This Arrow review contains spoilers.
Arrow Season 7 Episode 7
If you were hoping to send Slabside off in style, you couldn’t have asked for a better, more show-stopping episode of Arrow than this.
In one of the most relentless and physically intense episodes of Arrow ever, Oliver Queen finally conquers Ricardo Diaz and gets free of Slabside prison. Flashforwards and life outside of prison were wisely held for the week, instead dedicating the episode to what felt more like a short action movie that was all climax. Oh, and then there was that Olicity reunion.
In one of the most brutal and rewarding fights Arrow has ever seen, Oliver beats a bunch of guys senseless with a soda can inside of a pillowcase. His partner uses one half of a pair of scissors (a scissor?) to slice and dice people, and eventually lights one of his former gang members on fire. They even string Brick up and strangle him, something he somehow survives so he can be stabbed and killed by Stanley, the deadly twerp sociopath.
Speaking of Stanley, this episode had the perfect dose of the creepy little weirdo. Early on Ollie tells Stan that they’re not friends, and he knows that he framed Turner, setting up Oliver’s promise to make things right with Turner that enables Oliver to save the guards, take down Diaz, and make it out alive. Stan drugs Oliver, and in the hands of other writers, this little melodrama would have bogged down the rest of the episode. Luckily this episode, written by Jill Blankenship & Rebecca Bellotto, kept things moving in a fashion that suits Oliver’s steely new GSD attitude. Once Oliver realizes Stanley murdered a bunch of people and can’t be talked into untying him, he makes quick work out of him, not even breaking a sweat (or his wrists) to escape.
One thing I’m going to miss about the Slabside arc is watching Oliver as such a physical fighter. Without the use of his bow and other gadgets, Oliver has had to rely on martial arts, his surroundings, and his smarts. The Green Arrow doesn’t cut anybody’s femoral artery or make his own IEDs, ya know? Early on in the episode we were treated to one long shot (or one disguised to look like it) of Oliver taking out guards with just his own two hands – or feet, as the case may be. It’s no surprise that producer and former stunt coordinator James Bamford directed this episode, which had so many fights I almost lost track. When you’ve got a lead with this level of physical prowess and a director with a background in stunts, you can do an episode that is 80% fighting without any of it feeling stale. And while this episode didn’t get into it as much, this season has made a point of using fight choreography as an extension of characterization.
I enjoyed Michael Jai White’s performance for Ben Turner’s proper introduction. While Bronze Tiger has been around a while, this was the first time he really distinguished himself from the rest of Brick’s band of toughs. The transition from gang member to hero/comrade-in-arms felt largely natural, and served to highlight how much Oliver has changed, too. Turner showed off serious skills himself, roundhouse kicking everyone in sight and throwing a guard over his shoulder like he was nothing. I’m looking forward to seeing how Oliver makes good on his promise to Turner, and how how he gets along with the rest of the group when he eventually gets out.
About those changes from Oliver – he claimed that prison hasn’t changed him, a statement that I don’t think he believes, even as he says it. I’m eager to see how Beth Schwartz and her team unpack the changes in Oliver’s disposition in the coming episodes. I’m sure some things will be immediately apparent, while others might take a while to notice. But there was something to that steely eyed look in this episode that says Oliver Queen has fundamentally changed as a person, and I hope that is examined, even if Ollie himself is hesitant to do so himself.
A few quibbles – Diaz continues to mumble so much as to be almost unintelligible. On a story level, he overstayed his welcome, particularly since he lacked the charisma or intrigue of other villains. Diaz has given this “I’m gonna make you suffer” speech so many times before, even he looks bored. The Shawshank Redemption and Count of Monte Cristo stuff was never all that subtle, but finishing the later on his last day in prison was on the nose, even for the CW.
At times this episode showcased the way Diaz’s seemingly limitless powers can take the wind out of the sails of the narrative. How does Diaz go from his paid prison escape to entering a supermax prison as a visitor, in spite of being on every most wanted list? How does he later manage to suddenly enter the yard as a guard? Arrow doesn’t even attempt to explain many of Diaz’s far-reaching and inexplicable abilities, which ultimately makes his downfall feel all the more arbitrary.
No prison release would be complete without your best friend and the woman who fought tooth and nail to get you out, so Diggle and Felicity are waiting just outside the gate when Ollie does his best Andy Dufresne, minus the rain and fecal matter. The full reunion will have to wait until next episode, but for now fans will have the Olicity kiss they’ve been waiting for. What else is coming? Stanley, for one, an imprisoned Diaz, and hopefully a released Ben Turner soon. An Oliver Queen who has no job and no purpose, while vigilantism is illegal and someone else is wearing his outfit, which I can’t imagine will go over well. Diaz claimed that prison made Oliver weak, but it made this season of Arrow strong.