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If the title of Arrow’s season finale, “Sacrifice,” wasn’t enough of an indication that at least one of the central characters would die before the end of the episode, the word was repeated throughout (seven times, by my count). The only question was who.
There were plenty of candidates, naturally, although we knew it couldn’t be Oliver Queen, as the drama is renewed for next season, or Felicity Smoak or Roy Harper, because actors Emily Bett Rickards and Colton Haynes were promoted to series regulars. However, virtually everyone else was a prime candidate — and to the credit of the writers, most of the characters appeared to be in genuine jeopardy at some point. In the end, the one who made the ultimate sacrifice came as a surprise.
“Sacrifice” is the antidote to everything that’s ailed Arrow for most of the season: glacial pacing, murky character motivations, clunky romantic subplots, staggering leaps of logic. The episode is so fast-paced, so laser-focused on its goals, that the characters – never mind the viewers – never have a chance to catch their breaths (or pause to pick at loose threads). Sure, there are grand soliloquies, moments of romance ripped straight out of a daytime soap and, oh, yeah, that goofy earthquake machine that threatens to kill thousands, but somehow it all works. Gloriously. Heck, for the first time in 23 episodes, the Oliver-Laurel relationship comes across as believable, something I never would’ve thought possible. If “Sacrifice” had pulled off only that much, it might have qualified as the season’s crowning achievement, but there was so much more to this episode.
Despite the efforts of producers to strip Arrow of its more outlandish comic-book elements, the series is, indeed, a superhero story. As such, instead of simply killing an unconscious Oliver while he has the chance, Malcolm Merlyn chains him in a warehouse, and attempts to make him understand why he plans to kill the thousands of residents of the Glades. Naturally, Oliver escapes (with some assistance from John Diggle), leading Malcolm to escalate the timeline for the Undertaking, which spurs all of the players, from Moira Queen to Roy Harper to Quentin Lance, into action.
They’re all given moments to shine, too: Questioned by Detective Lance about her hacking activities, and her connection to the vigilante, Felicity reveals the depth of her devotion not merely to Oliver (the at least one-time object of her schoolgirl-like crush) but to the Hood’s mission (which she has been at odds with in the past). And when she’s ordered by Oliver to leave the secret lair, which is in the Markov Device’s path of destruction, she remains, even though she’s clearly terrified. Tipped off by the Hood, and perhaps inspired by Felicity’s talk of heroism and sacrifice, Quentin Lance comes to the realization that he didn’t become a police officer to enforce the law but rather to protect the people of Starling City. When his lieutenant learns that he’s been receiving help from the vigilante rather than capturing him, Lance is suspended from the force.
And then there’s Tommy, poor Tommy. During a drunken argument about Laurel, he’s told by Ollie about Malcolm’s scheme to destroy the Glades. “You’ve always known the man he is,” Oliver tells his former best friend. “I wish you had died on that island,” Tommy spits in reply before paying a visit to his father to commiserate over what a jerk Oliver is. Instead of dinner and more alcohol, Tommy is served a bitter dose of reality as Malcolm confirms that it’s all true. It’s an emotionally devastating moment, as Tommy is forced to listen to a recording of his mother’s dying words as she bled out on a sidewalk in the Glades – “They deserve to die!” Malcolm yells. “The way she did!” – but there’s more heartbreak to come.
Moira Queen has her role to play as well: Following a confrontation with Oliver in which she asserts she’s powerless to stop the Undertaking, Moira calls a press conference in her home to expose the plot, her role in it and the identity of the Undertaking’s architect, and to warn the residents of the Glades to flee. Just as Detective Lance is willing to forfeit his career, Moira sacrifices her freedom (she’s arrested following her announcement) and her reputation for the good of the city and, yes, her family. Thea barely has time to process her mother’s words before she charges in to save Roy, who reveals himself as the hero he’s longed to be, putting himself in danger to protect the people of his neighborhood. (An aside: Thea’s admonition of Roy to not text and drive was clumsily inserted into the action, and made even only more obtrusive by the actual public service announcement featuring actress Willa Holland.)
From there, it’s a race to stop the Undertaking, as Diggle and Ollie confront Malcolm Merlyn while Quentin Lance heads into the abandoned subway tunnels to diffuse the Markov Device (with technical assistance from Felicity). Once again, the fight scenes are flawlessly choreographed and just as brutal as you would expect from a life-or-death brawl. In the end, Team Arrow seemingly wins, with Ollie taking down Malcolm and Quentin and Felicity disarming the device, only for them to discover there’s a second one, Merlyn’s “failsafe.” It’s a wonderful twist as Oliver & Co. watch victory slip from their grasps, with sections of the Glades sinking into the earth – including the area where Laurel’s office is located.
Enter, and exit, Tommy Merlyn, who’s the first to reach Laurel, freeing her from the debris, only to be caught within the building as it collapses around him. As much as I hate to see the death of the most interesting figures on the series, and the departure gifted actor Colin Donnell, it’s a fitting end to the character’s arc. Despite his gasped assertion that “I am my father,” Tommy demonstrated that he could escape his long shadow. Confounding expectations (largely because of the name he shares with a DC Comics villain), he wasn’t lured to the Dark Side by his father, even when driven back to Malcolm’s side by conflicts with Oliver and Laurel.
And while he removed himself as a perceived obstacle to Laurel’s ultimate happiness, in the end, when she needed a hero, it was Tommy who saved her.
Odds and Ends