Well, Arrow fans, I’m back. It figures that this show got good again the moment I stopped recapping it. In fact, the last two episodes have been so strong that the first half of the season almost felt like a bad dream. Luckily–or perhaps inevitably–this episode reminded me that it wasn’t. Now, that’s not to say “Bratva” was bad. It was fine, but it definitely suffered from the two major problems that hurt the first half of the season.
The first is the whole Russian mob backstory. Considering the show has had five years to prepare Oliver’s Bratva past, the flashbacks this season feel more inconsequential than ever. I mean, this episode directly dealt with Oliver’s present-day Bratva ties and linked them to the flashbacks and I still couldn’t tell you who the bad guys are or why Oliver owes anyone any favors. Maybe it’s because we know Oliver will survive to return to Starling City or maybe it’s because in the present day we’ve seen him fret over reverting to old, violent habits countless times, but the whole storyline lacks weight. With the exception of Talia al Ghul’s (Lexa Doig) involvement, it feels perfunctory, like the necessary last step before we catch up to the moment when we first met Oliver in the pilot.
The second major problem is the sheer numbers of characters. There are so many people in Oliver’s (Stephen Amell) orbit at this point that the show has inexplicably shipped off his sister, Thea (Willa Holland), without any real explanation. She’s just “on a trip.” In the case of this episode, the overabundance of characters resulted in some really disjointed storytelling that separated Team Arrow into little sub-groups. Some of these sub-groups were weaker than others. For instance, the B-plot about Wild Dog (Rick Gonzales) prepping Quentin (Paul Blackthorne) for his interview with Susan Williams (Carly Pope) may have been the worst the show has ever produced.
Much better was the pairing of Felicity (Emily Bett Rickards) and Rory (Joe Dinicol). This friendship may have gotten off to a rough start, but it’s consistently been one of the season’s only good features. As someone who was profoundly hurt by one of Felicity’s vigilante-related decisions, Rory was uniquely qualified this episode to call her out for testing ethical boundaries now. And he had every right, Felicity barely flinched when she threatened a man’s family to get information. I don’t know how dark Felicity can or will get, but the show’s willingness to test the limits of her goodness feels really exciting and full of potential.
Frankly, what made this episode worthwhile was watching our characters flirt with darkness and questionable methods. For Oliver, that’s really nothing new, but it is really striking to see Diggle (David Ramsey) so willing to turn to violence and anger. The simple fact is that these characters work outside the law anyway, so the only thing stopping them from turning into villains is their own sense of morality. It’s a dangerous place be in. After all, superheroes become super villains simply by abusing their power in the name of what they believe is right.
Speaking of ethical gray areas, I suppose I have to acknowledge the fact that Oliver finally slept with that journalist. I know what you’re thinking, “wait, didn’t that already happen?” We all certainly thought so. That’s what a cut during the middle of a make-out scene usually means in television, but this episode began with Ms. Williams wondering why she and Oliver hadn’t done the deed yet. They, of course, reached that particular milestone by episode’s end, but I have already spent more time and care on that moment than the show did so let’s move on.
The big takeaway from their coupling is Susan suddenly remembered she’s a journalist and decided to resume looking into Oliver’s Bratva connection. If this stupid storyline eventually leads to the public getting irrefutable proof that Oliver is the Green Arrow then, maybe it will all have been worth it. OK, that’s not true. There are a thousand better ways this same story could have been done. But baby steps. I can’t expect this show to rebound immediately. It literally just stopped being the worst version of itself two weeks ago.