Arrow 5×04 Roundtable: 'Penance'

A new season of Arrow means a new season of roundtables where Fangirlish writers Alyssa, Lizzie, Lyra, and Nora discuss the hot topics from every Arrow episode.

In Arrow’s fourth episode of season 5, Oliver and Lyla set off on a rescue mission to free Diggle from a jail cell. Meanwhile back in Star City, Felicity confronted her guilt about Havenrock, and the new recruits got a reality check.

What were your overall thoughts on “Penance?”

Alyssa: I thought it was an okay episode, not necessarily the best, but a lot of my excitement centered around the focus on Felicity and Diggle. I loved how two of the most underutilized characters on Arrow got their time to shine, even if it was for only one episode. Let’s be honest, both Felicity and Diggle’s storylines should’ve been longer than one episode. As a viewer, I’m not convinced that both Felicity and Diggle are actually okay given the severity of their tragedies and the swiftness that it was dealt with. There were also issues with characterization on the show like the writers forget who their characters were. While I like the new recruits, there’s something inherently missing on Arrow these days: the heart of the show. The heart was never the street fighting; the heart was never the brutality of the stunt sequences; the heart has always been the character dynamics between the original characters. And until we get that back – if we get it back – Arrow is always going to feel like it’s missing something.


Lizzie: Weakest episode of the young season, by far. I thought it was disjointed, the characters were all over the place, and even the moments that in any other season might have had me getting the feels just felt flat. I love Diggle and he was back and I love Lyla and she was back and I couldn’t even enjoy it because both Oliver and Lyla were acting like pod people, not even trying to convince Felicity, who, BTW, wasn’t using that considerable brain-power of hers to go “I probably shouldn’t send the newbies out on their own. Or, if I do, I should at least get Thea to keep an eye out.” *rolls eyes*

I don’t know, It all felt like plot over characterization, which I hate. Lyla and Felicity are friends – and yet they weren’t acting like it. Oliver and Felilcity were recently engaged, and yet they don’t seem like they can be in the same room, much less actively communicate. Felicity took a leave of her senses or basically forgot the past 4 seasons when she sent the newbies to stop Oliver, and then when she sent them out into the field. The only good part of this episode was the Felicity/Rory conversation, and even that is tainted by the fact that, once again, this show managed to “deal” with such a big storyline for Felicity by making us look at the situation through another guy’s perspective.

Lyra: Penance was a disconnected jumble and a step back from the legacy that Oliver & Co. were building in the previous episode. It felt like I wasn’t watching the same team and that people forgot that they knew each other. The only redeeming factors were: watching Felicity/Rory bonding, staring at Quentin’s beautiful face, and Dyla kissing.

Nora: This episode was very much a setup and filler episode. A lot of “Penance” featured the beginning of even bigger storylines. We had Rory beginning to forgive Felicity for Havenrock and the biggest storyline that started was Wild Dog being taken hostage by Tobias Church. Even Oliver saving Diggle was really the beginning of a storyline because now Diggle is on the run.

My favorite part of “Penance” was actually Felicity’s storyline with Rory. I really like the two of them working together. Although Felicity has Curtis as a friend, I think Rory will be very much like Roy. I’m excited to see where this goes. Overall, “Penance” was a good episode, but was basically a setup episode. That doesn’t mean it was a bad one, when you are creating 22 episodes per season, there’s bound to be one of these.

The overarching theme of this episode centered around the guilt that Diggle and Felicity were currently experiencing in regards to their respective tragedies. What were your thoughts on how they were choosing to punish themselves and how they decided to move forward?

Alyssa: These two storylines were what gave me life during this episode. Both Diggle and Felicity have faced some traumatic tragedies that have inhibited them from really living their lives in the five months since. They were choosing to distract themselves rather than confront it head on. But in the moments where it was reawaken, the guilt that both of them felt was overwhelming.

While Felicity knows that she’s not the one who released the missile that destroyed Havenrock, the sheer fact that she diverted it to its place of destruction – and saved millions of lives – is something that clearly haunts her. She’s not responsible, but she was involved, which is something she can’t just forget. Certainly it didn’t help having Rory there every day as a constant reminder of the tragedy. It also didn’t help that when Felicity told Rory the truth that he quit the team. But after some time – and a talking to from Oliver – Rory eventually came around and told her that they both needed to focus on the present instead of the past. It’s all about moving forward.

With Diggle, he ran away to the Army to try and forget and move past him killing his evil brother. Yes, let us not forget that Andy was evil. If Diggle hadn’t killed him, who knows who Andy would’ve killed? Diggle made a very difficult decision as a means to protect those that he cares about. But it doesn’t make the reality of the situation any easier to swallow. Diggle killed his brother. But it wasn’t the brother he thought he knew some three years ago. Still, Diggle felt like he needed penance, which is why he had subjected himself to the jail cell that he didn’t belong in. Oliver convinced Diggle that he could do his penance as Spartan instead of wasting away in a cell for a crime he didn’t commit. But I do have one complaint about these storylines. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the focus on Felicity and Diggle in this episode, but their storylines were wrapped up way too quickly for some things that were as traumatic as they were. Not cool, writers.

Lizzie: I think the show just doesn’t give treat these storylines with the care they deserve. I loved the conversation between Rory and Felicity – but that can’t be the end of it. They must keep struggling if this is going to be believable. But also, how hard is it to see Felicity’s guilt through Felicity’s eyes? Why must her guilt be framed through Rory’s eyes?

Diggle is another story, and I think they’ve done a better job of dealing with his guilt – though it all feels a bit disingenuous to me anyway. Did he really think his family/team was going to leave him in jail? Give me a break, Diggle. Guilt isn’t an excuse to stop thinking. And though I understand, at some points, depression can be all-consuming, it didn’t seem like Diggle had reached that point. So, even if his guilt is understandable, and even if the message Oliver delivered was probably just what Diggle needed to hear – the way it was all framed left me rolling my eyes.

Lyra: Diggle and Felicity were dealing with their guilt in completely different ways. John wanted to punish himself and thought the best place for him was in jail. He loved his family but thought this was the right thing to do. People who kill go to jail, right? Well he killed someone. But he wasn’t looking at the circumstances and the fact that he had a family to still care for and that loved him despite what he’d done. I’m glad he’s out of jail but felt that it was to easy. His wife couldn’t convince him but Oliver breaking into the prison could?

Felicity’s explored her guilt and faced it. She talked with Rory for herself and for the future of the team. She understood that he couldn’t work with her because of what she represented. It wasn’t a fight to convince the other. It was a conversation. They didn’t just make it about Rory either. Both of them were suffering with guilt and ultimately decided to support each other from here on out. It felt like a natural progression of two people who care too much to let the guilt stop them from doing what they were always meant to do, save people.

Nora: I liked that the episode’s title related to Diggle and Felicity’s storylines. I’m really enjoying Diggle’s storyline this season. I know we probably had to speed up Diggle’s storyline a little, but I almost wish we saw more of Diggle in the military and in jail before we busted him out of prison. That being said, I’m interested to see how Diggle’s storyline of “Penance” and atoning for his sins will carry over into Star City. I’m assuming he’ll help out Team Arrow and I’m wondering if training and working with Team Arrow will allow him to move past Andy and Laurel’s deaths. I’m also wondering if Diggle will continue to punish himself. He was punishing himself by staying in jail and clearly didn’t want to leave. Now he’s out and I’m wondering if he’ll continue to punish himself.

I think Felicity’s storyline best exemplified “Penance” this week. I’ve said it before, but I’m enjoying Felicity’s Havenrock storyline. It gives her a separate storyline from Oliver, which I think is something she needed. I like how Oliver lets Rory make his choice and leave Team Arrow and Felicity goes to get him back. I really enjoyed that. Felicity isn’t punishing herself in a destructive way, she’s learning to move forward and that’s how she’s atoning. I’m excited to see Rory and Felicity grow together as friends and I’m already enjoying that. I think both Diggle and Felicity’s storylines are moving very well this season and I’m excited.

This week we saw the new recruits get some time in the field without Oliver given how he was off rescuing Diggle. What did you think about their struggles and how they’re gelling as a unit?

Alyssa: While there’s been a lot of criticism about the new recruits, I actually like them. Even Wild Dog, whose stubbornness is getting on my last damn nerve. But then again, he is his father (Oliver)’s son. Hehe. But with that said, the new recruits aren’t nearly ready for the crime that haunts the streets of Star City. There’s a reason they’re recruits: they’re not fully fledged members of the team just yet. They still have a lot of work to go. At least it’s realistic, unlike another member of Team Arrow’s past initiation onto the team. But something that they do have going for them is their cohesiveness as a unit. They care about each other; they fight for each other; they help each other. It’s something that I really love about them. I’m not going to lie, it’s times like this where I find myself wondering, why wasn’t Original Team Arrow enough? I’m sorry, but it just feels like a huge part of the show is missing without that dynamic. It feels like a different show, which is exactly what my grandmother told me after watching this season. Her, like me and you, miss that dynamic between the original team members. And here’s praying that we get it back.

Lizzie: This is what I think about the new recruits – I do not care. Wild Dog? Meh. Church can keep him from all I care. Sure, loyalty is appreciated and the ending could have/might have made me feel sympathetic for him …expect, he’d been such a huge pain in the ass before that it merely sorta evened it out. Evelyn? Is he even there. Half the time I forget she is, that’s how memorable the character is. Curtis? He was funnier last year, wasn’t it? He still has his moments, but he seems to be basically there this year so Felicity can talk to someone since she apparently can’t talk to Oliver – except, of course, to give him the pep talks HE needs.

Rory is the saving grace, because I feel for Rory. There’s an emotional connection there. It’s probably because, to advance the Havenrock thing, they’ve had to give us more backstory. This just goes to show that you can’t bring four more people in masks into the show and expect me to care about them. You have to give me something more. Anything, really. Just a little thread that I can pull and feel connected. So far, that’s only true of Rory.

Lyra: The newbies are not working well together because of one person…Wild Dog. He doesn’t trust them and makes everything a mess because of it. It’s all about what HE can do and not what THEY can do for Star City. So every time they’re out on a mission, things fall apart and they don’t get to test the things they’ve learned or their skills as team. I’m not even in a hurry for them to rescue him from Church. There, I said it!

Nora: My favorite part of this storyline, to no surprise, was seeing Felicity take charge of Team Arrow. Oliver isn’t around so Felicity steps up and sends Team Arrow 2.0 into the field. I loved that. I think they are gelling into a team very nicely. Obviously they don’t have the same dynamic that OTA has, but they are starting to work together. Now that Wild Dog has been captured and made this sacrifice to save Curtis, I’m wondering how this will change their dynamic. Obviously, Wild Dog has been the wildcard with this team, but now seeing him sacrifice himself could change the dynamic. I’m interested to see how they continue to grow as a unit. I think it’s going to be very interesting.

There are a lot of fun new dynamics this season, including Felicity & Rory and Thea & Quentin. Which one has been your favorite so far?

Alyssa: I’ve really been enjoying the dynamic between Felicity and Rory thus far this season, in the two episodes we’ve seen them interacting. Perhaps it’s because of the conflict the two faced with the Havenrock situation, but after we saw them work through it was evident that there’s a nice friendship developing. They’re both people that are struggling to overcome the pain from Havenrock, and their dynamic is surprising given Felicity’s involvement in Havenrock. But that’s what probably makes it my favorite new relationship this season. They’ve got a nice rapport, and they’re going to keep each other pushing forward. Give me more of this friendship!

Lizzie: Thea and Quentin has been surprisingly fun. It’s easy to forget how young Thea was when she lost her father (Robert Queen – I’m not even going into the Malcom Merlyn of it all, because win Father of the Year Awards he does not), and though she’s actually helping Lance right now, I think a part of her has always seem him like a father figure – respected him for the way he raised and cared for his daughters. It’s not even that Thea is trying to replace MM and Robert Queen with Quentin, it’s just that she’s trying out a new dynamic and finding that she enjoys it. It’s another step towards Thea as a more well-rounded person. Which, yay, go Thea.

Also, and though it has nothing to do with the question, Thea’s wardrobe is badass this year. I had to put that out there.

Lyra: Hands down, Felicity and Rory. Two adults actually communicating? Am I actually awake and seeing this? *blinks rapidly and pinches self* Yes! There’s potential there for future feels where they are family. He’s skyrocketed to my #1 spot with the newbies.

Nora: I said it above, but I’m really excited to see Felicity and Rory’s dynamic grow. I’m really happy the Havenrock storyline is playing out this way where Rory and Felicity will overcome this tragedy together. It’s a nice change of pace considering I feel like most of the time the story would play out like the two of them will never get along. I mean and how can you not love them after they drank tea together in the Arrow Bunker?!

In terms of Thea and Quentin’s new dynamic, I’m excited to see Thea fill the daughter shoes and hopefully get Quentin out of his slump. I think it will really add something to both characters for this season. As of right now, I need to see more of it and I wish there was more of it. So far, Thea and Quentin’s storyline are really on the back burner and I want more of them. I think it’s going to be a great dynamic once they show more of it.

In the flashbacks, we got a glimpse of the man that Oliver Queen is going to become at the end of the season when he heads home from “the island.” What were your thoughts on that?

Alyssa: No lie, there was a moment during the flashbacks where Oliver so easily threatened this man in jail that I was like, ‘Oh shit.’ It was the first time where I was convinced that it’s plausible for Oliver to leave Russia as the conflicted, dark man that we met in the pilot. It was so easy, even so early in the season five flashbacks, how Oliver was able to get into that mindset that it was jarring. This is what I’ve been waiting to see. We already know what happens as a result of the island years, but it’s the journey, which is supposed to be the part where we get answers. And Russia is already proving to be some of my favorite flashbacks.

Lizzie: I know this is supposed to parallel, but I feel like present Oliver is skewing too close to that guy for my comfort. That being said, it’s easy to see how the bratva would breed the kind of man Oliver was in the beginning of season 1. Also, the bratva look is totally working for Stephen Amell. I’m not gonna deny that. More importantly, these flashbacks are interesting, even if I don’t see how they tie to the present yet. And that’s already way better than the past two years.

Lyra: I don’t like Oliver’s turn to the Bratva side. Sure he’s hot and I don’t loathe that wig as much anymore. But…he’s turning into a douche. A dark douche with a bunch of scars on his back from his “brothers.” I didn’t like the kind of person Oliver was in Season 1 but I do like the comparison it will allow us to have with Season 5 Oliver, if he gets his head out of his ass and works with his team, of course.

Nora: I’m glad we are starting to hint at the man Oliver will become already in these flashbacks. I expressed it in our roundtable of the season premiere, but I’m still confused as to why Taiana’s quest is the sole reason Oliver is in Russia. It just makes no sense to me. So, I’m glad they are beginning to hint at the bigger picture because that is making these flashbacks worth it. I’m interested to see more of the man Oliver will become as the flashbacks progress. I think they’re off to a great start.

Arrow airs Wednesdays at 8/7c on The CW. Stay tuned for another Arrow Roundtable next Tuesday!

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