This week on Arrow: a reluctant prison break, the baby vigilante birds spread their wings, and Adrian Chase trolls us about whether or not he is the mysterious villain Prometheus. Oh yeah, and there are flashbacks. “Penance” was another solid hour of TV for an Arrow season five that has seen more hits than misses. (Arrow pun!) Though its many storylines could have felt disjointed, they were held together by some good character work, plenty of humor, a few surprises, and some stellar crosscutting. Here’s everything that went down this week in “Penance.”
When Lyla comes to Oliver looking for help breaking her stubborn husband out of prison, Oliver agrees because a) making decisions for other people is one of Oliver’s absolute favorite things, b) he is still trying to make up for that time he kidnapped Lyla and left Baby Sara and/or Baby John Jr. alone in her and/or his crib, and c) prison is a stupid place for Diggle to be when he could be part of Oliver’s awesome vigilante team. (That’s a basic paraphrasing of Oliver’s “You Should Come Away With Me Out of This Prison” speech.)
Because this is Arrow and we already did the “John Is So Angry At Oliver” thing, Diggle quickly sees the error of his ways and leaves prison for a life on the run, launching a new chapter of the Team Arrow story. It’s good to have Diggle back, but I still wish we never had this Diggle subplot that never really made much sense. Presumably, it will come up again later in the season (any bets that Tobias Church is somehow connected), but, for now, Diggle’s man-on-the-run status takes what is arguably Arrow’s most normal character away from his normalcy. At least Diggle and Lyla’s new HIVE home-away-home offers more space than that time Lyla and Sara were living in the back of a constantly-moving van. Oh, Arrow, how I love you.
Arrow: The Next Generation
With Oliver off breaking John out of prison, the recruits are left to try to save the city all on their lonesome when Tobias Church starts shooting up the city’s Anti-Crime Unit. That Church sure does have a healthy sense of irony. The mission goes… reasonably well, considering. Ragman, Wild Dog, Artemis, and Mr. Terrific are able to save some of the police officers (not to mention Deputy Mayor Lance and District Attorney Adrian Chase), but Curtis is hit with a ninja star to the back and Rene is kidnapped by Church’s men to be brutally tortured in the episode’s final scenes.
This is the first time we’ve really seen the new recruits have to face serious consequences for joining Team Arrow, in what is perhaps the most important lesson of all: you risk your life when you put on that mask.
In what continues to be a surprisingly affecting storyline, Rory struggles with his role on Team Arrow after learning the truth about Felicity’s role in Havenrock’s destruction last episode. In one of the best scenes of the episode, Felicity shows up at Rory’s art studio, to convince him to rejoin the team, unleashing one of her many superpowers: the pep talk. “We just both want the same thing,” Felicity tells Rory, “to be able to live with what has happened, so we can move forward.” Story of this show, man. But really. I was impressed with the degree to which Arrow was able to double down on one of its main, seemingly beaten-to-death themes in “Penance”: the exploration of how our pasts shape us, the exploration of how we change and how we don’t change.
When Oliver is trying to convince John to let him break him out of prison, his argument isn’t that John shouldn’t feel guilty about killing his brother, but that he needs to figure out a way to live with the past, a way to seek penance for it. Oliver tells Diggle: “I guess I haven’t changed that much, either. I guess that’s what I have to do my penance for.” A startlingly insightful moment for Oliver Queen and for this show.
The kind of statement that has much greater resonance in season five, after we’ve lived through four seasons of Oliver making the same mistakes with varying degrees of self-awareness. Oliver’s evolution hasn’t been in whether he is killing this season or not, but rather in his ability to own up to his own actions and to process his own trauma. Arrow sometimes gets away from these more internal missions, but is arguably at its strongest when Oliver is facing them head on.
Speaking of the past, the flashbacks this week show Oliver passing the third Bratva test. Now, he gets to drink the vodka instead of pouring it all over himself. It’s very exciting for everyone involved.
In all seriousness though, there was a lot to bite into in this week’s flashback — not a statement I can usually make. While present-day Oliver is musing on the fact that perhaps he hasn’t changed that much, we see flashback Oliver sneaking into a different prison, not to save his best friend, but to blackmail information out of a man using the innocent lives of his wife and child as leverage, and then killing him just because the Bratva (or, more specifically, Anatoly) told him to.
Oliver has obviously changed a great deal from this lost puppy of a killer, but the two versions of the character are not without their similarities, especially the closer we get to The Mop-Haired Singularity (a.k.a. the moment when the flashbacks meet up with the show’s pilot and Oliver’s mop-haired return from Lian Yu begins). Oliver is still driven, he is a killer, and he will do anything to fulfill a promise to someone he cares about — whether that promise is explicit, as is the case with Taiana, or implicit, as is the case with Diggle and Oliver’s friendship. Perhaps Oliver’s path to salvation doesn’t just lie in Oliver changing all of the bad things about himself, but rather recognizing all of the good things that have been there all along. Because, when it comes down to it, this man is a hero. A whiny, self-sacrificing dude of a man, but someone who gets up and tries to make his city a better place on a daily basis. Like, it’s his only hobby.
Rating: ★★★ Good
Did anyone else feel like Chase was trolling us about whether or not he is Prometheus? Examples of things he said in this episode: “Public service isn’t easy. Sometimes you get a little dirty cleaning up the mess.” And: “I spent most of my lives thinking that men in masks are only capable of doing horrible things. I may have to reevaluate that.”
Obligatory reminder that no one on Team Arrow seems to have an actual job. Where do they get their money? And does Team Arrow pay the new recruits? I’m not saying I want a whole episode just focused on Team Arrow budget meetings (OK, fine, I would love that), but I am saying that solidifying how Team Arrow finances its operations might go a long way in grounding a story that started out as a tale of income inequality and corruption in the wealthiest of Starling City’s residents.
“What about your father? I thought he was the reason you were doing this.” — Oliver, to Rory. Here’s the thing: I liked that both Oliver and Felicity wanted Rory to rejoin the team, but I’m not sure if I am cool with them both equating him leaving the team with giving up on his father’s legacy. There is more than one way to honor the dead, as Thea is currently demonstrating in how she is choosing to honor Laurel’s death by having a “normal” life. This is true for Rory, too. But, yeah, they need the rag-covered hands on deck, too.
“I should probably start pre-recording apologies for when I am late.” — The Oliver Queen Story.
Thea and Oliver’s explanation that Oliver had gout, which is why he was leaving town, was a nice throw back to Oliver’s terrible season one explanations for why he wasn’t somewhere he was supposed to be.
“Since I trust you.” “You do?” Lance, being surprised that Oliver trusts him. This is still one of my favorite dynamics on the show.
“I’m not gonna be gone long, just please make sure no one destroys the city while I’m away.” Oliver really needs another hobby.
Curtis suggests to Felicity that they don’t alert Oliver about the break-in at Palmer Tech, as retribution for the company’s board firing them, which is one of the many reasons why Curtis is one of the best parts of season five.
“And if you’re thinking of lying, I do admire your consistency.” — Felicity to Oliver
“This is simple: I am going to stop [insert loved one of Oliver Queen] from making a decision he will regret.” — The Oliver Queen Story
“Gotta be a lot of hatchets to bury there.” “Yeah, well at least I know where they’re buried.” Lance, on the #complicated Oliver/Lance relationship.
Curtis’ real superpower is his ability to do cornrows before every mission. That takes a lot of arm muscle.
“Right because Oliver Queen is known for thinking things through and taking input from others.” Curtis Holt knows what’s up.
The “Sneaking in with the Laundry Trick” never gets old.
“You’re my brother, John. What happen to you, happens to me.” Aww.
Lance driving the getaway car: “Where’s the Wild Dog kid?” Like the rest of us, Lance can’t quite bring himself to simply call Rene “Wild Dog.”
Oliver and John getting pulled into Lyla’s jet is one of the coolest tricks Arrow has pulled, even if the show obviously didn’t have the visual effects budget to linger.
“If things ever get less easy, you know I’m here for you, right?” — Thea Queen to Lance. Another fascinating dynamic I am really glad Arrow season five is exploring.
“If we’re gonna do this, we can’t let guilt swallow us up. I’ll keep you from doing this, if you’ll promise the same for me.” — Rory’s promise to Felicity. Team Arrow needed his anti-guilt policy four years ago.
“Ow. Ow. Ow.” “So,ow then?” Petition to give Evelyn Sharp more of a backstory. Rene, too.
Next week on Arrow? Oliver hopefully fulfills this promise regarding the currently-being-tortured Rene: “We’re gonna find him and we’re gonna bring him back.”