The past is such an important part of Arrow. Since the show’s series premiere, it has lived uncomfortably alongside the present in many ways, from the flashbacks to the history between the characters Oliver reunited with when he returned home. The show’s sense of history and constant grappling with Oliver’s past actions is one of its hallmarks, and that feeling is even stronger in the final season, which is indeed hitting all of the greatest hits. This was strongly felt in tonight’s episode, which revisits one of the show’s high points in an interesting way that also explores Oliver’s struggles with parenthood.
As the title suggests, “Prochnost” is all about season 5, the show’s best season (in my opinion). In the hour, Oliver, Mia, William, and Laurel travel to Russia to find a General Alexi Burov, who developed a weapon that could theoretically defeat the Monitor. Of course, Russia holds such an important place in Oliver Queen’s history. It’s the place where he was objectively at his most monstrous. He was a killing machine who enjoyed killing, a.k.a. Kapiushon. Sure, that experience was part of his journey to becoming a hero, but he’s not particularly proud of his time in the Bratva. That places him in an awkward position because he’s currently training Mia and hopes to take his kids with him to his old stomping ground without them learning about his past, which is actually impossible, as conveyed by Diggle’s skeptical look at the beginning of the episode.
Arrow has already explored Oliver’s complicated feelings about his time in Russia. What stops this from feeling repetitive, though, is the fact that his kids are there now. It was one thing to unpack all of this with the team, it’s a whole other thing to do that with your kids, especially if you’re trying to redeem yourself in their eyes after being absent for so many years. Not only that, but Oliver’s struggle to hide the darker parts of his past from his children actually helps ground this fairly fantastical story and makes it more relatable. Besides the whole time travel thing, most parents can presumably relate to wanting their children to learn from their mistakes without revealing too much about past indiscretions or failures. Oliver is facing something similar in this episode, and his guardedness actually creates more conflict between him and his kids.
When they arrive in Russia, Mia is ready to dive headfirst into whatever they’re doing. Oliver brought her along because he believes it’s important she see how the team operates, and yet he’s so ashamed of his past that he keeps her at a distance and, in classic Oliver fashion, wants to keep her safe. In fact, he orders Mia and William to stay behind while he, Laurel, and Anatoly head to a Bratva fight club to meet with Burov. But Mia and William are Oliver’s kids and they disobey him and tag along. They show up at the club in time to see their father’s viciousness on full display inside the ring, which is the last thing Oliver wanted. (Oliver agreed to fight in exchange for the plans for Burov’s weapon).
The deal Oliver made with Burov goes sideways once the Bratva gets involved and ends up kidnapping both Oliver and Mia. While in captivity, Oliver has a chance to see what Mia is capable of because the Bratva make her go through the same “ring the bell” test they had Oliver and the other Bratva recruits do way back when. This time around, though, it’s not about teamwork. It’s about survival since Mia is completely on her own. Although she’s able to fight all of the Bratva off, she fails at ringing the bell. Nevertheless, the Bratva lets them live because Oliver told the mobsters what he was trading with Burov. And then Laurel and Anatoly show up and free them.
Even though she successfully defeated the goons, Mia’s confidence is shaken because failing to ring the bell reminds her of how she couldn’t save Zoe. Yes, Arrow does remember that the Future Team Arrow lost an ally before they arrived in 2019 and digs into that. To make things even worse, her father’s over-protectiveness is only adding to this crisis of confidence. Up until now, Katherine McNamara has mostly been asked to play tough, but here she drops her guard a bit, and seeing Mia’s vulnerable side is rather revelatory. Thankfully, Laurel deploys her snark and sarcasm to help Mia back up on the horse. Similarly, Anatoly and Oliver have a heart-to-heart as well in which Anatoly tells Oliver his kids will never learn if he doesn’t trust them with the truth about his past.
With that resolved, Oliver and Mia head back into the fight club as a distraction while Anatoly and Laurel steal the plans from the Bratva. Watching the two of them fight together is a thrill. However, this time in Russia isn’t just important for them. It’s an important step for Laurel, who was tasked by the Monitor (via Lyla) to steal the plans for the weapon before Oliver gets them. Anatoly’s skepticism about her reformation pushes her to do the right thing and to give them to Oliver. Not only that, but she tells Diggle and Oliver what Lyla’s been up to, and they confront her. Alas, all three of them get knocked out by tranquilizer darts.
Before Diggle found out his wife has been lying to him, though, he was busy teaming up with Roy to steal some plutonium (casual!). After the events of last season, Roy decided to go into hiding because of his blood lust; however, Diggle, having learned how Roy helped the youngsters save the city in the future, decides to bring him back into the game and show him that the path toward redemption (and dealing) with his bloodlust is through the team.
What I loved about this storyline is how it was perfectly in character for Diggle. During its entire run, Arrow has used Diggle as the guy who shows his other teammates the way back from their mistakes and failures. In season 5, he counseled Rene after she succumbed to torture and gave up Oliver’s secret identity to Tobias Church, and he told Oliver the same thing in “Disbanded” when Oliver felt he wasn’t worthy of the hood because of his actions in Russia as Kapiushon. In both situations, he told the team was their way back, because it was for him after he killed his brother. And his advice works in this episode, too, because Roy decides to rejoin the team and work through his bloodlust there.