Wednesday, October 12, 2016

REVIEW: 'Arrow' - Oliver Doesn't Know How to Lead His New Team While Diggle Faces Problems Overseas in 'The Recruits'

The CW's Arrow - Episode 5.02 "The Recruits"

Oliver's new recruits for Team Arrow are Curtis, Wild Dog and Evelyn Sharp. Unfortunately, the Green Arrow's training methods prove to be too much for some of them to handle. In flashbacks, Oliver's initiation into the Bratva continues.

By the end of last week's season premiere, Oliver accepted that things weren't going to go back to the way they were. Diggle and Thea weren't coming back to the team anytime soon. They chose to leave. They are still there for emotional support. Diggle can still provide motivational speeches while Thea is serving as Oliver's chief of staff as mayor of Star City. But as far as being a vigilante, Oliver is out there all alone as the Green Arrow. The new threats facing the city are just as dangerous as they've always been. Oliver came to rely on his team so much as the threats kept escalating over the years. Now, things have been simplified again. The Green Arrow is facing off with Tobias Church, a gangster who can hold his own in a fight. Plus, there's the mysterious Prometheus who largely just pops up at the end of each episode but is still shrouded in secrecy. Now would be a good time to train a new team. It's just a somewhat arduous process as everyone accepts what the new team actually needs to be.

The Green Arrow motivated the city to fight back against Damien Darhk. He was a beacon of hope during the night. He got the citizens of this city to take their home back from a madman. But now, Oliver is struggling to motivate a new team of recruits. He's hoping to incorporate the same initiation tactics that the Bratva used on him five years ago. "The Recruits" does a solid job thematically connecting the past and present stories for Oliver. In the present, Oliver is training a new team by trying to get them to work together in order to succeed. In the past, Oliver is on the other side of things learning the same lesson. Of course, in the Bratva, the reward for such training is much different. Oliver doesn't plan on killing any of these recruits if they don't ring the bell. He wants them to work together because that's been the most effective strategy for this team over the years. He has grown a lot since his days joining the Bratva. So things thematically connect together even though the circumstances are different. Oliver is the one who gets his fellow Bratva recruits to work together to ring the bell. But he's the only one to move onto the next stage of the initiation. The rest are killed because they didn't ring the bell. It's stark, grim and brief. There's not a whole lot to the flashbacks yet this year but they have been effective so far.

Meanwhile, Oliver is still struggling to be the mayor of Star City, protecting the city as the Green Arrow and training his new recruits. He has brought this team together in the hopes of taking some of the pressure off of his multiple jobs. He would be completely lost if Thea wasn't at the mayor's office helping him succeed. He can rely on her. So, he doesn't spend too much time on his job as Oliver Queen. Instead, he's trying to win over his new team as the Green Arrow. Curtis knows the truth about his secret identity. But Evelyn and Wild Dog are completely in the dark. No one understands the training exercise. And then, they are just flung into the field in the hopes of being another pair of eyes on a precarious situation. It's not surprising at all that that doesn't go according to plan. Oliver lashes out at his team for not following orders. So, they quit. This team is a mess and it's all Oliver's fault. He's not an effective leader. All three of the recruits want to do good as vigilantes in the city. But there is too much secrecy and not enough trust. Oliver is reverting back to the Bratva mentality. He doesn't want to get too attached to these people just in case they are killed in the field. He can't lose any more people. But it's only after the Green Arrow reveals himself as Oliver Queen that the team starts to work. It's something that needed to happen. It's in character that Oliver would want to keep his secret identity. He needed to learn his lesson. It's just a little too formulaic and lackluster getting to that point.

Of course, things are also tense elsewhere because there is a new mysterious player in town attacking people. The people being targeted are in charge of a company providing medical equipment to Oliver's new free clinic initiative. At first, it seems like they are the victims. But thanks to Thea, they are revealed to be the bad guys responsible for making the nuke that went off last season. And now, they are selling even more weapons to Tobias Church. It's a complicated story. It's mostly just a way to incorporate Tobias into the narrative for the week. He has made his intimidating presence known. It's a big deal when he pops up on the screen. But it's a slightly weird story too because the new vigilante is a man covered in rags that he's able to turn into weapons. It's a different visual for Arrow. It's something that would feel more common on The Flash, Supergirl or Legends of Tomorrow. That doesn't make it unrealistic here though. In fact, it could be a refreshing new perspective on the team this season. Not everything needs to be hand-to-hand combat or gun play. Those fighting styles have been very effective over the years. But it could be fun seeing things play out in a different way. Of course, magic only did so much last season. So, it could become so annoying to watch Ragman do his thing after a few episodes.

Elsewhere, Diggle's life isn't any less complicated now that he is back in the military. He returned to that environment to get his head back on straight. He needed the world to make sense again after he was forced to kill his brother last season. The army is where everything went wrong the last time. And now, it's happening all over again - just more quickly. It's not surprising that the plot mechanics are already in motion to get Diggle back in Star City as soon as possible. But he is still a main character capable of carrying his whole subplot for a couple of episodes that has absolutely nothing to do with what everyone else is up to. It's a pretty basic plot in "The Recruits." This episode does suffer a little bit by trying to juggle too many different narrative threads. Diggle's story gets about as much screen time as the flashbacks typically do. Plus, this hour also had flashbacks to help connect everything for the main story. So, Diggle's plot is just the bare minimum. His unit is trying to recover a nuclear weapon before it falls into the wrong hands. And then, it's revealed his commanding officer is crooked.

The chain of command means so much to Diggle. It's how he processes the world and takes the burden off of himself when it comes to life-or-death decisions. He is able to serve as mentor as well to a new soldier fresh out of the academy. He parts wisdom on this young soldier just like Oliver is doing in Star City. But in Diggle's case, his mentee is killed as soon as his commanding officer's treachery is revealed. And now, Diggle is being framed for this severe crime. He is tied up and facing a court martial while the nuke is still out there capable of doing just about anything. His commanding officer took the turn to the dark side because the world no longer made any sense to him. This is a world that has magic. Magic that can get nuclear weapons to launch and destroy entire towns. This show isn't forgetting about the consequences of the destruction of Havenrock this season. It led to the creation of Ragman in Star City. But it also built this villain for Diggle. He's all alone with no one to help him out. So, the army perhaps won't be as clarifying for him as he was hoping it would be. Perhaps he'll realize that Star City is simply where he belongs now - granted he doesn't face any serious charges for the crime he stands accused of doing.

Some more thoughts:
  • "The Recruits" was written by Speed Weed & Beth Schwartz and directed by James Bamford.
  • Ragman's backstory and creation is very similar to Oliver's. No, Oliver doesn't have any special powers. He built his skills over five years away from Star City. Ragman was wrapped up in ancient rags during the Havenrock destruction by his father. They melded to his body, saved him and gave him these powers. Now, he's trying to avenge his father's death.
  • Thea realizes that she shouldn't be doing all of the work at the mayor's office as well. It does seem like she's doing everything herself without any help whatsoever. And yet, she doesn't make any significant hires. It's more important that she's the one to learn the truth about the company's nefarious plans.
  • Thea does decide to offer Quentin an official job though. She wants him to be Oliver's deputy mayor. That just seems like a ridiculous idea. Quentin should be pulling himself together not facing the stress of a high pressure job.
  • Felicity is still keeping her new boyfriend from her friends. And yet, what does this guy think she does all day long? She shows up asking him to analyze a piece of evidence for her. He does it with very few questions whatsoever.
  • Wild Dog does not like his new code name. And yet, that name is much easier to remember than whatever his actual name is. He's the most reckless member of the new team. That's at least a personality though. Evelyn is largely just in the background.
  • Prometheus warns Tobias that he cannot kill the Green Arrow because that's his job. Prometheus is still very mysterious but he's also an effectively terrifying presence.