Over the past six years, Arrow has certainly had its ups and downs. But if anything is said about this show it is that it isn't afraid to reinvent itself and Inmate 4587 certainly proves to be the turning point in the show's biggest reinvention to date. Oliver Queen is behind bars and Team Arrow have been disbanded and Star City has suddenly found itself without its costumed protectors.
It is nice to see Arrow finally making some sweeping changes after the dismal mess that was Season Six. The series did get better towards the end once it finally gave the villian, Riccardo Diaz the attention he deserves but by then, it was too little too late. Just from this opening episode, it feels like the shot of adreneline the show needed for a long time even if, predicably, the premier isn't without its fair share of problems.
Looking past other things for a moment, Oliver's scenes in jail certainly worked for some nice character drama and gave us some really nice fight sequences. It reminds us that there is nothing a superhero fears more than being locked up with the villains he helped to put away. Right out of the gate we get some great conflict between Oliver, Bronze Tiger, Danny Brickwell and Derek Sampson.
Oliver's prison ordeal certainly promises to be one of the most interesting things in this season and Stephen Amell does a great job of playing a man on the inside afraid of even slightly rocking the boat in fear of extending his sentence. He is full of repressed rage but it doesn't help that his desire for freedom is clashing against his moral sense of heroism.
The fight sequences were certainly a sight to behold. So far, director James Bamford is unriveled in his ability to craft a good fight and this episode did a brilliant job of showing Oliver backed into a corner with no weapons to help him get out. Instead we get some gruesome bare-knuckle fights. The shower fight stood out in particular as did the moment when Oliver finally snapped and fought back in the excersise yard. It is funny to think though that Vinny Jone's Danny Brickwell used to be able to be the backbone for mutliple episode arcs but gets felled by a book to the throat. Thankfully this looks to be a lasting conflict for Oliver. Where The Flash has always had trouble with season finale's and their resolutions, Arrow seems to be keeping Oliver in prison for a decent period of time. Why spoil a good thing afterall?
It is unfortunate then that the storylines coming out of the prison aren't nearly as interesting. Even though every member of Team Arrow is in a different place this year, the changes don't hold the same weight as Oliver's imprisonment. In fact, this episode had me wondering what purpose some of these characters pose now. What does it matter what Curtis is up to and why should we suddenly buy that Black Siren is now the city's DA? The new tension between Dinah and Rene also felt incredibly forced, especially when you consider this is coming out of the Arrow Civil War storyline from last year. Surely the time has come to trim the fat on the supporting cast as too many of those scenes derailed the tension of the Oliver storyline.
And as for Felicity and William, well, it started out well but quickly went down hill towards the end. Felicity's character this season seems alright, she has a sense of humour about her, being a brilliant computer hacker stuck in the dead end job of a barrista. But all of that took a strange turn once Diaz decided to rear his head again and given how the final scenes came after one of Oliver's nightmares, it was hard to know whether they were one-the-same or not. Then it abruptly goes from Diaz threatening to torture Felicity to her arriving at the prison to tell Ollie what had happened. Maybe the idea was to leave a chunk of the storytelling missing for a later date but at the time it just felt incredibly odd.
We've also got those bloody island-flashbacks again. Or in this case, flash-forwards. Part of me wished that these were over after season five when the whole island is blown up but if we are going to see the future with that plot point, then it is certainly an interesting way of shaking up that formula. It also works as an interesting way of bringing back Roy Harper and gives William some room for nice development. But it still feels like an odd move on the part of the production team, especially given how detached those island-flashbacks gradually became.
It is certainly true then that Inmate 4587 kicks off Arrow's biggest reinvention in the show's history. We've got a lot of those changes working in the show's favour with Ollie's imprisonment promising to be a revealing thing for his character and gives way to some great action sequences. The new-island twist is also a good way of keeping things interesting and it will be enjoyable to see how past and present become intertwinned. The biggest problem here is that the supporting cast's storylines are getting in the way of the main one again and there are just too many characters to do things with here...