Warning: this review contains spoilers. You can find all of my Arrow reviews here.
Arrow‘s first few episodes this year have been enjoyable, flawed yet showing notable improvement and promise. But it wasn’t until “Penance” that Season 5 found its groove and delivered the first truly great episode of the season.
“Penance” dealt with Oliver and Lyla’s mission to rescue Diggle from his false imprisonment. The rescue itself was a fun if straightforward operation, capped with an impressive plane rescue straight out of The Dark Knight.
But it was also interesting from a character perspective. Both Felicity and Diggle himself were opposed to the rescue—the latter because he saw it as penance for his mistakes last year. And we were led to believe that Oliver was simply being selfish and wanted Diggle back as Spartan (which is partly true). But the episode ended not with Oliver learning a lesson, but with him and Lyla succeeding and having the final word. And that final word was “leave no one behind”.
When I saw that “Penance” was going to split its focus by having the recruits stay behind in Star City while Oliver rescued Diggle, I was concerned. Would it end up being yet another disjointed episode that tried to doo too much?
Luckily, not only did “Penance” balance those plot threads remarkably well, but the recruits’ storyline ended up actually being the better of the two. This is great news because it bodes well that these new characters were able to pick up the slack. Oliver’s absence allowed them the opportunity to shine, and they’re beginning to come into their own.
Tobias Church continues to be an impressive villain with buckets of aggressive charisma. His major role in the recruits’ storyline was a big factor in its success. It also helped that Lance and Thea were involved in that conflict, which meant that they didn’t embark on a tertiary subplot like in the last two scatterbrained episodes.
I’m pleasantly surprised by how quickly Arrow is resolving character drama this year. Last season, something like the Havenrock tension between Felicity and Rory would have dragged for weeks. Yet within merely one episode, they had a conversation and moved past it like adults. More of this refreshing pace, please.
Finally, the flashbacks are also on the upswing. This is partly because the Bratva storyline is much more engaging than what we had before. They were also meatier in “Penance” than they’ve been for a while, which made them feel like a legitimate part of the story again, and not simply a distraction.