Sunday, February 12, 2017

Arrow 5x12 Review: "Bratva" (What Happens in Russia...) [Contributor: Jenn]

Original Airdate: February 8, 2017

There's a line in the musical, Wicked, that asks the question: "Are people born wicked? Or do they have wickedness thrust upon them?" It's an interesting inquiry, because it begs us to answer the question of whether or not our circumstances force us to become people we didn't necessarily intend to be. In Wicked, for instance, we learn that the character we assumed to be all evil from watching The Wizard of Oz actually isn't as much of a clear-cut villain as we assumed. In Arrow, characters question their morality and decisions nearly every few minutes. If there was a drinking game, we would be passed out by the time the show's second act concluded. But what I actually appreciated about "Bratva" was that, while it was a return to the darkness that I'm so used to associating with Oliver Queen, other characters got sucked into the dark spiral, with Oliver rescuing them for a change. As we've seen in recent episodes, Diggle and Felicity have been teetering on the edge of darkness and this episode was where they finally got pulled down into it. Meanwhile, back in Star(ling) City (because did I mention this episode takes place in Russia?), Rene helps a fresh-out-of-rehab Quentin Lance prep for an interview with Annoying Reporter Chick.


I wish I had a running tally of exactly how many episodes of Arrow focus on Oliver's darkness and guilt for living the way he did. Luckily for us, this episode wasn't so much an exploration of Oliver Queen's man pain as it was an examination of what happens when the people who are supposed to represent morality fall under the spell of darkness. Specifically, Diggle and Felicity. These two aren't exactly in the best places, emotionally, lately. Diggle managed to evade being killed by Evil General Dude (you can tell I really pay attention to their names here, but I'm pretty sure his name is General Walker), and is still filled with rage because of how the general is getting away with treason and doing whatever the heck he wants. Diggle's default darkness is "rage." And we see that really clearly in the episode. When the team storms a place they believe Walker to be hiding, the general evades but Oliver and Diggle manage to capture one of Walker's men. Oliver plays interrogator and tries, slowly, to get information out of him.

Diggle isn't having it.

He goes full-on crazy and beats the crap out of the man in order to get the information he wants. Now, as a soldier, Diggle knows this is futile. There's a part of his brain that recognizes the fact that people will say anything under torture or duress. But he doesn't care. He's willing to take matters into his own hands (literally) in order to get what he wants. This is especially discomforting to Oliver and to the audience. Diggle is supposed to be the one who steers Oliver out of the darkness — he's supposed to be Oliver's Yoda (I'm pretty sure Jen refers to him as that quite often). But what happens when the person who you rely on for moral direction throws all of THEIR morality out of the window? Well, in the case of Oliver, he begins to sink into darkness himself. Without his better halves to guide him, Oliver begins to believe the truth that all he is — all he can be — is who he was.

This belief isn't necessarily helped by the darkness swallowing up Felicity in the episode. As you might remember from last week, Felicity exonerated Diggle, but that came at a price — a piece of her soul, essentially. With Felicity holding onto the massive blackmail device in the thumb drive, she's holding onto massive power. And she knows it. I think what I really loved about "Bratva" as an episode was the fact that Diggle and Felicity's darkness look different. Diggle's darkness is one that is totally unhinged and uninhibited. He returns to instincts of rage and anger.

But that's never been Felicity. She's never been the kind of person who would go full-on assassin mode on someone. Felicity is highly intelligent and so her darkness will always be a subtle slide down the hill. In "Bratva," we see that. Felicity uses the thumb drive that Helix gave her in order to blackmail a man into doing what she wants. With Curtis and Rory accompanying her, we — and they — saw the fact that Felicity was willing to cross a few lines and use the information Helix gave her to terrify someone into doing what she wants. The thing is, Felicity tries to justify her actions: they needed information, and she was able to get it. It's not really bad... right?

The thing is, Felicity's darkness involves subtle justification and an addiction to power. Let's be honest: recently, Felicity has felt powerless. She was forced to do something by Darhk that resulted in the loss of innocent lives. She just recently lost her boyfriend. She feels like she needs control back in her life — she wants to control SOMETHING and seek to right wrongs in the world. Because if you'll recall, Oliver is all about getting justice for Billy... in his own way and time. But what happens if Felicity doesn't agree? What happens if she takes justice into her own hacking hands? Is it really so wrong to use the knowledge that freed Diggle in order to put away bad guys or blackmail a few people? After all, this is the business of vigilantism — moral ambiguity for the greater good.

When Rory tattle-tales on Felicity to Oliver (which was hilarious), Oliver becomes so thrown by the idea that something is going on with Felicity and Diggle's descent into darkness that he does something dark of his own — he rejoins Bratva, briefly.


When Oliver does something for Anatoly to ensure that the Bratva will do something for him in return, our favorite Green Arrow begins to sink into his familiar hole of "woe is me, I thought this part of my life was behind me." Tina (no, I will not call her Dinah, thank you very much show) was warned about this and tells Oliver as much. Diggle and Felicity said that whenever he gets broody, everyone else should just stay out of his way and let him do his thing. But Tina doesn't agree, and I think it's actually really good. As much as I love the OTA, I think that it's easy for Diggle and Felicity to get into old habits and patterns with Oliver. Tina is the important piece of the team because she's new — she can see what the others cannot because she's still on the outside looking in. Instead of placating Oliver with silence, she tells him how annoying she finds the whole moody, broody hero thing.

What's really important, however, is what Tina tells Oliver about his past: it's a part of him. That's something he'll never escape and never be able to. But that's not what should define him. Oliver is so used to remembering all the terrible things he did as The Hood and as a member of Bratva, that Tina points out he's missing remembering all of the good he did too. While most people look through the past with rose-colored glasses, Oliver tends to look at them through dark lenses. It's not bad to remember your mistakes and prevent making them in the future; it is bad to define yourself by the way you messed up. Tina tells Oliver that he's missing all of the good things and by only remembering himself as a guy who did terrible things, he's missing the whole truth. You can't change who you were, but you can remember the good parts of who you used to be and use those to fuel your future.

Oliver takes this advice and brings it to the forefront of his conversation with Diggle and Felicity. We haven't really gotten many OTA scenes lately, but I really liked this one. In spite of his talk with Tina, Oliver still sees Felicity and Diggle as inherently better people than he is (and you know, he's not really wrong). That's why they work so well as a team — they function as his beacons when he gets lost. They're always there to guide him back home, and if they slip into the darkness, the team is doomed. He needs them to be better people than he is. And it's a bit of a wake-up call for Diggle and Felicity in some ways. Oliver believes in them and when he looks at them, he sees all they've done and all they can do if they cling to the light.

But darkness is tempting because it hides the parts of us we dislike. And I think that's why Diggle and Felicity, especially, will continue to be drawn to it. Nevertheless, the team decides to work together (and with Bratva) to take down General Walker and bring him to justice. When Diggle has the chance to kill Walker, he takes the high road and decides that he'll stand trial instead. Felicity, however, decides that she's just getting started with Helix. Which should definitely be interesting to watch unfold in the coming weeks. I like Felicity slipping into darkness because it's believable — she doesn't suddenly shift to become a cold-hearted assassin. She's still the Felicity that we know and love. ... Just with less of a grasp on ethical and moral truths.

Overall, "Bratva" was a pretty good episode of Arrow. It wasn't my favorite, but I think the emphasis on Diggle and Felicity's darkness made it a unique episode, thematically. Plus, any episode in which the team gets to take a trip to Russia is generally a good one in my book. I'm interested to see what "Bratva" means for characters moving forward. Especially now that we know Annoying Reporter Chick has figured out that Oliver is Green Arrow.


And now, bonus points:
  • There was a side-story involving Rene helping Quentin prep for an interview with Annoying Reporter Chick (nope, I'll never actually write out "Susan Williams" in these reviews so enjoy, folks). Apart from Rene giving tough love to Quentin and their final conversation minorly setting up a Rene-focused episode next week, nothing else in the story was of much consequence.
  • (Although, I find it REALLY hard to believe that Rene was a kid when Quentin was a cop and meant something to him. That's just too convenient, even by Arrow's standards. I kind of hope that Rene made that story up so Annoying Reporter Chick could go easy on Quentin during the interview.)
  • "What's it hurt to have a little help?" "Just my waking sanity."
  • I love that Talia is in the flashbacks, and this week she helped Oliver cross off a name on Robert Queen's infamous list. Also, I miss hearing people call it "Starling City."
  • "But to be honest, brooding kind of gets on my nerves." I want to keep Tina forever.
  • "... Your strange friend's pronunciation is horrible." Who else missed Anatoly? No? Just me?
  • It's clear that DCTV shows only have one airplane hangar because it's the same one they use for literally ANY scene involving an airplane. It's the one the team was holed up in during the "Invasion!" crossover event. Is there only one airplane hangar in Vancouver?
  • "Now you're my favorite American." I'm petitioning DCTV for a new show starring Anatoly and Tina. Who else is in?
  • Oh, yeah, I guess that "letting go of his past" meant Oliver and Annoying Reporter Chick slept together. Blegh. The actress is also currently playing an annoying character on Suits, so I've started to consider that maybe I have a problem with her and not the character. ... Nope, scratch that. It's probably both.
What did you all think of "Bratva"? Sound off in the comments below!


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