I love a good stunt or gimmick; whether that’s setting an installment in Flashtime, staging an epic 11-minute fight scene without any cuts, or making an entire episode look like it was shot in one take, I’m a sucker for it. So, tonight’s Arrow, “The Slabside Redemption,” felt like it was made for me with its confined setting (Slabside prison) and multiple one-shot takes. And for the most part, I was thoroughly entertained. Director James Bamford’s excitement was palpable the entire time, and Stephen Amell was a straight force as Oliver endured his latest crucible.
As much as I enjoyed the breathless and suspenseful episode — which sees Ricardo Diaz break into Slabside to kill Oliver before he’s released — it did leave me feeling a little cold because it was just so tightly focused on Oliver (and the fights!). While I understand why the story couldn’t and didn’t include Felicity or Diggle (Oliver’s not only fighting Diaz, but he’s fighting to get back to them), it still felt as though the episode lacked that extra emotional gut punch that some of the show’s best, operatic, and equally action-packed installments have accomplished.
But, don’t get me wrong, there are several great scenes between Oliver and other characters that dig into the season’s theme of redemption and hint at how prison has changed Oliver. In fact, we get a few those of those right at the top of the hour. As Oliver begins his final day in Slabside, we see him check in with everyone he’s spent time with behind bars. He tells a clearly crazy Stanley that he’s going to pay for killing that guard, and promises Turner that he’ll make sure he gets out of the hole and a second chance to be the hero he was when he saved Lyla’s life all those years ago.
Of course, Oliver’s last day goes sideways once Diaz escapes from his prison transport and infiltrates Slabside with the intention of killing the former Green Arrow. He lets Oliver know his plan upfront when he meets him in the visiting room, and Oliver points out just how stupid it is, which is a clear sign the writers are at least partially aware that this is a hilariously silly setup but in the best way possible.
After their heated exchange in which the two trade the same threats they have since last season, Oliver tries to warn the other guards about Diaz’s plan, but they don’t listen to him. So he has no other option but to break out of his cell, which leads the hour’s first one-shot scene as he fights his way up the main prison room in order to call for help. We’ve seen Slabside’s multiple levels throughout the season, but Bamford really takes advantage of them here as a camera on a crane follows Oliver scaling the three floors and trying to avoid hurting the guards. Bamford will make use of the set’s three floors throughout the episode, which makes the action scenes all the more dynamic.
Next: An unlikely team
Once Oliver escapes from his cell, all hell breaks loose as Diaz gets the rest of the inmates riled up and sets them loose on the guards. Brick and Derek Sampson make a bee-line for Oliver and almost get the best of him, but Turner manages to break out of the hole and lends Oliver a hand. For the rest of the episode, it’s Oliver and Turner versus, well, everyone else.
The Oliver-Turner pairing is one of the best things about the script. For one, Turner is one of the show’s oldest villains, which gives his scenes with Oliver a bit more weight because there’s a sense of history that’s lacking between Oliver and pretty much every other character on the inside. That history leads to one of the episode’s best scenes in which Turner points out how prison has started to change Oliver. Whereas the old Green Arrow saw the world in black and white, Oliver’s experience in Slabside has shown him that (and this is the show’s cliché, not mine) there are shades of grey. And this change is even visible in the way in which Oliver works with Turner. In the past, when Oliver had to team up with Malcolm Merlyn, he did it out of necessity and Malcolm knew how unhappy he was with the arrangement. Here, it’s still out of necessity, but he’s not being, for lack of a better word, a dick to Turner in the process.
And the other reason this pairing works so well is that Amell and Michael Jai White just look so cool fighting alongside each other. The episode’s second (and my favorite) one-shot scene sees both men fight their way through and up the cell block while trying to save as many guards from the rioting prisoners as possible, and it’s truly a sight. Their entire team-up reminded me of when Batman and Joker joined forces at the end of Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s crazy comic crossover series Dark Nights: Metal.
At one point, Stanley knocks Oliver out with a sedative and ties him up because he wants them to escape together. Oliver points out that they can’t leave because Diaz is still at large, but Stanley doesn’t care about that, which is yet another clear sign that he misunderstands what the Green Arrow did. Then, Stanley admits to committing the murders he was incarcerated for but maintains he’s not a monster because his victims deserved it. In fact, he thinks that he’s just like the Green Arrow. Part of me wants to read Stanley as the writer’s critique of bad and toxic fans, but I’m wary of doing that because we still don’t have any details about Stanley’s murders.
Once Oliver overpowers Stanley, it’s time for him and Turner to go after Diaz once and for all. In the brawl, Diaz starts a fire. So Oliver tasks Turner will helping the guards and inmates get out of there while he goes after Diaz, who is stronger than ever because of that serum he made a few episodes back. He comes very close to killing Oliver, but of course, the Green Arrow prevails and subdues Diaz before he delivers the final blow. But before he finishes the fight, Diaz reveals that Felicity almost murdered him last week. With that done, the riot ends, and the guards follow through with Oliver’s release. As the episode ends, Oliver walks through Slabside’s gates and is reunited with Felicity (and Diggle, who hangs back as the two lovers share a passionate kiss).
Overall, “The Slabside Redemption” was a pretty raucous episode that showcased how well Bamford can shoot an action scene. If anything, he was the star of the episode more so than Amell, who delivers a strong performance here. Now that we’ve reached the end of Oliver’s incarceration, I’m interested in seeing how this affects the way he operates as Green Arrow. I think that will determine whether or not the prison arc was effective and worth it.
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