It’s fitting that Arrow ends its most frustrating season so far (yes, I can honestly say I enjoy Season 4 more than Season 6 now that it’s concluded) with an almost equally frustrating finale. “Life Sentence” has some truly wonderful moments throughout it, most of them simply conversations between characters who share rich histories with each other, as they reflect on the past or plan for the future. Unfortunately, all of these intimate, emotional character moments are surrounded by too many frustrating plot elements to be as fully satisfying as they should be.
Let’s start with what is arguably the biggest moment of the finale: Oliver turns himself in to the FBI in exchange for immunity for the rest of the team. This is a major sacrifice Oliver is making; in fact, it’s probably his most selfless act in all six seasons of Arrow. But what undercuts this bold choice by Oliver is the reason for it (he and the team can’t take down Diaz and his men themselves, even though they’ve dealt with Slade’s Mirakuru soldiers and the League of Assassins before) and the execution of it (he doesn’t let Felicity know what he’s planning to do until after he’s been arrested, which undermines their entire conversation about trust from last week’s episode).
As a means for resolving Oliver’s Season 6 character arc, his decision to turn himself in works because it’s his way of fulfilling all the roles and responsibilities he’s been juggling all season long. As a husband and father, he ensures that Felicity and William are safe, protected, and cared for, even if he’s not the person doing the caring. As a mayor, he guarantees that all of Diaz’s associates will be taken down and that the FBI won’t leave Star City until after Diaz himself has been captured or killed. And as the Green Arrow, he not only exposes himself and calls upon the citizens of Star City to help save their own city in his absence, hoping his words inspire them to do so, but he makes sure that each member of the team (besides Curtis because Curtis remains the WORST) knows and understands their value to him as a person and to this city as a hero.
In theory, Oliver getting arrested and sent to a supermax prison is a daring but appropriate ending to his journey this season, but the Arrow writers miss too many of the little and even big details to truly make this storyline fulfilling. I won’t harp on Diaz for too much longer, but the fact that he’s the villain who finally forces Oliver to out himself as the Green Arrow is insulting to the character of Oliver Queen. No matter what Black Siren or anyone else tries to tell me, Diaz has always been a drug-dealing, bullying thug, who is maybe worth one episode of Oliver’s time, not an entire season. The fact that the creative team never showed us how dominating of a foe he was throughout Season 6 but had to consistently tell us is one of this season’s most destructive flaws.
Worse than Diaz, though, is what the writers did to characters we loved or were growing to love throughout Season 6. Rene, Dinah, and even Diggle suddenly behaved wildly out-of-character during this season strictly for the means of the plot. The writers had an idea in their minds, to make Oliver feel at his most lonely and vulnerable and desperate, so that he would be in a place where he felt he had to make this type of sacrifice at the end of the season. However, in order to push Oliver to that place, we had to have Rene choose to betray Oliver in order to save Zoe instead of working with his friend and leader to help protect her. We had to have Dinah hypocritically call Oliver, Felicity, and Diggle out for lying while she was hiding her relationship with Vince from them. We had to have Diggle want to be the Green Arrow for reasons he can’t even fully articulate during this finale and question Oliver’s leadership after five-plus years of standing by him.
All of this conflict has been unearned and manufactured, and unfortunately, it’s why so many of Oliver’s conversations (I refuse to call them apologies cause Oliver has nothing to apologize for) with his teammates, even with Dig, fall flat for me throughout “Life Sentence.” There’s no real emotional foundation for these exchanges to stand on after the inconsistent character work of Season 6, and therefore, what are supposed to be these authentic moments between friends feel just as hastily assembled as the original problems that pushed them apart. Even parts of these scenes that do somewhat work for me, such as Diggle telling Oliver that having two Green Arrows would diminish the importance of what the GA stands for and Dinah saying that she respects him more than he could ever know, still ring false. In these moments, Diggle and Dinah feel like the versions of who their characters used to be before their dramatic personality shifts, and there hasn’t been enough ownership of their own faults and self-reflection to explain how they could suddenly switch back to the people they used to be.
With all of that being said, though, there are a couple of sequences throughout “Life Sentence” that work extremely well, the very best of which is Oliver and Quentin’s conversation about being a father. Even if you remove the fact that Quentin is about to die and that Paul Blackthorne is leaving Arrow after six wonderful seasons of work, there’s so much history and heart in the exchange between the two men that it’s hard not to get choked up while watching it. When Oliver returned from Lian Yu six years ago, Quentin viewed him as nothing but an irresponsible party boy, someone who wasn’t good enough to date either of his daughters, let alone start and raise a family. Back then, Quentin Lance was being protective of those he loved most, a trait of his that Oliver has always admired and emulated. Even when he and Oliver were at odds, even when Quentin despised Oliver more than anyone else, Oliver could still see the good man inside of him, the person who never wanted to let anyone down, the father who wished he could be anything and everything for his two daughters. In recent years, though, as the two of them have become friends, Oliver’s been able to continue to look at Quentin’s behavior as an example of what it means to be a good father, whether that’s to Sara, Laurel, or even Thea, but he’s also been able to seek counsel from the late, great detective and listen to his advice about how best to be there for William and Felicity.
Unlike the other scenes I mentioned above, there’s been a genuine build-up to this conversation between Oliver and Quentin, during which Quentin tells Oliver that he’s a good father and Oliver responds by telling Quentin that he learned how to be one from him, not his own dad. It showcases one of Arrow‘s most powerful themes, that family extends beyond just blood, and it also reaffirms that Quentin Lance was a father to so many more people than just his two daughters. One only needs to look at the shocked, tear-filled faces of the team in the hospital waiting room to see the enormous impact that Quentin had on them all, and it’s a shame that he won’t be around to see Oliver continue to be the great father that he helped mold him into.
Because even though Season 6 ends with Oliver Queen behind bars, it’s only a matter of time until he’s free again. Although Oliver tearfully tells Felicity that he doesn’t want her and Diggle trying to break him out because it would lead to the rest of team getting arrested, there’s no way that he’s staying in prison for too long in Season 7. Oliver’s journey this year was about proving to himself and everyone around him that he could be a hero in all facets of life, and through this sacrifice, he certainly shows that. Next season needs to be about Oliver Queen being his best self, about him being a father, husband, mayor, and hero all in one, and about him doing it without facing unjustified doubt and criticism from those he cares about most. He deserves to be there for his son. He deserves to be there for his wife. And he deserves to be there for his team, even if, throughout most of Season 6, they showed that they don’t deserve him.
- So I’ve seen a lot of chatter online about how Oliver’s goodbye scene to Felicity and William isn’t satisfying because he doesn’t hug either of them or say “I love you,” and I can understand that complaint. However, I also would argue that, as important as that scene is to the Oliver/Felicity relationship, it’s, as I mentioned above, much more about Oliver, in his own mind, believing that he’s finally tackling all of the roles and responsibilities he’s struggled with this season. In that moment, through his sacrifice, Oliver believes he’s being the best husband, father, wife, leader, and mayor possible. Do I like his decision? Do I think it’s fully justified? Do I think he should have kept it from Felicity? Hell no to all three of those, but I do appreciate that Oliver’s choice here is selfless and, in many ways, heroic. Plus, Stephen and Emily absolutely killed it, and their acting throughout the scene elevated the material and had me buying into it more, even if the writing itself wasn’t as strong as it should have been.
- Black Siren has done a lot of reprehensible things throughout Season 6, but I don’t think I’ll ever forgive her for helping to let Diaz go, even if it was accidental. The fact that Diaz is still alive after this season has me furious, and I don’t care how cool the Longbow Hunters sound. If they’re with Diaz, I don’t want them in Season 7.
- It’s always great to see Caity Lotz back on Arrow, but I do wish Sara had been able to have more of a conversation with Oliver before he was taken away and an actual scene with Quentin before his death. That hug between her and Felicity, though? That made me emotional.
- I want to take a moment to thank Paul Blackthorne for his tremendous work as Quentin Lance throughout these six seasons of Arrow. Quentin hasn’t always been the easiest character to love, but Blackthorne instilled him with a sense of warmth, kindness, and integrity that always shined through, especially when the writing let Quentin’s character down. I’ll miss Quentin’s scenes with Thea, Oliver, and Rene, and I’ll miss Blackthorne’s veteran presence, which helped elevate the series in its early years. Thanks for everything, Paul.
- And with that, Arrow Season 6 is over! This was a rough season to watch and an even more difficult season to review, but I want to thank anyone and everyone who continues to read my thoughts every week and shares or comments on them, either here or on Twitter. I love Arrow‘s cast and its characters, even when the writing falls short, and I hope that Season 7 will bounce back from this season’s struggles and give us something really special.
What did everyone else think about “Life Sentence” and Arrow Season 6 as a whole? Comment below and let me know.
[Photo credit: Diyah Pera & Jack Rowand/The CW]
Arrow Season 6 Finale Review: "Life Sentence"
Oliver makes a major sacrifice to try to take down Diaz and save his team and city in Arrow‘s uneven Season 6 finale.