Even though it’s an hour that features a prison break, multiple explosions, and the kidnapping one of the new team’s integral members by one of this season’s two main villains, “Penance” still can’t help but feel like a setup episode for Arrow. That’s not the worst thing for the show; series that are as highly serialized as Arrow, especially when they’re still producing 22 episodes per season, need hours like “Penance” to move the plot forward in big ways and set the table for the more exciting material that’s still to come. And even though a lot of the story beats from tonight’s episode feel a little more generic or predictable than they have in the previous three installments of Season 5, the character journeys from this season still remain incredibly compelling.
Take Felicity and Rory, whose story best fits the theme of “penance,” as they both try to find ways to forgive themselves for the mistakes they’ve made and the horrors they’ve seen. I can’t commend the Arrow writers enough for how they’ve handled this storyline so far in Season 5. Not only was it refreshing to see Felicity be honest with Rory about her role in what happened to Havenrock so quickly after they first met, but the way that the two of them have been dealing with this difficult situation as individuals and as members of the same team has been fascinating to watch. The creative team behind the show isn’t shortchanging either character, allowing both Felicity and Rory to feel the pain and guilt over what happened, knowing that it’s something that the two of them will live with for the rest of their lives. When Rory looks at Felicity, he doesn’t blame her, but he’s reminded of what he lost on that tragic day; meanwhile, every time she seems him, the guilt and pain that she tried to bury at the end of last season rises to the surface, almost suffocating her.
However, both Rory and Felicity are mature enough to understand the complexity of the situation, that neither one of them is wrong for feeling the way that they do, and that the only true culprit behind the horrible loss of life in Havenrock was Damien Darhk. With that mutual understanding, they’re able to move forward together to create a new legacy as part of Team Arrow, as part of a group that only wants to save lives, not take them away. Arrow is a show that has relied on distrust and lies to create contrived drama way too much in the past, with characters keeping secrets from each other for reasons that were very hard to believe, but with Felicity and Rory’s relationship, the CW series is proving that, like its characters, it’s become more thoughtful and reflective and can handle these situations in a more mature and satisfying way.
Unfortunately, while tonight’s Arrow dedicates a good portion of its time to dealing with Felicity and Rory’s conflict, it fails to properly explore Diggle’s mindset. While last week’s episode perfectly illustrated that John is still haunted by the fact that he killed his own brother, this week’s installment barely lets us see his change of heart.
In “A Matter of Trust,” Diggle made it very clear to Lyla that he believed the only way that he could fully serve his penance for killing Andy was by remaining in prison; even though he was serving time for a crime he didn’t commit, in his eyes, he still deserved to be there. However, one very quick conversation with Oliver changes Diggle’s mindset in “Penance,” as Ollie tells John that he can find redemption as Spartan in Star City, not as a criminal rotting in his cell. Oliver’s words here are genuine, and it’s easy to see how and why they would appeal to Diggle, but Arrow barely gives John and the audience time to process Oliver’s argument before he’s agreeing with his friend and former teammate. Oliver and Diggle’s conversation inside his cell is over and done with so quickly that the pace of the scene almost robs it completely of its emotion. The writers, Brian Ford Sullivan and Oscar Balderrama, and director, Dermott Downs, needed to give this exchange more time to breathe and allow for the excellent performances of David Ramsey and Stephen Amell to show why Diggle would agree to go with his friend after he apparently told Lyla repeatedly that he didn’t want to be set free.
Perhaps it’s the rushed nature of “Penance” that makes it feel more like a table-setting episode. Aside from the scenes with Felicity and Rory and Diggle and Lyla’s quick exchange near the episode’s end, the emotional moments that should pack a punch fall pretty flat. Even though there’s some terrific fight sequences throughout the hour (I especially loved watching Wild Dog going up against Tobias Church with his brass knuckles and Oliver slowly taking out all of the prison guards), they’re not enough to overcome its lack of heart, and that’s quite a surprise, especially given the fact that Oliver and Diggle’s friendship is one of Arrow‘s most important relationships.
With John now back in Star City (even though he’s a fugitive) and Rene in the hands of Tobias Church, it feels like Team Arrow is more ready and willing to fight than they have been all season. Hopefully, tonight’s action-packed hour set the stage for something truly special next week, but even on its own merits, “Penance” remains a solid episode of Arrow in what is shaping up to be one of the drama’s strongest seasons yet.
- We still don’t know a ton about Star City’s newest D.A., Adrian Chase, but I’m beginning to really like him. Maybe it’s just Josh Segarra’s performance or the fact that Adrian seems to get along with pretty much everyone (see his scenes with Quentin from tonight’s episode), but the character has been a pretty likable presence in his first two episodes.
- Oliver becomes an official member of the Bratva this week, after he purposefully gets arrested so that he can gain intel from one of Kovar’s men before killing him. Now that Oliver is fully part of the Bratva, I’m really excited to see where the rest of this season’s flashbacks go.
- There’s a lot of great shots throughout “Penance,” and the CGI work throughout the episode is pretty strong as well, particularly in Oliver and Diggle’s rescue scene, as they shoot up to Lyla’s plane, a la The Dark Knight. However, my favorite frame from the entire hour has to be the blood dripping down from Rene onto his hockey mask, which lies on the floor. It’s not wholly original or anything, but it’s incredibly striking image that’s been stuck in my mind ever since I finished watching the episode.
- Glad to see Curtis will be okay even after getting a knife thrown into his back. I really appreciate that Arrow isn’t making the new team members bulletproof. They should be able to get as bruised and as bloodied as we’ve seen Oliver be in the past. It gives the show higher stakes and makes the danger of Star City feel much more real.
- While I had problems with the way the Oliver/Diggle story unfolded this week, I do like the fact that both men appear to have fully accepted each other for who they are, despite their flaws and differences. When Dig tells Oliver that it’s a good thing he hasn’t changed, he means it, and that’s a huge step forward from where the two of them were at this time last season.
- I was very much amused by Felicity continuously telling Rene that “Blondie” is not her name.
- “Was he waiting for an entrance line?” “No, he’s just that cool.”
What did everyone else think about this week’s episode of Arrow? Comment below and let me know.
[Photo credit: Dean Buscher/The CW]
Arrow Season 5 Episode 4 Review: "Penance"
Oliver and Lyla help break Diggle out of jail, while the new team takes on Church in a solid table-setting episode of Arrow.