Arrow: 5.12 Bratva
The flashbacks this season are arguably the strongest they have been since season two and the recent arrival of Talia Al'Ghul and Oliver's transition into the bow and arrow hooded hero we all know has taken the audience a huge step closer to the man we first saw in the pilot episode. Coupled with the darker, grittier return to its roots, the flashbacks have helped Arrow find a confident return to much of what made it so enjoyable in those first two years.
At the midway point of season five, Bratva should have been the crowning glory of the season so far, with present day Oliver and company travelling to Russia and reconnecting with the Bratva and Anatoly Knyazev. And while there were some great moments the episode, it just didn't seem to reach the heights it was hoping for. Maybe I haven't really bought into the corrupt general storyline; it seemed so disconnected with everything else in Star City. While offering up the chance for the team to head into hostile territory to stop the nuclear arms sale to terrorists, I still don't feel as if General Walker's motivations have ever been fully explained.
What I did like was how Russia seemed to bring out the darker aspects of these heroes; Oliver found himself drawn back into a Bratva intimidation job just to get back into Anatoly's good books and find out where Walker was holding the arms deal. Diggle descended into violence, beating the prisoner in search of answers, while Felicity, using the Pandora files she obtained from the hacker group last episode, threatened a corrupt official with the murder of his family by revealing his dodgy dealings to the Kremlin if he didn't give up his secrets. It took an outsider, Dinah, to call out Oliver on his issues; the past makes us who we are.
Juliana Harkavy has made a good edition to the ever expanding team. Though sadly, this might be the last we see of Rory for a while. I have loved the addition of Rag Man this season, though he has been used far too sparingly , perhaps because realistically he could take out a whole room with his killer robes. He got a cool hero moment this week, absorbing the blast of the nuclear device Walker had activated. The explosion damaged his rags for good, forcing Rory to leave the team. I hope he finds a way to get his powers back but for now Rag Man will be missed; though Joe Dinicol needs to bring more oomph in his performance as Rory Regan.
Harkavy's Dinah Drake aside, the one fundamental issue with this season that hasn't really gone away is that the new characters still don't feel like great replacements for the previous heroes on team Arrow. Rory is a bit of a wet fish when he is out of his rags, Curtis still feels more suited to being Felicity's hacker skilled right hand man than the masked Mr Terrific. Evelyn's traitorous Artemis was also a bit of a non event and it has taken a long time for Rene Ramirez's Wild Dog to grow on me. But grown he has; his cockiness has subsided a bit and I felt a little sorry for him being sidelined from the Russian trip this week in case he (understandably) caused an international incident. Becoming Quentin's aide in his first public interview post-rehab seemed like a bit of a stretch but there was some nice interplay between the two characters.
While the present-day Russian Bratva storyline seemed a bit of a damp squib, the flashbacks were far more successful as Oliver continued his ascent to hooded vigilante at the guidance of Talia Al'Ghul. Tracking down drug dealer Hideo Yamane from his father's list and sticking three arrows in his chest, Oliver delivered the line "you have failed Starling City" for the first time - the second full circle moment to the pilot in two weeks. I'm intrigued to see how this all ties back to the revenge against Konstantin Kovar, Bravta and return to the island storylines that this season needs to address before the finale. My only concern is that the Russian story arc has played its hand too soon, particularly as Kovar feels like a deviation from his current path towards becoming the Arrow.
Finally there is Susan Williams; I'm not completely sure of her intentions, is she using Oliver to get a great story or does she genuinely like him? Either way she has pieced together that Oliver didn't spend the full five years on Lian Yu and has now connected the dots between his Bratva tattoos and the hooded vigilante in Russia. Just what she will do with the discovery that Oliver Queen is the Green Arrow will make for some interesting developments in his public persona as Star City's mayor. Between her investigations and Prometheus, is it all about to start come crashing down around him?