Arrow – Season 6 Episode 21
“Docket No. 11-19-41-73”
Arrow puts Oliver Queen on trial and makes many of the other characters make difficult choices when they are made to testify.
The trial story has been left on the back burner for so much of this season. It had gotten to the point where I was sure that the writers had abandoned it but having it as a card that Ricardo Diaz was waiting to play was a nice touch and left the previous episode on an engaging cliffhanger that put Oliver in one of those rare situations that he couldn’t fight his way out of.
It won’t surprise anyone to observe that Arrow is not a court room drama so there’s a certain novelty to having an entire episode devoted to putting Oliver through a trial where he has to find a way to convince people that a lie is the truth. It’s very different to Barry’s trial on The Flash because that story was about Barry Allen being on trial for something he was accused of doing as Barry Allen but this is all about exploring whether Oliver is who he says he is.
There are a lot of different elements that make up this episode. Pretty much the entire cast is given the opportunity to speak with the exception of Curtis who was never subpoenaed because he’s apparently so good at keeping his secret identity that nobody ever thought to include him. This makes some sense as he has had the most limited public interaction with Oliver where everyone else is in his personal or professional life in some form.
Early on it’s established that everyone is on Oliver’s side. Despite the animosity that exists between Dinah, Curtis and Rene they still don’t want to see him go to prison because they genuinely feel that he doesn’t deserve it. Rene has a strong arc surrounding this as he was the one who agreed to testify in the first place. His decision marked the beginning of the team fracturing so he carries a lot of guilt on his shoulders around this. Making it clear that he has no intention of making the same mistake twice and wants to do everything he can to help Oliver before having Dinah and Curtis agree with him sets the tone for the episode by confirming that whatever differences the characters have they are cast aside to support Oliver in his moment of need.
Rene’s reasons for agreeing to testify against Oliver made a lot of sense. He didn’t want to be taken away from the daughter that he just got back. It was both a selfish and selfless decision as he wanted to ensure that he would be able to spend time with her while ensuring that she was cared for. Arguably someone else could have cared for her but it’s not unreasonable for Rene to want to be a part of her life. It’s easy to accept that he wouldn’t have considered Oliver in all of this because his thoughts were on his own family.
This forms the basis of an arc that culminates in this episode when Rene understands what it would mean for Oliver to lose access to his son. This would also mean that William loses his father. Intellectually speaking he knew this before but this episode delivers true understanding of that. As such he is prepared to lie under oath to make sure that Oliver goes free.
Naturally Diaz has other ideas and walks into the courtroom with Zoe in tow and puts her on display to send a clear message that there will be consequences if Rene doesn’t tell the truth. This scene includes a powerhouse performance from Rick Gonzales who conveys the conflict within Rene perfectly. He’s torn between his desire to do right by Oliver and saving his daughter from a really unpleasant fate. Stephen Amell also delivers the goods in this scene as Oliver participates in a silent conversation about Rene that clearly indicates how he feels about this situation. Oliver would never let his freedom be stained by the blood of Rene’s daughter so he gives permission for Rene to tell the truth which he reluctantly does. It raises the stakes for Oliver while defusing the tense situation involving Diaz and Zoe. Making a point of showing Diaz leaving once Rene does what he wants him to do shows that his actions are nothing personal and he won’t cause harm to people unless he feels it’s necessary. Diaz’ casual manipulation of the situation is one of the strengths of this episode and scenes like this show how effective it can be when deployed correctly.
Rene’s arc concludes in the moment of gratitude at the end of the episode. Oliver thanks Rene for all he’s done and gives him a free pass on the decisions he has made in the past because he understands them. Whether this means Team Arrow will come back together again after this or not remains to be seen but the conflict between Oliver and Rene is resolved in a way that feels both earned and reasonable. It’s one example of characters behaving like real people who make well reasoned decisions and grow as a result of their experiences.
The trial shifts gears after Rene tells the Court that Oliver is the Green Arrow. It becomes very likely that Oliver will be found guilty of what he is accused of. He is once again at risk of being outed as the Green Arrow so the suggested next step is to confess and let the Jury judge his actions on their own merits. His Lawyer encourages him to prove that the Green Arrow is a Hero who deserves to be out there fighting for the people rather than thrown behind bars where he is unable to benefit the city.
It’s a solid idea and would certainly alter the show in really fundamental ways. I wouldn’t object to next season being about how Oliver handles the prospect of being widely known as the Green Arrow and dealing with all the extra complications that brings. He rightly points out that confessing would make him a target and put Felicity and William in the line of fire. To a degree he doesn’t really care about what happens to him as proven by his willing sacrifice to save Rene’s daughter but he can’t put his wife and son through that. Felicity tells him that it’s not entirely his decision to make but it’s still not something Oliver is willing to do. Either he goes to prison or he walks out of there a free man with his secret intact; those are the only two outcomes as far as he’s concerned.
Oliver’s unwillingness to out himself requires a more radical strategy. This arrives in the form of Christopher Chance aka the Human Target to appear in costume as the Green Arrow while he wears Tommy Merlin’s face. Pulling back the hood to reveal Colin Donnell’s Tommy is a powerful and shocking reveal that causes the episode to pause for a bit. It didn’t take me long to twig what was going on as the cold open where Diggle operated as a one man army in Kasnia to free a hostage suddenly made sense. Tommy’s death is something that has been allowed to stick since it happened at the beginning of season 1 so it was immediately clear to me that something else was at play here. Christopher Chance was the obvious choice especially after the identity of the man Diggle rescued was left a mystery.
Stephen Amell delivers another sterling piece of acting in this scene. The range of emotions shown only through his facial expressions come across perfectly and encapsulate the weight of memory brought to the surface by seeing this face. Oliver has never forgiven himself for Tommy’s death nor has he ever really gotten over it so seeing this face again definitely isn’t easy for him. He’s clearly uncomfortable with the fact that Tommy’s name is being dragged through the mud to benefit him. The episode makes clear that he had no idea Tommy’s face would be used which suggests he would never have gone along with it had he known about it. It’s safe to say that he’s not entirely happy with it either but since he had no input in the decision there’s nothing he can really do about it.
Using Tommy’s face is definitely a reminder of bygone days and it also feeds into something that the episode does very well. Arrow is a 6 year old show that has a lot of history to wade through; arguably too much in some cases but the writers effectively bring up things that have been lingering in the background to make the case against Oliver strongly. The photo of him in Russia from last season is brought up as an example of his dishonesty which forces him to admit that he hasn’t been entirely forthcoming about his exile. Strangely it is left as a side point that is never reacted to but the idea that the public know that there was more to Oliver’s 5 years away from society than has been previously reported is interesting. He mentions that he was in Hong Kong and Russia but doesn’t deliver a version of how he ended up in those places or what he was doing there. Certainly the fact that he lied is enough to add credence to the idea that he’s lying about being a vigilante crime fighter in a green hood but there’s more that could be played with there.
Chance’s testimony as Tommy makes enough sense to be somewhat believable. Tommy being the Green Arrow from day 1 is plausible enough if you aren’t in the know and the idea that he faked his death to work under the radar has some merit to it especially when considering the extra scrutiny that would be placed on Tommy after what Malcolm did. Using Tommy as a scapegoat adds an emotional and ethical cost to Oliver’s freedom that he now has to live with. Amell’s performance as Chance delivers his fictional account of the particulars around Roy taking the fall for Oliver and everything that has happened over the past 6 years makes it abundantly clear that Oliver is considering that cost and struggling with that idea.
After this is when the episode starts to fall apart slightly. It definitely doesn’t stick the landing with a conclusion that feels earned because the whole thing feels hopelessly contrived. The Jury deliver a guilty verdict which is overturned by Christopher Chance disguised as the Judge. Everyone is surprised by the Judge’s decision with good reason because it makes absolutely no sense and arguably renders a lot of the dramatic twists moot because he could simply have been disguised as the Judge all along and left out Tommy entirely. The Judge disguise was noted as a last ditch effort but it makes everything else feel unnecessary and does result in the death of the Judge who is very much an innocent man. Oliver’s freedom definitely comes at a high price and the episode doesn’t properly address that.
Outside of the court room there was a lot of strong moments between characters. Oliver, Felicity and William’s dynamic forms part of the emotional core of this episode. Their scenes together have real weight to them drawing on the years of interactions in the case of Oliver and Felicity as well as the growing father/son connection that has been building all season. Felicity’s decision to appear as an expert witness works really well as a support of her husband
The episode is hurt somewhat by having the trial take place over a clearly short period of time. High profile cases like this can drag on for weeks so it would have held more weight if time had been a factor. For example any scene that Oliver shares with Felicity would have held more impact if their brief moments together were days apart. Add in William to that equation and the toll that takes on the family is more significant. It feels like everything is accelerated for narrative convenience but skipping time would have been easy enough to do given that it’s a TV show.
I found myself wishing for something that I knew would never be delivered. This episode was off format by focusing on Oliver and the trial while still allowing the other characters to feed into this. I would really enjoy seeing Arrow deliver a version of 12 Angry Men where the bulk of the episode is spent with the Jury debating the case and weighing up everything that they learned. It would deliver a perspective rarely seen on this show with the opinions of ordinary people taking the focus and delivering a commentary on Oliver Queen as Mayor as well as allow for a cross section of the people to discuss vigilante justice and the exploits of the Green Arrow. This would be a natural opportunity to add scope to these proceedings and enhance the tension associated with delivering a verdict. Sadly this episode won’t be seen but everything was set up to let that happen and now it simply exists as a wasted opportunity.
Another missed opportunity is to deliver the conclusion that was being set up. Most of the twists within the trial such as the arrival of Christopher Chance or testimony from the other characters being bare faced lies under oath were designed to deflect suspicion away from Oliver. Everything is about proving that he’s innocent which is fine and valid as far as story choices go. Dragging Tommy’s name through the mud to benefit him and putting an innocent Judge in Diaz’ crosshairs all felt like setup for Oliver taking full responsibility for his actions and proving himself to be a self sacrificing leader by confessing that he is the Green Arrow and letting the public decide whether everything he has done is acceptable. The episode was building to that but instead delivered a lukewarm conclusion that feels clumsy in its execution and felt like the writers were doing the only thing they could to maintain the status quo after writing themselves into a corner.
As always Evil Laurel’s potential redemption arc leaves a lot to be desired. Based on the events of this episode it seems like her desire to reform is genuine which I find to be less than believable given past experience. Her redemption certainly hasn’t been earned so the moment she testifies that Tommy Merlin is the Green Arrow doesn’t come across as genuine. It’s played as a shock certainly because in theory Evil Laurel’s morality is fluid enough to make it believable that she could go either way on this but it looks like Arrow is committing her to being the victim of an abusive partnership without earning the right to explore that.
At this point her survival looks unlikely given Diaz’ lack of tolerance of failure or betrayal. The fact that he didn’t kill her in this episode was a huge surprise but it’s clear that there’s some kind of reckoning coming for her. One theory I have is that Quentin will be the one to pay the price especially after Diaz resolving to go after Oliver and everyone he cares about.
A strong episode delivering a satisfying off format experience allowing for engaging characterisation. Setting up early on that everyone was supporting Oliver despite their differences was a nice touch and allowing Rene’s arc to resolve with him taking ownership of his decision to be the one to testify against him in the first place was great. It leads to an excellent scene where Oliver gives him silent permission to tell the truth during his testimony so that Diaz doesn’t harm his daughter and a well earned reconciliation between them. The trial wasn’t short on twists such as Christopher Chance appearing disguised as Tommy Merlin wearing the Green Arrow costume. It’s another great scene for Amell who delivers a wide range of complex emotions only using facial expressions. Oliver considers the emotional and ethical cost of his freedom in that moment as Tommy’s name is dragged through the mud in order to benefit him. It’s a shame this proves pointless with a weak resolution involving Chance disguising himself as a Judge. It undercuts the obvious conclusion of Oliver accepting responsibility by telling the truth and letting the public judge him accordingly.
There were lots of great character moments throughout such as the strong family dynamic involving Oliver, Felicity and William. It would have benefited from more time passing between scenes in order to heighten the drama and generally make the case feel like a bigger deal but what was delivered by the actors was really strong stuff that helped the proceedings feel grounded. Evil Laurel’s redemptive arc leaves a lot to be desired with her desire to do the right thing feeling completely unearned. In theory there is tension attached to how she answers the question of who the Green Arrow is but having her go along with the fiction feels completely unearned. Stakes are increased because she is now in Diaz’s crosshairs but it’s strange that he didn’t finish her off there and then. His next tactic is to go after Oliver and everyone he cares about so I suspect Quentin might pay the ultimate price.
- a tense and well told story
- twists that worked to raise the stakes appropriately
- Rene’s strong and meaningful arc
- excellent acting from Stephen Amell with very little dialogue
- generally strong characterisation
- Oliver, Felicity and William’s family dynamic
- Evil Laurel being as problematic as ever
- not paying off on the obvious solution that was being built up
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