Arrow – Season 6 Episode 17
“Brothers in Arms”
Arrow explores Diggle’s desire to take on the mantle of Green Arrow causing a major rift to develop between the the only two members of the team who go out in the field.
Broadly speaking this season has been about loss, it could be argued that it has been about change but that change has almost always taken the form of loss. It’s the visceral kind of loss that is always haunting because the people are very much alive but can’t be reached because too many mistakes have been made.
The departure of the newer members of the team is seen as the first step of what ended up being the major theme of the season though I now see the team splitting in two was an escalation of a previously unknown problem as Oliver has been losing team members for a long time. Roy left back in season 3 and Thea made her own decision to step back from being a vigilante following the events of season 4 before finally opting to leave altogether last week. Roy and Thea didn’t leave on negative terms as such as their decisions weren’t motivated by being unable to trust Oliver or work with him any more but both were largely motivated by what the vigilante lifestyle does to people.
Team Arrow is a very intense environment as there isn’t a lot of scope to use your own initiative. Oliver is very much a leader who likes to make it clear that he’s in charge and that his orders must be followed without exception. Considering the results this approach has managed to achieve over the years but it’s also a very alienating approach as it makes people feel like they’re part of someone else’s mission rather than working towards something that means a lot to them
In many ways this forms the basis of the central argument in this episode. Diggle has been there by Oliver’s side pretty much since the beginning and has followed every decision he has made pretty much without question. Their partnership has always been an honest and respectful one with Diggle always able to provide insightful advice whenever Oliver needed it. Diggle has consistently been the one to help Oliver arrive at whatever decision he has made even if that decision wasn’t something Diggle necessarily agreed with. Strangely allowing the two men to disagree is something the show hasn’t done an awful lot of but considering Diggle’s background as a soldier it makes some sense that he considers Oliver his commanding officer so goes along with that decision. The fact that he trusts Oliver means that he feels that he is doing the right thing by following his commands and knowing that Oliver was at least open to discussing things would help with accepting that.
This episode marks the culmination of what amounts to years of suppressing feelings in the name of friendship. Recently Diggle has been hung up on reclaiming the Green Arrow mantle which has made things decidedly uncomfortable for Oliver has he doesn’t want to give up being Green Arrow but doesn’t want to disappoint his friend either so the situation creates a rift between them that Oliver was putting off addressing. Thea told him that he shouldn’t string Diggle along last week and Felicity echoes those sentiments this week. It’s good advice and Oliver is putting it off using the excuse that he’s waiting for the right moment when in reality there is no such thing.
Eventually he has the talk and gets down to the point by asking Diggle what it is about wearing a specific costume that he is so attached to. No matter what costume he wears in the field he still does just as much good so as far as Oliver is concerned it shouldn’t really make a difference. Another thing to consider that isn’t said is that Diggle is no use at being an archer so Green Arrow isn’t really the right identity for him anyway.
Oliver’s challenge to Diggle about what difference it makes is interesting because that can be applied in reverse. If it doesn’t make a difference then why does it make a difference to Oliver? If the Green Arrow mantle is meaningless to him and meaningful to Diggle then the situation could be resolved by Oliver letting him have it and taking on the role of Spartan instead. Since this show is called Arrow and Oliver Queen is the protagonist then that’s not exactly possible so there has to be a special connection between Oliver and the identity he has created.
One thing that Arrow has made clear over the past 6 seasons is that his vigilante identity is important to him. The name may not be something he finds meaningful considering the fact that it has changed a number of times but 5 seasons of island flashbacks were focused on explaining the reasons behind Oliver becoming the man he was in season 1. His first hood was important to him because it was a reminder of Yao Fei, Shado and his time on the island in general. He wore it initially to honour them and remind himself of what had been lost in order to make it possible for him begin his crusade. From there it grew to represent something much grander and acts as a symbol of everything he has accomplished as well as how much better he is as a person.
This is backed up by Oliver pointing out that he wants to be Green Arrow because he considers that to be the best version of himself. He was willing to surrender the identity to Diggle because he wanted William to not have to worry about his father not coming home one night and was willing to return to it when Diggle was unable to fulfil that obligation. It is mentioned that at the time he meant it when he wanted Diggle to inherit the mantle and he also meant it when he said he would eventually return it to him but his mind has changed and he is now at the point where he wants to be the Green Arrow and is no longer willing to give that up. Oliver considering what the identity represents to be trivial is a shallow attempt to put the argument to rest and it’s good that the episode addresses that and cuts down to the truth. It’s certainly better than following the Iris model and trying to say that they’re all Green Arrow.
Lyla makes a welcome return and acts as a sounding board for Diggle to help him put his frustration in context. Part of the reason for feeling the way he does is because of leadership. Part of him feels that the current situation wouldn’t exist if he had remained in charge and had managed the situation. It’s an interesting theory as it’s possible that Diggle could have kept the team together if you ignore the fact that his drug use caused problems and his inability to be open with them about his own issues made those worse.
This brings us to the centre piece of the episode; the argument between Oliver and Diggle where Diggle finally finds a way to articulate how he feels and doesn’t hold back when letting Oliver know. Leadership is the basis of his entire argument as he finally airs his opinion on Oliver’s recent approach to leading the team. In Diggle’s opinion Oliver has been spreading himself too thin by juggling the roles of husband, father, Mayor and Green Arrow. It’s a lot to take on and Diggle thinks that means Oliver isn’t as focused as he could be.
Oliver’s admission that the Green Arrow identity affords him a sense of completeness as a person irks Diggle because he never saw the crusade as being about vanity when at least a part of it is for Oliver. Oliver’s defence that he has lost too much in his mission for it not to feel personal is reasonable and Diggle’s argument ignores the fact that he saw the Green Arrow mantle as something that would help complete him.
The interesting thing about Diggle’s argument is that it’s not entirely fair but it is completely valid because Diggle has interpreted recent events in such a way that gives him a particular version of the truth that has a great deal of bias attached to it. Diggle is a human being so he will see things from his own point of view. In some ways he might be trying to absolve himself of blame because he feels like he was an accessory to the decisions that split the team apart, caused the death of Vince and bankrupted the city. Looking back Diggle did encourage Oliver to be sure of a decision before making it but it couldn’t really be called resistance. Once again its his version of events designed to point out that Oliver has lost sight of what’s important and doesn’t deserve to be considered a hero.
It doesn’t stop there as Diggle attempts to make some visceral truths clear to Oliver. He points out that Rene is lying in a hospital because of the beating that Oliver gave him and reminds Oliver that William’s mother is dead because of decisions Oliver made. Once again none of what he says is entirely fair because Diggle is oversimplifying those issues. Rene’s injuries are part of a much larger set of events and Oliver was ultimately acting in self defence at that point. Of course the harshness of the beating is up for debate but broadly the issue isn’t as simple as that. The same applies to Samantha’s death which can’t really be considered Oliver’s fault considering she was captured after Adrian Chase went after people important to Oliver. That couldn’t be predicted and none of his decisions led to that moment as such. The fact that she doesn’t make it off the island is a point of regret and it is a cheap shot on Diggle’s part because his statements are designed to hurt more than anything else.
Oliver isn’t above pointing out some truths of his own such as Diggle’s drug problem and the fact that he doesn’t see it as being justifiable in any way because it put the team at risk because they had no idea that he was a potential liability. That is definitely fair to say and the fact that Oliver let it slide because he trusted Diggle speaks volumes about the faith he has in his friend but being lectured about his own shortcomings forces him to remind Diggle that he’s far from flawless and his own decisions aren’t exactly above reproach.
Eventually a line is crossed after Diggle tells Oliver that he leaves a trail of bodies in his wake followed up by Oliver bringing up the fact that Diggle killed his own brother. Diggle reacts violently to this and the two have a short fight. It’s not a well choreographed or stylish fight which feels oddly perfect as it’s two very angry men coming to blows because their conversation is getting neither of them anywhere. It represents the breaking of a long standing partnership so it should be clumsy and awkward because neither of them are their best selves at that point.
The argument only really works if you remember that Diggle is operating on his own version of the truth from a narrative standpoint but from an acting standpoint the performances carry it perfectly. David Ramsey has material that he can really sink his teeth into and deliver a performance that is wonderful in how raw it is. So much is accomplished with his facial expressions showcasing the complex set of emotions Diggle experiences throughout. Stephen Amell holds up his end of it as well with a moment where Diggle says something that really gets to him being the absolute highlight. Oliver’s expression says exactly how much it got to him and the whole thing is a demonstration of two excellent actors who know their characters inside out.
Felicity is the one to break up the fight reminding each of them that they have a job to do and clearing the air somewhat. Using her to temporarily diffuse the tension is a good move as Felicity represents the middle ground in this situation who is committed to getting the job done. Ultimately Diggle and Oliver work together effectively to bring down Diaz’ drug operation but it only proves to Diggle that he can no longer work with Oliver because he no longer trusts his judgement. It’s heart breaking and raises the stakes considerably as Oliver is now one man in the field against Ricardo Diaz’ considerable resources. I suspect the split will be a temporary one but I get the sense that the nature of the relationship has changed which may be a good thing.
Evil Laurel once again proves that she’s evil by secretly texting information to Ricardo Diaz despite Quentin’s attempts to help her become a better person. He suggests following in his Laurel’s footsteps by studying the law which amusingly leads her to come up with an idea that derails Oliver’s credibility as Mayor as firing both the Police Captain and District attorney is seen as an abuse of position. Evil Laurel shows she has intelligence that she is willing to use in a spiteful way though I’m now pretty sure that she is beyond redemption.
Dinah and Curtis’ part of the plot isn’t really worth mentioning other than it keeps the wheels spinning on their contribution to the overall arc. Dinah is still working to weed out police corruption and succeeding to a certain extent though putting herself in a really difficult position in the process. Curtis’ main challenge is the fact that his new boyfriend hates vigilantes until he finds out that Curtis is one and changes his position on that. The police corruption has a part to play in that but as conflicts go it’s very much a non issue as there is no time taken to explore it.
An excellent episode that takes a connection that has existed since the early days of the show and tears it apart. Getting to the truth of Diggle’s obsession with becoming the Green Arrow proves to be fascinating as there is so much more to it than initially thought. The exploration of this throughout the episode is great and the brutal argument they have makes for really powerful viewing. Diggle’s decision to leave Team Arrow raises the stakes in a big way and there’s a sense that the relationship has been forever altered as a result.
Evil Laurel confirms her loyalties as well as using Quentin’s desire to help her do good as a way to get one over on Oliver. The way her intelligence is used in spiteful ways is really clever and it seems that she is now beyond redemption. Dinah and Curtis’ contribution is fine but nothing noteworthy with the weakest part being Curtis’ new boyfriend hating vigilantes until he doesn’t.
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