‘Arrow’ Post-Show Analysis: Season 4, Episode 7: ‘Brotherhood’
It’s time for another installment of Pointed Commentary, the feature where grizzled Arrow watcher Matt D. Wilson and newcomer Chris Haley dig into the details of Team Arrow cleaning up the filthy, crime-ridden streets of Star City.
This week’s episode, 'Brotherhood', focuses on yet another character we thought was dead being less dead than we thought; Oliver’s fight for hope and a political platform beyond the word “United”; Ray’s battle with back-from-the-dead ennui; and any excuse to let Neal McDonough chew the scenery in every scene he appears in. James Bamford directed the episode, which was written by Keto Shimizu and our returning name champion, Speed Weed.
Matt: Not to put too fine a point on it, but I really, really disliked this episode, Chris. It felt... thrown together, I guess? Perhaps the best example of that is how Dig discovers that his brother, Andy, who he thought has been dead for years, is alive. It’s a complete coincidence that a HIVE ghost Dig just happens to get the whim to unmask turns out to be Andy. That’s it.
Chris: Oh wow, you're not going to believe this, but after my unparalleled saltiness about this show last week, I really enjoyed this episode! This was easily my favorite episode Arrow ever… of the few that I've seen, I mean. There was still plenty to make me roll my eyes or to make me jot down questions you'll be forced to answer later, but at some point during the back half of the episode I realized I was letting this slide and just enjoying myself.
Wait, never mind, I figured it out. This episode contains the absolute least amount of Felicity I've witnessed in an episode so far, and surprise! It's my favorite.
Matt: Eventually we’ll get to the bottom of your anti-Felicity feelings. But while we’re being positive, I’ll jump on and say what I did like in this one: David Ramsey, the actor who plays Dig. Despite his only coincidental discovery of his brother, and literally no one on the team honoring his decision that the Andy he knew is dead, Ramsey really digs into the emotion of his scenes (see what I did there). I’ve always thought he was one of the best actors on the show, and he does a great job with a sort-of showcase episode this time.
Chris: Oh man, absolutely. That scene with him at the bar, the argument with Ollie, the confrontation with his brother. All outstanding. For as ridiculous as this show’s world can be, he was acting his ass off and really selling what Dig was going through, and not just as one emotion, like a less talented actor might be likely to do, but he really runs the gamut of feelings. It’s especially powerful in contrast to how flippant everyone around him is about it all. Some of Team Arrow really seem to have lost all respect for death at this point.
Matt: Team Arrow just saying “nah” to Dig asking them not to save Andy because he wasn’t really his brother anymore was one of the multiple things that bugged me this episode. A lot of stuff just seemed to be because of the driving force behind this season so far: Plot Convenience. Team Arrow went to find Andy because they needed something to do. Dig just decides on a whim to take off that one ghost’s mask. Thea beat up a guy in a public restaurant with no repercussions because the writers wanted to move that story ahead. Reiter blamed Conklin for a worker guy’s death because of some mystic junk, despite the facts that Ollie just got there and Conklin has proof that Ollie’s a spy.
What are the reasons anyone is doing any of these things, besides plot necessity? They’re just events that are happening.
Chris: I’m glad that we’ve identified the real big bad of this season/show so definitively. I think this episode showed me that I’m actually willing to let a lot of things go and just try to enjoy what can be a really fun show that ends up being kinda silly in how serious it takes itself, but the things that really get under my skin and that my brain can’t let go are the incidents like this where you can tell story quality is sacrificed for plot expediency. All of those things you listed stand out like a sore thumb as problems I think you (specifically you, Matt) could have prevented had you been in the writer’s room or a producer on this show.
Matt: Well, that’s flattering. I’m not sure I could totally fix it, but man, do I notice it.
Chris: Yeah, and sometimes I think “noticing” is all it would take. Just someone in the room putting a hand up and going, “Wait, why is this happening?” a couple times per episode so everyone has to stop for a second and think about what they’re having characters say and do. We shouldn’t have to explain this to a successful show in its fourth season. But maybe it’s all out of their control and we’re not giving them enough credit for trying their best under network demands. Who knows?
Matt: The mayoral race plot in this one did the same thing. Like, how manufactured was the conflict between Ollie and Darhk over restoring the bay? You know, that project that Ollie straightfacedly said would be great for the city because it would result in gentrified neighborhoods? (I’d say that’s a funny comment on Ollie’s rich-boy entitlement and ignorance, but it wasn’t played that way. It felt like the show saying that gentrification would be great for Star City.)
Chris: My ears definitely perked up when he said that, and I thought, “Wait… does that word not mean what I think it does?” Then I remembered what show I was watching.
Matt: For whatever reason, Darhk doesn’t want Ollie fixing the bay, and ends up threatening to run someone (maybe even himself) against Ollie for mayor. Maybe there’s an explanation coming for why the bay is so important to Darhk, but as it is, it’s a problem that appears in this episode to lead to what I assume will be a conflict that goes through the rest of the season. Did you catch a reason for why Darhk wants the bay to stay filthy?
Chris: I’d say it’s just that he doesn't actually want things to get better in the city. The Arrow Squad said something along the lines of HIVE wanting Star City as rundown as possible, so they can use it as a base of operations that no one will think to check or bother with, but again, that just seems like “lazy writing” at worst or “for the plot’s sake” at best.
Matt: That’s probably right, but why get hung up on that one point? Like, is that the only improvement Mayor Queen is planning to make? Like, a constituent comes to his office later and says, like, “Hey, Mayor Queen, I know you’re busy but several of our schools are actually craters because of missile attacks and that earthquake. Can you maybe think about rebuilding some?” and Ollie’s just like, “Can’t help you. I cleaned up the bay. That was my one thing. Later!”
Chris: You know, maybe the writers aren’t lazy, maybe they just don’t think the audience is smart enough to handle nuance and mystery above the level of a Goosebumps book. “Everyone will stop watching if we get too into the politics stuff, so just keep all of that talk at a Sesame Street level everyone can follow. Clean water = good. Jobs = good.”
Matt: Then why have that subplot at all, other than lip service to a short story arc in the comic? Just drop it and focus on the superhero action.
Chris: Does it seem odd to you that Green Arrow is arguably the most notably political superhero in comics, but on this show I have absolutely no idea what his political ideals are beyond “help city”? Now I’m really stuck on this question of are the writers lazy or do they think we’re too dumb to understand things.
Matt: This version of Green Arrow is definitely like the early-era “Batman, but not” stories instead of the later, political stuff where Ollie Queen was a sort of hero of the people.
Speaking of the action, did it look... weird to you in this episode? The fight in the yard with all the shipping containers looked really weirdly staged. The way the camera was whipping around struck me as really odd, and strangely low-quality. Like it was shot on a phone.
Chris: The first thing I wrote down this week was, “The fights are being shot differently”. I did a little investigating of my own and found out director James Bamford is best known to Arrow fans as the show’s stunt coordinator… which would definitely explain why so much more work and emphasis was put into this week’s action scenes. I’ll give them all the credit in the world for really trying to bring their A game for the fight scenes, and I’m happy to say that the increase in effort definitely shows. (I think that obvious effort coming across on screen is really why I liked this episode so much, because it showed that even if the writers aren’t, someone was trying.)
However, I’d be lying if I didn’t point out that putting more emphasis on the fights and shooting them in clever (and often very clear) ways also highlights the fact that these are “actors” and not stuntpeople or trained fighters. Some of the creative camera-work only served to show that the fight choreography was just that, and some of the actors looked much more like they were dancing than fighting.
Matt: More than anything the quality of the video caught my eye, but that’s probably an equipment/lighting thing. I do think you’re right, though. It’s nice that someone’s doing something to try to shake things up a little. On that front, kudos to Bamford for trying something new.
Chris: Absolutely. Kudos all around. With a cast that’s more skilled at fighting or more time to prepare, I’m sure this show could put together something sincerely incredible. Thea’s extended fight with Andy was clearly shooting for the stars, and I’m happy to give it props for that.
Semi-related, why does Ray have this crazy (not) Iron Man suit and then he just shows up and punches and kicks people? Shouldn’t he have a smarter solution than kick a dude in his chest as he runs toward you?
Matt: I suspect that the real reason is budgetary. It costs a lot to have a computer man flying around and blasting beams on your TV show.
Chris: Then I guess you should think twice about making a character be a rip-off of Iron Man shouldn’t you? Shouldn’t you, Matt? Shouldn’t you, CW Arrow Executive Producer Matt Wilson?
Matt: Maybe so, Chris. Maybe so. I can’t promise that I have all the answers, but I’ll work for you, and I’ll work for this show. Let’s start a campaign. I’ll clean up Arrow Bay!
Chris: As long as you can sum up your entire campaign in one word and that is literally all I know about your platform, I’m in.
Speaking of the government, I have to ask, when a city needs economic relief does “The Government” really just send an armored car with cash in it? That seems like something an eight-year-old would think, but maybe the entire world is a lot more stupid than I think.
Matt: Oh, you didn’t know that money isn’t money unless it’s cash? And if that cash gets burned, then that money is just lost forever? That’s how finances work. Ask Ben Bernanke.
Chris: You’re a Mr. Show fan, right?
Matt: Guilty as charged.
Chris: I feel like this show is set in the world of that Politically Incorrect parody sketch where if you know too much about how things actually work, you have to wear the “Smarty Pants” and get custard dumped on your head. Also, my new goal with this show is to find as many plausible reasons to bring up Mr. Show as possible.
Matt: Well then just you wait until Darhk reveals himself to secretly be patriotic country singer C.S. Lewis Jr. I feel like we’ve hit the high points of the episode. Any lingering questions?
Chris: Only one this episode: Who is Malcolm exactly? I mean, I know he’s Thea’s dad, but this episode really put me on my heels as far as his character goes, because the way he acted didn’t seem to line up with my previous take on the character.
Matt: OK, take a seat. Brew up a pot of coffee. We’re going to be here for a while.
Malcolm was the big bad of season one, the guy who decided that the thing Starling City really needed was for an earthquake machine to destroy an entire neighborhood because a criminal killed his wife years ago. That season also established him as the dad of Tommy Merlyn, Ollie’s best friend who died in the rubble of the earthquake (let’s take odds on whether he’s really dead).
Ollie “killed” him at the end of season one, but he has League of Assassins training, so he didn’t really die. He spent most of season two “dead,” until he returned to reveal himself as Thea’s biological father. About 20ish years ago, he had an affair with Ollie and Thea’s mom.
Sometime last season, he went from “unforgivable supervillain” to “a bad guy, but not so bad we can’t work with him” with some really incredible character retconning. He helped Team Arrow defeat Ra’s al Ghul under the condition that he would ascend to head up the League of Assassins and take over the title of Ra’s (it’s a title rather than a name on this show).
Is that any clearer?
Chris: Yes. Quick follow up though: Why in the blue hell would he be concerned in the least about the Star City police?
Matt: I think he’s more worried about Thea being mad at him. Quick heads up to the readers: He knows that Thea is still feeling the bloodlust from the Lazarus Pit, so he’s trying to give her some info about a child molester she can go kill and no one will really mind. (Instead, she just almost kills a guy who hits on her at a restaurant, in public, in front of her date who should really be like, “Uh, you know what? I don’t really need a relationship right now.”)
But yeah, one of the big “hey, he’s not so bad” retcons from last season was that Malcolm actually wants to be a good dad to Thea. He’s hurt when she pushes him away.
Chris: Sigh... fair enough.
Matt: Before we finish up, we should note the big comic-creator shoutout of the episode: In their investigation of how the ghosts in HIVE are changing their DNA (it’s still a mystery, FYI), they go to Wolfman Biologics, almost certainly a reference to famed DC comics writer Marv Wolfman.
And that does it for this week! Join us next time for the second half of a big crossover with The Flash! Check out the trailer for the Flash half below: