Arrow S04E07 “Brotherhood” REVIEW
Airing in the UK on Sky One, Weds 8pm
Writers: Speed Weed, Keto Shimizu
Director: James Bamford
Essential Plot Points:
- Team Arrow foil a raid by HIVE’s ghosts on a bank van full of money, but the soldiers blow the money up rather than stealing it, making Oliver realise they’re trying to bankrupt the city and bring it to its knees.
- Felicity asks Ray for his expert help after it emerges the HIVE soldiers have somehow masked their DNA, making identifying them impossible. She also badgers him to come back to his old life and job, but he resists.
- Oliver’s political fixer Alex wants Oliver to shelve his campaign pledge to clean up Starling Bay but Oliver thinks it will help regenerate the city and create jobs. He’s also worried Oliver’s worked out he’s dating Thea.
- Ray identifies a chemical needed to fix the DNA masking, but when Team Arrow heads to the building to retrieve some, they run up against HIVE forces. In the melee, Diggle pulls the mask off one of them… and discovers it’s his brother.
- Darhk tells Lance his security team doesn’t trust the captain, and thinks he lured Darhk out last week to allow Team Arrow to follow him. While in his office, Lance sees a note about something going down at the docs.
- After giving a campaign speech at a police benefit, Oliver is approached by Damien Darhk who wants to support the Queen for Mayor campaign, if Oliver drops his plans to develop the bay.
- A sleazy guy hits on Thea while she’s out on a date with Alex. The blood lust kicks in and she batters him senseless until a shocked Alex stops her.
- Oliver and Diggle spy on Darhk at the docks and discover he’s giving his troops a yellow pill that not only masks their DNA but makes them susceptible to his will.
- Ray tells Felicity he’s not coming back because he feels like he’s failed; with Star City in trouble and Palmer Tech going the same way, he blames himself and wants to find a new focus for his life.
- The team tracks the HIVE soldiers to a former asylum and launches a raid to capture Andy Diggle. They retrieve him, but not before Thea runs into Darhk. However, when he tries to drain the life from her, he fails… and he drains her blood lust instead.
- Thea asks for Malcolm’s help in recreating the effect, while Diggle confronts his brother about the claims he was drug dealing before his supposed death. Andy says the reports are all true.
- Oliver gives his speech at the docks pledging to improve the bay and vows that the fight for the city will be held in the daylight, not in the shadows. It’s aimed at Darhk, who watches on from the crowd.
- In flashbacks to Lian Yu, it emerges the slave worker that Conklin bribed to try and kill Oliver is the brother of Taiana, the woman he rescued earlier this season. Reiter determines through an apparently magical bunch of twigs that Conklin was responsible, and has Oliver whip him in front of the slaves as punishment.
Finding fault with Arrow at the moment is almost an exercise in nitpicking. The show’s found such a strong vein of form for its fourth season, with both arc plot and flashback progressing at a lick, a real sense of momentum and some genuine bravery in writing, performance and direction.
Writing these reviews is almost becoming dull; not because the episodes are bad, but because there’s only so many way you can say “Arrow’s really good just now, and this week’s no different”.
So, let’s not muck about. Arrow’s really good just now, and this week’s no different.
“Brotherhood” builds on the serial storytelling of this season, with seemingly small moments from earlier this term being the catalyst for key action this week. The apparently throwaway moment when one of the HIVE soldiers didn’t kill Diggle, and the fact that HIVE had Andy Diggle killed, turn out to have been building to this: the revelation that not only is John’s brother alive, but he’s working for Damien Darhk’s operation.
Family dynamics have always been a strong part of the show, with the relationship between Oliver and Thea, Oliver and Diggle, Thea and Merlyn, the Queens and the Lances at the heart of what drives Arrow. Now we’ve got the appearance of things that could upset those balances: Ray returning and clearly still smitten with Felicity Smoak (and let’s be honest, who isn’t?), and Andy Diggle returning from the dead to face his brother. Familial loyalties that can be tested, particularly by a villain who we know values loyalty.
Weed and Shimizu’s script rattles along with a sense of purpose which, coupled by debutant director James Banford’s bold visual choices, picks up the pace after a couple of weeks of the show taking its foot off the pedal. Kudos especially to them for finding a way of making the big set piece fight look and feel different to anything Arrow’s done before.
The expanded Team Arrow has at times felt like it’s struggling to give all the cast something to do, with the storylines having largely favoured away from Diggle until now, but this week’s episode means the always reliably excellent David Ramsey gets more to do. He doesn’t fail to deliver, especially in the closing scene with the Diggle brothers coming face to face, but also in a surprisingly touching and gently understated scene with Katie Cassidy when Diggle and Laurel discuss the nature of loss and recovering loved ones.
But most importantly, after a couple of weeks of being in the background, Neal McDonough and his terrifying eyes are front and centre again, and his presence as Darhk elevates “Brotherhood” from being a good episode to a great one.
The quiet menace and the politician’s charisma we see, even in the wordless look he gives at Oliver’s press conference, convey so much more than any ranting histrionics from Barrowman. He’s more like a modern Bond villain than a comic book one: urbane, witty, immaculately dressed and utterly menacing.
It also helps, oddly, that he’s shorter than most of the cast following three years of BIG big bads. As Danny Boyle famously once said, small psychos are the best…
- The direction around the fight sequence at the mental asylum during the bid to extract Andy is genuinely brilliant. For the fourth episode in a row the direction takes on a radically different feel. At times it almost feels like Peep Show, it’s so close to the action, and runs in single long takes; the sequence with Speedy in the lift especially.
- Likewise, there’s a brilliant moment at the start of the raid when Black Canary drops two floors off the roof of a building into the action, with the camera physically following her all the way down. It’s a really cleverly staged and shot sequence that manages to look better than any of the “flying” stuff in Jessica Jones.
- The Arrowverse has always had a tongue-in-cheek approach to pop culture references, but Damien Darhk nicknaming Thea Merida – after the archer heroine in Pixar’s Brave – is one of the most expected yet.
- Right, lets get this out the way. Doing “flying” isn’t easy if you don’t have a massive CGI budget, complicated wire work and so on. The team that make Iron Man’s flight in the MCU look so convincing have all that. The team that does effects on Arrow really doesn’t, and it shows. Much as I love Ray, and the idea of the ATOM suit, the execution of it here basically feels like an animated gif being moved across the picture. It feels like they haven’t quite worked out what they want the ATOM suit to be, other than a Primark Iron Man outfit with a hockey helmet.
- Disappointingly there’s no follow-up on last week’s flirting between Lance and Donna, or a place for Curtis – even if that’s understandable given just how much seemed to be going on this week.
- More just unfortunate than really bad, but Darhk being revealed to use a colour-based mind control power’s really unlucky timing this week…
- There’s not a lot to fault with Arrow this week, so let’s just say them taking a week off for Thanksgiving is a right pain given the momentum the show’s got at the moment.
And the Random:
- Veteran stunt coordinator James Banford, who’s overseen action sequences since year one on Arrow, makes his full debut as a director on this episode and on the evidence here, should be asked back ASAP.
- So. Andy Diggle then. In case you haven’t worked it out, John’s brother is directly named after the brilliant British comics writer, responsible for a number of great runs – but most significantly here on Green Arrow: Year One, which inspired the tone, bits of the storyline and the appearance of China White in series one of Arrow. John Diggle was always intended as a nod in a show that’s not afraid to make little namecheck to significant DC and Green Arrow writers and artists (not least Marv Wolfman in this week’s show) but this is the most blatant namecheck of them all. If you haven’t read any of this stuff, Green Arrow: Year One is great and the Losers (which ended up being a moderately fun Hollywood film) is bloody tremendous. Both see Diggle linking up with Scottish artist Mark “Jock” Simpson, with whom he’d also worked at 2000AD.
- This week’s obligatory 52 references – Slip 52 at the docks and Channel 52 at the press conference.
Review by Iain Hepburn. You can listen to his podcast at www.fromthesublime.com