It’s a little hard to judge episodes like “Recruits,” because so much of their appeal lies in their potential, not their reality. This is a quintessential setup episode, and what we get tonight could end up looking really good, really bad, or just sort of forgettable depending on where the show goes next. But for now, there’s plenty of reason to think Arrow is onto something worthwhile here. The addition of Ragman is especially intriguing, as at long last we might get some follow-up on, you know, that time Arrow dropped a nuclear bomb and then just sort of moved on to other things. Positioning the character as the sole survivor of Havenrock gives him all sorts of credibility as an equal to Oliver in the painful backstory department, and he figures to serve as a walking reminder to Felicity of her own role in the town’s destruction.
Tonight’s episode even gives us an abbreviated, less lethal version of Oliver’s initial arc as the Hood, as Ragman swears vengeance in the name of his father against those who made the nuke. I can understand Oliver eliding certain key details when he compares Ragman’s story with his own father’s sacrifice, but the truth is that, on some level, Robert Queen did save Oliver so that he could be his posthumous instrument of revenge. (And let’s never forget that Robert killed the other survivor of the Queen’s Gambit as well. To say he wasn’t a saint is a massive understatement.) Given how dark Ragman’s origin and general presence is, it feels kind of crazy to say this, but I could actually see him being a bit of a beacon of hope for Arrow, at least if his decision to save Oliver in tonight’s episode is any indication. For all the unimaginable pain Ragman has endured, he appears far less lost than the typical masked vigilante.
As for the other recruits—Curtis, Wild Dog, and Evelyn Sharp—it’s still a little early to judge what they could offer to the show. “Recruits” does at least give Wild Dog a strong moment during the attack on the clinic, as he disobeys the Green Arrow in the name of saving a child and still comes away with a vital bit of evidence. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Wild Dog got chosen for inclusion as a little nod to Stephen Amell’s recent turn as another hockey mask-wearing vigilante in the Ninja Turtles sequel, but the character is rounding into form as the spiritual successor to Roy. He lacks some of the natural agility of Arsenal—yeah, I’m talking about the parkour—but he fills that role of someone readied for the fight by years of surviving the mean streets of Star City. Tonight’s episode suggests an intriguing dynamic between Oliver and Wild Dog, as the two figure to butt heads at every turn, yet Wild Dog could quickly become the guy who has Oliver’s back before all others. When he says he will fight any war as long as he trusts the person leading him into battle, he suggests he at least takes the situation seriously enough to survive it.
On the other hand, it still sort of feels like it’s all a game for Curtis. Oliver makes the point that everyone he’s teamed with in the past had some manner of experience that qualified them for life as a vigilante. Diggle had his military experiences. Sara had the League of Assassins. Roy had the Glades. Thea had a crash course from Malcolm Merlyn. The only real exception here is Laurel, with Oliver’s implication being, perhaps a tad unfairly, that it was that inexperience that ultimately got her killed. Even allowing for the timely reminder of Curtis’ Olympic background—which, with all due respect to Echo Kellum, I don’t buy for a second—he might stand as an even shakier candidate than Laurel, if only because he’s yet to show the kind of drive that helped Laurel cover up her early deficiencies as a vigilante. Comics lore tells us that Curtis is on track to be Mr. Terrific, complete with “Fair Play” jacket, and that’s a hero who can supplement his athletic abilities with tech and gadgets, which is perfect for Curtis. But if he’s going to be credible as an unpowered member of Team Arrow, he probably has to get a tad more serious. Hopefully, that’s an opportunity for character development, much as I already like Curtis.
Arrow also has a nice little subplot simmering on the backburner with Thea and Lance. I won’t rehash for the umpteenth time how much I like these two characters and the actors behind them, but it’s such a legitimately sweet plotline for Thea to take an active role in looking out for Lance. In theory, this could play as a surrogate father-daughter bond, and it would be hard to fault either character for finding that in the other. But that isn’t really how their scenes have played out so far. Instead, they just come across as friends, united by common experience and trauma. Thea shows a quiet, hard-won maturity in how she deals with Lance, declining to reprimand him after his negligence let Ragman get past security. Who knows how Quentin will acquit himself as deputy mayor, but once more, there’s potential aplenty here.
Then there’s Diggle, who finds himself in bad shape in Chechnya. On the one hand, it stretches Arrow’s budgetary resources far, far beyond their capacity to have to try to depict a warzone, so I suppose it’s for the best that Diggle’s battlefield story turns into a betrayal in a warehouse, which is rather more affordable. It’s rare for Arrow to leave a subplot as open-ended as it does here, though one figures that Diggle will soon have to call on Team Arrow to help clear his name. As excuses to rejoin the team—or at least reengage with them without being isolated in far distant storylines—that’s solid enough, and his superior’s arguments nicely reflect the changing calculus of a world in which metahumans could so easily reign supreme. As with most everything else, the follow-through is going to matter plenty here, but I remain cautiously optimistic about all that I’m seeing here.
Speaking of which: The flashbacks are pretty good! I’m already perfectly happy declaring that having Oliver work his way into the Russian mafia is the best flashback premise since the second season, and perhaps it’s as simple as the fact that we’ve been promised this story since the early days of season one. I’m a sucker for when Arrow comes up with an unexpected way to connect the flashback with the main story, and it says a whole lot about how messed up Oliver is that he would repurpose a game that got his temporary compatriots killed as a team-building exercise. As Oliver observes at one point, he had some teachers during his five-year exile. But let’s not pretend for a second that all of his teachers were worth listening to. In the meantime, I’m feeling plenty optimistic about where Arrow is headed after a fun, breezy episode like “Recruits.”
- Oh hey, Felicity has a boyfriend in the police department! That’s… that’s fine. No objections here.
- It really is remarkable how much of Oliver’s teaching technique involves shooting people with arrows. But hey, when you’ve got a hammer and all that…
- The salmon ladder makes its triumphant return. In an episode that runs on potential, the salmon ladder always delivers.