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