How many times can Arrow place Oliver’s soul above the city’s safety? How many times can Oliver take up so much of the space on Team Arrow that he assumes the group is nothing without him and that his motivations are their motivations? At least one more time, apparently. After last week’s stellar episode, which saw Oliver admitting that perhaps, just maybe, he has a killing problem, our hero took his first step as a newly self-aware man by breaking up Team Arrow and making a deal with the Bratva to kill someone for him. It’s always one step forward, two steps back with this guy!
The target in question, of course, was Adrian Chase, and Oliver brought in the big guns to handle the hit: Anatoly and his Bratva. Because apparently hiring someone to kill someone is not as bad as just doing it yourself. (Actually, Oliver’s convoluted logic was that he had to do something Adrian wouldn’t expect to take him out. He couldn’t have dressed in a color other than green and jumped Adrian while he was picking up his Big Belly Burger order or something? This plot explanation reeked of Attempts to Make the Flashbacks Relevant 101).
Ultimately, the move served no purpose other than to further damage the relationship between Anatoly and Oliver, effectively cutting off one of Oliver’s main lifelines/allies outside of Team Arrow. You see, it turns out “self-aware” Oliver is a wishy-washy sort, prone to placing hits and then changing his mind when the going gets tough. To be fair, this man was just tortured, and I don’t believe him when he says he isn’t suffering from PTSD. For Oliver, PTSD is like his shadow. Dude probably doesn’t even notice it’s there anymore, following him around.
Arrow worked overtime this week to pit the disbanded members of Team Arrow against Oliver and his Bratva allies and it really didn’t stick. Rather than just letting the Bratva kill Chase, Diggle led a crusade to “save Oliver’s soul.”
It’s particularly frustrating to see Arrow make such a redundant narrative decision after what has been such a strong string of episodes. Watching Diggle try to convince Oliver for the umpteenth time that he isn’t a terrible person was not particularly riveting. (Especially considering Arrow went to great and effective lengths in last week’s episode to insist that Oliver kind of is a terrible person — or at least has been.)
We’ve seen this before and, unlike last week’s episode, “Disbanded” didn’t bring anything new to the argument. Even before a season that has weirdly sidelined his character, John Diggle deserved more. At a certain point, perhaps Diggle should stop worrying about Oliver’s soul? It just feeds into Oliver’s delusion that Oliver is not only responsible for his own actions, but for the actions of every other person his life touches. Their mistakes belong to him. Their bad choices are his guilt, even if they don’t blame him, even if he had absolutely nothing to do with it.
The idea that Oliver corrupts everyone he comes into contact with in some way is an arrogant way to be a “hero.” It’s an unlikeable way to be a protagonist. It presumes that these characters only exist in relation to Oliver Queen, that they don’t make their own decisions. It robs them of their agency. Oliver robs them of their agency. Arrow has occasionally called Oliver on this presumption before, but not nearly enough and not in this instance, which felt like a major step backwards for the show.
By the end of the episode, nothing much had changed for Team Arrow, other than Oliver’s relationship with Anatoly. Adrian Chase has been exposed as Prometheus, but one doesn’t get the impression this will make taking him down any easier. Team Arrow probably should have let the Bratva take him down when they had the chance (though, preferably, without shooting the cop who was guarding him). Instead, they stopped it all to make a point, to save Oliver’s soul one more time because, in the world of Arrow, that is their chief concern. Not their own safety, the safety of their loved ones, or the safety of the city. Gotta save the dudebro’s soul, even and especially when he is doing everything in his power to self-destructively damn himself, with a very limited understanding of how that self-destruction affects the people in his life.
And what of the Oliver/Anatoly relationship? They gave back their friendship bracelets after tonight’s shenanigans and, while Oliver technically has the higher moral ground in the argument (you shouldn’t kill innocent people or make street drugs, Anatoly), Oliver is the one who comes off looking like a jerk. He asked Anatoly to come kill someone for him, then changed his mind, getting Anatoly’s men thrown in Star City jail, then got mad at Anatoly for being a bad guy. Sorry, Oliver. Did you think the guy you hired to kill someone for you was going to be a pillar of morality?
The narrative instinct to break the Anatoly/Oliver friendship we have seen so steadily and heartwarmingly built in the flashbacks within the present-day storyline isn’t a bad one, but this didn’t feel like the way to do it. It felt like a waste of one of the best things Arrow Season 5 has going. The argument between Anatoly and Oliver could have been more nuanced and organic. Instead, it only served to reinforce Oliver’s (and, apparently, the show’s) beliefs that Oliver is such a charismatic fellow that his influence will inevitably corrupt or inspire the people around him. This is Oliver’s superpower (or super-curse, depending on the day).
In the case of Anatoly, the Russian mobster blames Oliver’s absence for his own darker moral code, even though it was Anatoly in the flashbacks who has always been the one to challenge Oliver’s darkness, who has forced him to self-reflect. It was disappointing to see Arrow throw away what has been a relatively strong flashback relationship in such a way. This falling out between Oliver and Anatoly should have been heartrending to watch, peppered with stronger flashbacks of their closeness in Russia. Instead, it was dull, predictable, and thematically disconnected from what we have seen from these two this season.
Rather than serving as a harsh, tragic counterpoint to the present-day falling out, the flashbacks were a weak, unstructured story of Oliver’s final days in Russia. They are seemingly meant to show a different kind of Anatoly, one who is bolstered by Oliver’s companionship and committed to his Robin Hood mission of helping the people in the community. Instead, they feel like a random bookend to a season of flashbacks that have shown little interest in trying to defend the Bratva as any kind of helpful presence in Russia. No, these flashbacks have never been a defense of the Bratva, so much as a highlighting of just how sick Oliver was when he made his plan to return to Star City, framed by the surprisingly nuanced Anatoly/Oliver friendship. Oy vey.
Rating: ★★ Fair