Sunday, 30 October 2016

Review - 'Arrow', S05E04 - 'Penance'

On its own, the previous episode of Arrow had been entertaining enough – but, not especially memorable. Despite its weaker elements, though, the episode had still managed to set some interesting character-arcs in motion – for Diggle and Felicity, in particular. And, the fact that Oliver's new team had truly begun to work together effectively gave the impression that we would soon be moving on to conflicts that were a little more interesting than the internal bickering we had seen, so far.

With all of that in mind, it probably makes sense that the season's fourth episode would seek to capitalise on that strong sense of forward momentum. Here, we have Diggle in military prison, framed for a crime he didn't commit – but, with Oliver and Lyla are working on a plan to break him out, quite clearly against his own wishes. Rory, meanwhile, has come to the conclusion that he can't be part of the team, after all – after having learnt that Felicity was the one who guided the nuclear warhead to Havenrock. In a somewhat surprising, and nicely character defining moment, though, Rory seems genuinely understanding of the fact that the deaths of his family and friends wasn't actually her choice, and that she did the best that she could in a terrible situation – but, perhaps understandably, he has still come to regard her as a painful reminder of everything he has lost.

The rest of the team, meanwhile, are still struggling to work together effectively, despite their experiences in the previous episode – with Wild Dog, in particular, proving to be a somewhat problematic 'wild card' in Oliver's carefully crafted plans. Of course, with Oliver's sudden departure coming at the same time as Tobias Church's sudden return to the spot-light, it seems that the team will have no choice but to finally come together.

So, we have an episode that is roughly divided between two separate plot-lines – but, unlike in previous episodes, it was actually the one focused on Oliver's new team that I found to be the most successful. Perhaps it is due to the simple fact that Tobias Church has quickly evolved to become a genuinely threatening, and very effective, new villain – but, I found the newly forged team's efforts, here, to be especially compelling.

The fact that they would still try to put a stop to Tobias Church's plans, even knowing how far out of their depth they were without Oliver's guidance, was a great moment for each character. It was also interesting to see newly appointed Deputy Mayor Quentin Lance and District Attorney Adrian Chase (Josh Segarra) drawn directly into the conflict, once Church launches a surprise raid on a police station. While Quentin Lance already has a quite a bit of first-hand experience with this sort of thing, of course, it was especially interesting to see Adrian Chase's reaction. Chase is a character who already seems to have been set up with his own closely held secrets – but, his behaviour throughout this episode was especially interesting. I suppose I'll just have to hope that, whatever the rest of the season has in store for Adrian Chase, it will be a little more interesting than him turning out to be Prometheus – because, that would be a little predictable.

While the team's efforts to stop Tobias Church made for a very interesting conflict, I can't really say the same for Oliver's efforts to break Diggle out of prison. In just about any other series, the correct way to deal with someone who has been convicted of a crime they did not commit would be to find a way to prove their innocence, and have them released. But, of course, that's just not the case, here. Clearly, Oliver Queen believes that he knows better – and, at least for the moment, it seems that we are expected to accept that this was the 'right' thing to do. The ease with which everyone who was initially critical of Oliver's plan (including Diggle, himself) soon seemed to come around to his way of thinking did feel a little like the writer's going out of their way to try to justify Oliver's decision, to me – and, it was a little frustrating. Even his new team, who earned themselves a pretty severe beating when they tried to stop him, eventually just seemed to laugh the whole thing off as 'Oliver just being Oliver'.

It's not the idea of a character making morally dubious decisions, in itself, that bothers me, here. I'm not even overly troubled by the idea of a 'hero' who kills his enemies. Instead, I think that my main issue is, and always has been, the simple fact that the writer's have never seemed all that interested in actually exploring this aspect of their primary protagonist (either that, or they have just done a really bad job). Honestly, even in those moments when it seems as though someone actually is criticising Oliver Queen, or calling him out for his decision, the series itself will eventually go out of its way to make it seem as though Oliver was right, all along. Of course, it's possible that there will be long-term consequences of some description, this time – so, I suppose I'll just have to wait and see.

Still, though, if I try to set aside my frustration with Oliver's behaviour throughout this episode, then I can at least admit that there was some fun to be had in the idea of Oliver and Lyla working together (Lyla has often felt like a disappointingly underutilised character, in spite of the importance that she seems to hold) – and, Oliver's careful infiltration of the prison was a very well-done sequence.

Meanwhile, back in Russia, Oliver's current plans to break into a military prison and bust out the man he has come to regard as a 'brother' is loosely parallelled by his final test to join the Bratva – in which he must work his way into a Russian prison, in order to gain access to a man who has information that he needs. The Bratva story-line remains much more interesting than anything we saw throughout the previous season – but, with this new chapter doing so little to move things alone, it does feel as though this season's 'flash-back' plot-line is already in danger of treading water in much the same way. It just felt inconsequential, in the that an episode's 'flash-back' sub-plot so often seems to be.

Setting aside my own personal issues, with regard to Oliver Queen, this was still a very entertaining episode of Arrow. It was an episode which featured some great moments of action – as well as some very notable development for certain members of the supporting cast. More importantly, though, the episode is able to end on a genuinely tense cliff-hanger which should, hopefully, lead into a genuinely exciting fifth episode for the season.

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