Arrow Ep. 2.02 “Identity” is another exciting step forward for the series

Arrow S02E02 promo pic 1

Arrow Season 2, Episode 2 “Identity”
Written by Ben Sokolowski & Beth Schwartz
Directed by Nick Copus
Airs Wednesday nights at 8pm on The CW

When Arrow was trying to establish itself as a quasi-procedural in the first season, many of its one-off adventures suffered from weak, one-dimensional adversaries, gone before their supposed evil presence was even felt in Starling City. Combine that with a horrible love triangle story line and a see-saw grasp of its own morality, and it’s easy to understand why it took so long for Arrow to find its footing – but hot damn, has it hit its stride early in season two: “Identity” is arguably a stronger episode than the season premiere, a fantastic hour that might borrow a little heavily from The Dark Knight, but nonetheless shows an astounding command over its narrative and expanding cast of characters it didn’t have last season. With the introduction of Bronze Tiger (and the re-introduction of China White) and other characters like Roy and Blood coming to the forefront, “Identity” sees Oliver embracing the new challenges awaiting his two public faces in a decrepit Starling City.

There are still some problematic story threads – the Slade/Ollie/Shado love triangle is already reaching Long Groan territory – but when it’s not having jungle sex on “the island”, “Identity” sits back and observes Oliver coming up against professional and personal walls he’s never had to face before. Laurel is hell-bent on hunting down the vigilante, which is already having side effects on Ollie’s night gig (how the hell does he get shot in the leg, and continue on for the rest of the episode?… I digress). The day job isn’t going any better: if there’s one overarching theme to “Identity”, it’s how the skeletons of the Queen family are haunting Oliver, his family name now a whipping boy for Alderman Blood (“sometimes my emotions get the better of me”, he says ominously to Oliver) as Blood parades around, slowly forming his 99%’er movement around the destruction of the Glades and the many sick and injured people still presiding in the area.

It leads to a very Bruce Wayne-ish situation, where Oliver has to choose between identities, either becoming the public hero of the Glades’ restoration with his fancy suit and tie, or “the hero Starling City needs” (aka a masked vigilante wanted by every cop in the city, who don’t care so much about criminals as they do pesky vigilante types). Becoming “something more” than a hero who inspires violent knock-offs (and a young, reckless kid who likes to wear red a lot) is not as simple as Oliver likes to think it is: change doesn’t happen over night, even if China White inexplicably notices that “something’s different” about the former serial killer of Starling City. Laurel certainly doesn’t want to see it happen, threatening (and following through on said threat) to corner and arrest the Hood, despite his pleas for cooperation with a woman, scorned over the death of a man she really didn’t love ALL that much (something we’ll forgive, because it gives emotional weight to Oliver’s decisions in season one, something many thought the show would abandon in season two).

Backing up for a moment, the inclusion of Bronze Tiger (a former member of the Suicide Squad, in DC lore) and China White as the episode’s villains solves a major problem for the first season: with different enemies for the Hood to fight each week in season one, there usually wasn’t a lot to invest in with Ollie and his night adventures. The Triad was mostly a shadow in the background, and it took a long time before the writers realized that superhero shows are much more effective with enemies who return, those who aren’t psychotic to the point they become completely useless, both as plot devices and antagonists on the show. Keeping The Triad in the picture is a smart idea: it aligns the show much closer with its comic book source material, if in tone only. Recurring enemies, a larger set of characters and accomplices (like Roy, who is now the Hood’s Glades intel collector, what what!), and a distinct, consistent morality make Arrow actually feel like a intelligent comic book show, not a cash-cow adaptation to capture the YA demo (which many, many scenes in season one reeked of).

But at its core, “Identity” is about three men trying to reconcile who they are at night with themselves and the ones they love: both Roy and Diggle find themselves losing the one they love (for Roy, it’s only briefly), thanks to the anger that fuels them. Diggle’s still on the hunt for Deadshot, which has found him back on the singles market (closing a shitty subplot from last season with a poignant conclusion, one that frames Oliver’s personal quest in a new light), and Roy’s angry at the world, inspired by the Hood to act despite the danger it puts him in (wrecking his car trying to save a shipment of FEMA medication from Bronze Tiger and China White). Three men, three personal vendettas, three women who can’t take the violent obsessions: there’s a distinct parallel made between Roy, Diggle, and Oliver and their associations with the Hood, displaying the personal sacrifice it really takes to battle the many corrupt forces at work in Starling City, even if that means missing a benefit, losing a job, or being the frustrated, lonely security guard driven by the murder of his brother. Not the most pleasant people to hang out with at night – though with all the chiseled facial features and muscles of these three characters, I’m sure Felicity Smoak really doesn’t mind her new position as Ollie’s executive assistant (“I love spending the night with you” she says to Oliver in this week’s double entendre exchange).

There are few things awkwardly shoved into the script of “Identity”, but these moments are easily ignored (the goofy personification of the healthcare debate), save for when we’re on the island and things really get mind-numbing (do not like how they’re treating Shado as a character here: it sells her short as a strong, independent and non-oversexed female character, and turns Slade into a petty bitch). But when “Identity” puts the mysteries aside and shows the various societal, political, and personal things putting Oliver/the Hood into a sound-proof steel prison, where nobody listens and everybody judges, it’s one of the strongest, most kinetic episodes of the series.

 

Other thoughts/observations:

– The Black Canary is mentioned (Roy asks why they aren’t looking “for her” to Laurel), but not seen in this hour.

– ROY ROY ROY ROY ROY.

– Laurel’s lines about the “seduction” of the Hood is one of her finest scenes (she hasn’t had many to this point): superheroes can be very appealing, but ignoring the contradictory violence of their actions can be deadly, both for one woman and a city as a whole. Just look what happened with The Undertaking!

– Felicity is the best character on this show: her refusal to get anyone coffee through the episode had me in stitches – and they cap it perfectly with her whispered “one” to Oliver as she drops him off a cup of java when he’s working late at night.

– Cliffhanger, bitches: “Identity” ends with the Hood surrounded by police in Laurel’s office. Playing on his arrogance, she silently lures him to her office, then drops the hammer on him. Great ending, though I wonder if they pulled this card from the deck a little too early.

– Japanese Imperial Army bodies? The arrow necklace? Sex in the water while people are hunting them down? Man, the island material still makes absolutely no sense: at least there are pretty people sweating to look at, I suppose.

– first rock-laced Oliver-working-out scene of the season, ladies!

– Digg: “I’m just the black driver!!!”

– There will be Blood this season! (womp, wooommmpp…)

– Thea: “I didn’t see you come in.” Oliver: “when i had the club built, I had a secret entrance put in for me….. Kidding!”

– We didn’t need Thea breaking up, then not-breaking up with Roy, but it at least shows us a much more confident, assertive Thea than we had in season one, when she was the bitchy rebellious little sister. She wears maturity quite well – here’s hoping she’s not a relationship drama queen for the entire season.

 

– Randy Dankievitch

 




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