Arrow Season 1 Finale Review: The Tragedies of Men

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Arrow S01E23: "Sacrifice"

If last week's penultimate episode was Arrow showing that it could actually do a zippy caper of the week, then the finale demonstrated that the show could—finally—embrace its melodramatic tendencies, with generally delightful and heartstring-tugging results. It was a good time to do that, too, since the action stuff, while fine, didn't feel as tight or as fun as it did in last week's outing.

What do I mean? Laurel and Oliver's epic, lens flare-tastic kiss. Malcolm playing Rebecca's voicemail for Tommy. John Barrowman deciding that Arrow's scenery tastes AH-mazing. Moira's ridiculous press-conference admission and arrest. Thea and Roy's epic, power-blowing kiss. Quentin's last-minute phone call to Laurel. Felicity choking back tears as the Arrowcave shook around her. Tommy saving Laurel but getting trapped himself. TOMMY DYING IN OLIVER'S ARMS.

All of the feels. Just. All of them. (Except for the kissy parts, but good grief, after a full season, we all know how I feel about both of the corresponding plots, so why beat those dead horses?)

The big event of the episode was, of course, Tommy's death (didn't you love how they kept switching out who could possibly die in the episode?). Save for the dynamics of Team Arrow, those between Oliver and Tommy were Arrow's strongest and generally most consistent interpersonal facet of the season. They were bolstered by the easy chemistry between Stephen Amell and Colin Donnell, neither of whom any problem conveying feelings of brotherly love, devotion, and then betrayal and regret. In terms of the narrative arc, the show exploited comic fans' knowledge with regard to the name Merlyn, but also any regular media consumer's knowledge with regard to how these sorts of plots tend to play out—especially if said consumers also enjoyed something like Smallville.

The delight in it was that the arc also subverted the expectations of both sets of viewers. Malcolm's arrival on the scene as the Dark Archer put Tommy's development into question for comic-book fans—would he assume the mantle upon his father's inevitable death?—while other viewers were likewise kept guessing because they may not have known much about Green Arrow mythology, unlike the exploration of Clark and Lex's relationship in Smallville. We knew that Lex Luthor was going to become evil because he was Lex friggin' Luthor, but Merlyn isn't as culturally pervasive as Superman's bald baddie.

So the series worked hard to show a dense and complicated friendship between these two men, men who had known each other all their lives, men who, despite having a five-year gap in their relationship, managed to generally fall back into rhythms that they once knew. They had just changed, too, Oliver on his five-year sojourn and Tommy realizing he was ready to grow up because of Laurel. Indeed, the same way Oliver credited Laurel with always seeing the person he was meant to be underneath all the playboy shenanigans, Tommy would likely say the exact same thing about her with regard to himself.

It's why the sense of betrayal in that love triangle—as generally unengaging as that plot was—was so profound for Tommy. He had lost the attention of the woman who had made him want to improve himself and to the person who was the one loyal and meaningful relationship in his life, no less. We've enjoyed and joked about the bromance between Oliver and Diggle, but through the lens of superhero melodrama, Oliver and Tommy's relationship showcased what happens when the struggles in secret identities and a mission come in conflict with a long personal history, and not just a burgeoning partnership.

All of this is why Tommy's death scene landed so well. It was genuinely emotional and touching, a culmination of both his and Oliver's relationship not only in the season, but also within the show's narrative universe. Had Diggle died instead, while I would've broken all the things, it might not have had the same weight as Tommy's death. I can't think of a more obvious sign of just how much these two meant to each other than Oliver lying about allowing Malcolm to live, and giving his best friend a last bit of comfort.

Through this emphasis on the bonds among men, Arrow's first season became something of an exploration of masculinity.* Unlike the unnecessarily murky justice-versus-revenge talk, the struggles of almost all of the show's male characters to reassert their value both to others and to themselves after a severe trauma was never directly addressed within the show, allowing it to perhaps avoid the same fate as the justice/revenge silliness. Oliver wanted to follow the wishes of his father to make up for his past; Diggle wanted to avenge his brother's death to prove his worth to Carly; Tommy wanted to become a better man because he loves Laurel; Quentin gave up on being a good man after the death of a daughter and the departure of his wife, and tried to compensate by becoming an obsessed cop; Malcolm wanted to avenge his wife's death that he credits to his failure to act like a husband; Roy realized he wanted to protect people after the Savior abducted him.

*Of course, it's a heteronormative, cisgendered masculinity, so it's hardly representative. Sure, we can read homosexual undertones into certain things, but the show ultimately reaffirms the standard norms of masculinity. It's like many, many actions movies, but especially those buddy cop ones from the 1980s. Think Lethal Weapon.

It's obviously not the most original approach to dealing with men who do extraordinary things, but it's such a concentrated, pulpy example that I wonder why in the world I didn't pick up on it too much until now. I'd love to hear what you all think about this in the comments.

From a more evaluative standpoint, not everything in the finale grabbed me. The three-way battle of Oliver and Diggle versus Malcolm was an edited into oblivion, much like some of the battle on the island in the flashbacks (Slade's rifle had magic bullets, I think). Quentin cutting wires and dealing with a big digital countdown clock of the earthquake-causing device felt like an action-plot checkbox, but I did enjoy that the show found a way to give Quentin something to do, and to move his character forward, hopefully, next season.

The island stuff was, frankly, anticlimactic. I know it was supposed to be a big moment, Oliver grabbing that bow and killing Fyers, but it just didn't ring any of my bells. With Fyers and the mercenaries eradicated, I am interested to see what will happen for the trio now, especially in regards to their survival. Of course, Fyers' employer is still out there, somewhere, probably furious that China's economy wasn't destabilized.

Going into next season, I'm all for Team Arrow working together more in the field, but also Diggle and Oliver dealing with that Deadshot situation. As we've discussed in the comments once or twice, I wouldn't mind mini-arcs in Season 2, sort like how comics sometimes structure stories (Part 1 of 4!). But a new Big Bad wouldn't be horrible either, depending on the Big Bad. Then there's the matter of Moira being in arrested. I have no idea how that's going to play out, though I suspect we're likely to see Oliver step up at Queen Consolidated, maybe relocate the Arrow Cave. 

Ultimately, though, with the Glades demolished and Tommy dead, I'm very eager to see what it all means for Oliver and his standing as the Hood. He's obviously not giving it up—there'd be no show otherwise—but what are his priorities now? What will motivate him to continue shooting arrows into people? Will that attitude change to a slightly less lethal one? Will he become the hero that Felicity suggested he was to Quentin?


– I know we needed to move the episode along, but couldn't we have kept Oliver in chains a little while longer? And maybe another bucket of water? I'm just sayin'.

– Welcome back, Joanna! So glad you managed to stop by to... run out of CNRI during a manufactured earthquake. And without an explanation as to why you were back. See you next season! Maybe?

– This week's Arrow digital comic focused on Malcolm, and it didn't illuminate much. He had been the Dark Archer for while, including initially going around the Glades disrupting crimes while trying to find his wife's killer. Unsurprisingly, the Nanda Parbat stuff was pretty vague, but considering how this episode played out, that's probably for the best.

– I know we may've all rolled our eyes at the blatant in-episode "don't text and drive" PSA between Thea and Roy, and then we likely rolled them even more when they did an actual PSA during the commercial break, but seriously, folks: Safety first.

– I want to take a moment and thank all of you for reading and commenting on these reviews all season. It's been a real pleasure discussing the show with you all, and I hope that I'll see you for Season 2 in the fall!

What'd you think of "Sacrifice" and the season as a whole? What do you hope to see in Season 2?

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