Stephen Amell, Catherine Dent
Photo: Dean Buscher (The CW)

Let us say this of “Docket No. 11-19-41-73”: the people in it behave like people, the story has an arc, and I mostly understood what was happening and why. Those items alone make this one of the more soundly constructed episodes in Arrow’s frustrating sixth season.

In fact, it’s fairly easy to imagine this hour arriving near the end of a more successful season and working like gangbusters. The choices made by these characters might seem like the logical conclusions to season-long arcs, as opposed to wild leaps to reasonable places. An example: Watching Rene (Rick Gonzalez) prepare to cover for Oliver, only to be confronted by the terrifying specter of Diaz clutching his daughter by her tiny shoulders, would play a hell of a lot better had there been any consistency at all to his arc this season, had the Rene who felt so remorseful about turning witness on Oliver shown his face even once since the first Team Arrow/Team Not-Arrow fallout.

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There’s much about this hour, with a teleplay credited to Ubah Mohamed and Tyron B. Carter, that plays like that. It’s an episode that works better than it should because it’s well-made, and because the characters behave in ways that make sense; if more of the season had been well-made and logical, then “Docket” would likely have been, if not a triumph, at least a satisfying success.

Instead, it’s a definite but muted success, almost a what-if of an episode: What if Cayden James were still the Big Bad? What if Not-Laurel (or Fauxrel, as a commenter suggested) had been given a more satisfying, self-aware story? What if the splintering of Team Arrow had actually been a bad situation handled poorly by all parties, as opposed to a shitshow in which the points-of-view and grievances of those involved hadn’t shifted whenever it was narratively convenient? It’s unfair to expect one hour to make up for those weighty problems, but it’s also something intended as a compliment. “Docket No. 11-19-41-73” feels like it belongs to a much better season.

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It’s not a perfect episode, by a long shot, but the competency and emotional logical are so welcome it would be wrong to bypass the moments that really work. Chief among them: the brief reappearance of Tommy Merlyn (Colin Donnell), who, like the episode itself, feels a bit like a ghost escaped from better days. Here, he’s appearing courtesy of Christopher Chance, a.k.a the Human Target (Will Traval). Dropping in absurdly through the glass ceiling of the courthouse to declare that he’s a) alive and b) the Green Arrow, Chance-as-Tommy makes the most of his time in court, turning the charm up to eleven and convincingly playing remorse at the memory of what happened to Roy Harper when he covered the Hood’s tracks.

But what really makes that sequence a winner is something the episode does that so many of its fellows have ignored. It acknowledges the emotional realities and personal history at work, allowing the camera to linger on Oliver (Stephen Amell) as bewilderment, amazement, grief, and palpable longing for his old friend play across his face. To be frank, it’s one of Amell’s better moments in this or any season, a subtle, honest reaction that’s steeped in the show’s history and requires no explanation. Most of season six’s storylines haven’t acknowledged what happened last week. This one reached back years.

Moments like that one pepper the hour, from Diggle acknowledging his days as Oliver’s bodyguard to Lance wryly reminding a reporter that he arrested Oliver Queen for vigilantism back in the day. Rene’s story is all about history, in fact, to the point where it seems as though Mohamed and Carter were asked to give Rene his season-long arc in roughly 16 minutes—and somehow, they mostly pulled it off. As was the case with last week’s Anatoly-focused hour, “Docket” is at its best when it leans heavily on one thing that many of Arrow’s characters have in spades: backstory.

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If anything, those successes only highlight one of the episode’s more bewildering issues. To nitpick an episode like this one from a feasibility standpoint is pointless; it’s not Law & Order. But in an hour that mercifully chose to invest in the emotional lives of its characters—Felicity adding another felony to the list, Raisa’s certainly that Oliver is going to jail, Diggle losing his shit on the courthouse steps, Rene looking on in horror as Diaz parades in with his kid, the list goes on—why on earth did the writers choose to ignore part of what would make a trial like this one such an unbearable experience?

I speak, of course, of time. It’s true here and was true on The Flash earlier this season as well: What’s the reason for making these trials so brief as to be laughably implausible for reasons beyond the usual? A longer trial—not in minutes on-screen, but in actual time lived for the characters—would likely have amplified the tension and stakes, not lessened them. Imagine how Felicity and Oliver’s scenes would play if their scenes were there only moments together over the course of weeks, if William was growing more and more anxious while his Dad was behind bars, if Team Not-Arrow had time to stew. It’s a TV show! The trial could last months and months, with the odd “three weeks later” and some additional facial hair used to show the passage of time.

Still, most of the complaints one could lodge about this hour as a result of the sloppy season, not the episode itself. If nothing else, “Docket” masterfully sets up the final two episodes of this very rocky sixth season, getting all the characters into emotional states that make sense (for once). They might be great, they might be otherwise, but at least they were set up for success.

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Stray observations

  • Carter and Mohamed are both on the writing staff of Legends Of Tomorrow. If you haven’t revisited Legends since the Hawkpeople were on the Waverider, I strongly encourage you to give it another try. It’s been one of the most consistent, goofy pleasures on my DVR for two seasons now.
  • If you didn’t immediately recognize Christopher Chance (the Human Target) when he took off his mask, don’t feel bad—his first and only other Arrow appearance was in 2016's “Human Target.”
  • If you did recognize him, but not from Arrow, Will Traval also notably appeared on Jessica Jones (as Will Simpson/Nuke), as well as on Once Upon A Time.
  • So, Felicity is totally getting arrested for perjury, right? That had to be a set-up.
  • If Curtis is supposed to be good at hiding his secret identity, he might not want to spend quite so much time huddled in public places with two people openly accused of vigilantism, especially when those two are both a part of a three-person team.
  • Felicity is the best liar on Team Arrow by a mile.
  • Some cast-related news; don’t click if you don’t want ideas about how the season may end.
  • TAMVP: Let’s make this the Tommy Merlyn memorial award and give it to Colin Donnell, who makes the most of his two scenes and seems to be having a great time.
  • Salmon ladder: I give up.

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