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Spoilers lie ahead for Episode 2 of Arrow Season 7, called "The Longbow Hunters."
Arrow turned itself upside down at the end of its sixth season when Oliver Queen pulled an Iron Man and outed himself as the Green Arrow. Unlike Tony Stark in the MCU, however, Oliver was not lauded as a hero. He was locked up in Slabside Maximum Security prison after making a deal with FBI Agent Samanda Watson, and now that the first couple episodes of Season 7 have aired, he definitely needs to stay there.
Well, he needs to stay there for now. Obviously the show called Arrow starring Stephen Amell isn't going to keep Oliver Queen behind bars for however much longer the series runs, and the odds are pretty good that he'll be out for the big Arrow-verse crossover in December, although the whole "Elseworlds" factor (along with Oliver going Scarlet Speedster rather than Emerald Archer) means that we can't take that for granted.
Still, Arrow would be best off to leave Oliver in the clink for at least a while. Although the show still has a core of loyal fans, it runs the risk of repeating itself too many times if it doesn't make some bold moves. Season 6 made one such bold move by outing Oliver in a move that can't be undone by any normal Arrow means.
Sure, The Flash or Legends of Tomorrow could reset the timeline to keep Oliver's identity a secret, but that would be too much time travel on what is supposed to be the grounded Arrow-verse series for my taste. Oliver Queen was the Green Arrow of Star City, and everybody knows it. Why not embrace the consequences of that for the first half of Season 7 and explore what the show is like with the hero stuck among criminals? After six full seasons, Arrow should be treading new ground.
With Oliver in prison, the characters are forced into new dynamics. Admittedly, new dynamics can be less than fun if you're tuning for love of relationships, such as those between the members of Original Team Arrow. They do allow the characters to show off more range and perhaps even grow. While the good guys on the outside can still hang out when they choose, Oliver's only familiar faces are the villains he put away, and he can't rely on his friends to cover his back. Oliver needs to adapt.
That need to adapt allowed Oliver to play the tech operative in "The Longbow Hunters." He wasn't exactly taking down impossible firewalls or hacking elite government agencies a la Felicity, but he could do enough to get into the prison system and gain info on a guard Brick wanted gone. Although he was desperate for a way to get rid of the guard and gain Diaz details from Brick, he wasn't willing to kill an innocent man whose record proved he was a solid -- if unpleasant -- man.
Of course, Oliver ultimately solved the problem in a way that didn't utilize the information he pulled from the computer, but he gets points for trying. Also, his decision to frame the guard by stabbing himself with a spoon shank was a quintessentially Oliver move that probably had me laughing more than it should have. When the smart and nuanced options fail, there's always stabbing.
Oliver behind bars without his loved ones also requires the establishment of new relationships. I had my concerns about the incorporation of new characters after how quickly the newbies were incorporated and elevated in Team Arrow, but Stanley as Oliver's prison pal is a fun addition, and Arrow didn't go too hard too fast with him. The villains in the clink with Oliver are familiar enough that Oliver's healthy fear of what they can do feels earned.
At this point, I'm not convinced that Stanley isn't going to turn out to be a villain himself. His effort to ingratiate himself with Oliver is obviously self-preservation, as Oliver is clearly more than capable of holding his own against the bullies behind bars. Stanley is quite diminutive compared to Oliver and many other prisoners, so Oliver as an ally is valuable.
It's worth noting that Stanley is pretty quick to jump to some concerning conclusions, such as blackmailing the prison guard because he has a wife and child. His combination of flattery and fear in his interactions with Oliver obviously appealed to the hero still living inside of him. I won't be surprised if we get a big twist of Stanley the serial killer. We only have his word that he was wrongfully convicted.
Until that happens (or doesn't), Oliver can apparently count on Stanley as his sidekick. His new circumstances require him to get resourceful to accomplish any of his goals. The Season 7 premiere saw him using a book as a blunt object to deliver a beating, and "The Longbow Hunters" featured a neat trick when Oliver used what few things he had handy to knock the lights out when he was waiting in line for a shower. The resulting confusion allowed him and Stanley to infiltrate the office and computer.
Oliver behind bars could give us a little bit of the early Season 1 Oliver that hooked a whole bunch of fans, and I don't just mean because the first couple episodes of Season 7 have delivered at least as much shirtlessness as the first couple episodes of Season 1. In prison, he has to be resourceful without a bodyguard or a computer genius watching out for him.
A character with six years of development in circumstances requiring some of his first season methods could provide an Oliver we haven't gotten before. Besides, it's not like he's going to be in prison forever. Arrow should make the most out of its new prison era and keep Oliver locked up for a while. If nothing else, it could increase fans' hunger for a return to something resembling the status quo.
We'll have to wait and see what happens. For now, the remnants of Team Arrow will need to work without him. Diggle is busy with ARGUS and "The Longbow Hunters" sent Felicity to work with the FBI in a twist with a great deal of potential. Laurel is somehow operating as the D.A., with Dinah lurking in the background. Throw in the Longbow Hunters and Diaz, and there will be plenty going on outside of prison.