Stars:  Stephen Amell, Katie Cassidy, Paul Blackthorne, Susanna Thompson, Colin Salmon, Willa Holland, David Ramsey, Emily Bett Rickards, Manu Bennett, Colton Haynes, Celina Jade, Summer Glau
Writer: Ben Sokolowski & Beth Schwartz
Director: Nick Copus
Network: The CW, airs Wednesday Nights
Original Telecast: October 16, 2013

Stephen Amell as The Arrow and Michael Jai White as Bronze Tiger in ARROW "Identity" | (c) 2013 Jack Rowand/The CW

Stephen Amell as The Arrow and Michael Jai White as Bronze Tiger in ARROW "Identity" | (c) 2013 Jack Rowand/The CW

I’m starting to think that ARROW’s creators hosted some focus groups at the end of last season and the fact that their show’s hero actually shoots people with arrows went over pretty poorly with test audiences in Grand Rapids or something.  Generally I’m supportive of their decision to tone down Oliver Queen’s (Stephen Amell’s) propensity for dispensing death on this show, but even I was surprised at the mea culpa they presented to us this week in “Identity.” In this episode even the introductory voice over was altered to let us know that their hero has turned over a new leaf.  Oliver’s V.O. now says “To save my city I can’t be the killer I once was,” in the beginning, in case you were likely to find yourself with any questions about where Oliver stands on the question of murder these days, (which you weren’t, because the episode that follows essentially hits you over the head with a tire iron about his transformation).

In any event, as if to prove the show still knows where its bread is buttered despite the change in mission statement, the voice over in the beginning gives way immediately to Oliver in a completely unnecessary shirtless workout scene, (as these presumably tested much better in Grand Rapids).  That scene quickly shifts to scenes of motorcycle-riding gang members chasing a delivery truck marked “FEMA” in hopes of hijacking its cargo.  When the truck’s driver calls the cops for help on his radio, we see Roy (Colton Haynes), waiting in a red sports car listening to the distress call on his police scanner.  Roy bursts into action and what follows are a couple of very impressive vehicle stunts, one in which the motorcycle rider hits a car head-on and flips over the top of it (which the stunt man was probably really feeling the next morning, assuming he’s not in a coma now), and another where the other motorcyclist sprays Roy’s car with bullets and it veers onto a ramp at full speed and it flies into the air while flipping over multiple times, the way every episode of the A-TEAM used to end.  Roy survives the crash unhurt but is arrested by the cops, and China White (Kelly Hu), the leader of the Triad motorcycle hijackers, kills the truck drivers and takes the truck’s cargo.

Roy’s girlfriend Thea Queen (Willa Holland) gets the call from the cops that he’s been arrested, and her brother Oliver goes to the police station with her.  Oliver’s ex-girlfriend Laurel Lance (Katie Cassidy), who now works for the D.A.’s office, threatens to prosecute Roy for his actions, (although she doesn’t), and when Oliver arrives he learns from Laurel that Roy’s been on a vigilante crusade of his own because he feels a connection to the Hooded Vigilante, who used to go after the criminals that plague The Glades, Starling City’s roughest and most woe-begotten neighborhood.  Since Oliver IS that Hooded Vigilante, he’s noticeably intrigued with this.  He also gets a reminder that Laurel is now totally dug into her anti-vigilante position, and that bringing the Hooded Vigilante to justice is now her life’s goal.  When Roy is released, Oliver tries to convince him to give up vigilantism before he gets hurt, but Roy explains his actions by saying the cops in the Glades are useless, and Glades Memorial Hospital is failing because it can’t be re-supplied with FEMA’s medical aid due to all the hijackings.  Someone needs to take the law into his or her own hands to stop this because no one else is doing anything about this catastrophe.

“Identity” also gives us longer flashbacks to Lian Yu Island than we had last week.  We skip back in time to see Younger Oliver, fresh from having killed the man who had kidnapped his girlfriend Shado (Celina Jade), studying the blood on his hands with horror.  His compatriot, Slade Wilson (Manu Bennett) seems to have some sense of what Oliver’s going through, and makes sure he and Shado work to bring Oliver out of his shame and guilt spiral.

Coming back to the present, we also get our first real look at a new character, Alderman Sebastian Blood (Kevin Alejandro), who grandstands in front of the media at Glades Memorial Hospital when Oliver shows up to survey the dire situation there.  Blood capitalizes on the anger Glades residents harbor towards the Queen family since Oliver’s mother Moira (Susanna Thompson) used Queen Consolidated’s facilities to design and build the earthquake machine that devastated the neighborhood, and he incites the crowd to riot. The angry mob chases Oliver and John Diggle (David Ramsey) back into their car, where they must flee the scene.  Oliver is frustrated by his inability to help.

In keeping with “Identity’s” main theme, we then see Oliver, Diggle, and Felicity (Emily Bett Rickards), grappling with the question of how to reconcile their personal civilian “secret identities” with their vigilante alter egos.  For Felicity this means her job description has to change, and she must abandon her position as head of Queen Consolidated’s IT Department (which she loves) to become Oliver Queen’s personal secretary (which she hates and resents) in order to provide the public with a cover story for their otherwise inexplicably close working relationship. Diggle tells her it could be worse.  His secret identity is Oliver’s “black driver.”   (Which is, in fact, worse).

Shortly afterwards we flash back to the island again and get to hear Shado talking Younger Oliver down from his post-killing guilt trip by making vague statements about yin and yang, “opposing forces within ourselves,” etc.  The episode actually handles these questions regarding the character’s identities pretty thoughtfully, but I found this particular sequence a little too ham-fisted and unnecessary.

And now it’s time for another action sequence.  The Triad attempts to hijack a new shipment of FEMA medicines and Oliver dons the hood and shows up to stop them.  This is his big chance to re-introduce the Hooded Vigilante to the public as a hero who’s fighting against the crime wave in the Glades, but it doesn’t actually go very well.  Not only that but the sequence feels awkward from the audience’s perspective, as well.

As a viewer who’s not particularly familiar with the Green Arrow comic book universe, I find it really difficult to suspend disbelief when an obvious DC Comics character plops down in the middle of an ARROW episode without warning.   ARROW takes place in a world that for all intents and purposes is our world, and it often walks a tightrope trying to keep its comic-inspired characters seem grounded in a reality that is basically our reality, and that doesn’t feel like a cartoon.  None of these heroes and villains has actual supernatural abilities, they just tend to be really good at martial arts or accurate with projectile weapons, and they’re (mostly) not given wildly exaggerated costumes that might look silly in the light of day.  They’re also rarely referred to by their comic book character names.  When they are given a comic book moniker there’s usually a reason given.  (“Deadshot” is the exception I’m thinking of, but we were told the FBI gave him his nickname, so we have less reason to roll our eyes at it).  What I’m trying to say is, the sudden appearance at the scene of this heist by a costumed guy with what are essentially Wolverine’s claws on his hands (Michael Jai White), who wants to do karate battle with Oliver really pushed things in too silly a direction for me.  Apparently this character is credited as “Bronze Tiger,” although mercifully nobody refers to him as that during this fight scene, which is broken up by the cops arriving and shooting at all the combatants, which forces Oliver to flee after a bullet grazes his ankle and allows China White the opportunity to kill some more truck drivers.

I’m perfectly willing to suspend enough disbelief with ARROW that I will accept a man being stranded on a deserted island, developing incredible archery skills, and coming back to his home city to fight crime with a bow and arrow, but don’t drop me in a world full of people who just decide to put on costumes and rob medical supplies as “Bronze Tiger” without further explanation.  Maybe there’s a back-story for Mr. Tiger that would explain his choices in a non-insane way, but ARROW didn’t provide it for us, and the transition to into the fight scene between him and Oliver is particularly jarring. I’d like for ARROW to stick to an adult understanding of its world (even if it occasionally veers off into goofy, adolescent directions), than give me the kid’s version of its world, with characters leaping untouched straight out of the pages of the comic books.  But probably there’s a large segment of ARROW’s audience (many of whom are actual kids, I realize) who want to see these characters, and probably some of the characters are harder for ARROW to ground in reality than others.  They get a pass on “Bronze Tiger” this week, is what I’m saying, because maybe his appearance in the story is only the result of market forces at work?  But if we get new wacky super villains each week this season it will really be hard not to revise my opinion that this show can still be enjoyable for sad grown-ups like myself who just can’t meet their inner nerd half way anymore.

Anyway, Oliver is now feeling frustrated because neither side of his dual identity can really help Starling City right now.  He decides to take another shot at letting the billionaire playboy side do some good, though, and he asks Alderman Blood to a meeting at his office.  Oliver surprises Blood by offering to be the public face of the effort to rebuild the Glades, which appeals to Blood a great deal, since he knows the public is fascinated by Oliver and the Queen family generally.  They decide to throw a benefit for the Glades, hosted by Oliver, and attended by all his “elitist” friends who want to help out.

There are also some problematic moments with Oliver visiting Laurel at her office while wearing the Hooded Vigilante outfit, and they offer another chance for her to tell “The Hood” he’s a jerk who’s responsible for (or at least didn’t stop) the death of Tommy Merlyn.  She says he was involved in a “meaningless duel” with Malcolm Merlyn at the time, and that he’s no hero.  Since Merlyn was unquestionably a mass-murdering villain, it dumbs her character down significantly when she says something like this.  I suppose we’re lead to believe this is actually her PTSD from witnessing Tommy’s death talking, but a reasonable person would not look at stopping the guy with the deadly earthquake machine as a meaningless activity.  But the takeaway is that she now really hates the vigilante and wants to take him down, and that she still really doesn’t realize that he’s actually her ex-boyfriend even though he’s exactly the same height and build as her ex boyfriend, and he seems to crave her approval in a way that an ex-boyfriend would and a crazed vigilante probably would not.

Later, at the Glades Benefit, Oliver learns from Felicity that another heist is going down exactly as he’s dressed up and getting ready to make an appearance at his own event.  She tells him he needs to choose “which suit you want to wear tonight.”  Oliver, tortured by this decision, ultimately chooses the hooded outfit and goes to fight the bad guys.  When he doesn’t show up at the benefit, Blood is upset.  Laurel, also in attendance, is incredulous that Blood is going to “crucify Oliver in the media.”  Blood explains that crucifixion can be a good thing, and that the Romans used it to punish people who acted against the public good.  (Presumably this is not an argument he picked up in Sunday School).  Blood proceeds to trash-talk Oliver in front of reporters for not showing up at the benefit.

Oliver and Diggle go to fight China White and Bronze Tiger.  This fight goes better, and it ends up with Oliver and Diggle stopping both of them without killing them.  As they’re leaving, China White, now tied up, tells “The Emerald Archer” (as she puts it) that he’s changed, and that before he would have killed her.  This felt a little too convenient, as Oliver wasn’t that bloodthirsty last season.  But it’s another opportunity to drive home how not into killing Oliver now is.

There’s a nice moment in the aftermath of this, as Oliver is feeling heavy-hearted after watching Alderman Blood on TV beating him up for skipping out on his own fundraiser, where Felicity, who’s made it clear earlier in the episode that just because she has to be Oliver’s secretary doesn’t mean she’ll get him coffee, brings Oliver a coffee.  Out of friendship and not professional obligation.

In the final flashback to the island, we also see Younger Oliver, Slade and Shado find the thing the armed gunmen were searching for, and apparently it’s a cave filled with the skeletons of Japanese soldiers from World War 2.  They have eerily misshapen skulls.  Hopefully the addition of this new mystery gives the island storyline a reason to continue.

“The Hood” closes out the episode by approaching Roy in the alley behind the nightclub and telling him that he can be of service to his vigilante cause.  Roy must give him “intel” rather than help him out by fighting actual criminals, though.  Roy accepts this arrangement without hesitation.  Then The Hood visits Laurel in her office again, and the result is that she has a SWAT team waiting for him.  The episode ends on a great cliffhanger, with Oliver trapped and held at gunpoint by the cops.

In the end, I think “Identity” presented a very positive case for the evolution this show is undergoing with regards to Oliver’s attempts to be a hero rather than a vigilante.  I also think it showcases the degree of difficulty involved in making a kinder, gentler ARROW without also getting into Saturday morning cartoon territory. So I hope the test audiences were pleased with it.  And I while I found a few moments a little questionable, for the most part I was pleased too.

AGREE? DISAGREE? LET YOUR VOICE BE HEARD – COMMENT BELOW

Related: TV Review: ARROW – Season 2  – “Broken Dolls”

Related: TV Review: ARROW – Season 2  – “City of Heroes”

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Article: TV Review: ARROW – Season 2  – “Identity”

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