“I lost my city. I lost my team. There’s a penance for that.”
As Arrow finales go, Season 5’s ‘Lian Yu’ saw the show at its very best, with shocking twists and explosive action, and so ‘Life Sentence’ had a lot to live up to. While the action was a little lacking in comparison, the emotionality took the story to a level that was enough to rival its predecessor, setting up Season 7 to take Arrow somewhere it has never been before.
After Oliver’s (Stephen Amell) visit to Samandra Watson (Sydelle Noel) at the end of the last episode, Team Arrow is back with gusto, as the group storm the SCPD with help from the FBI, and, of course, a little nudge from their inside man, Anatoly (David Nykl). While the team are able to gather up most of Diaz’s (Kirk Acevedo) corrupt SCPD members, the man himself is nowhere to be seen, and with Anatoly also conspicuously absent during the Green Arrow’s raid, Diaz becomes more suspicious than ever of his Russian ally. Just when it seems that Anatoly is able to handle whatever Diaz throws at him, the villain reveals that he has made some “new friends” in the form of a mysterious infamous group of archers called the“Longbow Hunters.” A nod at the supposed villains of the next season, it remains simply a mention to set up Season 7, as we don’t see or hear anything of the hunters in this episode.
Desperate to bring Diaz to justice, Oliver gathers together all the help he can get, with his team and the FBI working side by side around the clock to get a lead on their foe’s plans. However, it turns out that Diaz knows more of Anatoly’s disloyalty than he’s letting on, as false information given to his ally leads Oliver and the gang straight into a trap that’s near-impossible to walk out of alive. When Watson, Rene (Rick Gonzalez) and another FBI agent head into a warehouse on the trail of Diaz, they find themselves caught in a grid of laser trip wires, rigged to eviscerate them if they make one wrong move. While the trap is a shock twist, there’s more than a few unbelievable coincidences involved in its execution, the most obviously and annoying one being that each individual seems to stop exactly in one of the grid’s gaps before the lasers are triggered, and therefore stand within the trip wires unharmed.
That aside, ‘Life Sentence’ brings with it one of this season’s most impressive fight scenes, that sees Oliver go up against Diaz mano a mano on a rooftop in the rain. The choreography is impressively smooth and Amell and Acevedo make it look like the easiest thing in the world – it also helps that there’s a little bit of artsy slow-motion parts involved, adding an extra level to the action. It’s also nice to see all the heroes working together again, after so many weeks of us having separate teams – even Dinah (Juliana Harkavy) and Laurel (Katie Cassidy) are working alongside each other for the greater good, all thought of vendetta put aside as the chase the collective goal of ending Diaz’s hold over Star City once and for all.
The finale also sees Quentin (Paul Blackthorne) caught between a rock and a hard place, as his role as mayor in Diaz’s city means that his hands are tied on almost every decision. When it comes to the Dragon’s knowledge that Oliver is working with the FBI, he orders Quentin to revoke any authority that he has given the federal agents, or else he kills Laurel. Having lost one daughter, you can hardly blame Quentin when he casts aside thoughts of what is best for the city, in favour of what will ensure his daughter walks out of the fight unscathed. However, when Quentin appears to reveal the track that the FBI has on him, when he travels to meet Diaz, Oliver is reminded of a somewhat exposition-heavy conversation he had with the man just moments before, when Quentin revealed that he had a pacemaker – a link which isn’t all that surprising to the audience, as his mention of the pacemaker almost immediately rings bells of “this information is going to be very important to the plot” the moment it is uttered.
At its emotional heart, ‘Life Sentence’ is something of a mutual admiration episode, as Oliver goes between his friends, telling them how proud of them he is, and how great they all are – praise that they return with watery eyes and warm smiles, in amongst their vigilante excursions. But, when Felicity (Emily Bett Rickards) calls out her husband for what appears to be the “Oliver Queen farewell tour” the truth of Agent Watson’s second request comes to light and threatens to change the face of Arrow as we know it. The arrangement between the FBI and Oliver is one of our hero’s biggest sacrifices to date, and in the face of the tragic loss of one of Oliver’s nearest and dearest, it appears as though the series may never be the same again – but when Oliver lets slip his biggest secret to the world, it becomes certain that the Oliver Queen we know now will not be the one we meet when Arrow returns for its seventh season.
A fitting finale for this season, and while it doesn’t match the sheer shock of Season 5’s finale, it does more to change the series than we’ve seen before, leaving the fate of Season 7 entirely a mystery.