Arrow: 7.21 Living Proof
Edging ever closer to the season seven finale, Arrow took a moment to reflect on the chaos caused by Emiko Queen and the Ninth Circle and continued to escalate their threat to Star City. Living Proof was an intense, character driven episode with plenty of action and twists to keep the audience on their toes.
Colin Donnell's long dead Tommy Merlyn made a welcome return to the show; it's not the first time Arrow has found a way to bring him back following his death in season one and this time really made the most of how much impact he had as Oliver's best friend. Waking up, trapped beneath the rubble after Emiko set off the bomb, he found his friend - now with added beard - waiting for him, acting as his guide and conscience as he tried to make his escape. I presume it was always the intention that Tommy was a figment of Oliver's mind because otherwise that 'twist' fell flat. But it absolutely worked, serving as a nice reminder of the show's early days as it heads towards its end game next season. It also helps that Stephen Amell and Donnell play very well off each other, conveying years friendship not seen since the show's beginning.
The rest of team Arrow - John, Dinah, Roy and Rene - find themselves trapped by the same explosive trap Emiko had set for her brother. Guided by Felicity and Alena from the Arrow cave after escaping an arrest attempt, they tried to locate their fallen leader while navigating the perils of the chemical factory set to explode. There was a great bit of tension as Roy threw himself into the deadly chemical spill to shut down the power and - despite the future storyline - I genuinely wondered if the show was going to kill him off for good.
Talking of the future, we saw Galaxy One (sorry, it still sounds like a credit card company), step up their game to control the Glades and Star City with killer robotic troops and control of Felicity's Arrow program. After their bittersweet reunion, William's resentment over being abandoned as a child bubbled to the surface, resulting in him ignoring Felicity and attempting to steal the information from big bad Kevin Dale. The opportunity to delve into the impact of the many traumas has had on William - from his mother's death to many kidnappings - has been the hook by which these flash forwards began and it was great to see that explored again - lately it seems as if Mia has taken all the limelight.
Unfortunately it didn't really amount to that much; after a lot of arguing, everyone found themselves prisoners of Galaxy One's robot soldiers. At least the stage has been set for a dramatic finale; the reveal that Alena sold Felicity's technology to Dale and the threat of the Ninth's Circle's actions in the present threatening to destroy Star City look set to bring both storylines to a head. Whether this future is inevitable is the biggest question having over the show and one I'm not sure can be answered satisfactorily. If the bleak future is averted, it might seem like a bit of a cop out, making the future storyline a tease that never went anywhere. But if it doesn't transpire, it will set Arrow up for a rather bleak ending.
Once again, Arrow delivered some thrilling fight sequences. Oliver reuniting with the team and taking on the Ninth Circle was a fun sequence, delivering a couple of entertaining fake outs - Oliver killing Emiko and then John being shot and killed were so very plausible and I really wasn't sure where the episode was going next. The fact that it was a triple fake out and Oliver was still trapped under the rubble was perhaps a step too far, even if it did tie up the whole Tommy being Oliver's conscience nicely.
While not the biggest cliffhanger Arrow has ever pulled, the final attack at the police station and the stand-off as the vigilantes found themselves back on the wrong side of the law, was a solid hook for the finale. Living Proof certainly did its job in building on Roy's return last week and shifting both the present and future storylines up a gear - even if ultimately little actually happened. But hey, any episode that has Oliver and Tommy back together is usually a winner and that was certainly the case here.