Arrow S5: E2 – 'New Recruits'

Photo Credit: Warner Brothers Television
3

Arrow began a new season last week by dragging Oliver kicking and screaming towards forming a new team. Now in The Recruits, that team is formerly introduced for the first time, and promptly comes apart before it starts thanks to their fearless and tactless leader. But after about 30 minutes straight of Oliver being as overbearing as possible, he gets taken down a few pegs himself, only to somehow lift himself and this episode up after all.

WARNING: SPOILERS FOLLOW

This week marks the introduction of the Season 5 opening titles and narration, with Stephen Amell somehow sounding even lighter than he did in last year’s titles, even though this is supposed to mirror the dark Season 1. In addition, the “someone else….something else” tagline reappears moments later when Oliver has another less than friendly run in with would be vigilante Wild Dog, only this time with an informal invitation attached.

As revealed already in promos, the new Team Arrow as it stands now consists of Wild Dog, former faux-Black Canary Evelyn Sharp, and a hardly salmon ladder proficient Curtis. Their initiation mainly consists of getting beaten up by Oliver before they can ring a bell behind him, which mainly serves to give director James Bamford, Amell and the stunt doubles for Rick Gonzalez, Madison McLaughlin and Echo Kellum a workout of their own.

This extended routine of Oliver being a less than inspiring and encouraging leader is hard to take for the recruits, an annoyed Felicity, and most likely the audience as well. There is only so much of this kind of Oliver one can enjoy watching, as the show seems to refuse to get through its head every season. Between that and his continuing day job problems as Mayor, where his strategy remains letting Thea doing most of the work, it is far from encouraging.

Obvious parallels are made in the flashbacks, which actually have an impact on the present day storyline two weeks in a row. That usually hasn’t happened until much later in the season, so the show gets at least a B+ for effort. In any case, Oliver is the one that learns the “ring the bell” test the hard way as a Bratva recruit, and turns out to have learned it far too well five years later.

In the meantime, a business deal made between Oliver and a tech company that isn’t Palmer Tech is broken up by another new masked figure. It seems to have tentacles as its weapons, a costume that is only slightly different from new arch-villain Prometheus, and the dubbed name of Ragman. While Cisco couldn’t come up with good meta human names this week on The Flash because he was in mourning, Arrow doesn’t have that good of an excuse here.

By the time The Recruits hits the halfway point, it is no wonder the titular characters have opted out. Yet just before the rest of us can follow in their footsteps, Curtis drops a Felicity level truth bomb on Oliver. It is really a Havenrock-level megaton blast, giving Oliver the exact wake up he and his audience really needed to hear.

Arrow is already in midseason form when it can putter around and test patience for an act or two, then round back into form with one really good scene to wash it out. Usually it does this with an Olicity scene, although that comes as well after Curtis drops the figurative mike.

It is almost like old times as a shaken and easier to reach Oliver actually opens up to Felicity, and she gets through to him further without quite needing Curtis’s approach. The Olicity faithful were in real need of this bone right about now, in addition to bringing back the “Felicity drooling over Oliver on the salmon ladder” running gag. Of course, it only further reinforces the idiocy of keeping Olicity apart in other ways for no good reason besides filling time, as scenes like this did in Season 3.

Hiding behind Amell and Emily Bett Rickards, and trying to prove they can have their Olicity cake and eat it too for one reason or another, can only work so long to disguise the less than promising Olicity signs about this season in the long run, and that doesn’t just include Felicity’s new beau. But it is almost a sign of restraint that when Felicity says she still chooses to stand by Oliver and then gets a phone call, they don’t immediately confirm that it is Detective Malone. Of course, it is most likely implied either way.

The double edged sword of Curtis and Felicity doesn’t quite work immediately, since Oliver still insists on going in against a stronghold of foes all alone. Yet his second encounter with Tobias Church isn’t fought alone thanks to Ragman, who also has a very personal reason to fight as well as an easily mockable name. In fact, it is one that could have been easily guessed 45 minutes earlier, since the “previously on Arrow” segment reminded us of Havenrock.

Oliver and Ragman’s subsequent rooftop talk is rather revealing, and a legitimate sign of character growth in a few ways for Oliver. However, this is still an Oliver who can’t put a few key pieces together, since he is asking the sole survivor of Havenrock to join a team with the woman who actually killed his entire town.

Even with the emotionally estranged state of Olicity, and with Felicity having kept any trauma of the Havenrock disaster from Oliver and herself until now, maybe it is something that should have nicked the back of Oliver’s head in passing as a future problem. But then we would have an Oliver that is too evolved for the show to want to deal with right now, and then we wouldn’t have a few episodes of a Felicity guilt spiral ahead.

To brush past that, things end with yet another unprecedented step from Oliver, and with the second moving Thea/Quentin scene in as many weeks. There’s also the second cliffhanger ending with new villain Prometheus in as many weeks, as he sends a message to red herring Big Bad Church. Given that Felicity may well be in close contact soon with a man whose family she blames herself for killing, perhaps that dynamic will lay the groundwork for Oliver facing an arch-villain who’s said to be created by his own past murders.

By the time Prometheus is actually on Oliver’s radar, Diggle should be back on a more crowded team. The process for his return is laid out when an army mission with its own ties to the aftermath of Genesis goes bad, leaving Dig facing a frame job and a convenient potential discharge ahead. For a while, it looks like they are also using this as another parallel to Oliver’s uninspiring leadership, as Dig takes a nervous soldier under his wing with his traditional big speeches. However, it seems he is a little rusty in making that work as well.

Of course, he is best served using those skills on Team Arrow, although it might be harder with the new people around. The Recruits doesn’t exactly do its job of making them look welcome, albeit to a less harsh degree than Oliver. With Wild Dog a one-note hot head so far, with Evelyn barely even there and with much of the episode about Oliver’s poor job training them, they don’t really have a chance to make a better first impression on us than they do Oliver. Only Curtis does eventually, but he is already known and loved, whereas there’s still a way to go with the three real newcomers.

While the recruits themselves stumble out of the gate, so does The Recruits episode as a whole. Yet all the really good scenes are saved for the second half, eventually balancing out the repetitive nature and Oliver of it all in the first half. Even with Oliver dragging things down early on, the fact that he still pulls some impressive growth out of his suit afterwards still winds up counting for something. How long it lasts until they make him repeat the pattern all over again anyway is another matter.

For this week, New Recruits gets a pretty low rating for its first half and a really high one for its second, averaging out to a 6.5 score that doesn't reflect the official 6 on the TMN.com scale.