[Editor’s Note: This review may contain spoilers]
Director: James Bamford
Writers: Jill Blankenship and Rebecca Bellotto
Starring: Stephen Amell, David Ramsey, Emily Bett Rickards, Echo Kullum, Rick Gonzalez, Juliana Harkavy, Colton Haynes, Kirk Acevedo, Katie Cassidy
When Ricardo Diaz starts a prison riot at Slabside Penitentiary, Oliver is faced with a life-changing decision for himself and his family.
As the first Oliver-centered episode of the season, the conclusion to his stint in prison contained the only elements that made it as great as it was: revelations, compromises, and, as the title suggests, redemption, but in an unlikely ally.
The revelation that Stanley was really the proverbial wolf in sheep’s clothing made use of the show’s trademark curve ball writing without making it stale. All this time, Brendan Fletcher played a poor man’s Andy Dufresne – see The Shawshank Redemption – to Oliver’s Elias Boyd “Red” Redding. The innocent man incarcerated for a crime he didn’t commit allying himself with The Green Arrow. His faux passive demeanor was very cleverly played out these past few episodes until his heel turn and confession to an incapacitated Oliver.
His revenge on Brick, played by the incomparable Vinnie Jones, proved fitting since even he was fooled by Stanley’s behavior till the last second. The big man who saw himself going down against enemies like the Green Arrow found himself laid low by the inmate he tormented and terrorized without realizing what danger he truly was in. And because this serial killer is now also loose, could it be a matter of time before he and Oliver cross paths again on the outside? Given he saw himself as a “Green Arrow Guy,” while not a significant threat to Team Arrow, Stanley could resurface to cause Oliver trouble in the future given his hero’s rejection of him.
The threat of Ricardo Diaz descending upon Slabside Penitentiary is deliberately coinciding with Oliver’s final day. Since the season finale last year, fans had been eager for round two without any excuses, like Black Siren, and they got it. The lead up to the final confrontation became an escalating gauntlet for Oliver, forcing him to make an alliance with Ben Turner, aka Bronze Tiger, in spite of Oliver’s role in his being framed. The tactics he employed to gain the upper hand and the selflessness he showed his new guard in spite of mistreatment marked him for the hero he’s become. The idea of Ollie having a means of escape in case the opportunity was forced on him speaks of his foresight and preparation.
After thirty minutes of seeing he and Turner fight against the rioters Diaz set free, the long-awaited confrontation brought to the surface all the hatred these two men have for each other. What also works is that Diaz’s new superhuman strength isn’t a point of focus for Oliver in the fight. The choreography works in that it starts out in close quarter knife fighting, making Ollie the underdog even more so. The irony of the final outcome is that Oliver’s drive to kill Diaz wasn’t from a deception about his wife, but the actual truth. A further irony is Oliver slamming his still-broken cell door on Diaz in his very cell, a callback to The Dragon’s self-promise to not die in prison.
Like everything else in Oliver’s life, it takes a fight for survival to get him back to the woman he loves and he comes out on top, Die Hard style. The final moment with Felicity is bittersweet given his wife had allowed herself to be tainted with darkness, and Diggle watching this happy reunion still weary of this new Felicity Smoak. There doesn’t have to be dialogue in their reunion.
Michael Jai White’s performance this week was perfectly aligned with Stephen’s level. His character of Ben Turner aka Bronze Tiger has been on and off the path of redemption for his crimes. In a way, he replaced Stanley as “Green Arrow Guy.” I’ve watched this guy since the 90s and his martial arts ability makes for great fight choreography. When he does a spin kick, you get the sense he knows what he’s doing and when it’s aimed at the right target that makes you cheer.
The irony of Ollie leaving behind his copy of The Count of Monte Cristo is not lost; like Edmond Dantes, Ben was accused of a crime he didn’t commit because Oliver was blindsided by his black-and-white views of the world. A victim of circumstances, Turner relates more so to that book than Oliver. Because it was mentioned in the film, it’s another link to The Shawshank Redemption, and the manner in which both characters – Dantes in the book and Andy in the film – escape prison.
Bronze Tiger is an honorable man that has made mistakes and yet proved his honor by rescuing the guards. A mark of the guard’s respect was the breaking of protocol by addressing Turner by his name and not by his prison number. It felt more relevant with Turner than it did with Oliver.
The fake CGI fire during Oliver and Diaz’s brawl is the only complaint; the effects wizards must have been having an off day because that frame looked on the level of a YouTube fan video. An aesthetic complaint, but one nonetheless. Another blunder was when the screen pulled back as Oliver and Felicity are kissing, three figures became only two. Where the hell did Diggle go? Did he learn how to do invisibility better than Drax? (See Avengers: Infinity War for that reference.)
The bad-to-worse escalation of the threat level worked and the final battle between Oliver and Diaz was perfectly capped off with an ending as to whether or not he would bleed out, while instilling that fear of his by slamming the door. Aside from the aforementioned effects blunders, it was the perfect conclusion to Oliver’s stint in prison. The weight wouldn’t have been felt if it had only been a week from the events of the season finale. The fact that he has survived six months behind bars and is now a free man with an exposed identity opens many story possibilities for the man in the green hood. Plus it gives fans the very real possibility of him confronting the new Green Arrow, who seems to be nearly on his level. Great episode hands down.