Friday, 14 October 2016

Review - 'Arrow', S05E02 - 'The Recruits'

The previous episode of Arrow had gone out of its way to introduce us to an Oliver Queen who was clearly struggling to meet the demands of his duel responsibilities. The network of allies he had so carefully cultivated over the past few season had all left or retired (save for Felicity, who still seems just as committed to Oliver's mission as she ever was) – and, he has found himself forced to carry on, alone. Without the guidance and support that these former allies offered in the past, it seems that Oliver has also regressed back to the brutal, and much more ruthless, methods of his first year as Star City's premier vigilante – with his previous promise to avoid killing abandoned, in favour of simple 'practicality'.

As someone who had appreciated the fourth season's early efforts to inject a slightly lighter tone into Arrow, it hadn't been a development that I was all too thrilled with – though, at the same time, thee was also some sense to it. After all, in keeping with his standard behaviour over the past few seasons, it was clear that Oliver blamed himself for the death of Laurel Lance. So now, in his determination to never let anything like that happen again, we have an Oliver Queen who has gone back to being quite comfortable with justifying the deaths of his enemies (though, at least this time, he doesn't seem to be setting out specifically to murder people – so, I guess that still counts as progress).

Of course, one thing that the previous episode also made clear is that Oliver, regardless of how much time he spends in costume, there is simply no way he can protect Star City alone (his efforts to do so have already severely hindered his time in office, as the city's mayor – resulting in an embarrassingly low approval rating). So, despite his reluctance, it is clear that he needs to put together another team.

Coming in to the season's second episode, it is clear that Oliver has finally come to accept that fact, himself – and, thanks to Felicity's efforts on his behalf, he also has a list of potential candidates already prepared for him. Of course, Wild Dog (Rick Gonzales), Evelyn Sharpe (Madison McLaughlin), and Curtis Holt (Echo Kellum) almost immediately begin to struggle both the brutal training methods that Oliver insists on putting them through, and with the fact that he clearly does not trust them enough to train them without his mask.

Meanwhile, in his role as the Mayor or Star City, Oliver encounters new difficulties in the form of attacks on the company that are funding his latest charity efforts – so, it seems inevitable that these two plot-threads are about to intertwine, as Oliver is forced to put his new team to work well before he considers them ready. But, of course, there are further complications for Oliver here, as well – since, as it turns out, the mysterious 'Ragman' (Joe Dinicol) may actually have entirely legitimate reasons for his anger at AmerTek and that the company's CEO, Janet Carroll (Suki Kaiser), may not be as innocent as she initially appeared.

Of all of the new additions to the cast we have met, so far, I would have to say that it is Ragman who strikes me as the most interesting – since, with the clearly supernatural origin of his powers, he presence seems to suggest that Arrow wont be entirely abandoning the magic of the previous season, after all. This feels like a good move, to me. With Arrow currently existing alongside The Flash, Legends of Tomorrow, and Supergirl, it would have felt horribly misguided for Arrow to try for a complete return to the somewhat grounded style of the first season (that's just not the world that these characters live in, anymore). Also, tying Ragman's origin story directly to the nuclear blast that destroyed the small town of Havenrock last season feels like a great way to inject some genuine character drama – especially when you remember that it was Felicity who was, ultimately, responsible for the town's destruction (not deliberately, of course – though, that point might not mean much when Ragman inevitably learns the truth).

Also, the way that so much of Ragman's story seems to parallel Oliver's allows the point at which the two agree to join forces, by the end of the episode, feel entirely genuine – since, they seem to be able to quickly establish a strong bound through their similar experiences.

Regarding the other members of Oliver's new team, though, the results are still somewhat mixed. Echo Kellum has, of course, had plenty of opportunity to turn Curtis Holt into a well-rounded, and genuinely entertaining, character – so, the opportunity to see this character evolve into a true ally of the Green Arrow (and, the comic-book character, Mister Terrific) should be very interesting. Rene 'Wild Dog' Remirez is practically a walking cliche at the moment, though. He is an angry young man, with a huge chip on his shoulder, who is convinced that he does not need any support, or leadership – but, he does seem to have the potential to evolve into something a little more interesting, at least. Evelyn Sharp, meanwhile, simply hasn't had enough screen-time to make any sort of impression – even when taking into account her single episode appearance in the fourth season. But, hopefully, there are plans for her that will remedy that, in the future.

Of course, we are still only at the beginning of this particular story-line – so, I'm sure there is still plenty of time to flesh these characters out, as they inch their way toward becoming a true team.

Along with all of this, we also have another interesting glimpse back at Oliver's time in Russia, where he continues his attempts to infiltrate the Bratva, and keep the promise that he made to Taiana at the end of the previous season. This might only be the season's second episode, but I think that it's probably fair to say that this season's 'flashback' plot-line is already shaping up to be much more interesting (and, relevant) than anything we have seen, over the past few seasons. Here, for example, we have a direct parallel drawn between Oliver's efforts to be initiated into the Bratva, in the past, and his brutal training of his new recruits in the present.

Elsewhere, the episode also finds the time to give us a glimpse of Diggle engaged in a plot-line of his own – as he finds himself in charge of his own team of new recruits, while sent on a mission to recover stolen nuclear weapons. Of course, things quickly go back for Diggle, too, when he is betrayed by his own superior officer. As things stand, at the moment, this is probably the only element of the episode that feels a bit out of place – if only because it seems so unconnected to any of the other events that are currently taking place. On the other hand, though, it is always great to see Diggle engaged in a story-line of his own – and, the story being told is, in itself, a very interesting one. It is also entirely possible that the are some surprising connections between Oliver and Diggle's plot-threads that are still to be revealed to the audience – so, I'm quite happy to simply wait and see where it is all headed, for now.

After two episode, the fifth season of Arrow is already shaping up to be a very interesting one. While I am still not entirely sold on Oliver's return to a more ruthless vigilante persona, I am convinced that there is, at least, some thought behind it – and, that it may lead toward some sort of 'redemptive' story for Oliver, over the course of the season (even if that is a character-arc that he has already gone through, in the past). Overall, though, there are so many other positive elements in this episode, that I am prepared to overlook that lingering issues, for now.

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