‘Arrow’ Returns with a Refreshingly Entertaining Season 7 Premiere: ‘Inmate 4587’ Recap

I didn’t really think I’d be watching Arrow anymore in 2018, yet alone writing about it. A lapsed fan of the show, I slogged through the first half of the season around this time last year before finally giving up on it around the midpoint of season 6. Slow, repetitive, poorly written and overall uninteresting, it really felt as if the show had no more runway. There are only so many interesting things you can do in a show about an underpowered, more colourful Batman-type hero with limited access to D.C.’s Rogues Gallery. Over six seasons of Arrow, we had seen it all. Personal grudges, flashbacks, unnecessarily elaborate plans to destroy Star City, copycat vigilantes, even more personal grudges… and yet, on Monday night, after some effective advertising and a severe lack of anything to watch on that night (now that Better Call Saul has wrapped its fourth season and the only remotely interesting new Monday show, Manifest, turning out to be a dud), I sat down to watch the season 7 premiere and I was pleasantly surprised!

To put it briefly, season 7 feels fresh, exciting, and willing to open the show up to some interesting places that could breathe new life into the show for the long term. While it’s still rough around the edges and still suffers from some questionable writing, the premiere, “Inmate 4587”, is entertaining and interesting enough to rope me back into the show.

But before getting into what I liked so much about the premiere, let’s recap how we got here… I left the show when Michael Emerson’s Cayden James was still toiling as an under-used generic villain plotting to destroy Team Arrow as revenge for his dead son. As, for some reason, the mayor of Star City, Oliver Queen was having trouble balancing his job, his duties as the Green Arrow, his relationship with his wife Felicity and the estranged son he was now responsible for, so he decides to build a team. Only problem is that they were all mostly greener than his uniform and also largely untrustworthy, so they split up, get back together, split up, etc. Also, the true villain of the season turned out to be one of Cayden James lackeys, Ricardo Diaz (Kirk Acevedo), who was orchestrating everything in order to take over Star City. Yadda yadda yadda, Oliver defeats Diaz by turning himself in and admitting he’s the Green Arrow, in exchange for help taking Diaz down and immunity for his friends. Diaz’s empire crumbles, the allies he hasn’t murdered turn against him and he winds up in the wind, running from Argus but also plotting to destroy Oliver.

So, season 7 begins and Oliver is in a prison filled with people who he took down, and incapable of helping the people he loves on the outside. He’s keeping his head down, minding his own business and counting the days, trying not to rile up the likes of Derek Sampson (Cody Rhodes), Brick (Vinnie Jones) and others who are jonesing at the opportunity to mess with him now that he’s vulnerable. However, he winds up getting into a series of confrontations with other inmates, one at the behest of Diaz, who wants to send him a message that he’s coming after his family. Along with what they did to a wrongfully convicted man who was asking for his protection, he decides that even as Oliver Queen in a prison jumpsuit, he is still the Arrow, and he stakes his claim as protector of the innocent in this prison and the big dog in the yard.

Just about everything in these prison sequences is great and the main reason why I’m back on the Arrow train. I love that they’re using it as an opportunity to bring back underused villains from the show’s past. I love Oliver’s arc and what he has to go through to realize who he truly is and what he must do even while incarcerated. I love his look with the buzzcut and the beard, and I love that the show is going back to its roots with the topless working out. And the fight scenes are great. They’re trimmed down, simple, but still feel raw and brutal the way Arrow has often been good at doing. There’s even some symbolism in the scene where he fights people naked in the shower. On top of being obvious eye candy, it feels like the show is telling us that it’s willing to parse things down and get back to its roots.

That being said, it’s also willing to go some crazy places, because underscoring all of this is a series of scenes set in Lian Yu which turn out to be flash-forwards, showcasing a grown up William finding his way onto the island with his father’s arrowhead (given to him by Felicity in the episode) and encountering an old Roy Harper, talking about Oliver in the past tense. Arrow has never shied away from comparisons to LOST, but to see it dive head-first into that territory with a flash-forward and a return to the island opens things up to all sorts of possibilities. We can only guess where all of this is going, but moving forward in time while keeping the old format of sideplots through flashbacks/forwards might help breathe new life into a show that seemingly lost its way when those flashbacks caught up to them. There is a legacy in the comics for an older Oliver Queen, there are things they can do in an advanced timeline, and I would be totally down to seeing them get crazy with that kind of thing.

Those two storylines are what I choose to focus on here, what I enjoyed and what is exciting me the most about this season. That being said, “Inmate 4587” isn’t devoid of problems. Everything else about the episode feels like it’s still suffering from all the things that turned me off from the show in the first place. Without being too much of a downer, here’s a recap:

  • Felicity is in witness protection as a flannel-wearing emo barista for some reason, and she’s being hit on by an IT guy whose computer she fixes and who is clearly working for either Diaz or Diggle at Argus.
  • In a sequences that felt as if it was missing a scene before and after, Diaz somehow finds Felicity, tries to kill her, fails despite the fact that he’s supposed to be a cunning criminal mastermind, and then just leaves.
  • Rene and Dinah continue to be the worst, despite the fact that I haven’t seen them for the lion’s share of a full season. Rene is training some kids in self-defense and Dinah is the police captain now (why they’d promote a former vigilante is anyone’s guess, then again the DA is freaking Evil Laurel…).
  • Their paths cross when a new hooded archer appears in town. Rene thinks he’s protecting the city, Dinah doesn’t want to mess with her immunity agreement and is also, you know, a police captain, so she tries to take him down, only for Rene to get in her way and help him escape. The new Green Arrow gives the money from a drug bust to the poor, but Dinah is not convinced. She and Rene continue to be the worst.
  • Funny enough, I could care less about who is under the new hood.

I really hope the show doesn’t wind up getting bogged down with the worse aspects of its storytelling. The show has one or two too many characters, those characters are no good and completely uninteresting and detract from the things that the show has figured out about itself. I understand that changes can’t be made overnight, so let’s hope that those are just growing pains as Arrow figures out its new self and not the bullshit that will seep through like it seems to always do.

While the premiere may seem like kind of a mixed back, the good stuff is good enough for me to be fully back on board with the show for now. They managed to make a superhero-in-jail storyline that we’ve seen a million times before (The Flash freaking did this last season) interesting and even having me hope they stick with it for a while, and while the flash-forwards could go either way, for now, they’re providing an exciting wrinkle to a show that desperately needed that kind of thing. While I won’t be writing about the show every week this season, I will certainly be watching and I’m excited to see what comes next. “Inmate 4587” gets 7.5 prison yard pull-ups out of 10.

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