[This is a review of Arrow season 4, episode 5. There will be SPOILERS.]
From season 1 on, Arrow has been built on a solid foundation of Oliver Queen passing judgment on others. It is, after all, the basis of the character's initial crusade to clean up the city he has sworn to protect. For the most part, those judgments have been delivered to the criminal element who have "failed" Star City (even back when it was called Starling City), but in recent years, Oliver's penchant for throwing the proverbial stone has hit upon his friends and family as well. It wasn't until last season that Oliver's actions and his tendency towards hypocrisy were finally called out, when, in an attempt to best Ra's al Ghul, he put his friends' lives at risk.
In its best moments, 'Beyond Redemption' brings the audience back to the early days of Arrow, when Oliver's mission was a little clearer cut and the baggage of recent transgressions against fellow members of Team Arrow wasn't quite as heavy. A great deal of this has to do with the ideas being presented throughout the episode, especially the ideas that are front and center to the characters and made explicit through their dialogue. For the most part, those ideas are centered on what it takes to save a dying city, which not only fuels the main plot of Captain Lance's collusion with Damien Darhk being found out by Oliver, but also the other major ongoing plot thread of Oliver running for mayor.
There is also the return of Sara Lance to deal with, but knowing that John Constantine will be showing up next week, the episode primarily uses Sara as an extension of the largest theme running through the hour: That characters are sometimes made to do desperate things for the sake of what they believe is the greater good, and, right or wrong, those characters then have to live with the consequences of those actions. Sometimes those actions have hugely negative ramifications, like Lance's affiliation with Darhk, and sometimes those consequences may seem bleak but are far better than the alternative, such as the moment when Lance contemplates returning Sara to the grave. In that moment it's clear that living with the consequences of whatever Sara has come back as – which, for the time being is apparently Nell with some anger issues – is far better than being a father who murdered his daughter.
The episode includes big dramatic moments for both Oliver and Lance. The writing is almost overwrought to the point of becoming a joke, but the performances of Amell and Blackthorne are such that their conviction tempers the scenes and makes them mostly convincing. Oliver's swelling moment allows him the opportunity to do what he loves best, which is take someone completely by surprise and hold their wrongdoing over them. It's a tough sell for the most part, considering what Oliver has done in the past, so 'Beyond Redemption' makes the smart call to include a subplot involving an anti-vigilante taskforce headed up by Rutina Wesley that has made one hell of a wrong turn. The element again underlines the idea of decisions and consequences, but since Wesley's character doesn't come with three years of history for the audience to parse, it is easier to draw the conclusion the episode is guiding the viewer towards: That in moments of desperation certain decisions are made, and rather than pause to find a way out, most people continue digging themselves in deeper.
This is about a good an explanation as Arrow need provide for Captain Lance's affiliation with Damien Darhk. It's also the one place where a character's history works to his advantage. Whereas Oliver has been made an interesting character by the writers depicting his bumpy arc, which has often meant seeing him make mistakes and then coming out the other side changed for the better (making it harder for him to convincingly castigate someone like Lance on grounds any firmer than "I'm not angry. I'm just disappointed"), Lance has always been presented as the man who lives as he sees the world: in stark black and white. The character has been an incorruptible force, ceaseless in his convictions and devotion to upholding the law. He's made a few deals with the Arrow and his team, but considering how dark things in Star City have a tendency to become, it's easy to understand how Lance might see an allegiance with a group of vigilantes the only way to contrast that darkness. And that is largely why his deal with the devil was so successful in terms of shocking the audience.
Less successful, then, is Lance's big moment when Team Arrow confronts Wesley's team of dirty cops. His big speech about what it means to be a cop, wear the uniform, and honor the badge – even if that means facing justice themselves – is basically Lance's Man in the Mirror moment, which is why it doesn't really make much sense that he's delivering it to a cop who was ripping off a contraband depot for the purpose of profit. Wesley's character does sort of represent the most extreme example of Lance's trajectory, so, in a way, it works to the degree that his next move seems like a natural progression of his own extreme choices.
If nothing else, 'Beyond Redemption' is a solid character piece for Captain Lance and a showcase for Paul Blackthorne, who often doesn't get the opportunity to have this much to do in a single episode. This time, however, the actor was allowed to run the gamut of emotions and really play to his acting strength – which is basically "go big or go home" – and he certainly delivers on that idea in several scenes. And yet, it's some of the smaller moments that offer a better platform for him and his scenery-chewing counterpart Neal McDonough. Their chat about what to do regarding Sara shows them both in a remarkably different light. And to see Lance so desperate and Darhk exhibiting an astonishing amount of compassion (given what is known about him), is not only great in terms of offering another dimension to the characters, but also in underlining how seductive Darhk can be. It rounds the season's Big Bad out remarkably well, and offers further evidence of why Lance was tempted by him in the first place.
Arrow returns next Wednesday with 'Haunted' @8pm on The CW. Check out a preview below: