After six episodes that have been more good than bad, Arrow continued its fourth season with “Brotherhood” on Nov. 18. The episode saw John Diggle coming face to face with his not-so-dead brother as Oliver crossed Damien Darhk without a hood or mask to protect his identity for the first time. With a much-deserved focus on Digg, Team Arrow trying to handle the Andy situation, Oliver trying to figure out how to run for mayor and take down H.I.V.E., there was potential for “Brotherhood” to be one of the greatest episodes in the history of Arrow.
Unfortunately, “Brotherhood” fell short, and it was difficult to remain invested throughout. The failure was not creative and certainly not performance. The failure was instead almost entirely practical, and practical failure is far more difficult to overlook than creative failure. Creative failure can be offset by pretty scenes and swelling scores and attractive people posing in flattering lighting. Practical failure is always evident.
“Brotherhood” was the Arrow directorial debut of James Bamford, who has worked on the show as stunt coordinator from the very beginning, and the action background was apparent in his episode as stunts galore began to bore and the dearth of humanity began to drag. Episodes of Arrow are 42 minutes, and they need far more nuance to the plot and character relationships for the action sequences to feel anything but particularly flashy filler killing time.
There’s no denying that the athleticism to the stuntwork in “Brotherhood” was exceptional, and the stuntwoman behind the Speedy mask certainly earned her pay in the elevator fight sequence between Thea and Andy Diggle. Arrow, however, isn’t about athleticism. Arrow is about Oliver Queen and the mission of Team Arrow to save Star City. If Arrow were about athleticism, the cast would be comprised of stunt experts and martial artists rather than actors. Stephen Amell can do many of his own stunts, but he wasn’t cast because of it.
The overabundance of action sequences that were frankly too fast-paced and numerous to be as impressive as they might have been were not the only problem to the fight scenes. Bamford chose to use a technique of camerawork that involved turning the cameraman into a character holding a camcorder, with the jostling and jolting of the footage mimicking the jostling and jolting of the scene.
The issue is that the action sequences in which the close camerawork was most evident were ones in which a sense of intimacy and isolation was needed to create suspense. Speedy vs. Andy wasn’t truly terrifying because there was an observer in the elevator with them. Oliver being bashed around storage containers wasn’t nerve-wracking because he wasn’t alone among enemies. Digg flinging an arrow and dragging Oliver away didn’t feel desperate because there was somebody tagging along. The sequences felt like they were lifted from a hybrid episode of Arrow and The Office, and that is a crossover that nobody has ever needed to imagine.
Sadly, the camerawork and overabundance of stuntwork were not the only practical troubles to “Brotherhood.” The editing and music composition fell short in key moments that could have raised the tension and increased the poignancy of scenes that are landmarks to the season.
Oliver meeting Damien Darhk at the event for the police department as himself rather than the Green Arrow needed to be given a sort of dark grandeur from the very first second. Instead, Damien Darhk casually introduced himself and Oliver casually responded. There was not extra beat of significance to make Oliver look impressive for keeping a straight face or for Damien Darhk to instill a sense of sudden menace pervading what had been a hopeful scene. The note of vaguely evil discord over the soundtrack didn’t play until the introduction had been made, and so this major moment felt as though it had been done a hundred times before and was not particularly deserving of close attention.
“Brotherhood” emphasized all of the wrong things and completely overlooked moments of narrative movement that involved characterization and dynamics between hero and villain that could have helped sell the missteps as something more acceptable. The most effective moments within the action sequences were when Digg came to reaffirm his brotherhood with Oliver and when Thea had her unexpected showdown with Darhk. Those were moments in which the actors who have brought these characters to life were visible and recognizable behind their masks, not beats in which they epically landed the most epic punches in the history of epic punches.
Arrow is never going to sweep the awards circuit for writing, and airing on the relatively diminutive CW means that it will never have the budget of a DC comic show such as Supergirl on CBS or even Gotham on Fox. Arrow becomes remarkable when the actors are allowed to elevate the material and turn the series into something compelling enough to become invested. Stuntwork and action sequences are important to Arrow, but they are not the most important, and balance between action and development should never be 50/50.
Arrow airs on Wednesday nights at 8 p.m. EST on The CW.
Stay tuned to Examiner for breakdowns of what worked, what didn’t, and what needs to happen next for Arrow after “Brotherhood!”