Summary: A solid introduction to a new team helps set the stakes for the new season.
If you have not seen this episode yet and do not wish to be spoiled, do not continue reading!
Oliver recruits Rene Ramirez, a gun-wielding vigilante who Felicity has taken to calling Wild Dog; Evelyn Sharp, the teen who masqueraded as Black Canary in the wake of Laurel’s death; and Curtis as his new team. Knowing they need significant training, Oliver becomes an unrelenting drill sergeant and decides it best to keep his identity hidden, all of which forces the three to distrust him and want to leave following an unending exercise in which they have to get past Green Arrow and ring a bell. They discover another vigilante in the city using an outfit of mystical body wraps to hunt down the heads of AmerTech, an industrial conglomerate that Mayor Queen has brought on to pay for a free clinic in the city.
At an event to announce the partnership, the CEO of AmerTech is attacked by this Ragman. The recruits are present only to monitor and assist with the crowd, but Rene breaks rank to take the guy down, getting in Green Arrow’s way. Oliver responds furious, and the group walks away. Felicity reminds him that he needs to trust the group and express that trust to buy into his crusade like she and Diggle and Lauren and Roy and Thea did. Thea learns that the AmerTech CEO is working with Tobias Church to supply him military-grade weapons, and Felicity fills in the blanks that an AmerTech subsidiary built the missiles launched on Genesis Day and the whole conglomerate is potentially looking to go bankrupt. She has also examined a piece of Ragman’s garb Rene got off him at the clinic event and discovered it is radioactive and can be tracked.
They track Ragman to the arms buy between AmerTech and Church and Green Arrow charges in. Oliver allows Church to get the better off him to test Ragman’s intentions. After he helps Green Arrow, Ragman explains that he’s a survivor of the missile attack on Havenrock that killed thousands, including his father. Oliver asks if he wants help in his quest and to do something bigger in honor of both of their fathers. Ragman agrees. Oliver later reveals his identity to the other recruits in an effort to gain their trust.
Meanwhile, Diggle is with a military unit in Chechnya that is pursuing a trigger for one of the disarmed AmerTech nuclear missiles from Genesis Day. He takes a young soldier under his wing who gets injured during an ambush trying to recover the trigger. Diggle soon discovers that the unit commander is trying to steal the trigger to sell, and the man kills the young soldier. He plans to pin everything on Diggle.
Thea decides to help Quentin Lance, initially offering him work helping security for the clinic event but discovering that he is drinking again. Oliver advises her to cut him loose right now while he tries to find his way. She makes a different choice: she wants him to become deputy mayor.
In the past, the origins of Oliver’s bell test are revealed: as the next step in his path to join Bratva, Oliver and others struggle through trying to get past Bratva soldiers to ring a bell. He comes up with a plan where they all work together to distract the soldiers so that one of them can sneak past and ring the bell. Oliver’s intention with the test for his recruits was to teach them teamwork. The men accomplish this with Oliver ringing the bell. The others are rewarded with being shot and killed. Anatoly tells him you can only trust yourself.
Stepping up from the serviceable premiere, Oliver is still treading covered ground here. Though he’s acquiesced to Felicity’s idea that he needs a team to support him, his cold, brutal approach to Green Arrow has also returned him to a place of little trust. It’s all still a bit cumbersome to revisit yet again, but the hour does give valid reasons for Oliver’s reticence. He clearly will go on blaming himself for Laurel’s death, figuring that he really didn’t get her the proper training she needed, but also revealing Oliver’s fear of being too close to those he works with in the field now. He doesn’t want to have the same kind of attachment in case someone else should fall, showing that the guilt he feels over Laurel is more than his standard world-bearing.
Beyond that, though, we’re given an explicit reason from his past in the flashback why trust is so hard for him: Anatoly’s men killing the guys he’d worked together with to ring the bell adds a simple but effective rationale to much of Oliver’s behavior as the vigilante, the Hood, the Arrow, Green Arrow. The bell exercise is efficient, if a bit obvious; it seems slightly weird that after so many tries the three recruits didn’t recognize Oliver’s hidden motive for teamwork behind it. Curtis, especially, feels like the kind who would offer the suggestion, even if hothead Rene would’ve rebuffed the idea. It’s curious why Oliver would pick this approach given the emotional scar associated with it, but he also likely equates the brutality of experience with the challenge these three will face on the streets.
Ragman is an interesting addition to Oliver’s team. At a time when the show is pulling back, to rely less on the fantastical elements of the world it helped create and distill itself back down to the bareknuckle gritty ethos that started it, having someone with a mystical ability seems a bit odd. Connecting the two by their fathers was a nice touch, giving a way to continue to shine on the humanity of the Oliver we’ve grown with over the last few years. No doubt, having someone like him on the team will be extremely helpful, but it seems incongruous with the tone and feel of the show they are embracing this year. Much is going to depend on how he’s used. Plus, it gives them a touchstone into the larger world they’ve created so the show doesn’t feel completely isolated.
It’s a bit hard to gauge the other recruits, as well, which is understandable two episodes in on the season. Rene hates his codename, no matter how much it fits his personality in addition to his jersey. Him not thinking much of “Mayor Handsome” (or “Mayor Pretty Boy,” if you prefer) was a nice way to layer the antagonist relationship these two are going to have for a while. Evelyn is sort of a blank slate. We got some back story on her last season, but there is little that makes her stand out in this episode at all. It seems a bit odd that she would be picked for this, especially given her age, but we have time to reveal just what she’ll bring to the team.
Curtis, meanwhile, gets the benefit of already having an established relationship with Oliver. It was a bit disconcerting coming into the season when we’d see images like Curtis struggling with salmon ladder as if the Olympic medalist had never trained in his life. To be fair, the salmon ladder is difficult for many athletes, but the concern was that they were cutting down Curtis’ established abilities in an effort to make him a rookie. Thankfully, they quickly address that here, and it should easily be noted that just because you’d trained for an Olympic event doesn’t mean you are ready to hit the streets to fight crime. Playing on their relationship when Curtis puts Oliver in his place about the lack of trust gave it more heft while also reassuring us of the fire in Curtis’ belly. We’d seen him speak up against Oliver before and it was good they didn’t have him shrink back from that.
By far the most enjoyable connection of the episode was Oliver and Felicity.
She’s got her own life outside of this hero gig now, which seems to have restored balance to her. Missing in the first hour was any sort of perceptible grief or guilt over Felicity’s role in the Havenrock disaster. Yes, she was forced to make an awful choice, but the lack of any seeming effect was noticeably off, especially given Felicity’s personality. Perhaps Officer Bland, er, Malone offers just enough of a distraction. Here, it still seems like an afterthought, but it’s good that they’ve started to seed those feelings. Hearing Ragman is from Havenrock should have a profound impact for the foreseeable future on Felicity. While it’s good to see the jokey, driven, and encouraging Felicity back at full strength, it would be a disservice to her to not explicitly see how this devastating decision will inform her for the rest of her life. It was an impossible situation, but 10,000+ people lost their lives. That’s not something you shake, especially with as good of a heart as Felicity has.
It was good to see Felicity back to full strength, especially as a sounding board for Oliver. This is the best version of the two: compadres, friends, teammates holding each other accountable, building each other up, and communicating honestly and openly. Diggle and Oliver have their own particular narrative, but there is no one else who can talk to Oliver the way she can. She does help him to cut through his self-imposed BS to see the best and worst of himself and try to reconcile them. The scene of them talking about him being open to trust and revealing, for the first time to her, something about his past in Russia was one of the best we’ve seen between them over the past three years.
Speaking of Russia, it’s nice to feel that the flashbacks have a direction, a purpose, and a connection to what’s going on in the present. Sometimes, an explicit connection like the bell exercise can feel a bit heavy-handed. In this case, it provided the right context for Oliver’s training while also giving us further insight into his personality, especially as he marches in the past toward the Season 1 version of himself. We also really get to see the viciousness and coldness of Anatoly. He’s never been an outright buffoon, but he has been a bit lighter of a character around Oliver since we first met him back in Season 2. To get a feel for just how dangerous he is was eye-opening.
Overall, “The Recruits” is a good improvement upon the premiere. It’s helping to set the stakes of the season, including the potential for Diggle to be dishonorably drummed out of the military and Lance to find new meaning in running the city while Oliver tries to save it in a hood, while also offering more coloring on Oliver’s personality. It’s a good thing when a show five years in can still provide those kinds of insights, even if small but significant, for its main character. The potential mix of abilities and personalities for Team Arrow 5.0 also seems enticing.
For the Record
• Team Arrow 1.0: Oliver Queen (Hood), John Diggle, Felicity Smoak
• Team Arrow 2.0: Oliver (Arrow), Diggle, Felicity, Roy Harper, Sara Lance (Canary)
• Team Arrow 3.0: Oliver (Arrow), Diggle, Felicity, Roy (Arsenal), Laurel Lance (Black Canary)
• Team Arrow 3.1: Oliver (Arrow), Diggle, Felicity, Roy (Arsenal), Laurel (Black Canary), Ray Palmer (Atom)
• Team Arrow 4.0: Oliver (Green Arrow), Diggle (Spartan), Felicity (Overwatch), Laurel (Black Canary), Thea Queen (Speedy), Quentin Lance
• Team Arrow 5.0: Oliver (Green Arrow), Diggle (Spartan), Felicity (Overwatch), Curtis Holt (Mr. Terrific), Evelyn Sharp (Artemis), Rene Ramirez (Wild Dog)