Arrow – Season 7 Episode 1
Arrow returns for a seventh season with Oliver Queen in prison, Felicity and William in witness protection as well as the rest of Team Arrow finding a place for themselves now that they can’t resume their vigilante careers.
Season 6 was definitely an uneven season though it did have a strong finale that suggested big changes were afoot for this show. To its credit Arrow is a show that allows itself to change though there are fundamental baseline characteristics that always remain such as vigilante justice, moralising, Oliver wrestling his inner demons, interpersonal dynamics at the forefront of the drama and other things. This allows for a show that always feels familiar but manages to surprise an audience and it has been mostly successful –outside of a few hiccups- at maintaining this throughout its run.
I don’t think it’s overstating things to say that this might be the strongest season opener the show has had. For one thing it feels like things are different and there is no attempt to use spectacle in order to captivate the attention of the viewer. Instead the episode uses the show’s greatest asset and lets the characters draw the audience in by gambling on the overall investment in them being enough to retain interest.
Oliver in prison is an interesting prospect as he is now locked up with many of the people he put behind bars so there is a constant source of antagonists. Every minute that Oliver spends in prison feels dangerous because there is nobody he can trust in there. Interestingly he refuses to make alliances to aid his own survival because to do so would compromise his own values. It’s good to see returning foes in the form of Brick, Derek Sampson and Ben Turner aka Bronze Tiger for continuity’s sake if nothing else. It rewards loyal viewers and helps the world Arrow inhabits feel more lived in as recurring foes are an easy way to add depth.
It also means that Oliver is fighting actual characters in prison rather than legions of faceless goons that are supposed to resent him. The fact that we have seen Oliver be actively responsible for capturing three of the criminals he shares the prison with adds weight because there’s a tangible history there. Brick in particular stands out as the most intimidating as Vinnie Jones is an imposing presence which couples nicely with what audiences already know about the character. It makes sense that he would be in a leadership role among his fellow inmates and his hatred for Oliver has a playful edge to it which works well.
More interesting than that is what Oliver’s incarceration is doing to him emotionally. Stephen Amell’s performance in this episode is great; he plays Oliver fighting against every instinct he has in order to keep his family safe by making sure that he makes as few waves as possible. He holds out hope that he will see his family again and regain his freedom even though I’m pretty sure he was due to serve a live sentence though perhaps that has been loosely retconned. Either way it’s a struggle for him because he’s one man against literally an entire prison full of people who want him dead. A man named Stanley (Brendan Fletcher) tries to befriend him but Oliver keeps his distance because associating with him would be bad for Stanley’s health.
Unfortunately this means that he turns his back when Stanley is being brutally beaten and comes to regret that decision after Stanley strikes a nerve with his speech about Oliver being a coward unworthy of the Green Arrow name he once had. When combined with an attempt on Felicity’s life as well has his own it’s enough to encourage Oliver to take action and make it know that he won’t tolerate being pushed around. The most impressive thing about this is that this is all accomplished with visual storytelling so instead of Oliver delivering a speech about how nobody messes with those he loves after his display of strength we are let to conclude this through his behaviour. First of all him wiping the tally marks off the wall is a clear sign that being free is less important than protecting his family and the ensuing beating he supplies in the prison yard tells everyone around him that he isn’t to be messed with. Oliver builds gradually to this point throughout the episode thanks to sharp scripting and a top notch performance from Stephen Amell.
The action sequences within the prison are brilliantly executed. They are both claustrophobic and brutal with the shower fight being a definite highlight. Amell has always had great physicality and is able to show it here. Seeing him fight on the defensive is somewhat rare as he often has some degree of control over the situation in his role as Green Arrow but in prison he’s always expecting a fight while not knowing when it will happen or where it will take place so he has to think and react very quickly. None of the other inmates are any real match for him but there’s a grittiness to the combat thanks to him taking damage because he can’t anticipate what he will have to deal with.
Outside of the prison the rest of Team Arrow seem to be fairly secure in the lives they have chosen to lead. Most importantly their current roles make sense for them as people. Rene returning to the Glades to teach kids how to box. This takes the character back to his roots and serves as a reminder of the reasons for him becoming Wild Dog in the first place. Teaching kids –including his own- boxing is a great idea because it’s his way of teaching kids to defend themselves. Now that he can’t protect them as Wild Dog he’s helping them protect themselves. There’s a real sense of solidarity that exists between him and his students as shown by him taking it upon himself to make sure that nobody messes with them. This means that he’s also teaching them to look out for one another and the importance of community so this is a great way for Rene to be spending his time.
Dinah has been promoted to Captain of the SCPD which is a natural fit for her given that she was clearly good at her job whether she has super powers or not. As Captain her duty is to uphold the law which includes the anti-vigilante legislation that was voted in by the people. Whether she agrees with it or not is irrelevant as she has to do everything within her power to make sure that vigilante justice isn’t tolerated in Star City. She also has a personal goal of restoring faith in the police after the widespread corruption at the hands of Diaz last season. It will be a difficult road for her and the rest of the SCPD but she clearly believes in it and is fully confident that her goal is achievable.
The anti-vigilante legislation creates some forced conflict between Dinah and Rene over how to deal with the emergence of a new vigilante dressed as the Green Arrow. Rene thinks that this new Green Arrow is just what the city needs to control the ever increasing crime rate where Dinah wants the citizens of Star City to see that the police can protect them. Having them occupy different positions on this issue is reasonable but the execution leaves a lot to be desired. Basically the writers needed two characters to disagree on this to manufacture conflict without really delivering anything meaningful and only serves to set up the notion that Rene will continue acting as Wild Dog with Dinah having to choose between looking the other way because Rene is her friend and upholding the law. In some ways it’s similar to Quentin’s relationship with Oliver as the Hood in the first season which ties into the idea of familiar yet different that this episode plays with. Either way it’s not all that engaging so far.
Curtis, Diggle and Evil Laurel make brief appearances apparently just to show us what they happen to be up to at this point. Evil Laurel has somehow managed to secure the position as District Attorney and passionately talks about the zero tolerance policy on vigilantism. It seems to be a survival tactic for her though it’s unclear if she has abandoned her less upright ways or if she has some sort of long form agenda. Diggle remains at A.R.G.U.S. so there’s not much to say about that other than him being on thin ice at this point for burning through resources to find Diaz. His scene with Oliver early in the episode has him in the role of Oliver’s best friend and it works wonderfully because that relationship has always been engaging and is important to have featured as much as possible. Curtis is also at A.R.G.U.S. which has him in a similar role as far as the show is concerned to what came before without wearing a mask. Dinah and Rene still come to him for technical help and he still supplies the information. That’s about it as far as his contribution to this episode goes so it might have been better to delay his reintroduction until something more meaningful could be done.
Felicity and William are in witness protection in an attempt to keep them hidden from Diaz. Felicity has died some of her hair, added some piercings and passes her time working in a coffee shop where she tries to remain unnoticed except from the advances of an interested customer. William attends school and tries to keep his head down. This provides further opportunity to showcase the strong connection that exists between Felicity and William. It’s particularly interesting because they are on their own without Oliver so it’s a great way to see how that relationship has developed. This is done through the engaging performances of Jack Moore and Emily Bett Rickards who play their characters as being comfortable with one another but terrified that they will be discovered.
It was a nice surprise to see that Diaz managed to find Felicity so soon. Her life in hiding wasn’t interesting enough to sustain multiple episodes so establishing that she and William were safe for months before putting that safety at risk was the right decision. Felicity squaring up to Diaz to defend herself and William was really well done as well.
This leads to a tearful Oliver and Felicity reunion. It’s a great scene that celebrates the strong relationship that exists between these two characters. I’ve commented extensively in the past that their relationship bothers me when it is defined by angst but this I definitely like. After all they’ve been through they are still devoted to one another and the chemistry between the two actors continues to be relentlessly engaging.
The episode delivers an impressive twist by featuring what appears to be flashbacks of a young man (Ben Lewis) heading to Lian Yu looking for someone. As the episode progresses that someone is revealed to be Roy Harper who is looking a lot older than when we last saw him. It turns out the old man is an adult William and the flashbacks are actually flashforwards. It’s a good twist though it’s unclear how this will relate to the rest of the show. There’s a strong hint that this is a future where Oliver Queen has died and William might be looking to follow in his footsteps though there is a distinct lack of detail at this point. Colour me intrigued for now though it’s possible this plot will become as tiresome as the flashbacks ended up.
A strong opening to the new season that makes significant changes to the framework of the show while maintaining a strong sense of familiarity. Oliver’s prison story is by far the most interesting thing going on with a great use of visual storytelling and an excellent performance from Stephen Amell. Felicity and William in witness protection also works really well and doesn’t have too much time spent on it to the point where it feels that nothing is happening. The tearful Oliver/Felicity reunion is excellently done as well.
Rene and Dinah have compelling lives now that they can’t be vigilantes any more though having them differ on the issue of the new Green Arrow comes across as forced. Diggle at A.R.G.U.S. is as expected though he does have a good scene with Oliver to serve as a reminder of that strong bond of friendship. Curtis might have been better left out of this episode as his contribution wasn’t all that worthwhile. The same can be said of Evil Laurel though the question of whether she is actually genuine in her role as District Attorney is enough for now. The flashbacks as flashforwards twist is nicely handled and raises a lot of questions to pique interest for the coming episodes.
- excellent use of visual storytelling
- a superb performance from Stephen Amell
- the flashback twist
- showcasing Felicity and William’s relationship
- brilliantly choreographed action
- the forced Dinah/Rene conflict
- some members of Team Arrow contributing very little to the episode
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