A new ally joins the fight against Ricardo Diaz.
Warning: Full spoilers for the episode below.
More than with most shows, the finale episode really seems to make or break a season of Arrow. Season 3 and 4 were bad by any measure, but they were rendered that much worse because they both utterly failed to stick the landing. Meanwhile, I look back more fondly on Season 5 as a whole because it ended on such a high note. With Season 6 being perhaps the most uneven in the show’s history, it really needed a strong finish of its own. And for the most part, it got one.
“Life Sentence” is a strange beast in that the stakes were relatively low compared to most finales. The unlikely alliance of Team Arrow and Agent Watson’s FBI team basically cut Diaz’s operation off at the knees in the opening sequence. From there, Star City’s safety was assured. With no looming doomsday attack or all-powerful villain threatening the city, the conflict narrowed to involve the hunt for Diaz and the need to balance bringing him down with saving Laurel.
Fortunately, that smaller scope didn’t seem to harm this episode at all. Diaz has always been a nontraditional villain in most respects, and it makes sense that the finale wouldn’t follow all the usual tropes. There was something sad and desperate to his role this week, with Diaz coming across as a feral, cornered animal lashing out as his enemies surround him. Needless to say, it’s fun to watch Kirk Acevedo play the character in that frazzled, deranged state.
The most surprising thing about this episode is the open-ended way it resolved the Diaz conflict. This is the first time an Arrow villain has eluded justice in a finale and lived to threaten the city another day. On one hand, there was a slightly anticlimactic quality to the way Ollie and Diaz’s final battle played out. There definitely wasn’t as much closure on that front as viewers may have been hoping for. Not to mention that the actual fight didn’t impress much on a visceral level. The dim lighting and darkly clad characters resulted in a muddled fight scene where it was often tough to distinguish one character from the other.
On the other hand, there’s a lot to be said for allowing these hero/villain rivalries to continue developing over the course of multiple seasons. I argued as much when I wrote about how much mileage Legends of Tomorrow has gotten out of Damien Darhk, and it’s the same principle here. And at least we know that Diaz will evolve as a villain now that the Longbow Hunters are being brought into the mix.
I will say, though, that it was frustrating to have that team name-dropped and then never mentioned again. Sure, it’s neat when the show uses a finale to set the stage for the next big conflict (a la Damien Darhk in Season 3), but it just seemed strange for Diaz to brag about his new crew and then not bother to actually bring them to bear against Team Arrow. It’s a Chekhov’s gun scenario. Or Chekhov’s longbow, rather.
The quick, unceremonious fall of Diaz makes more sense when you consider that Ollie’s “farewell tour” was really the crux of this episode. I do wish this episode had done a better job of disguising the big twist (including not using the name “Life Sentence”), but that didn’t diminish the impact of these character-driven scenes. Ollie’s various heart-to-heart chats helped wrap up an uneven but ultimately effective character arc this season. He’s been desperately searching for a way to be the leader and hero and father he needs to be, and throwing himself under the bus for the sake of William and Team Arrow seems as good a solution as any.
It helps that the acting and writing were so strong in these scenes. The Ollie/Diggle scene played wonderfully on their long history, serving as a counterpoint to their bitter falling-out from a couple months back. Even better was Ollie’s tearful goodbye to Quentin. It doesn’t actually feel like there was any great reason to kill off Quentin (I’m assuming Paul Blackthorne was just ready to move on), but his farewell was still handled with grace. Ollie admitting that he viewed Quentin as a father really sealed the deal there.
One disappointing element this week is that we didn’t get more from Anatoly. The character has made a dramatic shift in recent weeks as Ollie appealed to his better nature. But after helping Team Arrow and officially turning himself in this week… nothing. You’d think he’d have a bigger part to play, whether that involved Diaz murdering him in retaliation or simply playing a more active role in the conflict. Hopefully we’ll see Anatoly stick around next season.
The same for Laurel. I haven’t been particularly thrilled with how her arc has been handled this season, what with the constant back-and-forth of betrayal and supposed redemption. But at least she made her final choice this week. The awkward interaction between Laurel and her “sister” was enough to justify Caity Lotz’s guest role all on its own. Laurel may have been a perplexing character in Season 6, but there’s a lot of room for her to grow next year now that she’s seemingly given up the villain lifestyle for good.
This episode also did exactly what it needed in terms of setting up an intriguing status quo for Season 7. As much of a slog as the series was for most of this year, at least it regained its momentum at the end. I’m very much looking forward to Season 7 giving us the Green Arrow/Super MAX story we never got in movie form. Some of the new story developments are things the series has flirted with and danced around in the past (Diggle taking up the mantle, Ollie’s identity being outed), but the hope is that this marks a more permanent shift in direction. Let’s just hope we’re not in for a repeat of Season 6’s early mistakes when the series returns in the fall.