Arrow has always been the best version of itself when it demonstrates a healthy amount of self-awareness of Oliver’s shortcomings. It’s why the show only started clicking when Diggle and Felicity were first brought onto the team in season one. The show needed in-universe characters to call Oliver out on his weaknesses, on his blind spots. To let the viewers at home know that show was aware that, yes, Oliver was a hero, but he was also kind of a mess.
Oliver is less of a mess in Season Five, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t still have his issues. This show wouldn’t be half as interesting if he didn’t. In addition to the serious trauma he suffered over those five years and since, he is stubborn and a bad communicator and tends to want to do things all on his own. Trust doesn’t come easily to him and he has a tendency to demand too much of the people around him whom he does trust.
When so much of someone’s life is this single-minded mission, they tend to get angry when others take time out for a social life or their other job or, you know, eating. Oliver has always been hardest on himself, but when he takes even a fraction of that anger and self-flagellation out on others, it’s generally enough to drive any sane person away.
“The Recruits” puts this learned tendency to do everything on his own, regardless of whether or not it is the best way or is a burden on those people he loves, under the microscope — to great effect. It might be silly that Oliver is training these random people (especially Curtis), but that is always a suspension of disbelief Arrow has asked of us, and it’s one I am very willing to give. Obviously, Evelyn Sharp, Wild Dog (that really is a terrible code name), and Curtis have never seen a sports movie. The point of the exercise is always to work together. Still, there’s something brilliant about Arrow’s decision to use this We Have To Work Together trope on Oliver. The point of the exercise is not to teach the new recruits this lesson; it’s to teach Oliver this lesson.
As is often the case (especially when John Diggle isn’t around), Felicity is the person who spells it all out for Oliver. (Seriously, Oliver would be back in Season Two mentality without all of the emotional labor handholding Felicity does.) Felicity tells him: “The reason the original team worked so well is because of the trust and respect we had for Oliver Queen. He’s the one I chose to stand by.” One of the bravest choices you can make, both in the real world and in the superhero drama, is to be vulnerable. When Oliver takes off that mask and reveals to his new team who he really is, it’s the bravest thing he’s done in awhile.
Elsewhere in Star City, Thea is trying to hold the mayoral office, and therefore the city, together on her own. The fact that Oliver is giving his sister so little support in a job that he himself is supposed to be doing is no doubt going to come to a head at some point and, personally, I can’t wait. It helps that Thea has recruited someone to help (and someone she can help) in the form of Quentin Lance. It’s a bold choice, but it’s also one that warms the cockles of my heart. Lance has been there for Team Arrow and for the Queens in the past. The fact that Thea is willing to take a chance on him and that Lance, who is in a dark place right now, is willing to accept makes total sense for me. This show has always been about family and Quentin is part of that family. And, frankly, Oliver doesn’t have a leg to stand on when it comes to telling Thea who she can and cannot hire, at least not until he takes his mayoral job more seriously.
I’m not sure if I’m cool with what Arrow is doing with Diggle right now, but I’m willing to see how his jaunt in the military plays out. Right now, tied up and framed for stealing nuclear weapons in Latvia, it’s not going so well. For me, this subplot was the most discordant and least successful part of an otherwise very solid episode. However it was saved by both its thematic tie-ins to the episode’s main action. Firstly, we got to see more of how Havenrock and Genesis Day has affected the world outside of Team Arrow and Star City, which is useful and further grounds this world.
Secondly, Diggle’s own lesson with the failure of a chain of command echoes Oliver’s experience back in Star City. A hierarchical team only works when you can trust the person at the top. We know that Team Arrow can trust Oliver (for the most part), but Diggle learns a tough lesson in trusting the military again. “We don’t have to think about do or don’t, right or wrong. There’s a clarity in that, right? A peace.” This is a scary thought, but it’s not so hard to understand that Diggle doesn’t want to make the tough choices anymore. He’s so tired of making the tough choices. They led to his brother’s death at his own hand. The military has been that for him in the past, but it’s not this time. This time, the particular chain of command he finds himself a part of is corrupt. There’s no such thing as opting out of responsibility, especially on Arrow.
We didn’t get much flashback in this episode, but they were used to moderate effect. I was surprised when Anatoly shot the other men in Oliver’s Bratva class, even though I probably shouldn’t have been. It’s easy to think of Anatoly as the benevolent force that helped Oliver escape the Amazo and helped Diggle get Lyla out of a Russian prison, but he is a Bratva leader. You don’t become part of the Russian mafia by being nice. This is a lesson Oliver has to learn, and one that he is actively trying to fight against in the present. One he has actively been trying to fight against since day one. He can’t save this city on his own. He can’t save his soul on his own, either.
Finally, Prometheus is back and he’s going after Tobias Church. He warns him that the Green Arrow belongs to him, perhaps lending credence to the fan theory that Prometheus could be Tommy Merlyn. (OK, it’s a long shot, but it’s a good shot, too…)
Rating: ★★★★ Very good