Summary: A less-perfect follow-up to the premiere explores Oliver’s two alter-egos, while injecting more humor and comic book dialogue than usual.
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If you’re living two different lives, that just means you can save the day twice, in two different ways…right? Oliver has good intentions like this in “Identity”, an insightful episode that makes the most out of the tried-and-true “mask messes up the life of the man” tale. But unlike most variations, where the hero hurts the hero’s love life, the question posed more has to do with what side is more important for the mission. This is a rare version of this kind of tale, where the man is equally as important to the world as the mask, in a way. “Identity” doesn’t answer the question, but rather uses it to set up another narrative arc for the season to take: how effective or important is Oliver Queen?
Season one of the show had the Hood as the primary focus, with Oliver’s life taking sloppy seconds behind his main mission of getting through the list. After learning the importance of having warmth, love and people in his life, things have since changed. As “Identity” also establishes, the list-less and Undertaking-less Oliver is without much of a mission, leaving more open for him to do without the hood on. The problem is, Oliver can’t have his cake and eat it too. While he stops major thefts of medical supplies in action-packed fashion, the failures of his less-honed skills as a businessman and philanthropist could potentially make for a more long-term impact. The episode doesn’t try to answer whether or not Oliver should have done anything differently at risk of losing to the Triad, but it functions as the beginning of that question.
Alderman Sebastian Blood is rightfully set-up as a villain with smart motivations who can last for a long time, and Oliver Queen is now on his radar. Kevin Alejandro is a solid addition to the cast as Sebastian Blood. He’s already been established as a man who lives with emotions constantly on high, and it will be fun to see how his war against Oliver will continue. The only major slip-up with his storyline, particularly with the “crucifixion” of Oliver, is that, well…did anyone bother to call Oliver? It was such a huge deal that Oliver didn’t show up to his own banquet, but did no one try to contact him? Why didn’t Oliver bother to call anyone else? It stuck out in the episode as a very easy way to get Oliver to “fail” in his civilian form while he wins in his hero form, and while the symmetry is appreciated, it also feels a little contrived.
This new direction for Laurel continues to be exciting, and now that we know she saw that the Hood was present at Tommy’s death, it’s a little easier to see the leap she made in her thought process. It’s still a big leap for sure, but the episode also implies that there are residual feelings of personal betrayal heightening her motivation. In a way, it’s a subdued “what if?” tale for Lois Lane herself turning against Superman. The Hood bounced Laurel back and forth from having him as a confidante to having her own personal protector, but the destruction of the Glades and Tommy’s death shattered all of that. It doesn’t make Laurel seem like a better person; there’s definitely a tinge of selfish “Why wasn’t he there for what I wanted him for!” thoughts. But there’s definitely something deeper for Laurel to overcome outside of just chasing down the Hood, and it’s her utter brokenness after losing Tommy. Her descent into cunning antagonism has the potential to parallel Oliver’s storyline in season one, forcing her to climb back up as a better human being. She still hasn’t hit rock bottom yet, and considering her actions at the end of this episode—setting up the Hood for a no-win scenario—she’s got farther to descend before she can make her way back up.
That said, it does seem like further work needs to be done to keep this from being too shaky. While we get clarification for her motivations, thankfully, it does seem like Laurel’s emotions are swinging unusually high from one end to the other. As a result, Katie Cassidy is a little uneven this week, though through no fault of her own; Laurel is either intensely angry or intensely sad, with no real in between. This isn’t a bad thing, nor is it totally nonsensical given how fresh her wounds clearly still are. But the emotions running this high all the time becomes a little inhuman at a certain point, reflected in some awkward line readings that are often overwrought (“You think the law doesn’tapplytoyouitdoes.”) But even still, Laurel is relevant in a way she hasn’t been since the start of the show, and the multilayered conflict she’s providing for both Oliver and the Hood is already a highlight of this strong start to the season.
There’s also the business of Team Arrow attempting to settle into leading dual identities. Arrow has had a great deal of fun in the past toying with superhero tropes, playing them straight while subverting them at the same time, and this case isn’t much different. Felicity’s rant—which borders on annoying, but doesn’t cross it thanks to Emily Bett Rickards’s charm—is hilarious, but also reflective on how flimsy the secret identities in these stories often are. Oliver’s rationale for moving her in with him makes sense, but what else would she be other than the hot, quirky secretary? Wonder Woman herself was infamously the JLA’s secretary when they first formed, after all. The fact that she roars against the lazy stereotypes is what makes Felicity such an entertaining character, and is a testament to the self-awareness the show has. Though, it’s odd that at the end of the day, it…seems like she’s keeping with her secretary alter-ego. There’s some unfortunate implications in that.
Also going on in Team Arrow are the personal issues with Diggle, which are a little forced and stilted. Oliver’s narrowsightedness certainly bordered on selfishness in season one, to a point where it was easily his biggest personal flaw. But he’s grown quite a bit since the early days, so it’s odd that it’s brought back up again as a revelation for him. Yes, his running away was not the best way to handle the situation after season one, but one of the highlights of the premiere was how maturely everyone was handling him because everyone suffered. We’re right back to square one of tearing Oliver down for selfishness, and while he was very oblivious, it seems like treaded ground. Granted, the realism that these flaws don’t go away so easily is appreciated, as is the fact that he’s not suddenly perfect by just forming a no-kill policy. It just seemed like an old and out-of-place lesson to be brought up here. It wasn’t helped that Felicity unnaturally forced it to come up, in the overall clunky scene in Arrowcave. Though there’s credit that Felicity is written to care that much about Diggle’s personal life, the way it all unfolded—what with the awkward transition from Laurel to Carley—was a little weak. It’s also sad that Carly has been shipped off so quickly offscreen, but at least we know for sure that Diggle’s primary goal is still getting Deadshot, even to an obsessive extent.
Colton Hayes is a stand out this week, playing up Roy’s obsessive drive without making him seem selfish or insane. That’s a feat considering, well, Roy kind of is being a bit selfish and insane. But he’s also earnest in his motivations, even if his attempts at going toe-to-toe with life-threatening situations isn’t the best way to go about things. Hayes is adept at getting that earnestness across, selling the idea that Roy has no ulterior motives aside from doing good for the sake of good. In a show filled with moral ambiguity in a lot of ways, Roy is one of the only characters who is purely out for one goal, that goal just happens to blind him to everything else. Bringing him in as the intel-gatherer is a smart move, creating an easy device to filter plotlines for Oliver sans the list, while giving Roy story significance without straining credulity by having him in the field. The Arrow family only has room to grow, and it would make sense that Oliver would try to build a network more than just a small team of rebels.
The flashback is a bit weak this time around, as Oliver’s rage has prompted…a love triangle. Slade is mercifully not throwing an attitude about Oliver and Shado hooking up, but it’s worrisome that the charming flashback trifecta might start to lose steam as drama erupts between them. To be fair, though, Stephen Amell and Celina Jade have some good chemistry, so they aren’t uninteresting on screen together. In the present, we get some fun with a return appearance of Kelly Hu as China White, who’s always a joy to have on the show. Michael Jai White also has a fun turn as Bronze Tiger, though there isn’t much to him other than the fight choreography. We don’t get to see much of either, but considering they’re both relatively flat characters who just have enough charisma to remain likeable, keeping their screentime to a minimum is probably for the best. Too much of them could easily have them overstaying their welcome, but future appearances (perhaps to flesh them out) is still a must. As it stands, their major significance to the plot is to comment on how the Hood has changed and his non-lethal methods are a bit weaker, but the end result is arguably better.
Ben Sokolowski and Beth Schwartz turned out a script packed with humor and one-liners, about 50/50 hit or miss. Everyone got a surplus of them, Oliver included, which is sort of odd for a show that’s been fairly quip-light for the most part. It adds a very comic book-y feel, with which it walks a fine line; China White’s and Bronze Tiger’s dialogue is super clunky and hammy, but their fights are also fantastical enough that it kind of fits. Diggle gets the widest range, from laugh-out-loud hilarious (“Well it could be worse, my secret identity is his black driver”) to groan-worthy (““Healthcare has enough problems without you punks!”) But while it’s all shaky and talky, it’s a step in an interesting direction for the show, especially considering dialogue in season one could often border on self-righteous and overindulgent.
“Identity” is a solid foray into the growing concepts of season two. The fight choreography in particular is superb, and while the dialogue is a little too dense at times, there’s a great balance of light and dark moments. This is far from the best outing the show’s had, but nothing feels unimportant to the grand scheme of things. Even in an episode taking time to explore some common superhero concepts, it still feels like it’s taking steps towards a larger endgame for Oliver, Oliver’s identity, and his newly forming enemies. That trajectory is important to keep the show thriving, and is exactly why season one was so successful. And, of course, there’s that shocker of an ending.
Odds & Ends
- There’s a couple of parallels between “Identity” and “An Innocent Man”, particularly that both hinge on the relationship between Laurel and the Hood, and that both end on a doozy of an unexpected cliffhanger.
- What job in the DA’s office allows Laurel to go on ridealongs to big heists/shoot-outs or lead entire SWAT initiatives?
- I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a stock of footage filmed of Oliver doing some kind of shirtless workouts, just so they could throw it in to fill out time in teasers like this.
- Felicity’s “3-2-1” after another awkward faux pas with Oliver was adorable, and even character development in a weird way, considering she’s getting better at not getting flustered when she says those kinds of things.
- Thea giving Roy the hosen from early season one is a welcome bit of continuity, especially considering the different types of obvious symbolism there.
- Diggle in the ski mask is awesome.
- Oliver has bad luck with making out with women while his friends watch.
- “It really weirds me out to no end the way you refer to yourself in third person like that.”
- “We’re getting dangerously close to hug territory, so I think I’m gonna fall back.” Diggle really did get all the best lines this week.