Arrow “The Recruits” Review (Season 5, Episode 2)

I enjoy movie training sequences. In the beginning you have the protagonist who may or may not have some natural abilities, and they’re eager to use what abilities and training they have to save lives or be the champ or whatever. They’re eager, usually a bit cocky, and impatient. They want to get right to the good stuff without having to do what they consider mundane or inconsequential to them becoming a badass. Of course, there’s always the seemingly unreasonable coach/master/senior agent/etc. that’s holding the protagonist back by making them do all this stupid stuff. But in the end, the student finally realizes the wisdom in the teacher’s methods and is able to bring what he previously believed to be inconsequential nonsense to the fore and save the day. We love those kinds of movies. Think Rocky or The Karate Kid. I believe Arrow was attempting to achieve that same vibe with this episode, but they were only sort of successful.

In last week’s episode, Oliver finally admitted and accepted that it was time for him to form a new team. He still doesn’t want to, but he’s accepted the necessity of it. I can’t say I’m shocked to discover that Oliver’s training methods are brutal. We’ve seen him train other people a few times before, but this was even worse. The approach he took was the same one the Bratva used to initiate him into the Russian mob. I hope he didn’t intended to murder the other recruits who didn’t make it to the bell, but you never can tell with Oliver. Anyways. None of the recruits were thrilled about Oliver’s training methods (and by “methods” I mean Oliver repeatedly beating them up) and ended up quitting. Before he left, Curtis gave Oliver a piece of his mind and so did Felicity. While they both made valid points, they were both also wrong.

Oliver’s approach to training was to teach them a couple of things simultaneously. First, he was trying to teach them to work as a team. Part of the reason Team Arrow was, initially at least, able to be so effective was that everyone knew their job and did their job as part of the larger mission. We’ve seen in the past how dangerous and deadly it can be when one of the team members decides to do their own thing while they’re trying to accomplish a mission. Second, Oliver was trying to teach them to think differently. It’s always best to enter a situation with a plan, but if or when that plan goes sideways, you need to be able to quickly evaluate your situation and your options to come up with another viable play. Those are very good, very solid lessons. Do I think Oliver could’ve gone about teaching them in a better way? Of course. But at the same time, Oliver pointed out that none of this is a game. He knows better than anyone the kind of focus and discipline it takes to do what he’s been doing for the past five years. He knows better than anyone the consequences of being unprepared and untrained. He has suffered and he has watched people he cares about suffer and die. So yes. Oliver was being extremely tough on them, but they need to understand there’s more to being a vigilante than putting on a mask and beating up bad guys. You have to be able to discipline yourself to stick to the plan because if you don’t, you put not only yourself but also your teammates at risk. That’s why it bothered me when Felicity pulled Oliver aside to tell him he needed to be nicer to the recruits.

On the one hand, Felicity’s point that positive reinforcement is necessary for training is true. If all you ever tell a trainee is what they’re doing wrong, you’re not going to help build their confidence in their abilities which in turn causes them to miss the lessons you’re trying to teach. Constructive criticism goes a long way, and I don’t disagree with Felicity on that point. But on the other hand, Felicity has been with Oliver almost since the beginning. She’s witnessed firsthand the kind of people Team Arrow has had to face. Any team Oliver trains, he’s got be able to depend on them being disciplined and willing to follow orders. So it doesn’t do Oliver or any of the recruits any favors to go easy on them. That’s why I almost laughed out loud when Felicity asked Oliver whether he had anyone be nice to him on the island while they were training him. The answer is no. Not really. He got beat up and broken on a regular basis. He got called names, and I’m sure his feelings got hurt over and over. No one told him nice things and made him feel good about himself. Lives were at stake, and there was no time for hand-holding. The same is true now with these recruits. If they don’t learn the lessons Oliver is teaching, it could mean lives lost. Part of the problem is that Felicity has never been a solider. She’s never had to follow orders. She’s never had to fight for her life the way Oliver has. That’s not to say Felicity’s life has all been sunshine and rainbows, but she hasn’t been through the things that Oliver’s been through, so her trying to tell him how to train the recruits was kind of off-putting.

Curtis also called Oliver out. His primary argument was that they don’t trust Oliver because Oliver doesn’t trust them. That’s valid. But why should Oliver trust them? They are a group of inexperienced, vigilante wannabes who more than likely would be more of a liability than an assist on a mission. Curtis has never been a solider or fighter of any kind, so it’s not like Oliver could trust him to have his back right now. And Rene seems to be allergic to following orders which is also dangerous while on missions. Oliver has no reason to trust them with his life. Not yet anyway. I get that Curtis was angry and frustrated by Oliver’s (admittedly extreme) methods, but who ever said that training to be a hero was easy?

While Oliver is stateside attempting to train a new team, Diggle was over in the Middle East finding out his faith in the Army may have been misplaced. I was kind of bummed when Diggle decided to walk away at the end of last season and go back to the Army, but I was hoping it meant they were going to bring back the real Diggle. I wasn’t impressed with the direction they took Dig’s character last season. He made decisions that the Diggle I’ve come to know and love over the previous seasons never would have made. He was erratic and unreliable. Those are also qualities Diggle never possessed. It would be one thing if that Diggle had slowly emerged over time, but it was a rather abrupt shift in his character that seemed like it was done just to set up the situation with Andy. All of that being said, I am hoping they’re bringing Dig back around but I’m not overly confident given what happened in this episode. Dig revealed that he joined the Army because he doesn’t have to question his mission and following orders gives him comfort. So naturally the next thing we see is Diggle’s commanding officer betraying the troops under his command and setting Dig up to take the fall for it. I forsee this leading to an even more lost and adrift Diggle which could be interesting dramatic ground to explore. However, I’m hoping this leads Dig to rediscover why he started working with Oliver in the first place and return to the team. Dig had a rough go of it with all the revelations about Andy and Laurel’s death, so I can understand him needing to take a step back. But ultimately, he joined Team Arrow for a reason and if he can get back to that reason, maybe he can find the purpose he’s been looking for. Plus, Oliver and Dig need each other.

All in all, this was a pretty good episode. We met Ragman, and he’s really just a kid who, like Oliver, feels tasked with a mission of vengeance. That’s an odd bonding point, but it worked. Speaking of the nuclear bomb that destroyed Ragman’s home and killed his family, I sincerely hope this means the show is going to actually address the repercussions of a nuclear strike. I said last season I was pretty disappointed that no one really dealt with the fact that a nuclear bomb killed tens of thousands of people. Ragman showing up and ostensibly joining Team Arrow might mean that we’re actually going to deal with that particular elephant in the room. I’m also feeling a bit sorry for Quentin. He’s had a rough year and has fallen off the wagon as a result. But it was good to see Thea no abandon Quentin to the bottle. She’s stepping up to try and help him, and I sincerely hope it works out because goodness knows Quentin could use a break. I don’t know who Prometheus is, but he’s sure got a hate on for The Green Arrow and seems pretty possessive about it. I’m intrigued. So what did y’all think of this week’s Arrow?