This Arrow review contains spoilers.
Arrow Season 7 Episode 5
We’ve heard the sentence “My name is Oliver Queen” many times on Arrow before, but tonight was the most satisfying.
If you were worried that some villain with a PhD was going to erase Oliver Queen, this episode proved he has more than just a little fight left in him, in grand fashion. Along the way he was reunited with his old teacher Talia, paying off the “Demon” connection, Felicity found her footing as the leader of her own team, and Curtis and Diggle had their own successful mission on the outside.
One of the toughest things about this admittedly great season is the way they’re handling the concept of prison as a whole. Felicity’s baseline expectation that prison is safe and fair is ridiculous and completely out of step with reality. Brooklyn 99 managed to bring both levity and a more realistic depiction of our deeply, intentionally unfair prison system. Arrow, on the other hand, has completely ignored the effect of race, class, or any other marker on the prison experience.
Oliver laments that, “these people are being treated like they’re disposable. No one deserves that.” It’s convenient that he only realizes that now, after he has sent countless people to prison. All Arrowverse shows have ignored how systemically unjust our prison system is for years (when they even allow for it at all – I’m looking at you and your private prison, Barry Allen). Everyone at least acknowledges that Argus is scary and off-book, but what Barry and friends have done was excused for years. Even now that Barry and Oliver send everyone to mainstream prisons, we’re supposed to act like that’s a fair shake, ignoring the slave labor, rape, beatings, poisoned food, price gouging, and other injustices that go on there.
All of that would be fine, except Arrow specifically wants to focus on a prison injustice storyline. Experimenting on prisoners is a tried and true American tradition, one that has long fueled America’s medical innovations. During my own lifetime, our government has sterilized people in prisons against their will. This is not an abstract concept or one we need to venture into fiction to investigate, and yet Arrow’s plot isn’t grounded in that reality at all. Instead, it centers a white, rich former playboy, who we all know will be free by sweeps anyway.
In spite of this issue, tonight’s episode was largely successful, which had much to do with the inclusion of Talia al’Ghul. Early on in the episode we heard perhaps the first instance of Oliver referring to the cycle of violence. It’s certainly an accurate description of what has gone on with his family, but one that Dr. Parker seems to have co-opted, given that he says, “there’s no Oliver here. I’m inmate 4587.” Talia was ultimately the perfect person for Oliver to run into: believably imprisoned, not altogether trustworthy, yet from a time in his life that was long ago and when he was a student of sorts.
It’s rare for superhero shows to let a man and a woman fight one another. There’s an unwritten rule to let the “chicks” fight it out, one we’ve seen on Arrowverse shows and crossovers alike. Something about the unseemly nature of men punching women. It all adds up to tokenism and predictable fights, where the one woman per crew has to square up against one another and cancel each other out. When women do take on a man, it’s usually indirectly, with subterfuge or sexuality. Watching Oliver and Talia fight hand to hand in a beautifully choreographed fight was a great reminder that there’s room for men and women to go toe to toe as equals in a way that is charged and exhilarating but doesn’t carry the disturbing dynamic of domestic violence.
One of the most interesting things about the fight sequences in tonight’s episode was the way they showcased the student/master pedagogical dynamic between Talia and Oliver. The way Oliver spun, kicked, picked up tools, and used his opponents’ weight against them was immediately shown to be an echo of his teacher’s methods. And no surprise – these are all tactics favored by female fighters, who must generally be more strategic in how they draw their power. Tracing back the legacy of this aspect of Oliver’s fighting style, which worked best in the closed quarters and no-gadgets environment of the prison corridors, was a nice way of going back to the character’s roots.
Seemingly a world away, Felicity was drawing on her power in the form of Dinah and Laurel and her own leadership. It’s strange that these women have never spent much time together before, but the discordant attempt at teamwork was precisely what made it so much fun to watch. This show doesn’t know how to produce women who are anything but alphas, and these three just barely held it together to do some old-fashioned police work to help a friend. I can’t wait to watch their dynamic continue to develop.
A few parting shots
Curtis having 14 PhDs(!) and being fluent in 6 languages is mathematically ridiculous, an unfortunate result of TV shows continually raising the stakes on what counts for ridiculously smart. Considering how stilted his French was, though, I’m a bit less impressed.
Seeing the guards descend on Oliver to bludgeon him, I’m reminded of how often the body in the center is not a white one.
Dr. Parker seems to have gained an electro-shock bracelet…and lost his head.
Dinah, Laurel and Felicity want to use the drive to appeal Oliver’s conviction. Considering “Black Siren gets results,” I wouldn’t put it past them.
Talia didn’t even take credit for her good deed, which is an intriguing little surprise. Can she join the crew?
The Silencer is in Moscow helping Diaz acquire Anatoli. This can’t possibly be good.