Before we get started, two elements of tonight’s Arrow were worth getting out of the way. First, The CW made the notably unfortunate decision of spoiling Andrew Diggle’s “Brotherhood” return by last week’s promo, not only undercutting most of the work Season 4 has put into laying that particular storyline to rest, but also helping frame the narrative against Arrow with a third major resurrection in almost as many episodes.

Granted, we knew months in advance that Sara and Ray would return from the respectively ambiguous ends, but it seems such an ill-timed choice after Nyssa purposefully destroyed the Lazarus Pit, itself a bit of meta course-correction against Arrow’s reliance on surprise returns. It’s an increasingly awkward well for the series to keep running to, even if David Ramsey made the most of Diggle’s turmoil over Andrew’s return.

The other aspect worthy of mention, longtime Arrow stunt coordinator James Bamford finally got his turn in the director’s chair, easily elevating “Brotherhood” as the most action-heavy and visually-dynamic hour of the series, even if the end result felt a bit disjointed. Intrusive and elaborate camera movement occasionally distracted from the moments at hand, especially as the more involved takes would seemingly speed up the frame-rate, almost looking like a live episode, rather than anything particularly cinematic. Don’t get me wrong, I love both Arrow and Bamford’s ambition, and the effort shone through more memorable sequences like Thea’s two-floor elevator fight, or smaller details like Laurel leaping down from a high surface in one take, but some instances clearly stretched Arrow’s ability to polish its visuals in such a short timeframe.

 

Exclusive behind-the-scenes footage of the "Brotherhood" budget meeting.

 

And to his credit, Bamford did a stellar job keeping emotions high in scenes without any major action, but I think either side of the hour didn’t end up interlocking as well as they could. However involved and impressive, certain fights might have proven too flashy for their own good, lacking an overt connection to the drama at hand. There was already a bit of disconnect whether Diggle’s brother could return to the light even after his rescue, that such visually impressive stuntwork rang hollow without a higher sense of stake.

The theme of “Brotherhood” felt a little on the nose overall (even the majority of Oliver’s island flashback focused on the guilt of killing his rescued laborer’s sibling), and while placing present Oliver and Diggle in a position to disagree, and ultimately renew their brotherly bond felt a bit repetitive with recent events, the conflict at least helped hone a few character points. Ramsey admirably nailing every color of the spectrum this week, Diggle made a strong point with Oliver’s family blindspot, and it was especially affecting to see Diggle so resigned to his brother’s heel-turn, focusing on the damage done to the man’s wife and son, rather than hope for redemption.

Of course, the more team-based dynamic surging around the Arrow lair this year effectively overruled Dig’s decision to leave Andy’s memory be, and that same focus on keeping family in play ultimately pulls Oliver away from making the same lone-wolf decisions as last year. Dig and Felicity are absolutely right; Oliver’s battle for Star City should take place outside the shadows* for once, to the point where I imagine we’ll see Green Arrow fighting in daylight before long, and it was especially poignant to spotlight Oliver’s original teammates as the ones to remind him not to make the same mistakes as with the League in Season 3. Whether or not Arrow could ever keep Oliver in office is another matter, but the rehabilitation of Oliver’s public face this year is definitely a breath of fresh air.

*The idea of Oliver “needing” the hope that someone can come back from darkness dovetails nicely with the killer we know him to become on the island, one of the rare instances in which the increasingly-disparate Olivers retain at least some thematic connection.

 

"I've probably still murdered at least eight of your spouses."

 

And while Ray’s return to form felt a bit underserved this week (great fight sequence or no, your existential crisis is pretty moot when we all know where you end up), Thea fared reasonably well with a new dynamic to her leftover Lazarus bloodlust. The urge to kill isn’t exactly new territory for Arrow; we saw more of the same with Roy in Season 2, but Damien Darhk’s surprising magical backfire against Thea made for an interesting wrinkle to an otherwise dead-end story, one Malcolm’s return and interest in solving helped lend some heft to.

Season 4 will understandably sit out the holiday next week, returning in December with either half of the two-part Flash and Legends of Tomorrow crossover, leaving it difficult to surmise how much, if any of tonight’s developments will be left for the final outings of 2015. That said, “Brotherhood” definitely offered another highlight to the season, which thus far seems at its best with strong directorial choices like Lexi Alexander or James Bamford.

Strong directors can’t help some of the storytelling issues still plaguing Arrow, but tonight’s stunt-heavy hour was definitely a bold swing, and a series high for action at that, without losing its emotional anchor in Diggle.

AND ANOTHER THING …

  • Any significance to this “Wolfman Biologics” business?
  • How in the world did “Slip 52” not end up a trap for Damien Darhk to have tested Quentin’s loyalty? Deleted scene, perhaps?
  • Brain overlap between Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s recent exploration of police publicity, and some of the SCPD’s lackluster posters.
  • You know, were it not for Lyla, I’d totally support a Laurel-Dig relationship.
  • Is no one making the connection that H.I.V.E. turns its men into insect-type drones? We’re gonna stick with the “Ghost” thing, then?
  • Did … did Diggle throw an arrow at one of them?
  • Deadly … bingo.
  • Are we taking what Andy says at face value, or is he still under some kind of recoverable influence?
  • Yeah, I think “Mayoral Candidate Oliver Queen’s Sister / Campaign Manager Beats Man Bloody in Crowded Restaurant” would make a headline or two.

Arrow Season 4 will return December 2 with the second crossover installment “Legends of Yesterday,” airing at 8:00 P.M. on The CW.

 

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