Arrow 5×18 Review: 'Disbanded'

I’m not going to sugarcoat it. Arrow hasn’t been great this season. It hasn’t even been good. For the longest time it felt like it was a lost puppy trying to find its way home.

And it finally has.

Following what had been one of season five’s strongest episodes to date in “Kapiushon,” Arrow followed with perhaps the best episode of the season with “Disbanded” that set to deal with the effects of Oliver’s being tortured by Adrian and reinforced the heart and soul of Arrow: Original Team Arrow.

Heading into this episode I was nervous because it’s felt like every time I begin to feel optimistic about Arrow, it goes and lets me down. So I had decent hopes for “Disbanded” with the fear that it wouldn’t work out the way I’d planned. (Can you really blame me after this season?)

But it did. In fact, it exceeded my expectations despite the regurgitated storyline involving Oliver pushing people away to keep them safe (that’s so season 3.) But given the fresh take on the matter – how Adrian Chase getting inside of Oliver’s head was so much more believable than Ra’s al Ghul – it was executed to near perfection in an episode that has reminded me of the Arrow that I fell in love with.

Knowing that we were headed into a month-long hiatus, this episode had a lot riding on it. It had to manage to do so much in such a short amount of time. It had to deal with the consequences from the previous episode in which Adrian manipulated Oliver into believing that he was someone who enjoyed killing while also pushing aside the honorable crusade that he’s been a part of. It had to address Oliver’s disbanding of the team while also managing to reunite it despite a vast array of discouraging circumstances. It also had to plant the seeds for the final five episodes of the season while also managing to keep us talking during this four-week hiatus.

And it did all of that.

It felt uncharacteristic of the Arrow that was being presented to us this season, which wasn’t a good one. It felt like a waste of a season. But there’s this renewed sense of hope that Arrow has found that actually makes me look forward to new episodes.

If you asked me if I’d miss Arrow for four weeks just a few episodes ago, I would’ve told you know. But this is the most excited I’ve been about Arrow in a long, freaking time. Not that it erases what the producers have done earlier this season (it doesn’t and nothing will erase it), but it shows that perhaps Arrow isn’t completely beyond redemption. Much like its heroes.

Let’s break down this thrilling episode:

Finding Redemption

There was a moment near the beginning of this episode where Adrian approached Oliver at City Hall, and Oliver told him that he’d already won. To which Adrian replied, What makes you think that? Which implied that Adrian is far from over. Which we know to be true.

Last week’s episode, where Adrian beat Oliver down psychologically, served to force Oliver into a mindset that would essentially force him to become this monster that Adrian believed him to be. We know that to not be true. Sure, Oliver has pushed the bounds of morality at times, but he’s nothing what Adrian manipulated him into believing.

Chase manipulated Oliver into believing he was this soulless killer. He wasn’t. But now this manipulation was forcing Oliver to become just that, as evidenced by him calling upon the Bratva for help. We watched as Oliver made a deal to do something – something very illegal and very wrong – for Anatoly, and in exchange the Bratva would take out Chase.

Oliver had gotten so caught up in this revenge against Chase – wanted him dead but couldn’t do it himself – that he failed to realize that what he was doing – bartering with criminals – was just as bad. He was becoming that old version of himself that we see in the flashbacks in Russia. And I’ll be damned if Adrian didn’t know that.

Oliver was convinced that he was beyond redemption. It’s part of the reason that he disbanded the team. Not only did he believe Chase that this crusade that he, Diggle, Felicity, and others have dedicated years of their lives to was a lie, but he believed that he was corrupting the very people that sought to do good. He believed that he was a disease. He believed that he would only cause pain. (Which is so season 3, but I digress.)

Chase was so adamant about convincing Oliver that he’s this monster that more resembles Adrian than Oliver. But this episode proved why Oliver isn’t that monster Adrian tried so hard to convince him of. Oliver has never killed because he sought it out. He’s usually tried to find another way. And that’s exactly what he did tonight. He didn’t give in to Adrian’s voice in his head. The voice that whispers words like “monster,” “killer,” “liar,” “villain.” Instead, he chose to listen to a voice that he’s trusted for five years. The voice of a person that has known all the good, bad, and ugly. The voice of a friend. The voice of someone who will always stand by his side. The voice of someone who makes him stronger. The voice of John Diggle.

Chase created the narrative, and Oliver ran with it. To the point where Oliver was beginning to be tainted by the very thought of it. To the point where he was pushing his strength – his team – away and siding with criminals. Oliver believed he was beyond redemption. But as we’ve seen on this show, that’s far from the case.

But thankfully Oliver’s brother never gave up on him or the crusade and was eventually able to break through the manipulation that clouded Oliver’s mind. Oliver realized, as he has before, that he’s stronger with his team behind him. Sure, Prometheus might usually be 10 steps ahead. But in “Disbanded,” Team Arrow managed to finally get a step ahead.

Brothers United

One of the best dynamics on Arrow has and will always be between Oliver and Diggle. And it’s a damn shame that we don’t get to see it nearly enough because it’s the stuff of magic.

Throughout the entire course of this episode, Diggle took it upon himself to save Oliver Queen’s soul. He could see Oliver slipping away. He recognized it. It’s what happened to him after he killed his brother last season. There was this sense of hopelessness. This feeling of no return. This feeling of complete and utter loneliness despite being surrounded by people.

Most of this episode consisted of Oliver Queen folding in on himself and pushing those that he cares about away. It’s something we’ve seen before, and quite honestly, we’ll probably see it again. It’s just in his nature. He’s crafted by his experience. Anyway, Oliver fought long and hard to push people away. And while none of them actually gave up on Oliver, they didn’t fight to get him back the way John Diggle did. Felicity was preoccupied with saving Oliver through finding Prometheus while the rest of the team was trying to protect the city in Oliver’s absence.

Time after time, again and again, Diggle sought Oliver out and tried to talk some sense into him. He was the voice of reason, as he always is, as he tried to communicate with Oliver how Chase was merely manipulating him, getting inside of his head. And as Diggle said, he’d never seen someone get so deep inside of his mind. So it was a challenge, but it was one that Diggle was never going to stop fighting for.

Even after the verbal warnings and the punches, Diggle remained. He wasn’t going to give up on Oliver. Never. While Oliver saw no possibility for redemption, Diggle did. When Oliver was darkness, Diggle stepped in to be the light.

So Diggle stepped in to remind Oliver that despite what manipulative crap that Chase has filled Oliver’s mind with that he doesn’t believe any of it. Who is this stranger to tell Oliver — or Diggle for that matter — who Oliver Queen is? Chase can say that Oliver’s a killer that thrives in the killing of it all, but Diggle knows better. THat’s not the Oliver Queen he knows. That’s not the Oliver Queen that has been the best, the worst, the lightest, the darkest. Diggle was there to remind Oliver that he doesn’t need to punish himself. That he doesn’t need to isolate himself from the ones who love him. But he does have to stop pushing people away. If he pushes those he cares for away, then he loses. They all lose.

There was a beautiful parallel between these two brothers that really connected home. Both of them have certainly seen their share of darkness. But much like Oliver fought to save Diggle’s soul earlier this season, Diggle fought to save Oliver’s. When Diggle was willing to subject himself to lifelong imprisonment or even death because he felt like he deserved it, Oliver was there to remind him that redemption was possible. He kept coming back. Even after Diggle fought against it. Oliver never gave up on Diggle. And he made sure Diggle knew that.

And you bet your ass that’s something Diggle will never forget. He told Oliver as much. If Oliver can stand by Diggle at his darkest and promise redemption, why can’t Diggle do the same for Oliver? If Diggle proved that redemption is possible, then why can’t Oliver?

 “Oliver, you and me we’re not over. We are never going to be over! I know what kind of man you are Oliver, the good, the bad and the ugly. You don’t need to punish yourself, or isolate yourself, but what you do need to do is to stop pushing me away because I’m not going anywhere!”

There is nothing that Oliver Queen could ever do that would push John Diggle away. Sure, they’ve had their differences and their fights. But it hasn’t damaged their relationship. It’s strengthened it.

Their love and brotherhood, which was the emotional driving force of this episode, was ultimately the reason why Oliver was able to find his way back to the team. Because Diggle never gave up on him. Just like Oliver has never given up on Diggle.

Felicity Goes Hard at Prometheus

Felicity’s descent into darkness this season has been fueled by her desire for vengeance. While it might’ve started with Billy’s death, there’s no doubt that the driving force behind her intense manhunt for Adrian Chase is Oliver.

We’ve progressively seen Felicity grow more and more away from the team as she’s been caught up in Helix and their willingness (huh) to help her in locating information, like the location of a loved one or a video of Star City’s big bad being unmasked as Adrian Chase.

One of the things I’ve really appreciated about how Arrow has handled this storyline is that it wasn’t something that was rushed into. It didn’t all happen in one episode. Or two. Or three. Hell, even four. This has been unfolding for a solid chunk of episodes and is showing the full journey that Felicity is taking to her island. It wasn’t something she dove headfirst into. But as the increased demand for information flourished and she found herself getting lost in the allure of hacktivism, it’s all led her to where she is now. Which is someone who will stop at nothing to protect the ones she loves.

And right now, that loved one is Oliver.

Felicity’s latest adventure, which included a cameo from Curtis who tracked her down, led Felicity to uncovering a video of Prometheus being unmasked as Adrian Chase. Basically, this is what they needed in order to get one step ahead of Adrian. He’s been anticipating and expecting every move so far. But even though he managed to escape the two guards, this wasn’t something he planned for. So he’s playing it by ear right now, which makes this the perfect time for Team Arrow to get back in business.

It feels like everyone and their mother – namely Diggle, Curtis, Rory, and even Dinah – have noticed that something is off with Felicity. And they’ve showed concern for what she’s getting into. But the one person that hasn’t noticed nearly enough is Oliver. Sure, he’s had his own stuff to deal with. But he’s typically perceptive when it comes to Felicity of all people, which is going to shock him when he learns the truth.

But it looks like in the next episode (airing April 26) that Felicity is truly going to go rogue. Felicity’s island might be different than Oliver’s or Diggle’s, but it’s still an island that brings out the worst in you and where you must fight back in order to come out on the other side. But also, you have to be open to redemption and willing to accept help from others. Given that Felicity has saved Oliver so many times, if there’s anyone that can save Felicity, it’s Oliver.

Who’s the Monster Now?

While the flashbacks have usually failed to serve a purpose in the present, I have to say that these past two weeks have swayed me in regards to this season. In the flashbacks we’re seeing Oliver become a monster as Anatoly fights to remain the man that he is. But in the present, we’re seeing a changed Oliver that’s being manipulated into believing the worst in himself and Anatoly who has literally become the worst of himself.

Over these last few episodes, we’ve seen Anatoly (in the flashbacks) hone in on Oliver choosing to give a name to the monster inside. How he was giving life to this monster through giving it an identity. We’ve watched as Oliver has slipped more and more as the line of what is right has virtually disappeared.

These flashbacks serve as a parallel to the present. They’re not supposed to depict the same Oliver. They’re supposed to show us the man Oliver used to be, and the man Oliver is in the present. And, spoiler alert, those two people are not the same.

And you could say that we’ve seen the same with Anatoly. For a captain of the Bratva, Anatoly has been incredibly kind hearted. How he would plead with Oliver not to kill and look upon him in horror at the things he was doing. You could say there was a gentleness to Anatoly that existed. But he, too, like Oliver has changed. Only he’s taken the opposite path.

While Oliver’s heroic journey began at his worst, he battled through the good, the bad, and the heartbreaking to get to the point where he was a hero. While he’s not a fully fledged hero yet, he’s progressed extensively.

Meanwhile, Anatoly’s villainous journey began at his best, as he was forced to confront life without Oliver Queen to help keep him on track. It’s led Anatoly to become the worst version of himself. A man that discredits friendship, threatens the lives of innocents, and represents the worst in the world.

So as Anatoly questions Oliver about this monster inside of him, I have to ask: Who’s the monster now?

I have to actually applaud Arrow for teasing two separate threats in Star City now. Not only does Team Arrow have to contend with Adrian, but they also have to deal with some very pissed off and lethal Bratva members that will be sticking around. Not to mention the matter of Helix. My God, who to fear most?

Five Things…

  1. The Oliver and Diggle scenes brought us the best moments of the season. If it’s possible to be closer than brothers, then Oliver and Diggle have reached that status. There is ;literally nothing that either of them could do to push away the other permanently. Their love and brotherhood really was the driving force behind this episode – and ultimately why Oliver found his way back to the team.
  2. I’d like to reiterate that this crusade hasn’t been just Oliver’s for a long time. Oliver was demanding Diggle call off the team. But he fails to forget that this crusade is not HIS, it’s THEIRS. When they signed on, they signed on for themselves. That’s what makes them a team. That’s what gives them something worth fighting for.
  3. So can we all agree that Felicity is pushing this hard at Prometheus because of Oliver? Sure, Billy’s death might’ve jumpstarted it. But after seeing what Prometheus had done to Oliver both physically and psychologically, there was this ferociousness that guided her. She loves him so much. God, my heart.
  4. Prometheus is the greatest villain that Arrow has ever had. Okay so I’ve been thinking it for the past two weeks, but this episode really cemented it for me. There’s this psychological threat that he poses that is beyond terrifying to comprehend. Even when it looks like he’s about to lose, he finds a way to pull through and remain eerily calm that is beyond chilling. Josh Segarra has been simply incredible. (And we’ve still got five more episodes with him!)
  5. I’m actually excited for Arrow and actually sad that we have to wait a month for more. Which is not something I thought I’d be saying after this season. I thought I’d be relieved. But this hiatus is actually going to make me angry. God, I missed this.

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

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