Arrow 5×12 Review: 'Bratva'

I’ve grown accustomed to the core elements of Arrow – which have brought it to its current fifth season – being pushed to the side in favor of this “new look Arrow.” I’ve grown accustomed to tuning into Arrow only to find a completely different series than I’ve been watching for four years. I’ve grown accustomed to feeling hope and having that hope dashed when Arrow refused to acknowledge the elements that have made it a success. (Mainly speaking about season 5A. Season 5B has managed to redeem itself in the two episodes before this.)

But in “Bratva,” Arrow was able to beautifully focus on the core elements that have defined Arrow as a series while also dealing with the newer aspects of this season. It was a cohesive story that managed to capitalize on its strengths – Original Team Arrow, the accompanying action, and relationships – while also housing these newer elements.

As a whole, “Bratva” was a damn good episode of television. Probably one of the best episodes of this fifth season. It was a thrilling Russian adventure where everybody got to play their part (except Wild Dog who was left behind because they realize what bringing him would’ve done.) It allowed for some amazing character moments, including some really powerful moments between our OTA – Oliver, Diggle, and Felicity. It actually felt like an episode of Arrow, with some new tweaks.

Well, at least until those last five minutes where it felt like I’d been given the world only for it to be snatched from my hands. When the Arrow writers flashed to a post-sex scene between Oliver and Susan. When Rory told Felicity that he was leaving town because his rags had malfunctioned after taking the blast that saved them all in Russia.

While Arrow is indeed getting better in season 5B, there is still a lot of work to be done when it comes to weeding out the bad elements it has introduced. But the important thing is that it is improving. It is listening to the fans and delivering what they’ve always promised fans. So let’s continue to focus on the positive (and count the days until reporter chick is hasta la bye bye.)

Let’s break this down:

The Heart of Arrow

I could write a thesis paper on the importance of Original Team Arrow to the success and credibility of Arrow. This is the dynamic to end all dynamics. There is no dynamic more important than that between Oliver Queen, John Diggle, and Felicity Smoak.

Way back in season 1, OTA gave Arrow life when it felt like it was losing its soul. It gave audiences a reason to care. It gave audiences a glimpse at a truly special dynamic that has defined my obsession and love for this show. IT. IS. WHY. I. WATCH. ARROW.

Here’s the thing, a dynamic like Original Team Arrow’s isn’t something that a show can easily manufacture. That’s because it runs deeper than manufacturing three characters and their individual bonds with each other and as a family. The real magic rests with Stephen Amell, David Ramsey, and Emily Bett Rickards who have made OTA what it is today.

So it’s been really frustrating this season – and even dating back to season four – when the writers have chosen to ignore that dynamic in place of other, newer, shiny things. You know the old saying – don’t fix what’s not broken. But especially don’t eliminate the element that has defined Arrow since its first season.

So with Diggle finally reunited with his family – Oliver and Felicity – during this Russian expedition, there was an extra umph that was palpable throughout the entire episode. Even in the scenes they didn’t occupy together. You could feel the cohesiveness between the unit with OTA reunited and thriving in their routine.

Then there were the scenes that they shared together. It felt like I was alive again. I’ve been so brutally missing these moments between this special family that has touched me deep in my soul. And “Bratva” really was the perfect time to form a reunion tour between OTA.

Perhaps the most heartfelt and emotional scene of the night came as Oliver stood in front of Diggle and Felicity pleading with them to let him be the one that crosses the line so they don’t have to. Oliver’s greatest fear at this moment is Diggle and Felicity being caught up in this darkness that he’s created and losing them to that. He couldn’t stand it if he lost either one of them to that darkness.

Since the start of this series, Oliver has believed that he’s the worst of the worst. He felt it again in Russia when he saw how Diggle was falling into a hole and heard that Felicity was crossing a line she shouldn’t be crossing. He felt it as he sacrificed his morality – doing a favor for the bratva in order to get the help they needed – so that Diggle and Felicity wouldn’t have to.

Oliver tells Felicity and John that they’re better than him. He doesn’t want them to lose what makes them them. If they get involved in the muck, Prometheus wins. In a way, losing them to this darkness that has plagued him for the past 10 years is almost worse than losing them to death. He cannot let it happen. He won’t let it happen.

But Diggle soon corrects Oliver’s earlier statement. He and Felicity aren’t better than Oliver, they make each other better. Together.

Really incorporating Oliver’s concern for Diggle and Felicity in regards to crossing the line really – finally – drove home the concept of just how terrified Oliver is of what Prometheus has threatened to do. Prometheus is a threat because of the threat he poses to those Oliver loves, especially Diggle and Felicity. If you want to kick Oliver where it hurts – more like drive several knives into his gut – then you go after Felicity Smoak and John Diggle.

For the first time I finally understand why Oliver is scared of Prometheus. I finally understand what makes him different from the other villains. Prometheus’ grand plan isn’t destroying a city, or destroying Oliver, or destroying the world. Prometheus’ grand plan is to destroy the people that have made Oliver the hero he is today. His grand plan is to make Oliver helplessly watch as those that he loves are driven into darkness.

While Diggle was able to step back from that line, Felicity however continues to sink deeper into that darkness. If there was any question about her dark storyline coming to light in the present, there are no longer any doubts. We saw Felicity cross that line that she has lived and fought by. And things are only going to get worse.

And perhaps worse of all – for Oliver, although he doesn’t know it yet – is that he’s going to watch the love of his life slip into the very darkness that he’s fought a decade trying to escape.

Diggle Steps Back

An interesting parallel we’re seeing right now with Arrow is how Oliver is retreating to the lighter side of things – the right side of the line – while Diggle and Felicity, known for their moral codes, are testing their own moral lines.

Diggle is no stranger to stepping over that line. It’s what defined his storyline last season with him killing his brother after he was pushed to his breaking point. And this episode was a nice callback to that as Diggle struggled to maintain his cool as General Walker escaped and threatened to ruin more lives in pursuit of selfishness.

Last season we watched as Diggle was shocked at learning that his brother had betrayed him – and ultimately led to the death of his friend. But it was him threatening to hurt Lyla and Sara that ultimately caused him to react in an immediate and uncharacteristic way as he shot his brother without a second thought. It was a kill-or-be-killed situation. We saw the repercussions of that descent into darkness last season and even to this present moment as Diggle has strived to find redemption.

But General Walker’s escape prompted a nearly identical response. We saw Diggle become obsessed with the notion of taking down Walker. He was not going to let him hurt anyone else. He wasn’t going to risk him doing to someone else what Andy ultimately did that led to Laurel’s death. It pushed him to the brink of verbally fighting with Oliver due to the severe nature of the circumstances, as well as defying Oliver’s wishes and kicking the crap out of their prisoner. And we saw that darkness that had emerged last season reemerge.

There was a moment of reckoning for Diggle as he confronted Walker and had the opportunity to take him out. You could see it in Diggle’s eyes. Then Walker had to go and threaten Diggle’s family, and you had a feeling that was the moment that Diggle would once again kill. Only that didn’t happen. Diggle, who was tip toeing on his moral line, was able to pull back and not give into the darkness. While he wanted to give in, he didn’t. He’s learned his lesson. He wants redemption. He’s going to let justice prevail in the right way.

Felicity Crosses the Line

When you think of the one character that has most always had a strong head on her shoulders and gravitates towards the light in the darkest of situations, you think Felicity Smoak. But as we’re starting to see, Felicity is beginning her own descent into darkness that’s going to shake us all.

If there was any question if Felicity’s exposure to Pandora was setting her on this dark journey, this episode solidified that in all capital letters. This was the first episode that we saw Felicity approach things from a different, less morally correct standpoint.

Given all of the hardships she’s endured dating back to last season – being paralyzed, breaking up with the love of her life, Havenrock, having the love of her life manipulated into killing her current boyfriend, it should come as a shock to no one that Felicity is being pushed to her emotional breaking point. It’s something that we’ve been waiting for because we know that it’s to be expected. You can’t not react to this kind of emotional pain. You can’t keep it bottled up forever. Eventually it’s going to break; you are going to break.

Thus begins Felicity’s spiral into her “Island” as she looked past her moral code and took on more of a “whatever it takes” mentality. In a way, Felicity has kind of approached this as “look what happened when I didn’t go that extra mile. People still got hurt. So why not do whatever it takes if it’s going to produce the results?”

We saw Felicity use Pandora in order to blackmail a Russian into getting information to find General Walker. She had a certain threatening demeanor in her blackmailing this guy, including threatening his family if he didn’t give her the information she needed. It was something that we haven’t seen from Felicity. It was as equally shocking and worrisome as it was kind of badass.

Oliver mentioned that he wanted to be the one to take in the darkness so that Felicity and Diggle don’t have to. And he’s slowly starting to catch on that something is going on with Felicity, only he has no idea how severe it is. And when he learns what’s really happening, it’s going to shake him to his core because for as long as Oliver has known Felicity, she has been the light in the darkness. And having to watch darkness overcome the light is going to destroy him – especially when he realizes there’s nothing he can do to stop it.

Here’s the thing, Felicity’s intentions are good. She wants to defeat the evil of the world. But there’s a right and a wrong way to do that. Usually she recognizes the difference between the two. But right now she’s going about it the “wrong” way.

Felicity is beginning her descent into darkness. Right now she’s standing with this mentality that she’s going to do whatever it takes to overcome the evil in this world. She’s going to become the darkness she never expected. And she’s going to have to fight to overcome it. And get some help from her loved ones.

Rory’s Sacrifice

How stupid of me to find one new character – in a sea of new characters – to grow attached to only for him to be snatched from my hands in the (second) most heartbreaking way possible. In a season that I’ve most despised, Rory was the one new character that made Arrow feel like Arrow. The way his story was intertwined with core member Felicity’s, and the way he was incorporated in a way that never felt overbearing was the one thing that I loved about this season.

So you can imagine how pissed off I am that Arrow has decided to take the one good, new thing away from me. And for what reason? You can’t blame overcrowding. Did you watch season 5A? I understand and respect the sacrifice that Rory made to save his new family, but did that ultimately have to cost him his new family in the process?

You see, Rory’s backstory is one that is so heartbreaking and one that has really hit home with me. And watching Rory – having lost his family – find a new one in Team Arrow was something really special. It was something that I could believe in. But for whatever reason, the Arrow writers decided that enough was enough of a good thing.

After Rory sacrificed himself to shield a bomb from exploding and destroying everything within several miles, his rags lost the power that they possessed. With those powers gone, Rory felt more like a liability than an asset to the team. So he decided that with Prometheus on the loose that it was best to take a step back.

Sure, he says he’ll come back. But who knows how long that’ll be? Who knows if that’ll actually happen? We’ve seen others go and not return. Please, please tell me what makes this one different?

Rory was a character blended into the preexisting nature of Arrow. He’s never felt like he was overstepping his bounds. He felt like he belonged in the story. So it’s damn heartbreaking to have that taken away.

Lance & Wild Dog Bond

Color me not shocked at all that Wild Dog was nominated to stay behind and watch over things – and coach Lance – while Team Arrow went to Russia to take on an arms dealer that threatened to wreak havoc on the world. If there’s a wild card that you don’t want to pose a liability on a mission like this it’s Wild Dog.

At first I found myself questioning what the hell was the point of Wild Dog being in this episode – other than contractual obligations. Him “coaching” Lance for an interview with reporter chick? Really? What the hell made him qualified for that?

But as I continued to watch, I began to see an interesting relationship forming between Quentin and Wild Dog as Wild Dog helped prepare Quentin for what was sure to be an emotionally daunting interview with Susan Williams.

When all was said and done, Wild Dog was the perfect person to prepare Quentin as his personality allowed him to touch on deeply emotional and tragic topics, like the death of Laurel and how that’s been affecting Quentin. Quentin got furious and demanded Wild Dog leave. But after a conversation where Wild Dog conveyed that Susan Williams wouldn’t stray from that topic, Quentin realized that Wild Dog was in fact trying to help him.

But perhaps the most interesting thing about this storyline was the backstory we learned about Wild Dog and Quentin’s connection – and how it goes way back. Turns out when Wild Dog was a teenager and Quentin a beat cop, Quentin stopped him on the streets and told him to make something out of his life. He could’ve arrested him. He could’ve made his life hell. But he gave Rene the chance to make something of his life. It was something I certainly wasn’t expecting, but it actually made me feel real emotions towards Rene. Shocking, I know.

Reporter Chick Gets Dirty

While at first glimpse it might appear that my hatred towards Susan Williams rests solely because she’s dating Oliver. And while, yes, that does bother me, it’s not the only reason why this new, random character continues to irk me with her appearance. If you take away the three scenes in which she appears, this is a near flawless episode of Arrow.

Her earlier appearance, while eyeroll-inducing, wasn’t the thing that irked me. Obviously that came after a solid episode of Arrow that soon turned south when we transitioned into a post-sex scene between Oliver and Susan. It was nausea-inducing. More than that it was this front being presented that Oliver and Susan know each other a decent amount for certain conversations to be happening. But they hardly know each other!

It only took a scene later for us to realize what we’d pretty much were expecting the entire time: Susan appears to be using Oliver for a story. The final scene showed Susan meeting with her informant as she continued to investigate Oliver’s connection to Russia five years prior. She got a look at his Bratva tattoo. There was a photo of Oliver – donning the hood – that was taken during that same time he was there. Being a reporter it was easy for her to connect the dots: Oliver Queen is the Green Arrow.

My only questions are: a) When is Oliver going to find out Susan was playing him; and b) When is this chick going to disappear forever? Bonus: Is this going to force Oliver to reveal his true identity to Star City?

Six Things…

  1. Oliver, Diggle, and Felicity – Original Team Arrow – are the heart of this entire show. It’s about damn time Arrow remembered that and delivered some amazing OTA moments, including a conversation where Oliver told them he’d rather take the darkness for them so that they wouldn’t have to. MY HEART. To quote Oliver: “Me, you, Felicity. We make each other better.”
  2. Felicity ran into Oliver’s arms when she thought they were all going to die. I’m fine. Actually, no, I’m not. Overwhelming Olicity feelings right here. She knew there was a chance they were all going to die, and Felicity ran into Oliver’s arms because if she was going to die she wanted her last moments to be with him.

  1. Why is Arrow taking the one newbie that I actually have grown to love?! At least Rory didn’t die. But why – out of all of the newbies, including Wild Dog – did it have to be Rory? Sure, he says he’s coming back. But who knows when that’ll be – or if it’ll ever be.
  2. I am loving this dark Felicity who is crossing the line. While she shouldn’t have to go “dark” to deserve her own storyline, I do like it’s really pushing her as a character and the moral lengths that she’ll go to prevent a Havenrock from happening again or to protect her family.
  3. I am loving Dinah as an addition to this story. While I still don’t feel like she needs to be the next Black Canary, I’m loving her characterization, her personality, her insight, and her addition to the team.
  4. When is the reporter chick going to be killed off? Or vanished to another Earth? Like the entire episode was AMAZING until her scenes seemed to deflate the momentum that the show was carrying. Now that she’s investigating Oliver behind his back, her true colors will soon be revealed.

Arrow airs Wednesdays at 8/7c on The CW.

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