Arrow Season 6 Episode 23 Review: Life Sentence

After an uneven season, the Arrow season 6 finale comes through and packs a physical and emotional punch.

This Arrow review contains spoilers. 

Arrow Season 6 Episode 23

The jam-packed finale was full of great action set pieces, emotional catharsis, and perhaps the most moving scene of the entire season. This finale was a great example of how to let character work, necessary plot development, and great fights sit alongside one another and even become interwoven, like with the excellent final showdown between Oliver and Diaz in the rain, which capitalized on Diaz’s physicality in his fight style and the emotional satisfaction of Oliver landing some serious punches in a well-matched fight.

Once again, Rene provides some of the better moments of emotional catharsis. His call with his daughter and his talk with Oliver were both high points, and in a less-packed episode I’d like to think there would be more to play out with the FBI agent whose life he saved. One of the best had to be his conversation with Quentin, a nice reminder of the great dynamic they shared, and the way it has grown from when they first got stuck with each other.

For a minute it seemed like Rene might even leave the superhero lifestyle, considering he finally has his daughter back, he had a near-death experience, and his daughter’s life was threatened repeatedly and in dramatic fashion as a direct result of his role as a vigilante. If Rene were a more major character, that trajectory would have almost certainly sent him toward a break, or at least some soul searching.

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All this great character work was marred a bit by Oliver’s casual use of the word thug to describe Rene. I get what he meant but calling a man of color a thug is a loaded term, especially coming from a rich white guy who has literally murdered a bunch of people but who gets all on his high horse about refusing to do time for the many crimes he is definitely guilty of.

Let’s get something out of the way: this is not a “life sentence.” Oliver only expects to be in prison until Diaz is “taken off the board.” It’s also not the first time the guy has been in prison. And while the US prison system is no walk in the park, Oliver is a white guy and a fighter who spent time in a Russian prison and a booby-trapped island with murderers, so this pretty much feels like it’s in his wheelhouse.

Oliver’s redemption tour was generally nice, and Stephen Amell did a pretty good job selling what were much-needed but rather unearned conclusions to his conflicts with basically everyone else on the show. The most powerful moments were with Rene and Quentin, who he alluded to being like a son and like a father to him, respectively. Less effective was his time with Diggle, because it wasn’t year clear that Oliver truly was meaning to give up the hood for him, rather than continuing to drag his heels and settling for a “compromise” of having two hoods. Sorry Ollie, but it’s hard to give you credit for emotional maturity when we don’t know it’s happening!

But I have to ask: what about Curtis? His getting short shrift has been a source of humor on Arrow before, like when he got sore over not being subpoenaed for Oliver’s trial. But for Curtis not to get a heart to heart with Oliver, particularly considering Curtis was the person in the conflict who did the least amount of offending, is an oversight. He could have at least had a moment when Felicity came clean about defrauding their company of their venture capital funding and apologized for the many ways she took advantage of their friendship. It seems the Arrow writers view Curtis the same way many of the characters do: as a guy so nice, so solid, so full of heart, that they can ignore him and he’ll always come through when they need him.

The widely reported announcement that Paul Blackthorne is leaving the show took the wind out of this story’s sails a bit, but Quentin’s death was moving nonetheless. Bringing back Sara and combining Quentin’s death with Oliver being taken away in cuffs was definitely the right move, as it added to the severity of the moment. One of the benefits to working within an extended universe is the ability to bring a character like Sara back for a natural moment like a parent becoming gravely ill, something that other shows have to awkwardly hand-wave away.

It’s too bad that we never got to see Oliver weighing the options of giving up his freedom to get the FBI to help him take down Diaz. Ollie was so adamant about his completely unwillingness to ever serve time for what he’s done, and this shift in his thinking is huge. Why not take us inside that moment and take the opportunity to show rather than having him tell us about it after the fact? This is the kind of character moment that would make Oliver stronger and more connected to the audience, rather than so distant and opaque, but the writers opted for maximum twists. Like with Quentin making an oblique pacemaker reference rather than just sharing a plan with Oliver, this is the kind of secret that only makes sense on a TV show, and remembering that takes us out of the story.

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It’s a bit disappointing that Arrow shows no interest in differentiating between Diaz’s fervent supporters and those who were simply trying to keep their loved ones alive. For a show that is more than willing to bend morality to suit its heroes, it’s incredibly uninterested in such fertile grey area.

This finale shows that Arrow is completely capable of reclaiming its former glory as a show, but I’m concerned with how the events of the finale would set that up. Of all the villains to keep alive and villainous beyond a season, they’re going with Diaz? The show has yet to imbue the character with any real feeling – he’s the hollow center around which so much of this stalled season revolved. Wouldn’t a villain who might learn Russian just to ferret out a traitor be more interesting than Diaz? Shouldn’t he have acquired a backstory sooner, and one that actually moved the audience?

Hopefully this means we’ll be keeping Agent Watson around next season and that the Quartet are gone for good, just a weird footnote on the season. Watson was a nice addition to the many action set pieces in this episode. She added to the overall dynamic rather seamlessly. Diaz’s new backup of fearsome longbow hunters, on the other hand, must be a tease for next season, since they were mentioned and then dropped. Here’s hoping we won’t have to wait quite so long for next season to get down to business. For now, it’s time to wait until we get to see Ollie back in fighting shape, holding his own in super-max prison while his friends continue the fight in his name.


4.5 out of 5