At least once in every season of Arrow or The Flash there seems to be an episode where the titular hero has to again be reminded of the power of teamwork and perils of going it alone. This is usually framed as Oliver or Barry suddenly turning mournful about the danger they inherently, but inadvertently bring to all of their friends. Plus, sometimes Oliver is just stubborn. Correction: a lot of the time he is stubborn.
“Disbanded” both does and does not fall into this familiar episode arc. It has many of the same trappings and inevitable inter-team confrontations/pep talks, but these scenarios don’t typically entail Oliver or Barry flat out giving up on everything and trying to quit. However, that’s what Oliver tried to do, with the episode picking up directly from where “Kapiushon” ended in revealing Oliver’s reaction to Chase’s soul-crushing torture session is to employ the nuclear option, to burn it all down and salt the Earth. Team Arrow is dead and buried, so sayeth Oliver Queen.
Classic Oliver, really, not so much that he would give up like that, but more that he would unilaterally decide such a thing for the team with no input and next to zero details shared about what specifically Chase did to him to drive him to such an extreme decision. It’s also adorably naïve, but also believable given his past behavior, that Oliver would seriously believe Diggle and the rest would simply fall in line and follow his orders. Sure, he pulled that dick move by cutting off access to Arrow headquarters, but they’re all just a wee bit too invested at this point to call it good just because Oliver says so and cuts them off from their supplies. Heck, Curtis, Rene, and Dina have all lost significant others along the way, and being a part of Team Arrow helped them move on and find a renewed purpose in life (although, obviously, it was exactly his membership in Team Arrow which cost Curtis his significant other).
But the heavy lifting fell to Diggle, as well it should. Felicity is still going down the Helix rabbit hole, and speedwalks about as if her mind is someplace else and she so doesn’t have the time or patience anymore for Oliver/Diggle’s pesky moral quandaries. File that away for “will be dealt with in future episode.” That left it to Diggle to be the patient, not-giving-up-on-you-even-if-you’ve-give-up-on-yourself brother Oliver needed, with the former scolding the latter for hiring Anatoli and the Bratva to kill Chase. It’s a familiar character dynamic, but one which Amell and Ramsey always play well, even if the script tries a little too hard to spell it out for us (as here when Diggle connects the line between Oliver’s current despair and his own back when he was in prison as explanation for why won’t give up on him).
In general, there wasn’t much in “Disbanded” which was subtle or difficult to understand. This was a classic case of “there, but for the grace of God, goes…” character comparison, offering up poor Anatoli as the sacrificial lamb necessary to Oliver remembering how crucial his team is to his mental and moral well-being. In the flashbacks, we saw Anatoli attempt to persuade Oliver to stay with him in Russia by tricking him into a vigilante mission with an altruistic, “make the world a slightly better place” outcome. In the present, though, we see what five years of running the Bratva on his own has done to Anatoli, forcing him to steal diabetes drugs to extract a necessary ingredient for a new, Iron Fist-esque opiate in high demand in Russian.
If the past 5 years have taken Oliver to some dark places it stands to reason that the same would be true of Anatoli, despite the fact that our prior visits with him in the present have usually been more of the fun-loving variety (partially because David Nykl’s performance makes the character so instantly lovable). However, it’s worth remembering that in the comics Anatoli is a villain, specifically the KGBeast. He was perhaps always heading for a point of declaring war on Oliver. “Disbanded” just went out of its way to make us understand that at one point Anatoli and Oliver were like brothers, but when Oliver left and found a new brother in Diggle Anatoli was left without any support and had to do whatever he could to survive.
As Stephen Amell told HeroicHollywood last week, “The interesting thing is that what Prometheus has done is base his plan off of Oliver’s pattern of behavior. Oliver’s pattern of behavior has been, ‘I’m going solo.’ When the chips are really down, he retreats and it’s just him. So, the fact that Oliver now has a team might be the one thing that Chase can’t plan for.”
Anatoli didn’t have that, and now Arrow has set up a future threat for Team Arrow to worry about, with the promise of rogue Bratva members gunning for them (plus, Dolph Lundgren’s big bad is still alive for some reason). One wonders if Chase will be defeated sooner than expected and the final episodes will pit the team against someone else, Bratva maybe, Talia perhaps. At the very least, we know Black Siren will be back (and for good this time).
2. Thea’s not around because Willa Holland wanted this to be a part-time job this season, which is perfectly fine. Still, “brother was tortured and has completely changed his worldview” would seem like reason enough for Thea to re-emerge from wherever she’s at now.
3. Of course Helix could figure out Felicity and Curtis’ Team Arrow identities in 8 minutes. In Curtis’ case, anyone with eyes and clear vision could do that in one second.
4. It was fun and all to see Team Arrow in action without their costumes, but didn’t it seem a little too soon for Oliver and the team to be gunning down Bratva gangsters just a week after Oliver’s soul-crushing “I killed people because I liked it!” epiphany?
5. Felicity and her Helix doppleganger should absolutely go undercover exactly like she described.
6. When exactly did Oliver upgrade the costumes?