Arrow season 6 finale recap: Penance paid and penance owed

Arrow -- "Life Sentence" -- Image Number: AR623a_0219.jpg -- Pictured (L-R): David Ramsey as John Diggle/Spartan and Stephen Amell as Oliver Queen/Green Arrow -- Photo: Jack Rowand/The CW -- © The CW Network, LLC. All rights reserved.
Arrow -- "Life Sentence" -- Image Number: AR623a_0219.jpg -- Pictured (L-R): David Ramsey as John Diggle/Spartan and Stephen Amell as Oliver Queen/Green Arrow -- Photo: Jack Rowand/The CW -- © The CW Network, LLC. All rights reserved. /

Arrow closed out at its sixth season with its darkest finale to date as Oliver finally paid the price for all of his failures and missteps.

If entire sixth season had been as good as this Arrow finale, it would’ve been the series’ best yet. However, inconsistent motivations, languorous plotting, and some awkward storytelling choices hampered its quality significantly. Nevertheless, “Life Sentence” was a strong episode of television and it easily ranks as the season’s best.

Filled with sharply directed action, nuanced performances, and a number of shocking twists, it exemplified everything that’s good about Arrow and superhero TV in general. And it also had a dynamite cliffhanger that has me legitimately excited for the show’s next season. For a program that’s six years into its run, it’s a hell of an accomplishment.

The episode began with Team Arrow and the FBI raiding SCPD HQ together. Unfortunately, the Dragon (Kirk Acevedo) was nowhere to be found. Diaz told Anatoli (David Nykl) that he had brought in a group called the Longbow Hunters to help him strike back at Oliver (Stephen Amell) and company. Anatoli officially turned himself in and revealed the location of Diaz’s new base.

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Unfortunately, Diaz anticipated the betrayal and lured the team into a trap. After the failed assault, Diaz told Quentin (Paul Blackthorne) he’d hand over Black Siren (Katie Cassidy) if he told the FBI to leave the city. By way of apology, Oliver gave Diggle (David Ramsey) his own Green Arrow costume, which was politely rejected.

Director James Bamford really knocked this one out of the park. He already proved himself as one of Arrow’s most capable directors this season with “Legacy” and “Crisis on Earth X, Part 2,” but he was on another level with this one. All of “Life Sentence’s” action sequences were brilliantly choreographed and filmed in such a way that they were always visually coherent. In an era of all CG set pieces, it was very satisfying to see some hard-hitting practical action sequences. I really hope Bamford is able to follow the footsteps of the Russo brothers and making the transition from TV to feature film work because I’d love to see what he could do with a lot of rehearsal time and a blockbuster budget.

Arrow — Photo: Diyah Pera/The CW — Acquired via CW TV PR
Arrow — Photo: Diyah Pera/The CW — Acquired via CW TV PR /

“We also have costume parties in Russia. Always lots of fun.”

Quentin thwarted Diaz’s capture by agreeing to accompany him to a secured location where the FBI couldn’t follow. Oliver told Felicity (Emily Bett Rickards) that he had made a deal with Watson (Sydelle Noel) to quit being Green Arrow but was vague on the details. Diaz shot Quentin after Siren refused to play ball. Tracking the signal from Quentin’s pacemaker, Team Arrow raided Diaz’s compound right before he could kill his hostages. Oliver engaged Diaz in single combat but Siren sonic screamed him out of the area before the Dragon could be slain.

Oliver revealed that he used the Digital Sniffer to hack Diaz’s files and could now identify the city employees on his payroll. Siren called Sara Lance (Caity Lotz) because Quentin’s surgical prognosis was not good. Watson revealed that to get immunity for everyone else, Oliver had to surrender himself to the FBI. Tragically, Quentin didn’t survive his surgery.

Before being taken into custody, Oliver publicly confessed to being Green Arrow and asked his allies to keep the city safe. Diggle pondered retaking the hood. Diaz, wounded but alive, watched Oliver’s confession on TV. The FBI arrested everyone on Diaz’s payroll. The season ended with Oliver begin to put in his cell at Slabside Maximum Security Prison.

“Don’t call me Hoss at my funeral.”

So, there’s obviously a lot to unpack here. First off, I think the show handled Paul Blackthorne’s exit very well. The idea that he lost his life protecting Black Siren was an idea that was seated way back in the season six premiere. With his story now concluded, it’s clear that he never really got over Laurel’s death. And that his inability to let go and grieve proved to be his tragic undoing. On the show where cast members get either bombastic or unsatisfying endings, I liked that his was muted and bittersweet. While I’ll miss the character and Blackthrone’s multifaceted acting, I’m glad he got to go out in memorable and satisfying way.

I’m also curious to see how the show will depict the aftermath of his death. Obviously, losing him will be hard for everyone but I’m curious to see how things will play out with Black Siren. While Arrow has established that she’ll never become Laurel, I suspect that what happened in this episode will change her outlook on life. In past episodes, she explained that on her Earth no one really cared for her but she found someone who truly did in Earth-1’s Quentin. Hopefully, she’ll honor his sacrifice by trying to protect his city and his loved ones.

Arrow — Photo: Diyah Pera/The CW — Acquired via CW TV PR
Arrow — Photo: Diyah Pera/The CW — Acquired via CW TV PR /

“I lost my city. I lost my team. There’s a penance for that.”

The other big development is episode was the exposure of Oliver’s identity and his imprisonment. While the series has a number of elements in play that it can use to undo this ending, I’m hoping it doesn’t. After everything that’s happened, a quick jaunt to the past or another impersonator showing up would feel incredibly cheap. Moreover, Oliver deserved what happened to him. Not in terms of his in-universe vigilantism, but because of everything he did this season. His leadership of Team Arrow was terrible, and it allowed a powerful criminal to seize control of the city with minimal opposition.

And instead of swallowing his ego and asking for help, Oliver tried to go it alone and ended up playing right into Diaz’s hands. He was also a terrible Mayor. He put his own desire to play hero over the well-being of his citizens and they turned on for it. Yes, Diaz is blackmailing scheme played a part, but Oliver’s mishandling of city funds led to the corruption of the SCPD in the first place. With everything that’s happened, Oliver needs to be on the shelf for a while and he needs to relearn how to be the hero Star City needs.

For the first time in Arrow’s history, Oliver wasn’t able to defeat the bad guy at the end of the season. Although Diaz lost a lot of his power and influence, he’s still alive and still has some allies. Plus, he can presumably use the Quadrant’s resources to rebuild what he lost. And Oliver won’t be there to stop it. The rest of Team Arrow is still in the city, but they’ll be under extra scrutiny from the FBI. It’s not like they were super effective at stopping Diaz before.

Next: Arrow season 6, episode 22 recap: Nowhere to hide

It was a bold choice to end the season with Diaz alive and free and Oliver in custody, but it was the right one. It was the perfect way to end the season and it sets up a lot of storylines for the seventh season to explore later this year. Really, what more could you ask from a finale than that?

Arrow will return to the CW this fall.