Arrow S5: E4 – 'Penance'
on 2016-10-27 09:05
Arrow is a show pretty much entirely about penance, as they remind us with Oliver over and over again. This time around, however, they are naming an episode Penance because of Diggle, with a bit of Felicity mixed in. With Oliver's PTSD and self-loathing/sabotage subdued for the time being, the gap is being filled by Diggle's insistence on staying in military jail and Felicity's Havenrock spiral continuing around sole survivor Rory/Ragman.
However, circumstances ensure they don't really have a say in starting to climb out of it themselves, thanks to two kinds of prison breaks both in and out of Star City.
WARNING: SPOILERS FOLLOW
As Oliver gets frustrated by the latest round of Wild Dog's costly eagerness in the field, and his team's continued learning curve, it's no wonder he is extra eager to plan Diggle's escape and get him back in the fold. Felicity is another matter, even before finding out Dig doesn't want to be saved.
Despite Felicity's valid points about Dig being a fugitive for the rest of his life if he escapes, that doesn't overshadow how she doesn't want to save a man she considered her brother, or at least it won't to her critics and a lot of other fans. No one even suggests they should try and clear his name instead, including Felicity, making it look like she's okay with just leaving him in jail both before and after she learns it was his choice.
Even if that's not how the writers see it, they are making it far too easy for her haters to read it that way, just as they've made it way too easy for them to have more fodder throughout 2016. If they can't even take 10 seconds for Felicity to suggest trying to find another way to protect him or clear him, or to suggest doing anything else besides a prison break and besides just letting him stay in jail, it speaks to a lack of respect about the formerly valued Diggle-Felicity relationship, if not a formerly valued Felicity. Considering what Arrow does take time on these days, they really can't say they don't have room to fit more considerate stuff like that in.
The show uses another old standby of Felicity criticizing Oliver for taking someone else's choice away as well. But when that choice is to let someone stay in jail and rot for their sins, especially Dig, it kind of doesn't apply as much this time.
There are other deeper reasons for her objection of course, but it is clear they have little interest in defining them further, at least not as much as they really owe it to her to do so. Havenrock PTSD is the easy get-out-of-jail free answer for such behavior, but considering how Felicity's guilt this week really revolves around Rory staying away from the team because of her, that speaks to the writers' priorities in focusing on her character.
Yet there really is no way to win here, because there was no way in the slightest they had a good reason to give her this Havenrock catastrophe in the first place. Just as there was no reason to give her Palmer Tech only to take it away for the sake of a heist scene moments before Havenrock, and there was no reason to make paralyzed only to make her walk again in time to literally walk away from Oliver. In that regard, all this is just clean up duty for a mess that did nothing but eat up time and squander Felicity, both then and now.
This is all fairly unpleasant to mull over, especially when Felicity is pretty much forced to swallow everything down and speak to Rory after he quits, since the new team seemingly can't stop Tobias Church's assault on the anti-crime unit without him. At least when they get to that scene, however, there is something left for Emily Bett Rickards and Joe Dinicol to salvage.
When Rory describes the discarded items he makes into art as a "bunch of castoffs", it certainly sums up Oliver's current mission with Team Arrow 2.0 well, and the need to fulfill his family's legacy is certainly Oliver-esque too. To his additional credit, Rory's inability to be around Felicity doesn't mean he doesn't understand her impossible choice, despite what it cost him. In fact, once Rory does come back, they seem set to try and be each other's support systems through their guilt, not their painful reminders.
If this does get Felicity an actual new friend through all this, it may have a little bit of redeeming value. But if this is really the end game after all the set up about Felicity's PTSD and guilt, then it is yet another case of a pointless Felicity subplot without enough worthwhile payoff to make it worth the hassle. Yet considering that Felicity's new boyfriend is most likely another symptom of her spiral, maybe settling that is the next stage of her recovery.
Either way, Felicity and Rory's shared trauma is settled and brushed aside pretty quickly, for the sake of getting Rory into action more than for Felicity's sake. Likewise, Diggle's trauma over his own act of murder is starting to heal pretty quickly too, and like Felicity, it isn't because there's a clearer focus on his recovery either.
Like Felicity, Diggle takes a step forward in getting better, but mainly because circumstances and plot force him to speed up the process. In this case, all it takes is Oliver quasi-blackmailing him by breaking into his cell, and giving him a pretty brief speech about how he should do his penance as Spartan and not a prisoner. At least with Felicity and Rory, they had time for an actual conversation and reflection before they had to move forward for plot and action's sake.
Since Felicity and Diggle had to kick Oliver into shape to speed up his personal recovery so many times, maybe it's fitting they need a kick in the pants to start their own as well. Nevertheless, Penance has no real time to make them the actual main characters of their own trauma, or to give them much of their own agency in deciding to take the first step out.
For Felicity, it is with this year's usual amount of misguided priorities and material that plays all too well to her haters, and with Diggle it is just benign neglect and a lack of screen time. This episode was promised to be a big one for Oliver and Diggle as they reunite against Dig's will, but there's no time for Stephen Amell and David Ramsey to dig into anything together.
That may come later since they'll have to clear Diggle's name at some point, but for this episode, things like a hook from a giant plane air lifting Oliver and Diggle out of jail are more important than stuff that matters. Plus after several years of Oliver being forced to learn to listen to his team and learning the benefits of doing so, the fact he doesn't listen to them this time and gets the mission accomplished perfectly anyway surely sends some kind of message, and probably not the best one.
The prison break also provides another on-the-nose parallel with the flashbacks, where Oliver gets himself into a Russian prison for far less noble reasons. Back then, Oliver just took it at face value and at Anatoli's word that a prisoner with intel needed to die and pay his penance, yet he doesn't accept that five years later at another prison. However, the most notable parallel between the past and present comes from new district attorney and future vigilante Adrian Chase, who winds up echoing one of past Oliver's lines while talking to a present day prisoner.
Funny enough, Josh Segarra's Chase and Ragman have shown more sparks so far than the big three new Team Arrow members, or at least more than the two brand new characters on the team. But with Wild Dog left in Church's capture, maybe the pattern of his gung ho tactics backfiring will change after being freed next week, and maybe Evelyn/Artemis will do more than officially get her new code name.
Arrow has promised much more with much more important characters this year, however, and so far it has struggled to deliver. Some of it is because the show is in no-win scenarios of its own making, and some is because they still haven't figured out the best case scenarios to salvage anything from it. Maybe it will be a different story in the second half of the season's first nine episodes, but there needs to be more to go on than faith.
Penance is supposed to be the first step towards Felicity and Diggle's recovery, it would seem. Yet since it isn't really about their own pain and turmoil at all, and is more about outside forces, plot and action demands and other characters in both cases, it hardly feels like the right sign that the show will pay its own penance in full either.