When it comes to the crushing weight of guilt, our favorite Arrow characters are no strangers to it. In five years, we’ve witnessed not only Oliver Queen but John Diggle, Felicity Smoak, Thea Queen, and more be confronted with impossible decisions that have let them wallowing in self pity.
But what they’ve always managed to do up to this point has been to overcome it. That’s because guilt doesn’t define you. Unless you let it. That’s the real enemy. Yourself.
In Arrow’s latest installment, “Penance,” we witnessed that issue firsthand as both Diggle and Felicity struggled with the guilt of tragedies that they’ve let define them over the past five months.
For Diggle, he’s dealing – well, trying to deal – with the harsh reality that he murdered his brother. But that’s just the surface. There’s so much more to the story, including the fact that Andy Diggle was an evil man that threatened John’s family. It was a “kill or be killed” situation.
Now, we understand that. But to John, all he sees, all he thinks about is how he was the one who took his brother’s life. In a way that guilt is clouding Diggle’s judgment of who his brother truly was. It’s kind of like John has been transported back to a couple of years when his brother was good, when his brother had died during a job. But oh how time and the truth have changed matters.
But deep down John understands who his brother really was. He understands that he did what he did in order to protect his family. But that doesn’t change the fact that John has his brother’s blood on his hands. And it certainly isn’t helping that Diggle is essentially subjecting himself to a life sentence in prison because he feels like it’s what he deserves.
For Felicity, she’s been pushing down the guilt that has overwhelmed her since last season’s Havenrock tragedy. While Damien Darhk was the one that launched the missile that wiped out Havenrock, Felicity still carries that guilt with her given how she deflected the missile to Havenrock to save millions of lives.
Now, we – well, the sane ones – understand that Felicity is not at all responsible. And in case those insane ones didn’t get it, Curtis, Oliver, and even Rory each acknowledged that she was not responsible. But for Rory, it was about being reminded of losing his entire family every time he looked at Felicity. It affected him so much that he quit the team in the beginning. For Felicity, it was about being reminded of what she did – the impossible choice she made – when she looked at Rory. And while they’re both incredibly different, as Felicity acknowledged, both Felicity and Rory were letting themselves be controlled by their inner turmoil. And that wasn’t healthy for anyone.
Hell, we know. We’ve watched as Oliver has chosen to live in the darkness, in that guilt for most of the time. All of the terrible things he’s done, all of the guilt that he carries with him. Oliver could write a damn book about it. But we’ve also seen when Oliver chose to live, to be happy. It’s all about the choices that you make. Are you going to choose to feel guilty? Or are you going to choose to be happy?
One of the things that we all love about Arrow are the realness of these characters and the challenges they face. Now, while we might not be carrying around guilt as big as Havenrock, we can all relate to that feeling of guilt and how we’ve at one point – or several points – let it control us. It’s very easy to get lost in your emotions – especially guilt – but there comes a time when we realize – and/or get some help in the process – that we can’t let it dictate our lives. Moving forward. We can’t live in the past. We need to live in the present.
Penance. That is the title of the episode, after all. Penance is something that both John and Felicity are seeking in their lives. But penance isn’t confined to a single thing. There are different ways to redeem yourself. While John believed that the right way was to be locked up in a cell, Oliver reminded him that he could channel that as Spartan instead.
While Felicity believed that she was becoming prone to making impossible, consequential decisions, Rory reminded her that all there is to do is move forward. You can’t let the guilt swallow you whole.
And that’s the thing; John and Felicity both blamed themselves for their respective tragedies. Not only that, they subjected themselves to the pain of the guilt because they felt like they deserved it. But just because you make a mistake or make an impossible decision that saves millions doesn’t mean that it needs to define you.
To quote Leslie Odom Jr.:
“If that’s all you’re looking at, our worst act on our worst day, any one of us could be painted as a villain.”
And it’s true. We are more than the mistakes we make. We are more than the difficult decisions we make. We are all of the good that we’ve accomplished, as well.
I think that’s something that we all struggle with, as well. Think about your worst moment. The moment where you’ve felt the most guilt you’ve ever felt before. The moment where you felt like the villain of your story. It’s really easy to get lost in that mindset.
Accepting guilt is easy. Forgiveness is harder.
Make no mistake, the tragedies that have happened with Diggle and Felicity are tragedies that they will carry with them always. But that doesn’t mean they have to dwell on it. You can’t forget or discredit your past: it defines you. But you can make the decision to move forward and choose to be the hero of your story. And that’s exactly what Diggle and Felicity are going to do this season.
Here are 5 things that stood out to us during “Penance”:
1. The new recruits are earning their stripes.
While there’s been a ton of criticism regarding the addition of new members to Team Arrow this season, I have to admit that they are more than growing on me. This was the episode where I finally appreciated these new recruits. Perhaps that was because they were left alone in the field with Oliver breaking Diggle out of prison. But considering everything that they’ve done and what they’ve sacrificed, they have proven that they deserve to be a part of this team.
But it was Wild Dog who really earned my respect in this episode. I was already a fan of his stubbornness and smart ass attitude. But this episode really showcased his self-sacrificing nature. After Curtis had been hurt and all three of their lives hung in the balance, Wild Dog opted to stay behind and fight Tobias Church while Artemis carried Curtis to safety, along with Rory. And we saw what happened to Rene. He was captured by Church and continuously tortured as we are left hanging until next week to see if he survives it all. But regardless, Rene really proved himself. He might not have seemed like a team player, but team players don’t sacrifice themselves for their team.
2. I’m enjoying the dynamic between Felicity and Rory despite the Havenrock incident.
I have to admit, Arrow handled this Havenrock incident in a way I wasn’t expecting. I mean, sure Rory was destroyed over the news that his “mom” on this new team had something to do with his family’s deaths and destruction of his city, but I wasn’t expecting for him to come around so soon. And while some might be quick to say it was because the storyline was rushed, I happen to believe that it was Rory choosing to look at the bigger picture – to look forward and to help out his team.
It’s definitely an interesting dynamic between Felicity and Rory. While both of them were reminded of what had happened or what they’d done, both of them chose to move forward and let the past remain in the past. After all, they have a city to save. It’s the start of a beautiful friendship.
3. It’s about damn time my favorite brothers were reunited.
When Oliver found John in his cell and said he came to save his brother, it brought forth emotions that I hadn’t experienced in a while. Nothing has changed – Oliver and Diggle have been each other’s brother for five years – but just getting to watch those magic moments again after another relationship was snatched from us this season (cough, Olicity, cough) was something very special.
There was never a question of whether Oliver was going to break Diggle out. Oliver doesn’t think when his loved ones are in danger, he just acts. While that could be considered dangerous and sometimes stupid, it’s a defining quality of Oliver’s. Oliver would never hesitate to protect or save someone he loves.
4. For the first time I’m seeing Oliver as that cold-blooded killer in the flashbacks.
Being as this is the final year of the flashbacks, Oliver’s time in Russia should serve to show us how he became the brutal killer we met in the pilot. And I definitely saw a glimpse of that man tonight. Don’t get me wrong, Oliver’s not there yet, but there were definitely moments that foreshadowed his getting off “the island.”
The way Oliver got into character, the way he threatened this man’s family, the way he instinctively snapped the man’s neck after getting the information he needed, it reminded me so much of season one Oliver that it shook me for a moment. I shouldn’t be surprised – I’m not – but it suddenly dawned on me that we’re going to watch Oliver completely break in the flashbacks this season.
5. This episode did a great job of showcasing the moral dilemma of breaking Diggle out.
When it came to breaking Diggle out of prison for a crime he didn’t commit, you’d think everyone would be on board, right? Not necessarily. It’s one of the great things about Arrow is that these characters have their intricacies, their similarities and their differences. It wasn’t a shock to me that Felicity didn’t go along with breaking Diggle out of prison. That didn’t mean she doesn’t love John – there’s no one she loves more next to Oliver. It just meant that her beliefs are different than Oliver and Lyla’s.
As we’ve seen in the past, Diggle and Felicity have similar beliefs just as Oliver and Lyla have similar beliefs. Diggle and Felicity go by the book and follow their moral code while Oliver and Lyla live in the grey area where they sometimes have to make decisions not necessarily right, but it doesn’t matter when the stakes are high. This was the perfect example of that.
6. Give us Lyla Michaels-Diggle on a more permanent basis. Seriously.
God bless the Arrow gods because getting Lyla back felt like a deep, cleansing breath. Lyla’s one of those characters that is underappreciated, but when she’s on screen she steals the show in subtle ways.
Of course it made sense to bring her back when her husband needed her the most, and it was something beautiful to behold. That and Lyla’s relationship with Oliver and Felicity, as well. More Lyla, please!
Arrow airs Wednesdays at 8/7c on The CW.