Last week, Arrow presented a potentially game-changing revelation about Oliver Queen, intimating the hero has a serious bloodlust that positions him as something of a heroic serial killer. It’s not yet clear whether that last bit was intentional, but considering how hard the series has worked in season 5 to wrestle with the idea of its characters using violence, and sometimes morally questionable violence, as a means to an end in their crusade to save Star City, revealing Ollie’s love for murder seems to be of a still somewhat nebulous piece.
As such ‘Disbanded’ is Arrow‘s opportunity to make that piece a little clearer to the audience, as Oliver finds himself on the mend from his most recent run-in with Prometheus – of which he was undoubtedly on the losing side – and in need of a little personal vengeance. That may well prove to be the element that defines season 5 when all is said and done. This season been marked by its attempts to personalize and encapsulate Oliver’s journey from billionaire playboy to hooded vigilante to the Green Arrow, and following the reveal of Adrian Chase as Prometheus, that effort has moved beyond the idea of a hero protecting his city, becoming instead a very personal attack on the hero himself.
There’s no doubt the series could benefit from a more concise storytelling schedule, but even with the diffuse run of episodes following the show’s winter hiatus, Arrow has managed to sharpen its focus on the overarching narrative, narrowing it to what is perhaps its finest point to date with ‘Disbanded.’ The episode comes on the heels of the series’ darkest hour yet, and as such will have a lot to prove. Not only does it need to demonstrate it can bounce back from the previous episode’s tone by not careening down last week’s slippery slope but it also has to demonstrate it can follow through on its claims about the hero in a meaningful way.
‘Disbanded’ mostly makes good on the events of last episode by positioning Oliver in a gray area in terms of what his next move is. Though he’s still bound and determined to take Prometheus down for good (i.e., kill the villain), he’s unwilling to put the lives or the consciences of the members of Team Arrow at risk in order to accomplish his goal. The result, then, is another episode of Arrow in which Oliver Queen attempts to initiate the end of what he’s worked the last few years to build.
Even that becomes questionable, not only because the standard structure of Arrow prevents the team’s disbandment for much longer than a single hour, but because the events of the past episode have destabilized the audience’s perception of Oliver. The end result, then, is that his call to put an end to Star City’s resident super-team lacks the kind of weight it might have had a few seasons ago or, you know, when Oliver Queen wasn’t thinking of himself as a serial killer.
Still, despite the lingering doubts that Arrow will be able to pull out of this deliberate character tailspin, ‘Disbanded’ actually comes across as one of the more pleasantly straightforward hours the series has produced all season long. Although Oliver finds himself in conflict with Diggle and the rest of the team after he offers Anatoly and the Bratva entry into Star City and, you know, supposedly pulls the plug on the whole Team Arrow thing, the hour doesn’t get as mired in the existence of that inter-team conflict as it has in the past. The result keeps the episode’s story moving on rails, so when Chase confronts Mayor Queen in his office, following some limited posturing with Lance, and its decided the D.A. will need to placed in witness protection, the move actually clears a path for Oliver to wrestle with his demons and begin the process of moving past them.
After last week’s flashback-heavy hour, ‘Disbanded’ is less reliant on looking into Oliver’s past, though it does go out of its way to set up his eventual return to Lian Yu. Mostly, ‘Disbanded’ is determined to slow things down a bit and explore the aftermath of last week’s significant episode, one that painted the hero in a new, decidedly grayer light. That puts Oliver in good company, as Felicity, too, continues down a road of morally questionable decisions. While what she’s doing with Helix pales in comparison to the murderous revelation Oliver Queen recently made, having the two characters on reasonably parallel paths affords the season a more defined thematic through line than it has in seasons’ past.
Arrow returns on April 26 with ‘Dangerous Liaisons’ @8pm on The CW.