[This is a review of Arrow season 5, episode 2. There will be SPOILERS.]
Arrow season 5 got off to an optimistic start last week with 'Legacy.' The episode managed to establish the status quo of nearly everyone now that Team Arrow has been reduced to just Oliver and Felicity, and where most of the crew is emotionally, as the episode made a point to remind those watching about the death of Laurel Lance. Rather than pull at the heartstrings or simply gloss over her final moments with a simple flashback – because we all know just how much this show loves its flashbacks – Arrow opted to use Laurel's mysterious last words to Oliver as a device to get the plot rolling in terms of his recruitment of a new team of vigilantes tasked with protecting Star City.
Although 'Legacy' had plenty on its plate, what with the inclusion of Oliver's indoctrination into the Bratva, an exciting tussle with Chad L. Coleman's crime boss Tobias Church, and the mysterious introduction of big bad no. 2, Prometheus, the episode didn't waste any time in terms of making sure Oliver's list of "potentials" was given some screen time as well. Of those potentials, Wild Dog made the biggest splash, but only because he wound up on the Green Arrow's bad side and earned a perforated leg for his troubles. Meanwhile, future Mister Terrific Curtis Holt had a little misadventure with some Star City hoodlums that convinced him now was the time for him to become something more than Team Arrow's tech guy.
The result, then, is 'The Recruits', which works to present Oliver as something of a mentor – or, really, more like a really cranky high school football coach – as he works to bring three greenhorns onto the all-new, all-different Team Arrow. Although it takes on several familiar training sequence motifs, the majority of Oliver's early work with Holt, Evelyn Sharp (Madison McLaughlin), and Rene Ramirez (Rick Gonzalez) becomes a reflection of his time as a vigilante and his maturation from stone cold killer on a mission to… well, something else. In a sense, the training sequences in the hour work to mirror Oliver's other role as mayor of Star City. Granted, the various responsibilities of the two positions are radically different, but to Arrow's credit, the series has managed to be consistent in its depiction of Oliver as a leader so far this season. Sure, it's only been two episodes, but despite ample opportunity to do so, there hasn't been much evidence of Oliver or his vigilante counterpart backsliding into what he once was.
Oliver's decision to create a new team and to train them with some of the same methods he was trained when being brought into the Bratva is admittedly strange. There's a sense that Oliver learned very little from his time with the previous Team Arrow, and is in many ways stuck in a holding pattern with regard to his role as the city's sole protector. Oliver has a history of refusing help and failing to be the sort of leader his team needs him to be because he's so focused on being the Green Arrow. To that extent, the character does experience some backsliding, but to the credit of 'The Recruits,' the hour finds a way to get Oliver and his team where they need to be by the hour's end.
The same can be said for some of the other threads introduced throughout the episode. The introduction of Ragman allows the nascent Team Arrow to have an actual adventure out in the field, and although the encounter doesn't go as Oliver planned, it does give Wild Dog a chance to demonstrate his way of thinking isn't necessarily wrong, even though his inability to follow orders will likely prove to be a source of internal conflict for the new team as the season moves on.
The promise of internal team conflict doesn't do much to justify the presence of Ragman, however. Having his origin linked to the nuclear strike from season 4 certainly explains why he would be on the show, but Arrow is so focused on the early failures of the new team and of Oliver as their leader that Ragman's tale of revenge against the company that manufactured the missile that struck his hometown gets reduced to a C-plot at best and ends with a less-than-stellar "Your Mom's name is Martha?"-level revelation between two heroes that winds up giving Ragman short shrift and struggles to connect entirely with the larger issue of the hour.
Maybe it's just the introduction of someone like Ragman this soon after the magic-centric season 4 fizzled winds up underlining the thematic disconnect between Arrow and the meta-level characters who exist beyond the confines of the show. Maybe it's that Ragman wasn't really given much in the way of an actual story and that the resolution to his plot was perfunctory at best. At any rate, it demonstrates that Arrow really is better off sticking to street-level crime and spending more time with its central cast. For instance, the ongoing struggles of Quentin Lance and the trouble Diggle finds himself in proved to be far more intriguing than the adventures of a potentially one-off hero. In that sense, though, Arrow winds up saving 'The Recruits' by giving its primary plots a semblance of progression they needed in order to keep the audience's interest and intimate new drama in the weeks ahead.
That level of progression means a great deal to the series at this point, as Arrow has a lot to prove given the events of season 4 and the offseason talk surrounding the necessary alterations brought to the show in season 5. So far those changes have been evident, but the season is just getting started, and, for what it's worth, season 4 also felt promising at this point last year. Obviously, the road ahead is a long one and no reasonable viewer is expecting the series to knock each and every installment out of the park, but seeing evidence that Arrow is capable of correcting course, and then staying on that path for the majority of its season 5 run is an expectation that even the series can't deny is realistic. So far, Arrow has delivered some enjoyable moments and the sort of action that earned it high marks back in season 2. It will be interesting to see where the series goes from this point forward, but so far things are looking up.
Arrow continues next Wednesday with 'A Matter of Trust' @8pm on The CW.