Arrow isn’t known for finely articulated discourse on justice and corruption; it has tended to take the more “Look! What’s that over there?” route when it comes to messages about institutional vs. individual crime. That’s why the recruits have been such a welcome addition to the show for me. While I agree that it’s hard to balance the many, many characters who are currently hanging out in the lair, Team Millennial tends to push Oliver in ways that the OTA no longer can. (Though, they have other strengths as allies and confidantes.) When it comes down to it, Diggle and Felicity love Oliver. They know how far he’s come. Oliver isn’t there yet with the new kids, which means they’re criticism is often less thinly-veiled and their disapproval is more easily won.
Oliver doubts his methods in the wake of Vigilante.
In “Vigilante,” Oliver must face the question of what makes Vigilante, a man who is catching bad guys with less concern about collateral damage or murder, different from Team Arrow. It’s a question that needs asking because it’s a question at the heart of Oliver’s own character development since Season 1. And, as Kovar points out in the flashbacks, villainy is a matter of perspective. “Who gets to decide who’s a psycho and who’s a vigilante?” Evelyn asks, foreshadowing the later reveal.
It’s a good question, and one Arrow sets about answering through Oliver’s discussion with new “friend” Susan Williams. Regardless of what you might think of Susan’s motives (is she just trying to get dirt on Oliver’s past in Russia for a story?), her conversation with Oliver does the superhero good. He worries that he’s not being effective, that his choice to walk the line of mentorship and team-building and mayoral daytime activities will never be as effective as Vigilante’s more black-and-white philosophy: bad guys deserve to die. And, yes, sometimes, the ends justify the means.
The thing is — and this is where Arrow does a good job articulating its point — Oliver has tried Vigilante’s method before. As the recruits refuse to let Oliver forget, he used to be a serial killer. And, after four years of trying to save the city as just a vigilante, Oliver is taking a new tactic by working within the institutions of the city, as well as on the streets. It’s the kind of message Arrow has been missing since Season 1 when Oliver first recruited Diggle by outlining how the city’s institutions have failed the people, have made some of them into desperate criminals. Eric Dunn is the perfect example. As he tells it, he went to jail an innocent man and came out something else. The city’s justice and criminal systems failed him and he became a criminal. Dunn is a reminder why Team Arrow will never be enough on its own and “Vigilante” does a better job hammering home that point than any other episode so far this season.
Ultimately, Oliver chooses to keep to the path he’s on. He lets himself belief that there is a difference between this version of himself and Vigilante. He lets himself believe that he is and can and will do better. That he is working towards something more than he has in the past four years. That justice and good might be a matter of perspective, but there is also such a thing as convenient excuses, as objective morality, and that maybe Konstantin Kovar isn’t the best person to be taking ethics advice from.
And you know what a big difference between Vigilante and Oliver is? Oliver has a team. And, yeah, that’s kind of a cheesy thing to say, but Team Arrow is more diverse and democratic than ever. They make have a snake in the grass, but they’re still many people trying to work out what the best, moral, effective thing to do is. Team Arrow won’t let Oliver slip back into his serial killing ways, and, something tells me, Evelyn might have a harder time than she thinks giving that crime-fighting-by-consensus up.
Thea believes in Lance.
Excuse me, I just got some dust in my eye. Nothing to do with the two characters on my TV screen finding a family in one another even after they have lost so much, even after they have learned to accept grief as normal. Arrow has done a good job with the pacing of Thea and Lance’s storyline this season. They have never been the “A” plot (even when the show is half-heartedly trying to convince us that Drunk!Lance is a secret serial killer), but the evolution of their father-daughter relationship has been a steady “C” plot so far in Season 5. And it really works. Because we have known these two since the very beginning. We have seen them go through so much. And, through all of that, we have seen them keep their humanity in a truly admirable way that most characters don’t get to pull off.
It helps that Paul Blackthorne and Willa Holland have always been two of the strongest actors on this cast. It also helps that Lance and Thea’s characterizations have been some of the most organic and consistent on this show. (Perhaps those last two statements are intertwined.) This show is at its best when it’s saying something about family, especially family that existed before Oliver’s five-year excursion. That’s why it suffered so much when Moira Queen was killed off. We were missing part of that link between Starling City of the past and Starling City of the present. That tension is important because it hammers home how much Oliver and this city have lost.
The relationship between Thea and Lance is an unexpected one to fill this void, but it works. Lance has presumably known Thea since she was a little girl. In the early episodes, he seemed to dislike her as much as he disliked the rest of the Queen family. Their relationship has obviously evolved from there. The heartbreaking, heartwarming scene that sees Thea dropping Lance off at rehab reminded me a bit of a scene we got between Laurel and Lance in Season 1. In “Vertigo,” Laurel convinces her father to make a few calls to help Thea get community service rather than jail time for her drug charges. She tells her dad:
“When I look at Thea, I see Sara’s potential in her. And her flaws, too. Yes, Thea made a mistake, but she’s been through a lot. She lost a father and a brother. She doesn’t need prison. She needs help.” Right now, Lance needs help and it is so fitting that Thea would be the one to be there for them. They’re right. Both Moira and Laurel would be proud.
Bratva and Kovar form an alliance.
The flashbacks were relatively blah this week as they, again, relied a little too much on Oliver’s promise to Taiana, a forgettable character no one ever really cared about. (Sorry, but I don’t believe Oliver cared about her, either.) We met Taiana and Vlad’s mother, and she and Kovar seem to get along really well. Apparently, she’s an idiot because it seems pretty obvious that he is a shady guy. But, hey, maybe she’s playing it cool until she finds out where her kids are. One thousand points to Slytherin if she uses her position as (what I am going to assume is) Kovar’s horticulturist to poison the man. Then Oliver can just go back to Lian Yu and focusing on pushing hair follicles out of his body until that fishing boat shows up.
That being said, it’s still a goddamn delight to see Dolph Lundgren on the screen as Konstantin Kovar. That backlit fistfight between Oliver and Kovar was unlike anything we’ve seen on this show before in its simple brutality. Thematically, Kovar’s lesson that morality is a matter of perspective fit in well with the present-day stuff, even if it seems obvious that we can all agree that both Kovar and the Bratva are probably falling closer to “villainous” on the objective morality spectrum. There, we answered the question for you, Oliver Queen. Both Kovar and the Bratva are bad. Now stop worrying your pretty little head about it.
Rating: ★★★★ Very good
— “What good is a wooden stick if the other guy’s got a gun?” — Rene
— Rory’s quoting Moby Dick to Oliver. Um, how did this guy end up on this team/show? He’s obviously too good for all of us.
— “If the obsessive and really intense look fits.” — Rory, comparing Oliver to Ahab
— “What is it with this city and serial killers lately?” Um, lately?
— Susan says she’s in the midst of a Twitter war with an investigative journalist in Russia. She’s still actively chasing the Oliver Queen backstory then, huh? Fingers crossed that she’ll get bored of the flashbacks sometime during season three and nothing will ever come of it.
— “The city has not gotten over the serial murders last week.” — An actual thing Oliver said.
— “Did you fall off the wagon?” “Well, to do that I’d have to be on it.”
— Curtis is still working on that salmon ladder, huh? Bless him.
— “These guys are definitely my favorite crooks.” — Curtis, on his next Halloween costume
— “We are fighting a war on two fronts.” “At least.” — Felicity may be optimistic, but she’s also a realist.
— “This time last week, all of you guys were pissed when you found out the Hood used to play judge, jury, and executioner.” I love how petulant Oliver gets here. Like, for a second, you can tell that he’s more upset that the recruits were so mean to him than he is that they’re not more upset about the new serial killer in town.
— “The world’s a complex place. Who’s to say who is the monster and who’s the hero?” — Kovar, saying the exact kind of thing a monster would say.
— “You are like family to us, and I’m worried about you.” Thea Queen, being the biggest goddamn hero on this show.
— Thea and Oliver decide that Prometheus knows the Green Arrow’s identity because he is trying to frame Lance, which just affirms that pretty much everyone thinks of Lance as Oliver’s family.
— “Try us. We’re empathetic. Well… one of us.” Curtis continues to kill it with the quips. Also, Rene’s birthday party at the end of the episode totally proves he’s empathetic, too.
— “I’m not here for you.” “Then stop trying to kill us.” — Curtis, to Vigilante
— So, we all think Adrian Chase is up to something? He’s too charismatic not to be either Vigilante or Prometheus. Or both?
— “Then you’re a dead man.” — Vigilante, right before he fires to facilitate his escape into the night and not Team Arrow’s murder. I’m gonna go ahead and say his bark is worse than his bite.
— So many trick arrows in this episode! My personal favorite was the bulletproof net arrow, though I’m guessing Ragman feels kind of sad about that one.
— “We’ve gone over this 100 times already.” “Well, you must be really good at telling it, then.” Thea will always be snarky, and I like that about her.
— “I’ve been to hell and that makes me somebody that you do not want to screw with.” — Adrian Chase, trolling us all.
— “At this time of night, who are you meeting? We’re all here.” — Rene, recognizing that Oliver has no other friends.
— “Your mother would be proud of you.” “Why don’t you go in there and make Laurel proud of you.”
— “The truth is: you’re all this city has.” — Susan, on Oliver. Does she really believe this? Follow-up question: should this be Oliver’s slogan for his next campaign?
— “We have to make this look legit.” I can’t wait to explain that at my arraignment.” — Rory
— Still laughing about Vigilante accusing Oliver of not having lost anyone.
— “Where’s Ski Goggles?” He did slip away very quickly.
— “He will be back, and I’ll get him.” “You always do.” Queen siblings, for the win.
— Big question about the John Jr. birthday scene: Does Wild Dog get any cake? Are Lyla and Diggle just going to make Rene stand over on the other side of the lair as they celebrate?
— “Don’t worry. Nobody followed me. They don’t suspect a thing.” Dammit, Evelyn, and you were one of my favorites. Still waiting to see how this plays out. It’s a fun plot twist that I didn’t see coming and could create some serious emotional turmoil if they make Evelyn torn more than straight-up evil.