Arrow Review 5.18 – ‘Disbanded’
Last week, with four episodes still remaining in the season, Arrow appeared to reach its climax. Oliver confronted Chase, in what could have been a season ending catharsis – Prometheus defeated, The Green Arrow victorious, The Arrow Team a cohesive unit. It would have been a fine conclusion to a story that begun with Oliver questioning his leadership capacity, investigating whatever character tics and flaws compel him to vigilantism. Instead, that episode – “Kapiushon” – was a false ending; Prometheus escaped, with Oliver captive.
It was a risky proposition, for a show that occasionally spends too much time dwelling, explaining, and frowning instead of moving, and doing. Would “Disbanded” be able to credibly continue the Prometheus storyline with any momentum, or be a downbeat diversion as Arrow gathers itself for the season’s endgame?
Remarkably, this episode capably moved the proceedings forward. Of course, “Disbanded” was characterized by much of the overwrought emotional exposition that often plagues the show, but the events of the episode were mostly sensible, and importantly, interesting.
After last week’s torture session, “Disbanded” begins with a defeated Oliver. Ready to disband his team and cede to District Attorney Chase (Prometheus), Oliver is apparently broken – for good – by the forced realization that his vigilantism may never have been anything more than a cover for darker impulses. Of course, Oliver quickly realizes – as the audience realized immediately – that Prometheus has set in motion a contest that won’t end with the waving of a white flag. Oliver appears ready to retire his cowl and occupy the same municipal offices as Chase, cowering in his presence and assuming a facade of normality; until, in a particularly engaging scene in the Mayor’s office, Chase levels a blade at Oliver. The message is clear, but Chase spells it out anyway – The Green Arrow has been destroyed, so killing Chase is now Oliver Queen’s duty. The game isn’t over.
At the lair (rather, the makeshift lair in Felicity’s apartment, Team Arrow is likewise unwilling to lay down arms, despite receiving a crystal clear “stand down” order from Oliver. Following Diggle, the team resolves themselves to continue fighting crime in star city. The episode’s central conflict presents when Diggle and the team respond to a burglary at a pharmaceutical plant, surprised to find Anatoly and Bratva are the ones burglarizing.
Oliver, unwilling to continue as The Green Arrow, has allowed Bratva safe passage in all their seedy Star City dealings – asking in return that they handle Chase.
Here, the episode gets somewhat messy, in classic handwringing Arrow fashion. In short, Diggle and Oliver clash repeatedly over the presence of Bratva, and Oliver’s plan to use the Russian syndicate in removing Chase. By most measures, this plan actually makes sense. Star City has a never ending criminal presence, and in this case, Oliver would have a line of open communication (and, ostensibly, mutual respect – at least until a line was crossed) with the criminals. In exchange, the criminals (Bratva, here) would capably Dispatch Chase for Oliver and Team Arrow. Drug thefts and whatever other crimes of vice Bratva would go to commit could be handled after.
But Arrow, never content to simply show audiences difficult decisions in action, must make the choice a battle for Oliver’s soul, prosecuted with long-winded arguing by Diggle and Oliver. Interestingly, the role of moral absolutism seems to shift in Arrow, to wherever is most convenient in a given week. In one episode, it is Oliver who reprimands Felicity and Thea when they compromise their ethics for a greater good. In another, its Oliver who argues plainly for Diggle to wash away past misdeeds with moral deeds in the present. In “Disbanded”, the parts are swapped, as Diggle attempts to sway Oliver from ethical compromise.
This seems actually pretty straightforward – Team Arrow is a group of friends and peers doing a difficult job, and occasionally they each serve as the voice of reason in the room. Nothing hard to understand about that. Arrow falls into a trap, though, when it begins plotting to illustrate those moral arguments, rather than allowing those moral arguments to shape the plot. Those sound the same, but they aren’t – and it’s important. In “Disbanded”, Oliver invited Bratva to Star City, which compromises his morality. Diggle objects. Fine. Superheroes should at least attempt to be incorruptible, surely. But after that argument, when Bratva is set to ambush and kill Chase, Diggle and the team – operating without consent from Oliver – sabotage the operation, effectively saving Chase. This type of plot development is senseless, serving only that argument between Diggle and Oliver. In this instance, Arrow Team could simply let Bratva kill Chase, then apprehend the Bratva; or, they could just kill Chase themselves, and apprehend Bratva. Or they could just kill Chase and address Bratva later. It’s inane, and not worth thinking about, because the entire sequence is meant only to reflect a literal battle for Oliver’s “soul” (Diggle’s words).
“Disbanded” makes one strong argument, ironically by Anatoly. In this season’s flashbacks, we have seen Oliver and Anatoly framed as strange bedfellows, friends of circumstance – and it seems like Oliver mostly understands that he is fated for a higher, purer calling than Russian crime. In this episode though, the characterization shifts – Anatoly, operating with a distinctly more corrupt code in “Disbanded”, is positioned as a mirror to Oliver. Two men, forced to compromise themselves based on their untenable situations. Both have a level of power that can only corrupt, and a scope of responsibility impossible to fulfill. Anatoly pleads to Oliver in a flashback, fearing what may come of him when Oliver leaves for good. The episode’s present answers that hypothetical. They have both fallen short, both of their codes and responsibilities. Arrow’s characters can’t help but romanticize absolute morality, and insist that how a problem is solved is more important than if it solved. But Anatoly – and the show – seem to disagree; that the most important thing a man in Oliver or Anatoly’s position can have is capable friends who are also willing to dirty their hands.
The episode ends with a small victory for Team Arrow, after Felicity – and her hacker friends – are able to procure video evidence of Chase-as-Prometheus. The police phone the federal marshals now protecting Chase in witness security, with instructions to apprehend. Chase senses the shift, and cooly murders both marshals, driving off to what we can only assume is a final showdown with Oliver and his reinstated team. Oliver, still not ready to don the hood, appears at least ready to take final action against Prometheus.