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‘Arrow’ Review: “Penance”

Nora Dominick ‘17/ Emertainment Monthly Executive Stage Editor

The theme of rebuilding has been very prevalent throughout season five of Arrow. Oliver (Stephen Amell) and Felicity (Emily Bett Rickards) struggle to rebuild Team Arrow, while the TV show rebuilds its framework after a shaky season 4. This week, Arrow continues this theme but adds an even bigger component: penance. Arrow’s latest episode entitled “Penance” may serve mostly as a setup episode, but contains moments of pure character development.

We’ve said it before, but Arrow lost its way last season. While juggling a mystical villain, our beloved characters were pushed to the background. Trying to run in tandem with the magical elements of The Flash and Legends of Tomorrow ultimately caused Arrow to fall behind. This season of Arrow has been remedying the mistakes of the past by getting back to the character’s core values, specifically with Oliver and Felicity.

In the last few episodes, Oliver has been training Team Arrow 2.0 and it’s been a sight to behold. His work with Curtis (Echo Kellum), Rene (Rick Gonzalez), Evelyn (Madison McLaughlin) and Rory (Joe Dinicol) has really showcased Oliver’s character development. In season one, Oliver would barely let Felicity and Diggle (David Ramsey) help with his quest to clean up Star City. Now, he trusts the new team and has rebuilt from the ground up and it’s wonderful to see.

Stephen Amell and David Ramsey in the Arrow episode "Penance." Photo Credit: Dean Buscher/The CW
Stephen Amell and David Ramsey in the Arrow episode “Penance.” Photo Credit: Dean Buscher/The CW

Stephen Amell has taken back control of Arrow this season. His work reminds fans why they fell in love with this show in season one. He’s the driving force behind each episode as he reminds fans of the man Oliver is behind the mask. This week, Oliver takes Team Arrow 2.0 on another mission. This is the second time and things aren’t looking too bad until Wild Dog goes against explicit orders. Although a small moment, Oliver reprimanding Wild Dog for stepping out of line shows his character development. He would’ve done the exact same thing as Wild Dog, but Oliver now realizes that’s not the way to save Star City. A team effort causes less casualties. Arrow’s team of writers has done an excellent job with Oliver’s character arc this season and we can’t wait to see more.

This week, Oliver must choose between two of his greatest loves: Felicity and Team Arrow 2.0 vs. Saving Diggle. Oliver makes the decision to help Lyla (Audrey Marie Anderson) bust Diggle out of prison. To no one’s surprise, Felicity thinks this is a bad idea while Oliver will do anything to save Diggle. Without even being romantically involved, Emily Bett Rickards and Stephen Amell exude chemistry. While “Olicity” might not be together, it’s almost a better dynamic for this season. Rickards and Amell do best in the flirty moments between Oliver and Felicity and this episode has several of these moments. From Oliver breaking into Palmer Tech and lying to Felicity to their quick heart to heart when Oliver eventually saves Diggle, it’s hard not to see these two reconciling by mid-season.

Emily Bett Rickards in the Arrow episode "Penance." Photo Credit: The CW
Emily Bett Rickards in the Arrow episode “Penance.” Photo Credit: The CW

Felicity’s storyline deals the most with the theme of “penance.” Last week, Felicity told Rory about being the one behind the Havenrock bombing. So, it’s no surprise when he decides to quit Team Arrow this week. In a beautifully acted moment, Felicity seeks out Rory to convince him to return. Rickards has always thrived in the quiet moments on Arrow. Yes, we all love seeing her toting a machine gun or whacking bad guys, but Rickards elevates the show with her moments of pure dialogue. She has the ability to make you hang on every word. Felicity embodies the episode title this week. She goes to Rory and tells him her penance is living with Havenrock and the decision she had to make. What makes this speech all the more important is she admits this won’t be the last mistake she makes. A true superhero.

With Felicity seeking forgiveness from Rory, this leads to one of our new favorite friendship on Arrow: Rory and Felicity. We’re convinced that Rickards has chemistry with anyone they pair her with, so it’s no surprise her and Dinicol have already clicked on screen. It’s a very interesting dynamic to be exploring. Felicity’s Havenrock storyline is just beginning and it will be interesting to see her come to terms with it alongside Rory. Dinicol brings an extra element of heart to Arrow. He works very well with Rickards who has been the heart of Arrow since season one. We’re excited to see how Dinicol progresses with his character.

Rory eventually decides to return to Team Arrow when Tobias Church (Chad L. Coleman) blows up an evidence storage site in order to steal weapons. This event leads Felicity to launch into her biggest role yet. With Oliver slinking around with Lyla, Felicity must take the lead. She decides it’s best to send Team Arrow into the field even without Green Arrow. This solidifies Rickards status as a lead actress on Arrow. Felicity is first introduced in season one as a somewhat introverted tech genius. She is then thrust into a life of fighting crime and building something bigger than herself. It’s been a character arc built for a main actress and Rickards has earned that. Watching Felicity command an entire team of superheroes is a sight to behold. Although they are physically trained by Oliver, Team Arrow 2.0 boasts some traits from Felicity as well.

We said it last week, but Rick Gonzalez is our favorite new addition to Arrow this season. In this week’s episode, Rene makes the ultimate heroes sacrifice when he saves Curtis and ends up being taken hostage by Tobias Church. Gonzalez brings his A-game to Wild Dog’s stunt work this week. Between his epic showdown with Church and fighting Oliver, Wild Dog is the semi-rogue member of Team Arrow we just want to protect. His backstory is something we hope to get more of in order to give Gonzalez some more depth to his character.

 Joe Dinicol, Echo Kellum, Madison McLaughlin and Rick Gonzalez in the Arrow episode "Penance." Photo Credit: Dean Buscher/The CW
Joe Dinicol, Echo Kellum, Madison McLaughlin and Rick Gonzalez in the Arrow episode “Penance.” Photo Credit: Dean Buscher/The CW

While Felicity is commanding Team Arrow 2.0, Oliver works with Lyla to bust Diggle out of prison. Although filled with amazing stunt work from Arrow’s stunt team, this storyline falls a little flat. Diggle’s escape feels more like setup than a climax. It’s not a bad thing though. With a show like Arrow that has to produce 22 episodes of content, some storylines just need an episode for setup. Digge’s storyline does just that. Oliver leaps into the prison and with Lyla’s tactical skills, they miraculously swoop Diggle out. He’s now forced into hiding and we aren’t quite sure how we feel. Hopefully by next week they will have figured out some way to get Diggle out of the shadows.

Once again, Thea (Willa Holland) and Quentin’s (Paul Blackthorne) storylines have really faded into the background. The two of them work for Mayor Oliver, however their plot lines don’t stand out. They are being thrown in the background of other stories and we just hope that changes going forward. Thea and Quentin are two very strong character, but it’s almost like they are being bogged down by Laurel’s (Katie Cassidy) death. Her death should propel their character development forward, not hold them back. Hopefully as their roles within the mayor’s office become more solidified we can see their individual storylines flourish.

Although Arrow’s latest episode feels more like set up for next week’s episode, it’s still a solid one. By having new characters like Rory and Rene grow, bringing Felicity’s conflict to the forefront and showing Oliver’s character arc, Arrow reminds fans that this is ultimately a show driven by characters.

Arrow airs Wednesdays at 8/7c on The CW

Overall Grade: B

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