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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

An efficient Arrow establishes a new status quo

Echo Kellum
Echo Kellum
Photo: Jack Rowand (The CW)

There are bones one could pick with “Past Sins,” a tight to-do list of an hour that manages to get shit done and be entertaining all at once. A partial list: Why doesn’t anyone in Star City care about warrants? Why can the police use crazy satellite technology for one problem and not another? Wouldn’t it just have been easier to make Sam Hackett (Luke Camilleri) a meta, instead of an electrical genius? Why did it take so long for Felicity to think to check whether or not Not-Laurel’s stalker was the Earth-1 version, why didn’t she just say, “Hey, Not-Laurel, he’s probably just the Earth-1 guy,” and why did all three of those very smart women just assume that it was that particular creep without a confession? These are things worth wondering.


Questions may linger, and it may all feel a little anticlimactic, but all the same: good episode, huh?

“Past Sins”—David Ramsey’s (a.k.a. John Diggle) directing debut for the series (and if IMDb is to be believed, his debut, period)—certainly has that to-do list feel, but it just as certainly manages to keep its feet planted firmly in storytelling, first and foremost. It does so, because that’s the job of this—of almost all—narrative television episodes. It’s the kind of hour you call “workmanlike,” and it’s not a dig in the slightest. Hindsight often shows you what you what to see, so take this with a grain of salt, but I didn’t catch Ramsey’s credit until after the episode aired, and when I did, it made perfect sense. “Past Sins” feels like something put together with care; there are some awkward moments (the stunt doubles are pretty obvious) but for the most part, it’s carefully composed, without a shot wasted.

That care is evident in each of the three storylines explored here, and (despite the above quibbles) it’s evident in the writing, as well. Oliver and Dinah are still adjusting to having him on the force, and the general public seems greatly opposed; Not-Laurel, on the other hand, seems to be thrilling the public. (Opinion polling plays a surprisingly significant role in an episode where nobody on Team Arrow is currently the mayor.) Not-Laurel and Oliver do an interview together about life post-mask, and both do well, but within hours, the journalist who interviewed them is being held hostage as the kidnapper demands that Oliver quits the force, and Laurel finds herself verbally harassed by a familiar face.

These stories are linked by a pretty obvious theme—you can’t run away from the titular sins of your titular past—but essentially, both are just a means for establishing a new status quo. Oliver has to deal with the ret-conned presence of a bodyguard on a boat, confronted with the living embodiment of both his father’s sins and his own in the person of Sam Hackett. This story climaxes in another hostage situation, this time in the police station; it’s not the most thrilling sequence in Arrow history, but does feature a really bad-ass stunt (when Dinah breaks down a door using a big rubber mat and basically tumbles down the stairs) and some nicely escalating tension. He’s in the SCPD for good (read: for now) and once again attempting to find a healthy way to deal with a whole ton of baggage. His new status quo: Accepting the evils of his father and his own, a choice which earns him a sister who is thinking about considering about contemplating and talking about potentially having a relationship.

Illustration for article titled An efficient Arrow establishes a new status quo
Photo: Dean Jack Rowand (The CW)

Not-Laurel sees the face of her the first person she killed and absolutely spirals. This, as indicated by the questions above, is somewhat easier to summarize: Laurel sees the face of the drunk-driver who killed her father on Earth-2, but as Felicity rightly observes, it’s unlike her to have a hard time discussing such things. With some pressing, Felicity discovers that Laurel blames herself, because of a fight she and her father were having. (Not-Laurel could really use a therapist.) When creepy notes start showing up in her office, her home, and so on, she does something extremely unlike Not-Laurel. She asks for help. Her new status quo: Wine nights every once in awhile, and an ongoing stalker problem, as it turns out that the person leaving the notes was someone else entirely.

That leaves the subplot, which is pretty brief, but also well-executed. The Suicide Squ— sorry, Ghost Initiative is still in the works, again tying into the idea of Past Sins, and Curtis is not into it. So he writes some unexplained program, hacks into Diaz’s brain via his brain bomb, and convinces him that in reality, he’s busting out of ARGUS and taking the rest of the Squ—sorry, Initiative with him. Oh, and he kills Curtis on the way out.


I’ll admit, credited writers Onalee Hunter Hughes and Tonya Kong, along with Ramsey, really had me going for a second. Pretty much the moment that Arrow returns from the commercial break following Curtis slamming into that pavement, it becomes obvious that there’s some kind of switcheroo happening—the tone just isn’t right, there’s too much time left in the episode, and given time to reflect, it’s likely to occur to viewers that there were no ads screaming that “A MEMBER OF TEAM ARROW WILL FALL” or whatever. But before then, the deception is pretty solid. Curtis’s lie is a convincing one. It seems to be the result of his own folly—anger, arrogance, what have you—and that’s very Arrow. And the violence is so matter of fact. Effective stuff.

It’s all setup for Curtis’ new status quo, which is in itself extremely welcome—Arrow has seemed at a bit of a loss with poor Curtis for some time now. That status quo seems to be, in short, “I need you more than you need me.” This story could have just as easily have ended with Curtis quitting. Instead, he says he’s taking control of his own little corner of the narrative, and in doing so, he may be able to help ARGUS avoid some of their own sins of the past.


Yeah, it’s a little on the nose. But overall, an efficient, well-made hour that more than gets the job done.

Stray observations

  • Presumably sometime in the last few weeks, Barry made time to rush over from Central City to say, “Dude, what the hell, everyone wants us to take out masks off now! I can’t lose the mask, I was just on trial for murder, plus I already work for the police, this is really making shit complicated for me. Can’t you chill, just a little?”
  • TAMVP: Curtis, no question.
  • About Hackett: Was I alone in the impression that Oliver had repressed the member of the third man in the boat, and that he didn’t remember him until his time in prison? If that’s not the case, then wow, that’s a big ask to make of the audience. They’ve used that scene on the boat in nightmares and flashbacks for years.
  • That wine night scene, brief though it was, was charming. It still blows my mind how much better Katie Cassidy is as Not-Laurel.
  • Was there any salmon ladder?: I despair.

Contributor, The A.V. Club and The Takeout. Allison loves TV, bourbon, and overanalyzing social interactions. Please buy her book, How TV Can Make You Smarter (Chronicle, 2020). It’s short!