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Taking a page out of Team Arrow’s book, Arrow embraces its own evolution

Rick Gonzalez, David Ramsey, Emily Bett Rickards, Stephen Amell
Photo: Jack Rowand (The CW)
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Last week’s Arrow review (a pair of reviews, technically) centered on one idea: Change is in the air, both in Star City and in the Arrowverse. People leaving. Roles changes. Attitudes shifting. Dynamics transforming. The present grows more and more unsteady—some of that conscious, some perhaps not so much—as the future begins to solidify.

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That’s been apparent in the writing for most of this season. Just look at these headlines:

Screenshot: The A.V. Club

The documentary episode and the crossover don’t quite fit the theme, but there’s a pattern there (and also a humbling reminder that I should probably revisit old headlines from time to time). We didn’t cover the first half of this season, outside of the premiere and the crossover, but the back half has been all about moving chess pieces around, tying up old stories and almost relentlessly setting up new and very different ones.

“Training Day” is the first episode of this season that seems firmly rooted in what’s going on with the series right now. No loose ends. No course-correction. Not-Laurel’s focused on a storyline established this season, and a development (the apparent murder of Ricardo Diaz) that happened last week. Felicity and Oliver are fighting the same old fight for the city, but with new energy, based on the revelations of last week. John’s with OTA, because of the events of last week. Dinah recovers from a horrific injury so fast, and she’s dealing with it in real time. Rene’s not so much dealing with any recent event as being set up for the future—“As a member of the Star City P.D.’s elite task force” sounds like a great way to start a campaign speech, and “I fought for the Glades, and fought the system, from within” sounds like a pretty decent followup. And in that future, William and Mira—short for Moira—finally figure out where they’re going, and why they need to go there together.

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It’s refreshing. It feels as though every episode leading up to this one—with the exception of that documentary episode—was all about getting to this point. “Vigilantes are illegal, no oversight is bad, accountability is needed, but also if Team Arrow doesn’t exist Star City’s going right to hell” has been the status quo for a long, long time. They’ve been building to a new status quo. Now they’ve arrived. And as with all dramatic sea changes, what’s most interesting is the way the characters react.

The most compelling example: Dinah. This might be Juliana Harkavy’s best episode, perhaps in part because for all the trauma Dinah’s experienced, we’ve never seen Captain Drake thrown off her game quite this hard. She has one clear need throughout “Training Day,” and it’s that she needs this new partnership between OTA and the SCPD to work. What’s so smart about the way that writers Emilio Ortega Aldrich and Rebecca Rosenberg approach that need is that Dinah’s episode is essentially cut in half. The need remains the same, but the reason changes. First, she needs it to work because her job is on the line, and because it’s the right thing to do. The SCPD needs the help, the vigilantes need to be vigilantes, the old way wasn’t working, and everyone is counting on her to get it done.

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Then she tries to use her Canary Cry, and it doesn’t work. Something shifts: She needs the partnership to work because she can’t be the Canary anymore. She can only be the Captain.

Danny Wattley, Juliana Harkavy
Photo: Jack Rowand
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The biggest ding against this episode is that, despite Harkavy’s central position, there simply isn’t enough Dinah. “Training Day” could mine that storyline for a hell of a lot more. The scenes in which this powerful (in the meta sense and otherwise) woman stands in front of a group of people like she’s not sure why she’s there or why anyone should listen to or respect her say more about Dinah Drake’s emotional state than the scenes upon scenes of Dinah glowering and growling about Oliver and company in the sixth season. Those stories were all about plot—they needed a war between the Team Arrow factions, so everyone got mad. This one is about plot, too—Team Arrow goes legit, that’s a hell of a story—but it’s centered in her experience of the plot. Seemingly small difference, huge effect. It’s all good stuff, but it’s easy to wish there’d been even more.

Another ding against the episode: some clumsy dialogue. In one case, several scenes fail to make the end result seem anything less than obvious—raise your hand if you said “you have to make them a task force” out loud to your television at any point. In another, some trademark Felicity bumbling and a little repetitive Arrow boilerplate comes close to obscuring a recognizable parenting story, here depicted with a vigilante twist. It took several watches of the Oliver and Felicity scenes in this episode (all well-acted, as well as gracefully staged by director Ruba Nadda) to drill down to what’s really going on. Two parents are expecting their first baby—Oliver didn’t know William existed until he was a tween—and so they get super overzealous in their preparations. Other parents would plug their power outlets nine months early. Oliver and Felicity want to permanently save the city, immediately.

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That seems to be the core. But in practice, it’s a wash of “the city” and “our family” and “safe,” all tangled up with OTA’s understandable frustration with being brought in to do what they do and then immediately being told to stop doing all the things they do.

The episode ends with a pleasant equilibrium—one shared by William and Mia in the future, whose hot pursuit of some sweet ’80s tech brought them closer together—that feels like the beginning of a bright future, something wholly new—and for a show that’s been on the air for as long as this one, that’s saying something. The old Arrow has been gone a long time, and the show has spent seasons—some better than others—trying to blow up the past and create a new future. This season, it’s finally happened, and just in time.

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Nothing good lasts in stories like this. Something is coming to disrupt the peace, to (presumably, based on what we know in the future) kill Oliver and send Felicity into hiding, to change the dynamic of the entire city in so dramatic a way that the Glades are now a walled-in paradise of law and order. And somehow, it’ll all end.

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Stray observations

  • A few weeks ago on The Flash, Barry and Ralph went undercover to a crazy weapons market, and Barry encountered some weapons specifically designed to kill cops. Barry being Barry, he wanted them gone immediately, but he was de-powered at the time, so he said something to the effect of, “I want to buy all of them, every single one.” That dumb statement tipped everyone off that he was a cop. So... was the one gang leader secretly a cop? Because “I want all the crazy bullets” seems like a thing a fake criminal would say.
  • Team Arrow MVP: Juliana Harkavy, obviously, but a tip of the hat to Jason Stevens, the guy who plays Felix. He was giving me a vibe that’s Brazil meets Blade Runner meets the one episode of Doctor Who where everybody buys feelings in patch form and lives in their cars which are stuck in an unending traffic jam.
  • Was there any salmon ladder?: Alas.
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About the author

Allison Shoemaker

Contributor, The A.V. Club and The Takeout. Allison loves television, bourbon, and dramatically overanalyzing social interactions.