There are several wonderful aspects of Arrow that I can’t even begin to cover comprehensively, but one of my favorite things is the way the writers like to take the Theme of the Week and run with it. This week, it was “identity.” Hey, that’s the name of the episode!
**This post contains spoilers for the most recent episode of Arrow, “Identity.”**
Since the death of Tommy Merlyn in the season 1 finale, almost all of the characters on Arrow have been changing. Some of them are dealing with the grief of losing a close friend or loved one, some are dealing with the ramifications of being involved in a disaster that leveled a section of the city, and some are dealing with the consequences of being so directly involved in the vigilante’s past activities. It would be a lot for any TV show to handle, and if you’d asked me a year ago if a superhero show airing on the CW would be capable of mastering this task, I would’ve said, “No.” And honestly, I still don’t trust the CW as a network… but I do trust the Arrow writers.
Oliver, as the main character, is going through the most changes. When Tommy died, he believed Oliver was a heartless murderer, and it affected Oliver so deeply that he disappeared to the island, his former prison, for the duration of the summer. Upon his reluctant return to Starling City, Oliver insisted he was not going to don the hood again, but he quickly realized that the city still needs his help. Since he believes anyone he kills from now on would be a disgrace to Tommy’s memory, Oliver decides to hood up not to kill people from a list, but to clean up the mess made by his family.
At the same time, Oliver struggles with his identity as a public figure. Last season, he was able to fend off any invasive questions by assuming his former carefree and hard-partying ways. With his stepfather, Walter, running the company, Oliver was able to hide behind his father’s legacy and his mother’s position as head of the Queen family. But now, in the wake of the earthquake and his mother’s incarceration, no one is talking about Robert Queen anymore, and suddenly Oliver is the head of his family. The public is watching his every move as he tries to navigate from Oliver Queen, Party Animal to Oliver Queen, Actual Grownup. He’s now the CEO of a major corporation in Starling City, where he has to fend off buy-outs and other attempts at hostile takeovers, and he’s the son of a woman who helped to destroy the Glades. His absence from the spotlight for so many months has resulted in him being portrayed as an aloof elitist with no sympathy for the lives his family destroyed.
In last night’s episode, Oliver had to make the choice between identities: the former vigilante who is trying to help save the city, or Oliver Queen, Public Figure. The pivotal moment comes when Oliver is on his way to a benefit for Glades Memorial Hospital, and Felicity calls with intel that a shipment of medicine is about to be ambushed. She asks him, “Which suit are you planning on wearing tonight?”
It’s clear that Oliver still prefers the anonymity of the hood to the public antics of being Oliver Queen, but the momentum seems to be shifting toward Oliver having to step into the spotlight and start trying to save the city from the top of the pyramid. His rival this week is Sebastian Blood, played marvellously by Kevin Alejandro, but Blood is only a rival on the public front; though Blood doesn’t know it, he and Oliver actually see the city as damaged in the same way, and they want to clean it up in a similar fashion. It’s interesting to compare it to his rivalry with Malcolm Merlyn: Malcolm had nothing but contempt for the Glades, but Blood (publicly, at least) has contempt for the 1%.
Laurel is also going through a major transformation. Not only is she now on a grief-driven vendetta against the vigilante, she is also working for the district attorney. Gone is the Laurel who fought for the little guy, gone is the Laurel who split the world evenly between right and wrong, and gone is the Laurel who insisted on honesty from everyone around her. Now, working for the district attorney, she threatens to charge Roy for obstruction of justice, she shows up with the SWAT team at crimes that are still in progress, and she coordinates ambushes for the vigilante. She’s taking after her father now: in her grief, she has tunnel vision, and it’s focused on the vigilante. During her interrogation of Roy, she ignores him when he says, “I’ve seen her,” and tells him she’s only interested in one person. Roy is presumably talking about the Black Canary, and Laurel is missing a key piece of intel by not hearing him out. She’s embittered, she has tunnel vision, and she has a dark side.
It’s mostly appealing to watch the transformation, and sometimes it seems like Laurel could be turning into the next big villain, but ultimately she shows her softness to hooded Oliver when he corners her at her office. In her grief, she blames the vigilante for Tommy’s death, because he had promised Laurel he would protect the people she loved. It’s not exactly logical (and it explains some of the dissonance between what Laurel’s been saying and what we saw in the finale) but it indicates that maybe Laurel’s encroaching darkness isn’t as inky as it seems. Marc Guggenheim has hinted that we’re going to get a lot more insight into Laurel’s state of mind in the third episode, so I’m reserving judgement until then.
Diggle, as Oliver’s right-hand man and brother in arms, spends this episode trying to hide his life changes from Oliver. Felicity eventually (and angrily) spills the beans: Diggle and Carly, his brother’s widow, have called it quits. Felicity goes on to say that helping Oliver in his nightly escapades had put a strain on Diggle’s relationship, but Diggle is quick to correct her. “I couldn’t separate what was going on with me and Carly and what went on with my brother… He’s still out there, my brother’s killer. He’s still breathing. And I guess I couldn’t hate him and love her at the same time. See? You are not the only one who’s having trouble reconciling two sides of himself.” For the rest of the episode, Diggle walks an amazing line between background character and comic relief. He breaks the tension in more than one scene, but he still does it with his trademark stony demeanor.
Felicity isn’t choosing identities as much as she’s struggling against the one Oliver wants her to assume: that of his Executive Assistant. (There’s a cute moment where he says, “I need a ‘Girl Wednesday,’” and Felicity venomously corrects him, “It’s ‘Friday!’” but I think him confusing the days was a little wink from the writers, since the episodes air on Wednesdays. Oh, sorry: Amellsdays.) Felicity rails against him, her voice practically going guttural as she informs him that she attended M.I.T. and that she’s overqualified for the position. Oliver is adamant that the three of them (he, Felicity, and Diggle) need to assume secret identities, and having Felicity right outside of his office saves him the 18-floor trip to see her.
She grudgingly accepts the position, sarcastically offering to get him coffee and make dinner reservations. (I’m looking forward to this new development, and anyone who watches Suits is hopefully similarly excited.) It’s one of the most entertaining scenes of the episode, because the cute ramblings we normally see from Felicity are suddenly impassioned and loud arguments, and Oliver stands his ground while Diggle watches passively.
It’s an interesting juxtaposition to the island flashbacks, where the dynamic was more or less the same: a warrior leader, a right-hand man, and a passionate and gifted woman. Unfortunately, things on the island seem to be taking a dark turn; after blacking out and savagely beating a man to death, Oliver is consumed with guilt and terror over his actions. Slade recognizes the look in Oliver’s eye, and suggests Shado go talk to him before the guilt eats him alive. Shado successfully calms Oliver down, and after some sexy funtimes, we see Slade overcome with jealousy or hatred when he finds Oliver and Shado post-coitus. Fans seem to be pretty evenly split based on their shipping preferences: Slade is either in love with Shado and jealous of Oliver, or he’s in love with Oliver and he’s jealous of Shado. I’m not prepared to buy either of these theories just yet, because just last week, Slade didn’t bat an eye when Oliver and Shado kissed in front of him. I think it might be island madness threatening to overtake Slade; now that Shado and Oliver have consummated their relationship, that puts Slade on the outs in their little group. Slade’s probably thinking that in a life-or-death situation, Shado and Oliver will choose to save each other. It’s enough to make any man paranoid, even someone as seasoned as Slade Wilson.
I often wonder if the writers have purposefully set up Team Arrow to mirror Team Island (or vice versa, since Shado joined Team Island after Felicity joined Team Arrow), because it’d be an interesting way to foreshadow things. It’s pretty obvious that things don’t turn out well for two of the three members of Team Island, so maybe it sets up an interesting parallel as to why Oliver is willing to take on team members in the present, but I’m getting ahead of myself; those sorts of theories are better suited for seasons 3 and 4.
Roy Harper, of the Red Hoodie Harpers, spends this episode choosing between being Junior Vigilante or being Thea’s boyfriend. Hooded Oliver gives him an out on that one, offering Roy a gig as an informant to Team Arrow. It serves two purposes for Oliver: he’ll get direct information from the Glades, and he’ll keep his sister’s boyfriend out of trouble and out of his way. Roy returns to Thea at the end of the episode, telling her, “I’m done trying to be a hero.” It’s only half a lie, really. Maybe a quarter of a lie.
Roy and Oliver also have a fantastic scene early in the episode, after Laurel asks Oliver to press Roy for information about the vigilante. She tells Oliver that it appears Roy and the vigilante have some sort of connection, which surprises Oliver. (It seems like it never occurred to him that Roy would feel some sort of loyalty toward the man that saved him. Oliver never seems to spare much thought to the impact he’s had on the lives of those he’s saved; he’s too busy battling his own demons.) Roy tries to head off any big-brotherly stern warnings about safety, but Oliver surprises him with an iron grip and some insight into Roy’s state of mind:
It’s a wonder that this doesn’t help Roy connect the dots, but I’m still enjoying the scenes where Roy talks about how Oliver’s such a soft frat boy.
Thea was the only other main character we saw this week, and she’s the only one who wasn’t struggling to find an identity. She’s really coming into her own as a club owner, and her insistence that Roy stop putting himself in danger is a nice change from the girl who crashed her car after taking Vertigo last season. We didn’t get to see Moira or Beat Cop Lance this week, but we got plenty of them in the last episode to hold us over.
Kelly Hu returned as China White, and she was responsible for the high body count this week as she stabbed more than a few men in their throats with her impressive knife skills. She also dubbed Oliver “The Emerald Archer,” which is very elegant and overblown, so naturally, I love it. China White was ambushing clearly marked FEMA trucks filled with medicine and stealing the goods for her “business,” and she was assisted by Bronze Tiger, played by Michael Jai White. He was impressive, both in his stunt work and in his line deliveries. I’m sorry I called him “DC Wolverine” the entire time I was watching the episode.
The other interesting thing I wanted to talk about was the hosen, which reappeared tonight when Thea gave it to Roy. Back in the pilot, when Oliver first gave Thea the hosen, he told her it symbolized reconnecting. A couple of episodes later, when Thea accused him of being the vigilante based on the hosen, Oliver lied to her and said he’d bought it at the airport gift shop on his way home. The hosen hasn’t been mentioned again until this episode. At first, I thought it was a red herring from the writers, an attempt to make us think that Roy figures out Oliver’s identity based on the hosen, but I was wrong about that. Toward the end of the episode, we flash back to the island, where Team Island tracks down the cave that the invaders from the previous episode were looking for. Slade is insistent that there’s something important in the cave, but it turns out to be a relic from World War II, where the Japanese Imperialist Army had been left for dead. Oliver finds the hosen on a string around one of their necks, and he holds it up for Slade and Shado to see before we flash back to the present. We see Roy give the hosen back to Thea, which is a relief, because now it seems that Oliver not only gifted it to Thea… maybe he was entrusting it to her. It’s heartening to see this show working very hard on its callbacks, so I have the utmost faith that this will have a big payoff at some point.
The scene that will have the fans buzzing is the one that ends the episode: Hooded Oliver corners Laurel at her office once more, presumably to make his case for how he’s a changed man, but Laurel surprises him with a SWAT team ambush. The episode ends with at least twelve men surrounding Oliver in a formation that will make my cop husband, when he finally sees this episode, rant and rage and scream, “No SWAT team would stand like this! Look at all the crossfire!” and then I’ll have to calm him down and remind him that this is a TV show, and on TV, it looks a lot more impressive to have a billion red lasers coming from every direction as they point at one spot. I mean, come on, this IS a pretty impressive shot:
It’s funny to think about the logistics of the SCPD in this episode: How long did the SWAT team sit there in the shadows, waiting for Oliver? Why didn’t they spare some of their beat cops to escort the FEMA trucks to Glades Memorial Hospital? Why didn’t they use an unmarked truck? It’s starting to look like things were better when Lance was a detective, but that’s crazy talk, right?
It’ll be interesting to see how Oliver gets out of this one. My theory? He just ducks, and the SWAT team shoots each other on accident.