“Beyond Redemption” marries old Arrow with new to create an practically perfect union.
The transition to a more lighthearted tone for Arrow’s fourth season has been a little bit jarring. There’s still plenty of darkness for the series to steep itself in, rest assured, but there hasn’t been a proper blend of the two tones since the season started. “Beyond Redemption” changes all of that with a story that courts complex themes of loyalty, justice, survival, teamwork, identity, and honor while still delivering all the great intense action and complicated relationships that fans have come to expect.
Despite the rough transition, the new season has still been suitably refreshing, thus far. The focus has shifted from the lone vigilante Oliver, to the entirety of the Arrow family. A move that mimics some of the Green Arrow’s best runs from the comics (from Quiver to Moving Targets..personal favorites). It’s difficult to think that the way the characters have been built up and knocked down over the course of the series has been anything more than tedious and dramatic, but considering that this dynamic is what that progression has led to, I can’t help but view that journey with gratitude. The reveal of the new lair signifies that evolution with an almost hilarious level of accuracy. Convincing reactions from Thea, Laurel, and Diggle are so relatable that it’s hard not to also be in awe. The overall feel of the series has become noticeably more accepting and open. The new “Arrow Cave” parallels this with the use bright of florescent lights, a larger floor space, and circular layout as opposed to the much more narrow and linear of the previous iterations. It gives the new base a setup that’s more professional and sci-fi appropriate (much like STAR labs), but also more welcoming and open giving it the distinct overall feel of being a “home base” rather than just a hideout. Of course it’s not just the clubhouse that has improved. The way the team’s communication has evolved has led to a satisfying and efficient dynamic that adds experience to the action, and highlights the their battlefield proficiency. The mysteries, perspectives, clues, and solutions move a lot faster in this new season, signifying the not inconsiderable experience that the team has amassed. It is a worthwhile way to show the progression of their abilities.
The edge that the well trained team Arrow usually has over their enemies completely evaporates when their opposition is also well trained. In other words, “Beyond Redemption”‘s antagonist is a worthy adversary to the team, and it’s not revealed to be that way through exposition. The audience can actually see it and glean that conclusion more naturally. Their primary motivations also work as a way to bring Lance in to a more substantial light, by using the identities of the enemies and his loyalty to the badge as cause for him to put more faith in the team than usual. It also creates a ripple effect that masterfully blends the team’s discovery of his alliance with Darhk in to the “baddie of the week” storyline, to create a domino effect that keeps the episode moving forward with a steady dose of drama that doesn’t outstay its welcome.
Final Word: “Beyond Redemption”‘s true genius lies with the loyalty to the characters though. The shared connection between Laurel and Thea, via their secret, allows them to bond a little more and build on their own character chemistry. Caity Lotz’ return is entirely welcome, despite her current lack of involvement in the plot. Oliver’s friends asking him the difficult questions about his decision to run for mayor adds a certain relatable spice to each of their characters. The way they rip apart his good intentions with reality check after reality check adds a realistic perspective for the audience to rally behind, truly putting the uphill struggle he faces in to the spotlight. Clunky exposition from the antagonists drags down the smooth pacing of the episode. Their motivation, while relatable, is delivered in a too flat and a matter-of-fact way to carry any emotional weight, making it damn near impossible to empathize with their plight. Paul Blackthorne kills it though in an intense standoff with Oliver that really pushes the moral boundaries of his character. Stephen Amell matches that dedication leading us to one of the most intense scenes between the two, albeit rather brief. “Beyond Redemption” has plenty of other secrets that are too good to spill in a review, but a domino effect plot, an appropriate use of lighting and music to set a tone, and some moving interactions between the characters turns this one in to a showcase of the best that Arrow has to offer, but with a more subtle approach to the drama.