Arrow returns as the seventh season reaches the midseason crossover and Ollie is still in prison! Don’t worry he’s set to be released early, if Ricardo Diaz will let him out that is.
1. More like Die Hard in a Prison
With a title like “The Slabside Redemption” I was thinking maybe we’d get a couple of nods to the Frank Darabont cable classic. Maybe Ollie would finally have enough of the prison food and tunnel his way out as Stanley fondly remembered his time with the Green Arrow. Nope, Arrow finally did a Die Hard In a X episode; or I guess to be more DC specific a Arkham story. In each case the hero is cut off from the outside world and struggles through a series of villains until they reach the final boss standing between them and their loved ones. It’s the kind of scenario I’m surprised the show hasn’t done more of.
There is actually quite a bit of meat to pick at in regards to Die Hard, how that movie sets up all you need to know about the character dynamics and arcs at play is a masterclass. Episode scribes Jill Blankenship & Rebecca Bellotto don’t quite have that same amount of runway to explore things, but with the direction of James Bamford, provide an emotionally affecting script as Bamford puts Stephen Amell through hell for 60 minutes. This prison set of episodes has reminded me of what Amell can do as an actor, and “Slabside Redemption” becomes a physical proving ground for the lead in contrast to his more subdued work in “Level Two.” The shows time at Slabside has let it polish up some recurring thematic elements with this episode in particular exploring what redemption looks like in Arrow. As a sendoff to the series time in Slabside, it certainly goes out with a bang.
2. Solid Oners
It says something about James “Bam-Bam” Bamford’s penchant for well-staged action direction that “The Slabside Redemption” was immediately recognizable as something he’d done. One of the keys to this episodes success was how he, whoever did the cinematography, and the editor stitched everything together with these little oner shots. These shots never got as long, or showy, as the one take fight in Creed, functionally they are more akin to what Tony Zhou termed “The Spielberg Oner.” These tracking shots helped chain the beats of a given action sequence together and keep the flow without making everything feel too segmented. The action in this episode was a nice reminder why putting up with the tonal roller coaster of Arrow season 1 wasn’t so bad, you normally got one real cool action sequence out of it. Seeding these shots into the episode also helped develop sense of physical tole these action sequences were taking on Oliver. So that by the time he hobbles his way out of Slabside, you get why.
Given their similar subject matter and formal characteristics comparisons with another vigilante’s trip to prison, Matt Murdock’s in Daredevil “Blindsided,” spring to mind. So much of the riot in “Blindsided” was performative, from the presentation to Matt’s exaggerated struggle through the gate. Arrow is by no means a bit of film realism, but the decision to place the audience along side Ollie for the majority of the time and keep it consistent with the overall visual language of the series created a better sense of realism, for this specific series, leading to a more emotionally affecting viewing experience.
3. The Redemption of Ben Turner
The title of the episode was obviously a reference to The Shawshank Redemption, but it also provided insight into what that concept means for a show like Arrow. As previously stated, this is not a happy show, as Ollie’s admitted murderous actions in season 1 hang over everything. One of the things this show hasn’t really tried for is absolution from that sin – you could argue that was one of Ollie’s goals in season 3 but it didn’t work out – but everyone can still be redeemed. This process is illustrated through the arc Ben “Bronze Tiger” Turner goes through as Michael Jai White finally gets to fully flex on this show. Ollie chose to murder hundreds of henchmen and other people, now he choses not to and is in some measure redeemed for making that choice. It’s the same choice Turner is offered, an opportunity to demonstrate that he has changed. He chooses to rescue the guards, who are universally shown to be pretty bad, and not break out. In contrast to Turner and his choices is Stanley, who claims he didn’t have a choice. Not about killing those people before he got sent to Slabside or after.Continued below
Redemption isn’t a one and done thing, it isn’t a given, on Arrow it is like being a recovering addict. Even than it still might not be recognized by the larger system or friend group. Redemption is a matter of choice, echoing one of the core lessons Harry Potter should’ve taught you.
4. Diaz as a Villain
Well it looks like we won’t be seeing Ricardo Diaz for a little while, he’s still alive technically, and a contracted regular so maybe he pops up in the back third again. Can’t say I’m waiting on the edge of my seat for the return of the Dragon. I tended to enjoy Kirk Acevedo’s performance a bit more than others, but that doesn’t stop the character from being in the bottom tier of series Big Bads with Damien Dahrk. Neither character had the emotional connection or acted as the conduit for their seasons operational theme the way better Big Bads have. While the writing staff in this and the previous season made sure to demonstrate the characters ego, it didn’t translate into a big emotional moment once Ollie leaves Diaz lame in his old cell. In the abstract a sophisticated gangster character is cool (ex. Tobias Church) but the character never became that primary mirror the antagonist operates as (though season 6 did have the dueling teams.) A character like Stanley is already more interesting due to his time with Ollie in prison and his use of Ollie’s old methods as justifications for his own. Where was that connection to with Diaz?
With Diaz locked away hopefully after the crossover and midseason Arrow returns to the more episodic route for a while as Ollie gets back into the swing of things and Stanley slashes his way through Star City.
Their final fight was also somewhat lack luster. The use of long profile shots makes sense given the small space they were working in, and it helps hide stunt performers extremely well. The final showdown in the cell, however, was a jumbled mess that after rewinding an viewing several times I still can’t quite figure out how Diaz was stabbed.
5. I Was Right
Back at the start of the season I wondered how many episodes Ollie would stay in prison. Figuring it would be longer than what The Flash did with “Flashpoint” but prior to the “Elseworlds” crossover, I landed on the number 7. “The Slabside Redemption” is the seventh episode of the seventh season. I think this entitles me to a No Prize.