Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Review - 'Arrow', S05E12 - 'Bratva'

The fifth season of Arrow has felt like a rather strange one for me, so far. While there is no real denying that it represents on overall improvement in quality over the fourth season, in a variety of ways, there have still been some aspects of the season that have genuinely bothered me.

First of all, there is the fact that Prometheus, despite coming across as a genuinely intimidating and effective new villain in his first couple of appearances, has become increasingly absurd with each over the course of the season (his methods of tormenting Oliver have, so far, been increasingly outlandish and convoluted, in a way that feels almost comical – despite the fact that we clearly aren't meant to see it that way).

Another issue I have with the season, so far, concerns John Diggle – a great character whose arc, throughout the season, has felt like a bit of a mess. With the initial plot-point of Diggle being framed for a crime that he didn't commit, it all started out fairly well – but, then, we have had him breaking out of military prison, only to end up in a different prison, before being suddenly released due to the power of Felicity's new, and already kind of annoying, 'hacktivist' contacts. Overall, it just hasn't been an especially satisfying narrative arc.

While I'm not entirely sure what the writer's could do to salvage Prometheus, for me, this episode does attempt to bring Diggle's character-arc to a satisfying close, at least – with the team forced to turn travel to Russia, where they have learnt that General Walker (Garry Chalk) intends to sell his stolen nuclear warhead to terrorists. As new developments go, this is one that definitely raises the stakes for Diggle, and the rest of the team – with the team's desperate race against time adding an element of genuine tension to the episode. And, this element of dramatic tension is definitely used to full effect – even if the result is that some of the show's more likable characters found themselves pushed in increasingly difficult directions.

With his love of cold-blooded murder, back in the first season, Oliver Queen has been a morally compromised character right from the start, of course (to the extent that the rest of the series has seemed set on convincing us that he can still be thought of as a true hero, in spite of that). With this episode, though, we have clear evidence that both Diggle and Felicity are each more than capable of finding themselves morally compromised, in their own ways – with Diggle driven to attempt to beat information out of a prisoner, while Felicity rather callously threatens the lives of another man's family (she was bluffing, of course – but, it was still a stark contrast to her usual behaviour). It was definitely a very deliberate character-arc for each of them. Each of them faced a very similar challenge, as their long association with Oliver, and the desperation of their current situation, seemed to weigh of them – and, while Diggle seemed to pass his own personal test by the end of the episode, it still remains to be seen exactly how far Felicity's new-found 'hardness' is going to take her.

Of course, while all of this probably sounds interesting on paper, I did have some issues with the way in which it was executed throughout the episode. David Ramsey has always been genuinely likable in the role of John Diggle, there have been times in which his efforts to portray a John Diggle struggling to control his anger has fallen into over-the-top scenery-chewing – and, that proved to be the case, here. Felicity's surprisingly cold 'Russian spy' performance, on the other hand, was actually entirely convincing, even if it was ultimately a calculated bluff designed to get the information she needed.

While the team's efforts to stop General Walker was the main focus, here, there were still many the interesting aspects to this episode. For one thing, this might actually the most direct connection we have ever seen between a season's primary plot-line and its 'flash-back' sub-plot – as, Oliver was forced to renew his Bratva contacts, in the present day. While it was definitely interesting to see Anatoly (David Nykl) outside of the context of this season's flash-backs, it was a little disappointing to see that the episode ultimately didn't seem to make the most of the opportunity (although, to be fair, it seems as though this is unlikely to be the last we see of the Bratva in the present day story-line).

As a part of the episode's primary plot-arc, both Rory Regan and Dinah Drake were well-served by this episode, also. Rory's supernatural abilities ultimately proved to be the key to victory, even if the cost proved to be high, while Dinah Drake's 'no-nonsense' attitude allowed her to further cement her position on the team.

Meanwhile, back in Star City, Quentin Lance reappeared, after his time in rehab, seemingly fully committed to resuming his duties as the city's deputy mayor. While, admittedly, a sub-plot concerning Rene's efforts to help him prepare for a difficult television interview wasn't especially interesting, on paper, it did serve as the basis for some great scenes between the two. Hopefully, this is the start of a positive arc for Quentin Lance – because, honestly, I think that the character has already suffered enough.

Overall, by separating itself from the somewhat underwhelming 'Prometheus' story-line, the twelfth episode of this season of Arrow managed to bring Diggle's sub-plot to what seems like a genuinely satisfying close (although, to be fair, I'd be surprised if this was the last we saw of General Walker). It was an episode that, as with the best of Arrow in the past, combine entertaining action with some genuinely great moments of character-driven drama.

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