Team Arrow is no more.
Warning: Full spoilers for the episode below.
It might have seemed like Ollie hit rock bottom last week in “Brothers in Arms,” but clearly he has much farther to fall. By combining a dark, psychological look at a hero on the edge with the return of a fan-favorite villain, “Fundamentals” arrived at a very winning formula. Better yet, having two rock solid episodes in a row gives new hope that Season 6 actually can redeem itself.
“Fundamentals” is hardly the first Arrowverse episode to open in media res and then flash back to where it all began. That’s one of the oldest tricks in the playbook by now, but it’s one that served this episode well. Seeing Ollie geared up in his classic Season 1 costume and firing arrows into Star City’s “finest” raises all sorts of burning questions. That gave “Fundamentals” an early momentum boost that it played to its full advantage.
It didn’t hurt that the opening delivered such a visually impressive action sequence. I really love when directors get creative with their camera work and frame the action from an unusual perspective. In this case, Ben Bray used the unusual layout of the police station to set up a neat tracking shot and follow Ollie’s movements from the other side of a wall.
Obviously, the biggest news this week is that Josh Segarra returned to play the ghost of Adrian Chase. I wish that twist was actually a surprise and wasn’t spoiled by the credits ahead of time, but what can you do? The important thing is that Chase remains a great villain in life or death. Segarra brought his familiar charisma and intensity to the role, reminding us of how much this character haunts Ollie even nearly a year after the events of Lian Yu. The bullet scars on Chase’s temples added a nicely grotesque touch to the whole affair.
Bringing Chase back was actually kind of a risky move. I’d rank him #2 in the pantheon of Arrow villains (after Slade Wilson, of course), and seeing him return even for a single episode serves as an uncomfortable reminder that Season 6 has fallen well below the standard of Season 5 in most respects. The show has been improving ever since Ricardo Diaz took the lead, but Diaz is still no Chase. Even so, I felt the writers managed to work Chase into the story in a way that recaptured his old appeal without having him overshadow the threat posed by Diaz. If anything, it was fun to watch him show professional admiration for the man that’s so thoroughly muddied up Ollie’s life this past year.
Thematically and narratively, there are a lot of comparisons to be drawn between “Fundamentals” and last season’s “Kapiushon.” Both are all about bringing Ollie low and stripping him down to his emotional core. And both serve as particularly strong showcases for Stephen Amell’s acting ability. Amell really sold the idea of Ollie losing control and retreating from the world around him. Nowhere was his performance more satisfying than the scene where Ollie was confronted by the Hood. Those two figures may have been played by the same actor, but they didn’t feel like the same person at all.
The only area where this episode didn’t entirely click involved the drama with the city council meeting. It’s tough to sympathize with Ollie’s impeachment plight too much when it’s all the result of poor decision making. What did he think was going to happen when he fired his police chief and D.A.? After six seasons you’d think he’d have a better sense for when he’s playing right into his enemy’s hands. Not to mention that I’m disappointed we seem to be at the end of Ollie’s political career. There’s a lot of untapped potential there still. The plus side is that Quentin becoming mayor should make for some interesting new challenges. He seems to be the very last person in City Hall not on Diaz’s payroll.
Given the upswing in quality these past couple weeks, it’s worth asking just how much the show’s improvement stems from the reduced cast. We saw little of Diggle or the other ex-Team Arrow members this week, and I can’t say their collective presence was missed. It’s often felt like this series has too many characters, but there’s a growing case to be made that the best thing for Arrow is for the show to move away from the ensemble format entirely. It’s hard to say whether Ollie’s newfound emphasis on the mission and removing all distractions is a positive step for the character, but the series itself will surely benefited from a more single-minded focus.