Arrow recap: The People v. Oliver Queen
It might be time to prohibit the current batch of superhero shows from going to court. Marvel’s Daredevil stumbled when it went all American Crime Story on us in season 2 with the trial of Frank Castle; Barry Allen’s trial on The Flash was a bore; and Arrow‘s previous trips to the courtroom haven’t been its most successful hours (even though I’ll admit I do enjoy season 2’s “State v. Queen” because it marks the return of John Barrowman). Unfortunately, Arrow‘s latest attempt at becoming a courtroom drama in tonight’s “Docket No. 11-19-41-73” was frustrating, mostly boring, and lacked any kind of substance, which is disappointing because it could’ve worked.
Given where last week’s “Shifting Allegiances” left off, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to discover that tonight’s episode is all about the People v. Oliver Queen. Oliver’s lawyer Jean finds herself going up against power prosecutor Alexa Van Owen, who was responsible for taking down Intergang and Bruno Manheim (loved the DC Comics shoutouts!). As the trial unfolds, we watch as Diggle and Dinah take the stand and testify that Oliver is not the Green Arrow. Then, Rene gets called to the stand, but ends up giving Oliver up because Diaz strolls into the courtroom with his daughter midway through his testimony, which sent a clear message: Tell the truth or else. Thank you, Arrow, for giving us more proof that Diaz is a monster. Later on, Felicity takes the stand and defends her man, too. It’s all very boring because the script is very surface level and doesn’t use this as an opportunity for any kind of character development.
Eventually, Oliver takes the stand to testify, which seems like a stupid move. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from watching The Good Wife, The Good Fight, and tons of other lawyer shows, it’s that it’s rarely a good idea to put a guilty, or at least guilty-looking, client on the stand. Thankfully, Oliver’s testimony that he’s not the Green Arrow doesn’t cause too much damage because it’s interrupted by none other than the “Green Arrow,” who crashes into the courtroom via the skylight. I put the “Green Arrow” in quotes because it’s not the real one. The Green Arrow unmasks himself and reveals he’s Tommy Merlyn (Colin Donnell); however, given that the episode opened with Diggle rescuing Christopher Chance from Kasnia, we know for a fact that it’s Chance wearing a Tommy mask. While Tommy’s return wasn’t that surprising, it was nice to have Donnell back. I love how he cockily stated that his team would extract him before he reached Iron Heights after the judge orders his arrest.
Spartan and Wild Dog don’t disappoint! They subdue Diaz’s men as they carry Tommy/Chance through the garage, and help him escape via the police van. Unfortunately, all of this isn’t enough to save Oliver because Diaz, who has access to all of Cayden James’ intel on Team Arrow, knows about Chance. So to make sure Oliver goes to prison, Diaz orders Laurel to present Chance’s entire CIA file to the court. Laurel tells Quentin about Diaz’s plan, who in turn tells Oliver. Worried about his fate, Oliver asks Felicity to go into ARGUS protective custody if he’s found guilty. (Next: Free Ollie)
It comes time for Laurel to take the stand; however, she doesn’t do what she’s supposed to, which pisses Diaz off. She testifies that Tommy Merlyn is the Green Arrow knowing full well that she basically just committed suicide by Diaz. What made the very self-interested Black Siren cross Diaz? Obviously, it was Quentin, who told her earlier in the episode that his Laurel would stand up to Diaz.
After all of that excitement, it’s now up to the jury to deliberate. While that happens, Oliver has a very touching moment with William where he assures him that Felicity will raise him to become a great man if he ends up going to jail. Even though I find William himself rather annoying, I do like seeing Oliver in father mode, and Stephen Amell does a great job of portraying that softer side of Oliver.
Because this is TV and one of the fastest trials in history, the jury finds Oliver guilty. Citing the conflicting testimony, Jean presents a motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict, which is legal talk for asking the judge to ignore the jury. The characters spent the entire episode telling us that the judge was in Diaz’s pocket, so it was rather surprising when the judge rules in favor of Oliver and declares he’s free to leave. However, in the next scene we find out what happened: it was Chance! During deliberation, Diggle and Rene knocked out the real judge, and Chance took his place. Upon learning of his role in freeing him, Oliver pays Rene a visit, and both men apologize for their past transgressions (for the record, Rene is the one who screwed up the most here).
Meanwhile, Diaz kills the real judge for failing even though it wasn’t his fault. Laurel shows up and attacks Diaz intent on killing him. However, Diaz isn’t an idiot and was ready with a device that negates her powers. As his men cart her away, Diaz declares he’s moving onto plan B: killing Oliver Queen and everyone he loves. In other words: Diaz is transitioning into every past Big Bad this show has had.
I found this episode frustrating for two specific reasons. First, Arrow never works when it goes to the courtroom. This show thrives on forward momentum, exciting action, and being as pulpy as possible, and slowing things down for a trial undercuts all of that. The worst part of it all is that writers know that the show is never at its best when it does trials. Executive producer Marc Guggenheim admitted as much when Laurel was killed off in season 4. “But the truth is — and bear in mind, this is the lawyer/legal writer in me speaking — every time we’ve tried to set scenes in a courtroom, I don’t think it’s always been the strongest element of the show,” said Guggenheim in an interview with TVLine in 2016. “It has nothing to do with the directors, the actors or anything. The show is just not built for that, and I feel like every time we do it, it shows…and when we do it the scenes always fall flat for some reason.” If you know this doesn’t work for the show, then why do it?
Secondly, I think the premise of the episode — Oliver going on trial for being the Green Arrow — would’ve worked so much better if it happened last season. With a trial like this, the most obvious move would’ve been to use the trial as a way to interrogate Oliver’s past sins — which is what the very excellent season 5 was all about. The Oliver here has already dealt with all of this and so there wasn’t much left for this episode to do. That being said, the writers could’ve found ways to make it even more dramatic and over-the-top, because it still felt like the episode was just going through the motions.