Arrow “Penance” Review (Season 5, Episode 4)

One of the foundational building blocks of an effective team is trust. The other is respect. You not only have to trust that your teammates will get their job done and have your back. You also have to respect them enough to be honest with them and take constructive criticism. That’s something Oliver seems not to have learned yet. At least that’s the way it seemed in this week’s Arrow.

I completely understand Oliver’s decision to go liberate John from prison. John is Oliver’s brother, and he didn’t want to see him punished for a crime he didn’t commit. But Felicity made a valid point when she told Oliver that wasn’t his decision to make. Admittedly, John is in a really bad headspace and his ability to make decisions unclouded by his guilt is impaired. Hiding in the Army didn’t give him the opportunity to come to terms with Laurel and Andy’s deaths. He feels guilty about their deaths for different reasons, but guilt is guilt. While I do believe that Oliver is correct about prison not being able to provide John with the penance he feels he needs to pay, I don’t believe Oliver was correct to force John’s hand. Communication is key, and instead of trying to talk John into fighting for his own life, he essentially told John ‘I know what’s best for you and you’re going to do what I say.’ He and Lyla didn’t actually give John a chance to work through the situation in his own mind before they forced him to do what they wanted him to do. Sometimes, as a friend, you have to do that. But it should be more of a last resort than your go to method of dealing with your friends.

The new Team Arrow is still not quite gelling yet, but with a little more time (and less of Rene’s stupidity) I feel like it could come together nicely. The problem is, if Oliver continues to distrust and disrespect his team, he’s not going to have a team for long. I get that he didn’t want them involved in his highly illegal plot to break John out of prison. That makes sense. But the way he treated them was completely out of line. They had valid concerns about him going off on the mission on his own, but instead of listening to them and then explaining why he didn’t want them involved, he just beat them up and went on his way. Oliver’s inability to accept the fact that his way might not be the only, or even best, way is starting to get really old. It’s one thing for him to be the leader and have the final say in whatever decision the team is trying to make. But it’s a horse of a different color for him to not even consider anyone else’s thoughts on the matter and to fail to listen to other options at all. That’s pretty much par for the course with Oliver, and that’s the problem. It shows a lack of growth in the character and a failure to learn from his past mistakes. Most of the friction Oliver had with the original Team Arrow was caused by Oliver constantly making decisions for other people that weren’t his to make and failing to consider the fact that someone might have a better idea than his own. Clearly, nothing he’s been through in the past five years has gotten it through his thick head that if he expects his team to respect him, then he needs to respect them too.

Speaking of the new Team Arrow’s failure to gel, how many times is Rene going to have to screw up the mission before he realizes that what he’s doing is detrimental to the team? He did it in last week’s episode and cost a lot of people their lives. He did it in this week’s episode, and if Oliver hadn’t been there, Curtis probably would’ve been beat to death and the bad guy still would’ve gotten away. Maybe Rene is grating on my nerves because he’s just like Oliver. He refuses to listen. He refuses to see that his way isn’t the only way. Add to that the fact that he’s impulsive and has a pathological inability to actually work in a team, and you have the perfect ingredients for getting your team killed. Maybe getting kidnapped and tortured by Tobias Church will teach Wild Dog some humility. But I doubt it.

Overall, this wasn’t one of my favorite episodes. It felt like the whole wasn’t greater than the sum of its parts. There were things I liked about it such as the Russia flashbacks and Rory and Felicity seemingly coming to an understanding. But there were other things I didn’t. I’m not overly invested in the new Team Arrow. Not really anyway. I like Curtis and Rory, but Evelyn and Wild Dog are just kind of meh. Maybe that will get better as the season moves along. I didn’t like the way Oliver abandoned his team either. Because Oliver was out of pocket, Curtis was stabbed and Wild Dog was captured. Like I said. John is Oliver’s brother, and I completely understand him going after him. But it still doesn’t justify Oliver leaving his barely formed team in the lurch. They were clearly no match for Tobias Church, and it’s just a good thing that Church doesn’t seem to have a more creative plan than take over the city the old fashioned way. With guns and bombs. However, that doesn’t negate the fact that Church is smart and ruthless. I also like the fact that Church is just a human. Arrow has gotten so caught up in magic and metahumans over the last few seasons that it’s actually kind of refreshing to have a foe that doesn’t automatically outmatch Oliver. We’ve still got this Prometheus dude running around and we don’t know about him yet, but so far I approve of Arrow scaling back in terms of its villains. So what did y’all think of this week’s Arrow?