Arrow S05E04 “Penance” REVIEW
Essential plot points:
- The team bring down one of Church’s gang, who’s stolen some equipment from Kord Industries. But they make heavy weather of it thanks to Wild Dog’s impatience, and need Oliver to bail them out.
- When Oliver returns to the lair, Rory is waiting for him to tell him he’s quitting the team, following Felicity’s admission she destroyed Havenrock.
- Lyla shows up at the Lair to begin preparations for busting Diggle out of prison — but Felicity is not in favour of the operation, especially after hearing Dig doesn’t want to be rescued.
- Oliver tasks Quentin with assisting DA Chase in ensuring the stolen equipment is returned to the police while he heads out to rescue Dig.
- The team try to stop Oliver from leaving, but he flattens all three of them.
- The stolen equipment turns out to be booby trapped by Church so he can blow his way into the police evidence locker — and steal all the previously confiscated weapons inside.
- The new team hits the streets to try to find Church, while Felicity goes to see Rory to persuade him to return to action — but he says no.
- Lyla helps Oliver get into the prison, where he eventually manages to find Diggle and convince him to return to the team as Spartan, telling him helping others would be better penance for killing Andy than rotting in jail as they escape.
- The team works out that Church is going to hit the Anti Crime Unit HQ, where Chase is interrogating the gang member they captured earlier. Rory shows up to help, and despite Oliver not being there they suit up to take on Church’s gang.
- They manage to rescue the ACU and Chase, but Curtis is stabbed in the back and seriously injured. Rene provides a distraction by taking Church on in a fight to give them time to get clear, but comes off second best and is captured and tortured by Church.
- And in flashback, Oliver is given his final task to prove his loyalty to the Bratva: infiltrate a police cell and obtain information from one of Kovar’s men before killing him.
Arrow, when it’s at its best, plays a very long game. The show’s plot arcs have been surprisingly good and well thought out over the years — most notably the flashbacks leading into the modern day storytelling of Oliver’s time with Slade Wilson.
But at times the show has a tendency to take its eye off the ball in the short term, stumbling its way along through individual episodes — particularly those that have only a peripheral connection to the overall plot.
There’s a peculiar irony at work here, for in “Penance” we have an episode in which both Felicity and Curtis talk about needing to understand Tobias Church’s end game, but which, at this early stage at least, appears to be one of those trip stones that risks leaving the show falling face first into the dirt.
Worryingly, we’re four episodes into this series and it’s still not showing any sign of kicking into life. Sure, there are little flurries of excitement and energy in each of those episodes, but at the moment it feels significantly less coherent than last year.
Where series four of Arrow was blistering along with pace and emotion at this point, it all feels strangely muted this year. Splitting the team up hasn’t helped, and while Oliver reuniting with Diggle should have been a punch the air moment, instead it’s more of a shrug and a “alright then”.
This was Arrow-by-the-numbers. Arrow going through the motions. Arrow performed with a shrug and a “will this do?” attitude, which is so far and away from what we’ve enjoyed before, it’s genuinely shocking.
Putting the show together by rote means a couple of action sequences, a flashback that fits into the current storyline, some light-hearted banter between characters and an emotional wrench resolved in seconds. The only tension comes at the end, as we see poor Rene getting tortured and abused by Church – the first time we’ve had any indication this year he’s anything other than a petty thug with ideas above his station.
We mentioned in earlier reviews the dramatic tension and emotion that could have been wrenched out of the dynamic between Felicity and Rory. His survivor guilt and her having to deal with the knowledge she effectively murdered tens of thousands of people, especially given their shared faith, could have been worth weeks of drama — not least because we know Emily Bett Rickards can do that kind of emotional performance so well. But instead, we get it all wrapped up with a smile and a cup of coffee after just two scenes.
Ball in the air. Ball well and truly dropped.
Even the action sequences feel just kind of there, especially Oliver creeping about a prison so brightly lit it could have come from a 1980s Doctor Who episode.
It’s still early days in the season, and easy enough for things to be fixed. But it needs to be done soon, to stop Arrow from going from flagship show on the CW to just another action series being stripped through the week. The hard bit is defining what that something is. The next couple of weeks, and where they take Church and the deeper Prometheus storyline, will be crucial to rescuing what’s been a decidedly flimsy season so far.
- The shot of blood dripping onto Wild Dog’s mask at the end of the episode is one of the more grizzly and arresting images of the show’s history, and absolutely sells the abuse he’s suffered.
- The illness Thea comes up with to explain Oliver’s absence is gout — ideal for the former playboy…
- It’s something we say so often now it almost deserves a macro to save us typing it, but: Paul Blackthorne’s performance remains the best thing in the show at the moment. They’ve given everyone else a spin-off, so the only thing stopping us lobbying for Quentin Lance to get his own show is that it’d rob Arrow of the only thing it’s got going for it this year…
- So Evelyn is going to be Artemis rather than Starling, and Lyla gets the Harbinger codename (Lyla Michaels having used the name in the comics since the 1980s)? Interesting – not least as it still leaves the Black Canary vacancy…
- Man, they’re heavily layering it on with regard to Adrian Chase and vigilantes. Okay, Greg, we get it. He’s Vigilante in the comics. Sheesh, give us a break will you? (That said, they’re doing a good job of showing Chase’s dodgier side)
- The jail break resolution is borrowed heavily — and when we say heavily, we mean stolen wholesale — from The Dark Knight, and Batman’s retrieval of Lau from Hong Kong. The only difference is that Arrow’s doing it on about a hundredth of the budget and — for the second time this series — it shows, with a truly awful bit of CGI and compositing of Lyla into the cockpit of the Herc.
- Again, seriously, enough with the abuse of Curtis. This must be the only show in history where someone who won an Olympic medal for their country is mocked for their athletic prowess. Yes, Echo Kellum does light comedy so well. Yes, his character’s basically a cooler version of Moss from the IT Crowd. But if you’re going to establish that he WON A SODDING OLYMPIC MEDAL, show the character a bit more respect.
And the Random:
- Regular Arrowverse director Dermott Downes returns to take charge of Arrow, nearly two years away. He’s been busy though, overseeing episodes of The Flash and Legends Of Tomorrow, including last year’s finale and this season’s opening episode.
- Much of the Arrowverse’s front and backroom staff have been busy making a short film in recent months — the lovely and heartbreaking Sidekick. If you haven’t watched it, here it is. Hankies ready…
Review by Iain Hepburn