately, Tommy wasn’t just pinned down; he was stabbed through the chest with some rebar. After making sure Laurel is safe, he apologizes for being jealous and angry, and cryptically tells Oliver, “I am my father.” As Tommy dies, Oliver laments, “It should have been me!” The season ends with the Glades in shambles, Tommy having beaten Oliver to making the ultimate sacrifice.
What does this mean going forward? It certainly puts a damper on my theory that Tommy would eventually take his father’s mantle as the Dark Archer (although don’t be surprised if this death is only temporary, and Tommy reappears in season three after some intense archery training). Maybe the producers liked Malcolm’s acting ability better than Tommy’s? Or maybe they realized that the son becoming the father was a common theme, and preferred to see Malcolm descend even further into madness after losing his son as well as his wife. Whatever the motivation, Tommy’s death will certainly make Oliver and Laurel feel conflicted about their relationship, and will cause Malcolm to blame Oliver even more.