[This is a review of Arrow season 4, episode 7. There will be SPOILERS.]
Every now and then, when Arrow spends the better part of an hour pushing pieces around the enormous game board that is its 20-plus-episode season, the series strikes gold either thematically or on a character level. And yet it's odd that 'Brotherhood' would serve to be the sort of place-setting endeavor that sees the series firing on all cylinders. This is especially true given it features the third character resurrection in season 4 alone – someone the audience has only been introduced to in the past tense – and because the hour is actually a surprisingly action-packed one, with more than one multi-character fracas taking place under the watchful eye of some engaging camera work.
'Brotherhood' is not a subdued episode by any means, but it does feel more relaxed than the rushed or unevenly paced episodes that have aired recently. That likely has more to do with how well balanced the hour is in terms of its objectives. Whereas previous efforts have seen members of Team Arrow either working at cross-purposes or in secret, there is a greater sense of synergy here that helps the plot flow in a single direction and stay that way. Occasionally, creating conflict amongst the group or splitting them up within their own plots generates intrigue or tension, but this episode definitely proves the opposite can sometimes produce equally entertaining results.
Most of the hour divides its time between Oliver's mayoral campaign shifting into high gear and Team Arrow's search for Diggle's long-thought-dead brother, Andy. The Andy plotline is tricky, as it pushes the series into some incredibly familiar territory and threatens to make the idea of death completely irrelevant to the series. Bringing back Sara and Ray to the land of the living wasn't much of a surprise, as the ads for Legends of Tomorrow were running long before one of them presumably kicked the bucket and more or less foretold the other's imminent return. But Andy is different – and not just because he's not a superhero or masked vigilante. Andy is a key part of Diggle's backstory. His death is partially what motivates and defines Diggle to do what it is that he does, and his return, therefore, drives the story in a considerably different way than the very comic book-like return of two heroes.
As much as it felt like Arrow was giving its returned characters short shrift by bringing them back and then shuffling them offscreen, to have unseen reunions with their sister or ex-lover, 'Brotherhood' is able to take advantage of Andy's outsider status to focus the tension of his return on Diggle and Oliver. Normally, this might feel as thought the series was doing a disservice to Andy, but it's actually a fairly shrewd move, as it allows the writers to use a conceit like revealing a character previously thought dead to be alive as a way of exploring the brother-like relationship between two other individuals. This exploration is only strengthened by the recent difficulties in Ollie and Digg's relationship, which is the bedrock on which all of Team Arrow stands.
The challenge of Diggle's reaction to the news of Andy being alive, then, is in portraying how divergent his response is from what's expected, without making Diggle seem cold or downright mean. His anger at his brother, both for what he's discovered about Andy's unlawful past and for having abandoned his wife and child – mind-control drugs notwithstanding – for the past eight years is actually in keeping with the character. This reestablishes Diggle's role as the moral center of Team Arrow, and make his plea to Oliver regarding a possible deal with Damien Darhk resonate even more and feel far less scold-y than he has this season.
So many heroes nowadays walk a fine line in their heroism, often going to extreme lengths in order to get the job done – as seen in Oliver's early quest to save the city and even more recently, when he attempted to handle the League of Shadows from the inside. Diggle's black-and-white morality is the element that tempers Oliver's whatever-it-takes attitude and convinces him that, at a certain point, a hero has to confront his foe in the light of day.
Not only does this very brotherly advice/admonishment underline the episode's literal and figurative approach to brotherhood – especially as it pertains to the familial nature of the Team Arrow dynamic – it also successfully braids Oliver's mayoral thread in quite nicely. Ever since Oliver announced his candidacy, the show has been eking out Oliver-as-mayor story elements piecemeal, giving some attention to his campaign strategy by introducing Parker Young as his advisor/Thea's new love interest. But other than that, the notion has seemingly been kept in a vacuum.
That all changes in 'Brotherhood.' Not only does the episode spend time with Oliver in his civilian role, but it also demonstrates he actually has an idea for the city beyond sneakily helping it out as a hooded vigilante. It also represents the need for Oliver to split himself in a way he hasn't had to since he stopped keeping secrets from those closest to him. Being confronted by Damien Dahrk and given a proposal/ultimatum is tempting to the dominant superhero part of Ollie's brain. He sees it as an opportunity to bring Darhk down from the inside of his organization, until Felicity reminds him his campaign for mayor was supposed to be about more than stopping another bad guy; it was about rebuilding the city he had sworn to save. The result, then, legitimizes the Oliver-as-mayor storyline and turns it into something that has its own distinct heartbeat and is able to sustain itself regardless its affiliation with the season's A-plot.
The same goes for the episode's B and C-plots. Ray sets himself up for adventure in Legends of Tomorrow by feeling as though his life lacked meaning before the explosion that nearly killed him. This is a lot like Sara's abrupt departure in that she, too, went off in search of herself after being granted a second chance. Thea's plot is a little different in how it resurrects the bloodlust thread, but uses it to the character's advantage against Darhk. It seems a little early in the season to establish one of the Big Bad's weaknesses, but Arrow has been taking an unconventional route with regard to Darhk all season long and the results have been pretty good. There's no reason to think it will go off the rails now with this intriguing wrinkle.
Arrow returns on December 2 @ 8pm with its half of The Flash/Arrow crossover 'Legends of Yesterday' on The CW. Check out a preview below: