Whatever concerns I might have had about Arrow’s ability to stick the landing after “Kapiushon” is now gone in the wake of tonight’s episode. Last week’s review suggested a reason we had never really seen Oliver’s most monstrous aspects during his time in Star City is that he had John Diggle and all his subsequent allies to pull him back from the brink. And right on cue, tonight’s episode is about Diggle refusing to let Oliver lay down after his ordeal—or, worse, take an action for which there can be no forgiveness, like calling out a Bratva hit on Adrian Chase. David Ramsey is only occasionally asked to play something more complex than the team’s sardonic steadying presence, and he turns in a series-best performance here, bristling with intensity as he tells Oliver they aren’t done and will never be done. Crucially, though, Diggle’s stated motivations in keeping the team together extend beyond just looking out for Oliver. Sure, he wants to save Oliver’s soul, but he also recognizes there’s a whole city out there that still needs saving. Diggle absolutely cares about Oliver as a friend and brother, but he retains his sense of mission.
And here’s a point: The title Arrow has only truly made sense for about a two-year period in the show’s run. Not that I’m suggesting the show should constantly rename itself—I realize how marketing and (shudder) branding work—but if there were any demand for accuracy, the first season would have been The Hood, the second and third seasons would indeed have been Arrow, and last year would have been Green Arrow. This year, though? Tonight underlines how the only appropriate name is Team Arrow. (Or, if we feel like actively courting a lawsuit, there’s always Oliver And Company.) The season has been gradually setting the terms of engagement, and “Disbanded” underlines it: Oliver is not the person he wants to be without his friends. It’s almost odd to think that it’s this year the show has become a true ensemble, considering Rene, Curtis, Dinah, the erstwhile Rory, and the traitorous Evelyn hardly bring the star power of a Roy Harper or a Laurel Lance—hell, even Thea has spent most of this year on the periphery. But Oliver’s commitment to building up his new team as worthy allies has helped reveal just how much he depends on them.
“Disbanded” offers plenty of action, with several factions plotting various capers. There’s Oliver and Anatoly, along with the latter’s Bratva forces, come to America to kill Adrian Chase and steal drugs. There’s what you’re damn right I’m calling Team Diggle determined to stop both from happening. There’s Felicity and her hacker associates at Helix, who surely have one hell of a heel turn in store for us before all’s said and done. And there’s Adrian Chase himself, who makes it clear to Oliver that he is far from finished. The episode could easily feel overstuffed and convoluted, especially in a final act that sees the team splitting up to pull simultaneous heists, along with the occasional flashback to Oliver and Anatoly’s last big score as friends in Russia. But “Disbanded” just about pulls it all off, at times even contrasting Felicity and Curtis’ relatively humdrum break-in to Kord Industries with the much more violent confrontation between the rest of the team and the Bratva. There’s a lot going on here, but everything feels in service of showcasing the much bigger cast Arrow has built up, friends and enemies alike.
Speaking of someone who has been both friend and enemy, since when did Arrow master how to do its flashbacks? For most of the past five seasons, the typical Oliver flashback plotline followed a fairly rigid structure. The present-day sequences would quickly establish a theme for the episode. The show would flash back to Oliver experiencing something five years ago that tied into that theme. Oliver would either learn something in the past that informed his handling of the present, or he would learn learn something in the present that would illuminate how little he understood back then. Like most anything else, even such a reductive formula could work with compelling writing, which was often present in season one and especially two but largely missing in seasons three and four. But this isn’t what happens tonight. In “Disbanded,” the resonance between storylines creeps up on the viewer, growing deeper than a superficial comparison between Oliver and Anatoly’s relationship in 2017 and in 2012.
The audience isn’t told immediately the nature of Anatoly’s interest in these two shipments, with Rene first recognizing one of the drugs as a diabetes treatment. It’s then that the pieces start to come together, with Anatoly’s efforts in Russia to secure a tuberculosis treatment for sick kids with his present-day efforts to obtain the pieces needed to produce a street drug more vicious than heroin. At this point, Anatoly’s story plays as a minor-key version of Oliver’s own struggles, as another once good man reveals how corrupt he has become. It’s only then, once Arrow has shown us the difference between past and present Anatoly that the former punches the audience in the gut, as he admits to Oliver that he worries what will happen to him once his American friend leaves. The tragic fall becomes explicit, tying back into the importance of the company one keeps. Oliver wouldn’t have found his moral footing without Diggle beside him. With Oliver gone, Anatoly lost his, as he was forced to make ever more terrible decisions to maintain his position as leader of the Bratva.
This is storytelling perfection, with David Nykl beautifully delineating his performances as the two versions of Anatoly. The younger man already understands far too much of how the world works—after all, he was wise enough to know precisely what would happen to both Oliver and himself if they stayed on their present courses—but he has about as much idealism and optimism as any leader of the Russian mafia could have. He notes Bratva once served the people and could do so again. But the Anatoly of today doesn’t even pretend to care about such lofty principles. Bratva needs money, and he needs to secure it to maintain his leadership. The impossible challenges came, and the one friend who made him believe there were always alternatives—admittedly because said friend was prepared to kill people in really innovative ways—was no longer there to help him. Left with no other option, Anatoly made the brutal choices he felt he had to.
Let’s just step back and think about what that means. The point Prometheus has made again and again is that Oliver’s mere presence corrupts those closest to him. Anatoly’s story doesn’t exactly disprove that, but it does prove the converse: He became corrupt because of Oliver’s absence. “Disbanded” then is another brilliant illustration of the point this season makes with increasing confidence, that all these characters are only as good as those they call their allies. Anatoly was left to go it alone, and he became lost. Oliver found friends like Diggle, who won’t ever let Oliver get lost. Holy crap, is this season good.
- Sorry, random Bratva guy who jumped up on the lowest ledge of that shelf to attack Oliver: That kind of parkour might fly back in Russia, but it isn’t going to impress anyone in the jumpy house that Roy Harper built.
- I’m really going to need an Anatoly redemption arc, preferably one that doesn’t end in his death. David Nykl is just way too likable for the show to not find some way to bring Anatoly back from the brink. I mean, I’d also say the same for Slade Wilson, if Arrow could ever get permission to use him again. (Which, given the ever-shifting plans of DC’s film universe, doesn’t feel utterly impossible.)
- That’s it for about a month. I’ll see you at the end of April for the home stretch. I haven’t been this optimistic for an Arrow endgame in a long, long time.