Save for John Barrowman, whose appearances are too few and far between for my liking, and Neal McDonough, who only joined the cast this season, Paul Blackthorne stands clear as the best actor on Arrow. His story last season, like most, wasn’t great, and it was his acting alone that made it far better than it was. In Beyond Redemption, he was star of the show, shining bright over an episode that was pretty strong in its other elements anyway.
Over the course of 72 episodes to now, we’ve seen Quentin express anger to pretty much everyone. Oliver, Laurel, Tommy, Felicity, Nyssa, Dinah, Damien. The list goes on and on. If a character’s interacted with him, chances are they’ve heard some of his anger. Rarely, however, is his anger channelled in a positive and smart way both in terms of the context of the story and watching the episode itself.
The first scene between him and Oliver in his house demonstrated that this week. It’s easily my favourite scene in over a year, perhaps since the Oliver and Malcolm scene back in The Magician. The emotional parallels and switches that we saw were played excellently by both Blackthorne and Stephen Amell. Oliver’s calm, quiet anger/disappointment that provoked Quentin’s frustrated outburst worked perfectly. It fit the tone of the scene and was a nice turnaround from the relatively calm anger we’ve seen from Quentin towards Mr. Queen in the past.
What enhanced the scene even more was the constant switch of emotions throughout. For Quentin, it went from guilt to frustration to a sort of remorse. Oliver’s flip from calm to an outburst on the mention of Sara turned the scene around and was just great to watch.
But this wasn’t all that Blackthorne did. His breakdown as he readied to kill Sara was absolutely heartbreaking to see. This is a man that has been through an incredible amount of emotional trauma – particularly surrounding Sara, who, to him, died twice and has returned once and a half – and it showed here. I think that (had I known that they wouldn’t kill Sara off when they’ve just brought her back for Legends of Tomorrow) he would have gone through with killing her had Laurel not intervened, which shows both how broken he is and how much he cares for Sara. Being merciful was the best thing for her at that point, despite how horrible it might seem.
Quentin’s speech to Warner was pretty great too, except from the part about facing justice, which felt far more like a set up for the following scene and his desire to face up himself as opposed to having too much meaning with her. Still, it was a compelling scene and Blackthorne once again nailed it. He was the clear highlight this week and I really hope that Arrow gives him material as strong as this throughout the season. Oh, and that they don’t kill him.
Equally as strong a speech was Oliver’s as he announced his mayoral campaign. This was a much stronger monologue than the one he delivered in the premiere, refraining from being too cliché and cheesy and adding some meta humour in there for good measure. Referencing the reasons why Oliver is in no way qualified to run a city before using part of his opening monologue was smart, giving us both sides of an argument that I certainly could find myself on either side of, and making it more fun for the viewer.
There wasn’t much more to the episode. Sara continues to be like a wild animal, and Laurel thought it was a good idea to chain her up in the basement of her building. I can’t even comprehend how many things are wrong with that. It’s frustrating to see because the show has been forced to bring Sara back for Legends of Tomorrow, but they’re obliterating Laurel’s character in doing so – even more irksome given how they began to rebuild her last season. That said, now that Sara has escaped, the chaos she’ll cause and the aftermath of Laurel telling the rest of the team should be fun. What I don’t think will be fun is the appearance of John Constantine, played by Matt Ryan. The recent short-lived series did little to interest me and I’m apprehensive about seeing next week’s episode simply due to his appearance.
The fact that the two most notable moments of the flashbacks came in the final one, and that only one of them did anything to further the story, says a lot about the direction of them this season. They may not be going around in circles like last year, but they aren’t going anywhere, which is a big concern. There is a feel that they are perhaps very slowly building to something, but for the moment, they seem to have lost sight of what story they’re trying to tell. The return of Oliver’s neck trick was a nice callback to the first season, though I still have no idea what that trick is. Conklin’s discovery of Oliver’s pack does begin to set things up for the upcoming episodes, and that’s a good sign. It’s just a question now of what the show can do with it.
Beyond Redemption was the best instalment the show has delivered in its fourth season, and the best since season three’s The Brave and the Bold. If Arrow can keep up anywhere near this kind of quality for the remainder of the season, we will be in for one hell of a ride.