Warning: this review contains spoilers. You can find all of my Arrow reviews here.
Arrow‘s fifth season promised a return to basics. After two up-and-down years that ultimately failed to deliver, this was great news. So far, Arrow‘s ability to live up to that promise has been evident in parts, but lacking in others. “The Recruits” is a prime example of that.
In many ways, these first two episodes of Season 5 have succeeded in hearkening back to the early days of Seasons 1 and 2. Oliver is back to fighting street-level villains instead of dealing with world-ending supernatural threats. Which, as I noted in my review of the Season 4 finale, is exactly as it should be.
Plus, he’s ruthless and aggressive again. The action has reflected that, with James Bamford returning to direct and adding his own excellent touch to the fight scenes.
Not to mention Oliver and Felicity having broken up. Which means that Felicity no longer has to be saddled with manufactured drama. She’s her old, quippy, genuinely funny self again. And for many viewers, myself included, she is a much better character for it.
So the promise of a return to form is definitely there. It’s far too early to tell, as so far it’s been almost nothing but setup, but I hope Season 5 follows up the way Seasons 3 and 4 did not.
Unfortunately, Arrow still suffers from many of the flaws that dampened the last 2 seasons.
In this case, “The Recruits” tried to do too much in too little time. All of its storylines were good, but they were so cramped that they ended up undercooked.
The main plot of “Recruits” involved Oliver training a new team. It was a straightforward “ruthless trainer learns to stop being so aggressive and trust his new team” character arc, but it was enjoyable. The recruits show promise, but a consequence of a crammed episode was that we didn’t get to know them very well. This is definitely a problem that future episodes need to address, because the potential is definitely there.
A side plot involved a new metahuman called Ragman hunting down people responsible for the destruction of Monument Point. This was actually a really good storyline involving a character who very much paralleled who Oliver was in Season 1—which of course made him a perfect recruit. The fact that we learned so much about his character made him joining the team work very well, in contrast to the rest of the recruits who were just tossed in.
Meanwhile, “The Recruits” also followed Diggle’s adventures—and struggles—in the military. On paper, it’s a great side-trip that keeps us up to date on a beloved character and sets up his return to Star City. However, the fact that it was stuffed into an already full episode did it no favours. It basically sprinted through its plot points and suffered for it. I would much rather have preferred to skip these scenes and do a full Diggle-centric episode down the line instead.
Another one of Season 4’s problems were the flashbacks. With Oliver finally going to Russia, things have improved on that front in terms of content. But in terms of delivery, “The Recruits” followed in Season 4’s footsteps and treated the flashbacks like brief afterthoughts. They were far too brief and inconsequential this week to truly count. I hope that won’t be the case going forward.
Between all of the aforementioned plotlines, Oliver’s struggles as mayor, and an extra subplot with Quentin’s alcoholism, “The Recruits” suffered from trying to do too many things at once. The promise of an improved Season 5 is definitely there, but it’s going to take more effort at the execution stage to truly pay off.