Things we learned… 5×04: Penance

Arrow met Prison Break Oliver planned to break Diggle out of prison, leaving the new recruits to handle Tobias Church by themselves. How successful was that decision – and “Penance” as a whole?

Escape!

Two things about this episode were inevitable, even looking ahead from last week: a) Oliver would attempt to get Diggle out of prison; b) Oliver would succeed in getting Diggle out of prison. Though Arrow has, at times, seemed to relish the idea of sidelining him, Diggle being in an entirely different location, separated from the remainder of the main cast, was never going to work for more than a few episodes. Arguably more importantly, however, the extent to which his storyline can be explored is very limited when he’s behind bars. His short stint in prison fuelled his already ongoing character arc, and there was no need for him to remain there. Though Oliver’s earlier break-in at Palmer Tech was amusing, the escape itself was problematic – the attempt at a brief moment of tension as Lyla’s clearance wasn’t approved first time around, some really bad work from the guards, whatever that plane thing was – but it ultimately didn’t matter a great deal. What worked was the conversations Oliver had with Diggle, both before and after they escaped, plus his insistence that they weren’t leaving without Diggle.

Giving Diggle the chance to work off his guilt as Spartan was the only move, but it’s a smart one regardless. And the hour is a reminder to him that although his actual brother is dead, he has a debatably better brother in Oliver. This whole situation is a fascinating time for Diggle, and Arrow is handling the character side of it – aka what really matters – very well so far.

More training required!

While Oliver was out of town (gout-stricken, or so Thea told Adrian Chase), the recruits were essentially left in charge of ensuring that no harm came to the city; Oliver may have asked Thea to make sure no one destroyed the city while he was gone, but her giving up the Speedy mantra leaves that in the hands of the recruits. But the decision was like handing the keys of a brand new Mercedes to the teenager who has had three driving lessons: it was always going to end badly. Since the group Wild Dog had not only screwed up the mission at the start of the episode before they (sans Rory) experienced the full might of Oliver’s abilities, their fight against Church wasn’t going to anything other than a one-sided contest. They’re learning, certainly, but not at a quick enough rate to enable them to handle Church as Oliver would be able to. As a result, not only did Curtis sustain a knife to the back, but Wild Dog is now Church’s prisoner, about to be subjected to torture. The priority from here is, of course, recovering their missing new teammate, but Oliver will need to go all in on increasing the recruits’ training if they’re to have any hope of really helping the city.

A rushed, somewhat competent “resolution” to Havenrock.

Let’s get one thing absolutely clear: this is probably the last Arrow will mention of Felicity’s inadvertent bombing of Havenrock, and that’s not only a mistake, it’s a fundamental failure to utilise fleshed out character development. The whole arc could have been a great way to make Felicity more of a character rather than someone who simply makes jokes at inappropriate times and whose only other real storyline is romance-related. Last week’s haphazard and lazy integration of her confession was poor, and an indication that Arrow likely bit off more than it could chew with the Havenrock situation.

While that wasn’t neutralised in “Penance”, the episode did at least go some way to redeeming the story. The conversation between Felicity and Rory as she explained that she’ll have to live with her decision for the rest of her life but that they need to move forward was a solid one. My biggest complaint here – calling her “legacy” what happened to Havenrock – is more an issue raised by prior episodes’ handling than this one. Rory came back to the team extremely quickly, and though I’d have liked to have seen this develop more, Arrow has been rushing to conclude storylines since virtually day one. Ultimately, given how spectacularly badly wrong this could have gone, that we got as competent a resolution as we did is almost impressive.

The verdict.

Within each story element, there was at least one issue. But as an overall episode, and looking at the developments in the larger scheme of the show moving forward, this was a solid instalment. Arrow’s still lacking that extra spark that could make an episode out-and-out good, but if this is a slow build, then by all means, the show should continue doing what it’s doing. 7.5/10

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