Six seasons into a network show, it’s not always easy to find new, organic sources of drama, but Arrow’s decision to explore tensions between the original members of Team Arrow and the newbies is a brilliant one. Whether you’re Team OTA or Team Newbie, “Irreconcilable Differences” probably did a good job of convincing you the other side had some good points. Like any great drama, this struggle isn’t black-and-white.
It’s particularly tragic that an episode that ended with such division on Team Arrow began with such unity. Oliver and Felicity’s wedding reception brought everyone together in a show of love and support that probably made even the least shipper-y of Arrow’s fanbase tear up. Scenes like this one aren’t just about Oliver and Felicity, they are about the family Oliver Queen has created around him. This is what makes Rene’s ultimate betrayal that much more gutting: Thea is right when she tells Oliver that Rene’s toast that Oliver and Felicity “deserve all of the happiness” was completely sincere. It’s not that Rene doesn’t love Oliver and Felicity; he just loves his daughter more. Even Oliver kind of respects that.
One of the weaker aspects of the Rene betrayal plot, and the Oliver indictment storyline in general, is how Arrow dances around the fact that Oliver is guilty of everything the FBI is accusing him of. He is the Green Arrow. He has killed people, and acted outside of the law. Oliver became a vigilante because he correctly believed that the institutions put in place to protect the people and stop injustice and corruption were failing to do their job. Samanda Watson is an example of what it looks like when these institutions work. It’s not her fault that the person who should be held accountable for the crimes he’s committed is the star of this show. I’d like to see Arrow lean into that complication a bit more.
While the fracture between Team OTA and Team Newbie may be exacerbated by Rene’s betrayal, the fault lines were already there. The initial integration of Curtis, Rene, and Dinah onto Team Arrow was a rocky one, but Oliver was the unilateral stabilizing force. For all the speeches about team decision-making, he was the unchallenged leader of the team.
But that was before he passed his hood onto John Diggle. During Oliver’s absence, Curtis, Rene, and Dinah have been asked to step up in new ways, and that has resulted in them feeling more ownership over Team Arrow. It’s not hard to understand why they would be so pissed that Oliver would come back and expect things to be like they were before. Oliver sees a betrayal of himself as a betrayal of Team Arrow because, in his mind, those two things are inseparable. But they’re not the same. Not really. Rene can betray Oliver’s trust without betraying his commitment to Team Arrow. This is a truth Dinah and Curtis probably have a much easier time accepting, whereas Diggle and Felicity, who have been there since the beginning, probably have a perspective closer to Oliver’s.
Ultimately, Team Arrow manages to get their shit together long enough to save Lance from the clutchs of Cayden James (though, let’s be real, it was really Evil Laurel who saved his life), however, the fractures proved too wide to heal. When Oliver kicked Rene off of the team, Dinah and Curtis followed, unable to be part of a team that trusted them so little as to have them bugged.
This played right into Cayden James’ hand, who has been watching Team Arrow via a hidden camera Black Siren planted in the Arrow lair at the beginning of the season. And he’s not working alone. The episode ends with James and Evil Laurel standing alongside Anatoly (how dare you, sir!), Vince, and Ricardo Diaz. Team Arrow is about to face-off against something they’ve never properly faced before: a team of supervillains. Worst time ever to break up the team.