'Life Sentence' is a strong conclusion to an uneven season
Life Sentence
Credit: Jack Rowand/The CW
S6 E23
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Can a strong season finale redeem an uneven and frustrating season? That’s probably the main question on my mind in the wake of Arrow‘s tragic and surprising season 6 finale. “Life Sentence” had many strong directorial moments and performances, broke away from the Arrowverse finale formula in an interesting way, and followed through on something introduced at the beginning of the season; however, part of me can’t shake the feeling that everything here doesn’t feel completely earned. But, let’s dive in and see if we can unpack some of this.

“Life Sentence” begins with Team Arrow and the FBI launching yet another assault on multiple locations in the hopes of finding Diaz. Director James Bamford is thankfully back to his old tricks, and shoots the opening action sequence with a series of long takes that definitely make it more exciting. But alas, the new Team Arrow and FBI coalition isn’t able to apprehend Diaz in this opening assault because, as always, the Dragon is several steps head of everyone. In fact, Diaz isn’t too phased after the FBI dismantles his blue army because he’s now working with the Longbow Hunters, who are only name-dropped in the episode and don’t make an appearance.

The finale is mainly about Team Arrow working with the FBI to find Diaz, but the emotional story is about Oliver finding time to make amends with almost everyone on the team, which telegraphs the season’s ending. He first pulls Diggle aside and gifts him a new Green Arrow costume; however, Diggle declines to put it on now because he feels that having two Emerald Archers parkouring around Star City would diminish the Green Arrow’s symbolic power. But, that doesn’t stop Oliver and Diggle from officially making up and shaking it out — and by shaking it out, I mean handshaking their problems away, because apparently hugs aren’t allowed in Oliver Queen’s dojo.

Diaz becomes suspicious of Anatoly and tests his loyalty by lying to him about his location. Obviously, Anatoly shares that false information with Team Arrow and inadvertently leads them into a trap. When Team Arrow and the FBI arrive at the warehouse, they find themselves trapped in a building that’s rigged to brim with explosives. Believing he won’t make it out, Rene decides to give Zoey one last phone call, which was surprisingly moving thanks to Rick Gonzalez’s performance. Thankfully, Rene, Watson, and the nameless agent don’t meet their maker and escape before it goes boom.

In the wake of Rene’s close call, Oliver takes him aside and apologizes for judging him for so long and tells him he believes that Rene is a good man. And Rene tells Oliver that means a lot coming from him. Oliver has a similar chat with Dinah, who also confesses that she respects him after he apologizes for not being sensitive enough to how she felt after Vince’s death. I’ll have to rewatch the season to see if these feel earned, but in the moment, they work because they finally bring the nonsensical Batman v. Superman in-fighting to an end. Furthermore, Gonzalez, Julianna Harkavy, and Stephen Amell play the moments beautifully and make them believable. (Next: Goodbye, Paul Blackthorne. Hello, Green is the New Orange)

The one goodbye that really made me choke up was the one between Oliver and Quentin, who was getting pressure from Diaz to kick the FBI out of town in exchange for Laurel’s life. Before Quentin heads off to meet with Diaz, he and Oliver share a very touching scene together in which they once again reflect on how far they’ve come. Oliver asks Quentin to trust that him that he’ll make sure Laurel survives this take down, and it appears as though Quentin will.

So Quentin heads off to meet with Diaz while Team Arrow and the FBI tail him. When Diaz shows up, Quentin abandons the plan and demands Diaz show him proof of life. So Diaz takes him to meet Laurel, evading the FBI’s takedown in the process. While this may not have been part of Watson’s plan, it was part of Quentin’s. See, Quentin has a pacemaker, and he went with Diaz hoping he’d be able to save Laurel while Felicity tracked the pacemaker. His plan partially succeeds. Sure, Team Arrow and the FBI eventually show up, but not before Diaz put a bullet in Quentin’s gut.

And cue the final battle: While Dinah helps Laurel and Quentin get out of their cell, Oliver runs after Diaz for a rooftop bout. Oliver finally manages to put Diaz down, but Laurel shows up and RUINS EVERYTHING! She uses her sonic blast and sends him flying into the water, which allows Diaz to avoid being apprehended by Watson and the FBI. This outcome would be bad on any day; however, it’s even worse now because it means Oliver agreed to go to prison in exchange for the FBI’s help and his team being granted immunity for nothing.

After the battle ends, Oliver reunites with the team at the hospital and has one more touching father-surrogate son scene with Quentin before the latter dies while on the operating table. Sara shows up at the hospital, too, and has a fairly weird yet compelling encounter with her sister’s Earth-2 doppelgänger. Alas, Oliver isn’t given too much time to mourn Quentin’s death because Watson arrives at the hospital, and he’s finally forced to come to clean to everybody, including Felicity, about the deal he made. Felicity begs him in the hospital and later in an interrogation room to break the deal, but he refuses. Again, I was especially moved by Amell’s tearful performance in his final scene with Emily Bett Rickards, who was also putting in a lot of work that paid off.

Oliver holds a press conference on the steps of city hall and admits to being the Green Arrow before being thrown into prison. He has finally taking responsibility for his actions, which is something that would’ve hit harder if it had happened in season 5, which was all about Oliver reckoning with his past. As the episode ends, the FBI rounds up Diaz’s men, and Oliver heads to a prison because green is the new orange.

Honestly, I didn’t see this ending coming. If you had asked me to predict season 6’s ending even a month ago, this wouldn’t have been on my list because it felt like it was out of the realm of possibilities. I also didn’t expect Diaz, who is seen licking his wounds in the final montage, to make it out of the season alive, either. Even though I don’t think this season effectively built to this ending, I still liked it because it was genuinely surprising, and the Diaz twist represents a break from the Arrowverse formula. Typically, the season big bad is usually defeated in the finale, but that’s not the case here. I’m very interested in seeing how Arrow digs itself out of this move because things obviously can’t go back to normal now that Oliver’s secret is out in the open.

Wall of Weird:

  • Make sure you read our postmortem with outgoing showrunner Marc Guggenheim.
  • So it looks like the Longbow Hunters will probably play a role in season 7, which will have longtime staffer Beth Schwartz at the helm as showrunner.
  • Why didn’t Oliver have a goodbye chat with Curtis?
  • Let’s be honest, not telling Felicity about the deal until the last second was classic Oliver. I thought we’d moved past the secret keeping!
  • If you want to learn more about the Longbow Hunters, you should pick up Green Arrow: The Outsiders War, which was written by Jeff Lemire, who had a really strong run on Green Arrow during the New 52.

Episode Recaps

Billionaire Oliver Queen — under the vigilante persona of Arrow — tries to right the wrongs of his family and fight the ills of society.
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