Oliver’s in jail again, but this time Arrow’s got a fun trick up its sleeve.
Photo: The CW

Arrow rarely feels like it can offer something refreshing these days. After all, some of the show’s biggest problems lately have come from it regurgitating similar arcs and never letting its characters really grow. But last night’s season seven premiere might have finally done it. Although. in true Arrow style, it’s by riffing on a familiar tune.

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Most of “Inmate 4587” is a lot of set up for the show’s new status quo after the events of season 6: Oliver is doing his prison stint after being exposed as the Green Arrow (err, again), Felicity and William are in protective custody to keep away from the watchful eyes of Diaz—which doesn’t work out too well—and elsewhere, most of Team Arrow has gone their separate ways in a post-Oliver world.

Diggle is trying to quietly keep tracks on Diaz from ARGUS, Rene’s teaching kids how to box, Curtis is having a happy dating life, Dinah’s working her beat as a Captain for the Star City PD, and from what little we see of her, Laurel 2: 2 Laurel 2 Lance is making at least a good go at trying to be the highflying lawyer her deceased Earth-1 counterpart was. While the episode is largely character driven instead of particularly flashy, actionwise—save a brief break to watch a butt-naked Oliver beat up some of Diaz’s goons in a prison shower—it sets up for the paths each member of the team is going to go on this season, even as they’re mostly disparate and isolated from each other.

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But it’s not just emotional arcs that we get a glimpse of. The episode recruits an old Arrow favorite (or crutch, depending on how sick of it you got) with an honestly intriguing twist: flashbacks are back! After running them into the ground over the course of the first five seasons, this time around Arrow presented us with a new, mysterious young man heading to the island of Lian Yu, rather than re-regaling the inexplicably complicated (and gloriously bewigged) history of how Oliver Queen crash-landed on the island, ran around doing all sorts of ridiculous nonsense, and then got back on the island before Arrow actually began.

Most of the episode leaves these flashbacks without context, but we suddenly and shockingly get some when Mystery Island Man is caught up in one of Lian Yu’s many traps and comes across a familiar face: None other than Roy Harper himself, older, wiser, and back in his Arsenal gear—because these aren’t flashbacks, but rather flashfowards. And Mysterious Island Man is actually a grown up William!

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Yes, it’s Arrow resorting to a familiar arrow in its quiver once again. But it’s such a fun twist on something so known in the series’ lexicon, that you can’t help but cackle at the audacity of it all. And honestly, it’s a delightful change: Arrow’s had a problem with a sense of stale directionless over the last few seasons, its characters mired in the same sort of plotlines dug from Oliver Queen’s gigantic closest of skeletons. What better way to point the show in the direction of a new chapter—and potentially even a conclusion to the story we’ve seen over the last six years—than to start telling the story of how the next wave of Green-clad archer vigilantes rises?

Time will tell if Arrow’s getting into a case of like father, like son—but it’s suddenly made me a lot more interested in checking in on Star City now that it’s doing so.

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