You should watch the latest Arrow episode with the sound off. This is not an insult to the dialogue in “Brotherhood,” but a tribute to the fights. Not only could this story be told largely through the ass-kickings, this style could actually change what we expect from Arrow and superhero shows.
This Arrow episode was directed by James Bamford, who has worked on Arrow as a fight choreographer. I didn’t know this while watching it for the first time, but I soon found out—because the moment the episode starts something is different. Instead of steady shots during the armored van chase, we push through the pursuing ghost’s pursuing vehicles to get to the van. Once the van has been crashed, the camera lopes loosely alongside the ghosts as they try to execute the driver.
Once the Arrow team shows up, we see a fight without establishing shots. We don’t see Laurel land on the armored van, we see the effects of her scream and then pan up to reveal her already screaming. When she’s about to get shot in the back, a van comes out of nowhere and bounces the ghost off its fender. We’re more “in” the fight than usual.
The team fails—because the HIVE agents simply burn the money in the van instead of stealing it. As they analyze this in the Arrowcave, the camera is visibly placed among them, swooping back and forth as they talk.
That tooth that Dig pulled out of a ghost’s mouth a few episodes ago had its DNA degraded by a compound at Wolfman Biologics. The Arrow team goes to get the compound. When Thea jumps into a fight, we don’t see a fight, then her, then her jumping in. Instead we creep along the ground towards a fight, already in progress, and she leaps over “our” left shoulder to join in.
Dig gets the drop on one of the HIVE agents and unmasks him, and what every viewer already suspected turns out to be true—the agent is his brother.
Turn the sound back on for this scene. Sure, you could put together what’s happening from the visuals but it’s wrong to deny Arrow watchers that voice. Especially the evil whisper, which is like a cat’s paw drenched in hot fudge, but sexy. Thea’s bloodlust is back, and Merlyn is selecting appropriate victims for Thea to murderize. He flashes his beautiful blue eyes at us like they’re headlights in the distance on a deserted highway, and slinks off.
(And speaking of flashing. To the reader who sent me a picture of John Barrowman mooning the camera during an Arrow cast photo—you’re a sweetheart. Thank you.)
David Ramsey absolutely kills the scenes in which he processes his brother’s return, coupled with all the evil stuff his brother has done. The main one happens at a fundraiser for Ollie’s mayoral campaign (where Damien Darhk threatens him because he wants to clean up Starling Bay). It’s impressive that Ramsey can push forward all the pain and betrayal that the character has been repressing without resorting to the twitches and tics that many other actors use to show emotional turmoil. Dig cuts his brother off entirely. Even evidence that shows that the ghosts are under chemical mind control doesn’t sway him.
(Also, it’s funny how they talk about Carly, Andy’s widow from season one, while tactfully not referring to the fact that she and Dig both had the hots for each other in a major way and even went on a few dates.)
Thea wallops a guy at a bar. We see it from waist height as she brings his head down against a table. (I would especially advise having the sound off for this scene. From the weird stilted banter between her and Alex to the guy hitting on her with the line, “You look like the kind of girl where no means yes. Come on baby!” This is a auditory facepalm.)
When Ollie and Dig go after a group of HIVE agents, we zoom through the advancing HIVE agents and turn around to watch the Arrow duo get the drop on the group. We see parts of bodies, hands holding grenades, in the foreground. Bodies barrel in from one side of the screen and sweep people to the other side of the screen.
This one is an assault on the ghost’s lair. We follow Laurel as she jumps off a roof onto the ground. We watch her cut through a group of ghosts from ultra close up and then pull back to a wider view.
I think I’ve described the action enough. Instead I’ll talk about why this could be a game-changer. It’s not that I want James Bamford to do all the directing from now on. These fight scenes are well done, and creatively shot, but if they were in every episode, audiences would get tired of it just like they get tired of everything else.
But this episode could be a game-changer, not just for Arrow but for superhero shows, because this episode so clearly stands out, in terms of style, from every other episode. One of the fun things about comics is their mix of styles. Artists and writers shape their book. If a comic book took the same story, or even the same script, and handed it to two different artists, the resulting books would have totally different feels to them. In comics, an individual’s sense of style really matters.
Superhero shows, even great ones, don’t have that same mix of styles. There are a few outliers—the episode in which Thea was healed in Nanda Parbat last season comes to mind because it had a real Indiana Jones feel—but for the most part, we know what visuals we’re going to get each week. The idea of directors each embracing his or her personal vision in each episode, giving us a mix of episodes, each with a wildly different “feel” to it, would change the way we see superhero shows.
This episode could be described as The James Bamford episode. Other directors could make Arrow a soft-focus melodrama, or a big, bright adventure, or a weirdo art-house flick, not because they were imitating genres but because they each imposed their own style on each episode. Letting each director realize a vision with the same characters would make Arrow like superhero comics in a way no show has ever even attempted. I think it would be great.
Oh, and the team “rescue” Andy Diggle. And Andy confirms he’s evil. It’s a bummer, but I think we’re not getting the whole story. On the other hand, Thea not only resists Darhk’s face-melt touch but turns it back on him and takes her bloodlust away. That could be useful.
The man Ollie killed (Vlad) was the brother of the woman Ollie failed to kill (Taiana). Ollie is forced to whip the living shit out of the guy who’s been plotting against him all this time. Ollie fails to tell Taiana he killed her brother. That can’t possibly go wrong.