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Arrow recap: Darhk’s plans suddenly become personal in ‘Brotherhood’

Damien Darhk meets Oliver Queen for the first time, as H.I.V.E.'s plans become suddenly personal to several members of Team Arrow in "Brotherhood."

Damien Darhk meets Oliver Queen for the first time, as H.I.V.E.'s plans become suddenly personal to several members of Team Arrow in “Brotherhood.”

(Cate Cameron / The CW)

For the past few weeks, “Arrow” has been a victim of its own success.

The series that kick-started CW’s attempt to create an episodic live-action comic book universe had become almost slavishly devoted to constructing that world in recent weeks, doing its best to set up January’s “Legends of Tomorrow” pilot while leaving the story of Star City on a hamster wheel.

Now, with Ray Palmer no longer the size of a fingernail and Sara Lance no longer dead, “Arrow” was able to spend at least one week focusing inward on the various threats to the Emerald Archer and his team in “Brotherhood” — and boy, did it deliver.

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I’ve been enamored with “Flash” lately and am definitely looking forward to “Legends,” but episodes like this one are a quick reminder of why “Arrow” was able to kick down the door for a world full of television heroes to exist on one network in the first place.

The biggest problem with “Arrow” lately has been crowding. While the series’ writing team has done well to give each member of Team Arrow conflicts that are both linked to and separate from the Damien Darhk issue, none of them seemed to have the proper room to breathe when bunched in with the Legends obligations.

That is no longer a problem in “Brotherhood.” Thea’s bloodlust, Diggle’s hunt for his brother, Oliver’s pursuit of political office and even the recently returned Ray Palmer’s existential crisis all manage to take up just the right amount of screen time in the episode, with each character getting important personal moments from the various threads while tying everything back to the terror that is Damien Darhk.

Speaking of Darhk, this was his true coming-out party. Much like Zoom in last week’s “Flash” episode, Neal McDonough had some true nightmare moments here — of the “Mom, I need to sleep in your room tonight” kind — between his effortless enslavement of a group of soldiers and his spine-tingling appearance during Oliver’s visit to the police benefit.

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For weeks, Darhk was more bogeyman than arch-fiend. In the premiere, he seemed to have a plan. His army was unstoppable. And then he kind of just … faded into the background.

For whatever reason (ahem, cough, the show needed to setup “Legends”) Darhk turned into a Saturday-morning cartoon villain for a few weeks, sitting in his dark tower and tossing baddies at Oliver. That’s not to say that McDonough wasn’t still excellent at being menacing and arrogant in all those scenes, but he was more Dr. Claw to Ollie’s Inspector Gadget than a worthy nemesis for the Green Arrow.

We finally get some morsels of his scheme here. Darhk’s sudden affinity for the bay area and interest in Oliver’s political campaign at least give us the hint that Darhk has plans for Star City beyond reducing it to cinder, and it’s also abundantly clear his “Ghosts” are some assembly of resurrected dead soldiers. Whether they’ve actually returned from the afterlife or simply had their deaths faked (which may have been the case for Diggle’s brother) remains to be seen, but at least I have something to chew on now.

The revelation that Dig’s brother is alive also offers up some strong material for David Ramsey, who has had more than his share of powerful scenes between the end of last season and this year. Ramsey did well conveying Diggle’s turmoil over Oliver’s betrayal earlier in the year, and his ability to present Dig as more hurt than angry in those scenes really carried them. But this episode was a different turn for Ramsey as Dig, who we often have seen wounded but never this vulnerable.

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The decision to have Dig deem his brother not worth saving was a nice turn and a good contrast from Laurel’s refusal to believe that the Sara she brought back from the pit was a monster. I’m pretty impressed by the show’s ability to differentiate between two sibling resurrections gone wrong in such a short span of time. Dig’s near-breakdown at the gala with Laurel and his brief interrogation of his brother in the episode’s end were both nice touches.

Diggle’s agony over his brother’s return is a strong enough plot thread on its own, but it’s also the flag bearer for what really made this episode a delight: the show’s decision to finally tie a lot of its side characters’ story arcs back in with Darhk. The big bad has brainwashed Diggle’s brother, his powers might be the key to curing Thea’s vampiric need to kill and now his plans are also crossing over into Oliver’s political ambitions.

That last thread really intrigues me. Darhk having a larger plan for Star City than destruction and chaos would mercifully differentiate him from the one-note schemes of Merlyn, Deathstroke and Ra’s Al Ghul. Now there were obviously personal histories between hero and foe that gave those story lines more gravity, but I would really appreciate if Darhk’s overall mission is not one of rinse-lather-repeat villainy that we’ve seen in previous years.

I know we’re going back to crossover land in two weeks, but “Brotherhood” did a solid job of refocusing “Arrow” on its own universe, and reminding us of how good the series is when it’s allowed to be.

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Left In The Quiver:

  • “Sick” — Laurel’s response to Felicity’s X-ray camera invention thing. The Black Canary’s ability to annoy is possibly a larger threat to Star City than Darhk.
  • Also, not to pick nits, but if Felicity’s cameras can see through the Ghosts’ masks, shouldn’t she be able to identify all of Darhk’s foot soldiers? Meaning they can find out who they are and unearth his plans?
  • The fight scene choreography was great here, especially during the closing battle at Darhk’s base. The camera work on the Thea-Andrew Diggle fisticuffs seemed to evoke parts of the tracking shot in “Daredevil” that made everyone’s head spin. No, it wasn’t as good, Internet; please don’t kill me.
  • A programming note: “Arrow” and “Flash” go on hiatus next week for Turkey Day, then come back for the crossover the first week of December. I think after that, we’re on pause until the new year. I’ll be writing about both episodes when we return from break, so get ready for a double dose of Queally!
  • On second thought, don’t get ready for a double dose of Queally. Get ready for a cooler way to express whatever I was trying to express. That sounded terrible.
  • Didn’t spend too much time on it up top because he’s leaving the series, but I am really enjoying Brandon Routh as this unmoored version of Palmer. The Atom is truly a man without a country right now, and it’s intriguing, especially when it allows Routh and Emily Bett-Rickards to share a screen again.

Follow @JamesQueallyLAT for sarcastic tweets and recaps of “Arrow,” “The Flash,” “Legends of Tomorrow” and Netflix’s “Daredevil.” And, for one weekend only, probably a bunch of tweets about how terrifying a villain Zebediah Kilgrave is, because even though he isn’t writing about “Jessica Jones” when it premieres this weekend, he needs to tell the world how he feels about it. Also, for breaking crime and police news in Southern California. Since that’s his real job. Allegedly. Maybe?

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