Arrow "Dead to Rights" Review: Identity Crises

By Noel Kirkpatrick

Feb 28, 2013

Arrow S01E16: "Dead to Rights"

We’ve all made jokes about how it’s kind of ridiculous that Oliver has maintained his secret identity with only a hood that never seems to fall off and a painted-on domino mask. But in “Dead to Rights,” we saw that the notion of identity is a positively complicated affair. It always is with superheroes, but Arrow has been building this issue around a lot of its characters, not just Oliver and those he’s accepted as members of Team Arrow.

Oliver telling Diggle and Felicity about his vigilante activities, and drawing them into that mission, was necessary for that mission to survive (and for the show to have any forward momentum with those two supporting characters). Ditching Diggle would’ve grown tiresome and increasingly risky, and the excuses they were feeding to Felicity were getting flimsier and flimsier. But Diggle and Felicity have skill sets that enhance his ability to operate and save Starling City. Tommy is decidedly not that sort of person.

That scene in the Chinese restaurant was a wonderful delight. Oliver and Tommy’s relationship has never really been in question, and the bond they share—one that transcends even the awkwardness of Tommy dating Laurel—allowed them to speak candidly to each other. It was a rare moment for them, and their trading of daddy issues helps reinforce that. They’re two men who trust each other implicitly, even if it turns out that one of them trusts the other a bit more.

And so when Oliver said that he never planned to tell Tommy, he broke that trust. You saw the devastation on Oliver’s face (Stephen Amell was great in that shot), and the sense of loss that it brought. Even if the truth came out in an effort to help Tommy save his father, even if Tommy'd had suspicions after the events of the pilot, Tommy just couldn’t accept that Oliver wouldn’t tell him, his best friend, the one man he could come to with anything, and did. So when he told McKenna and Quentin that he didn’t know “who the hell” the vigilante was, he was talking about Oliver, and the collapse of their bond.

Sadly for Tommy, the news about Oliver wasn't the only identity shocker he received this week. Malcolm’s lost two years at Nanda Parbat, and his ability to dispatch Triad thugs was yet another disruption of Tommy's world. Tommy has carried this notion of Malcolm as a cold and uncaring man around with him for years, and while it wasn't something that Malcolm discouraged, it wasn't something Malcolm necessarily wanted. It was a means to an end, a way to protect his son. But with the Undertaking nearing its endgame, perhaps Malcolm is ready to make amends and realize the value of his son. Certainly he was ready to show Tommy his panic room/dojo/secret lair, after all. That’s a big step for Malcolm, and a signal of trust that Malcolm will likely build on, and one that Tommy will likely be happy with now that his best friend has lied to him.

John Barrowman has been fine as Malcolm, but the show hasn’t demanded a lot of him up until now. Malcolm has been understandably shadowy, and it’s not the toughest of things to be charming and enigmatic, certainly not for Barrowman anyway. But Malcolm’s speech as he received the humanitarian award showed the cracks in his public persona, and it elevated the character in a much needed way. It was a big moment that Barrowman hit with aplomb, and largely just through the speech’s cadence. Real pain and self-righteous anger came through, really demonstrating the barely contained rage at the death of his wife and the fact that Malcolm likely doesn’t blame the men who murdered her and instead blames the entirety of the Glades.

The speech also gave Malcolm the some stronger parallels to Oliver’s mission. Both Malcolm and Oliver want to improve the city, and both have personal reasons for doing so. It’s a test of wills and resources between two men who have been trained and likely put through hell, with various obstacles in their ways—not the least of which is each other. Oliver has to balance being a son, a brother, a boyfriend, and a businessman (at some point, anyway), while Malcolm has to keep the Undertaking on track, deal with a traitor from within (poor Moira...), and also make sure that the vigilante doesn’t disrupt his plans. And now I have to wonder how the vigilante saving his life is going to influence Malcolm’s behavior.

What else... what else... oh, right! That last moment as Laurel’s mother (Alex Kingston) arrived on the scene with news that she thinks Sarah’s alive. Because, sure. If Deadshot’s still alive, then I have to imagine that Sarah is. I mean, who am to doubt Doctor River Song? She has that notebook with all the spoilers in it!

The island flashbacks were pretty light this week, thankfully. Fyers has himself an S-300 surface-to-air missile platform, perfect for shooting down planes or starting a war. Mostly, however, the scene was an excuse to watch Island Oliver barely be able to do a pull-up (“I’m more of a runner”) and then see Slade do a few. It also helped to establish that Oliver has at least a slight knack for electronics.

While I’ve seen this episode described as having a season finale vibe, it definitely felt more like a mid-season finale (I hate that we even have those now), certainly more than “Year’s End” did back in December. But instead of waiting a month or more, we only have to wait two weeks to see the fallout from all the stuff that happened in “Dead to Rights.” Thank goodness for small favors.

Notes & Quotes

– Not going to explain the significance of Nanda Parbat here to avoid possible spoilers, especially for the non-comic book fans in the audience. If you know about Nanda Parbat, then you probably have a couple of good guesses about where this is could going (goodness knows I do), but let’s not discuss it in the comments. Take it to the speculations thread in the Arrow forum, or start a brand-new thread instead, all right?

– The quickly dispatched assassin at the start of the episode, Guillermo Barrera, is actually a character from the comics named Brutale. He’s a knife-wielding psycho there, too.

– “Like they did on Gillgan’s Island!” Oh, Slade.

– You have to love that the show perfectly frames Stephen Amell and Manu Bennett during workouts, but it put Emily Bett Rickards in gym clothes for self-defense classes and the camera barely lingered on her.

– “Check, please.” I think that was the best bit of contextual humor Arrow has done, a very strong scene-ender.

– Yes, that’s right. Captain Jack and River Song. When do they get a scene together?!

– Again: Arrow is off for a couple weeks, with the next episode airing on March 20. I’ll see you all then, and so will Huntress. Yay...?

What'd you think of "Dead to Rights"?

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  • ryshearer May 21, 2013

    No shout out to a Geoff Johns penned episode?

  • Arwen Mar 03, 2013

    Riversong as the first black canary! Omg! Whats with Doctor who's characters and Arrow!?

  • Marburg66 Mar 04, 2013

    It's common for TV people to reunite in other shows. Sometimes it's someone in the cast that recommends someone they used to work with; sometimes it's someone behind the camera. Justified is littered with Deadwood reunions, Arrested Development had a number of Happy Days reunions; V & Castle share Firefly reunions, ect. ...And those are just off the top of my head. I'm sure if we made a pan-network drinking game out of it, took a shot every time a reunion was made onscreen & then lined the glasses, it would probably circle the Earth at least once (maybe twice)

  • marlonjones Mar 24, 2013

    One more for ya: Burn Notice and The Shield reunions ;)

  • I_M100 Mar 03, 2013

    I'm not sure if this has been commented on in the past but I just had to vent on what must be one of TV's most ridiculous casting choices aka Tommy and his dad. For pits sake they both look approximately the same age and unless his dad fathered Tommy when he was 10 this father-son duo is just insanely unbelievable.

  • Draconax Mar 03, 2013

    I have to say I'm a bit confused on this one, but I guess it just goes to John Barrowman aging gracefully. Barrowman might look decently young, but he's 46, which is would put him about 20 years apart from Tommy, which is pretty much just about right.

  • I_M100 Mar 03, 2013

    Yes I figured age wise they got it right but TV is all about appearances and I think either the guy who plays Tommy should've been a bit younger looking or his dad a bit older looking. I don't know it's just that whenever they're on screen together it really nags me.

  • natesjokes Mar 04, 2013

    Well don't forget that Barrowman is rich as shit. If you got that much money you're going to look younger than you are, what with plastic surgery and all. Plus he stays in shape.

  • Draconax Mar 05, 2013

    Ya I don't think he's had any surgery. He just looks like a middle aged dude who's treated his body well.

  • Karrawyn Mar 02, 2013

    Knew Malcolm wouldn't die... he's Captain Jack ;)

    Totally expected him to reveal his past as a time agent when Tommy asked him how he knew how to fight. "Son, a long time ago, I met this man called the Doctor..."

    And then Alex Kingston showed up! I would have died if she'd said, "hello, Sweetie," to Laurel.

  • starfire2_2 Mar 03, 2013


  • Kerkesh Mar 02, 2013

    So Tommy now knows Oliver's secret and prior to the attack became aware of his dad's secret hideout in the office; so this is going to be a reveal. Frankly, I couldn't help myself thinking of the Green Goblin when he made that discovery and it will be very interesting to see if Tommy will follow his father's footsteps and become one of Arrow's nemeses.
    Arrow works because it is a character oriented show , where they actually are taking very good care to define each of them very clearly and appropriately within the original comics mythos. At the same time, even as they arrange the complex puzzle pieces that they are within the plots and subplots; they have maintained several paths open that these characters can take eventually.
    There is a rich mosaic storytelling that can easily fill five or, fingers crossed, ten seasons, if they can maintain this rhythm.
    I thought that Smallville was the peak of comics adaptation on the TV screen, but Arrow is well on its way to prove me wrong.

  • Draconax Mar 03, 2013

    Just as a heads up, but Tommy didn't become aware of his dad's dealings. Malcolm was *about* to show him, when he was shot, and the door closed. Tommy knows nothing about his father being the Dark Archer.

  • Kerkesh Mar 03, 2013

    If you're sure.

  • ReneeQuintero Mar 02, 2013

    great episode and great review..I love what Arrow is doing with the characters, I mean, is such a mesh hahaha not a mess, mesh, everything is I would like to see malcolm's reaction to oliver saving him..and tommy is going "dark side" because he can't trust oliver..and who would be the cannary sarah, dinah or laurel?? I also would to see some flashback of malcolm's training, who is that man i talked about..and does it have anything to do with yao fei was his name? the archer from the island..who obviously teached oliver at some point. Can't wait to see what happens, and...mckenna!! wow you're a detective!! oliver leaves and five minutes later you're on call!!! how many time that's gonna happen till you realized the truth??

  • svarcs666 Mar 01, 2013

    Great episode, loving the show!

    Also, knew that deadshot would be back, cyborg eye and all

  • 8jodaiko Mar 01, 2013

    Hi everyone. I'm interested in reading some of the Green Arrow comics. Can any of you tell me where I should start? I've been googling but there are so many out there, cross overs with other DC characters and the like... I'm a little overwhelmed. Any advice would be much appreciated. And if you can point me in the directions of story arcs that feature some of the characters from the show, that's be awesome, too.

  • 8jodaiko Mar 14, 2013

    Thanks everyone for your advice and suggestions. I REALLY appreciate it. I'll certainly be hitting the 'net this weekend and tryng to track down some of the titles. Unfortunately, as I live in Australia, comics are quite expensive here and there aren't too many 'bricks and morter' stores for me to freaquent. So, the net (and stores that ship internationally) is definitely my friend when it come to comics (both purchasing and for advice). You guys are awesome! Thanks again.

  • svarcs666 Mar 01, 2013

    As Gully suggested, if your new to the character, the new 52 series is quite good, easy to find and follow and gives you the latest mythos behind green arrow.

    The green arrow/green lantern crossover series is a classic, shows the juauxtapostion of the two characters really well and was one of the first popular pollitical comics.

    Also lastly the short story arc by Kevin smith is one of my faves, really gritty and introduces one of the weirdest villains in onomatopoeia!

  • Gully_Foyle Mar 01, 2013

    And then I forgot the most obvious thing.
    Find your local comic shop and ask them. Yes, they'll want to sell you stuff so they're not totally unbiased, but they want you to come back next week and buy more stuff. They generally prefer to have a small steady income from lots of happy customers instead of emptying your wallet once and never seeing you again.

  • Gully_Foyle Mar 01, 2013

    Where to start?
    There is an Arrow comic that ties in directly to the show it's released weekly as a digital comic but DC have also started printing them and I think it's something like 3 digital issues in every print issue.

    Wikipedia has pretty decent entry on GA and there's a list of collected editions at the bottom, if you are looking for stuff related to the show then the writers appear to be borrowing a fair bit from both Year One and The Longbow Hunters.

    If you are looking at Green Arrow within the current DCU, then there are 2 collected volumes for the 'New 52' if you want to start right at the begining or Green Arrow #17 should still be available. Why #17? It's a new writing team and it seems to be a little closer in style\mood to the TV show than the previous issues. And finally there is the new Justice League of America, which has Ollie in a central role, and with Hawkman on the same team there will be some interesting disagreements between them.

    I think that should do for a start.

  • tnetennba Mar 01, 2013

    "You have to love that the show perfectly frames Stephen Amell and Manu Bennett during workouts, but it put Emily Bett Rickards in gym clothes for self-defense classes and the camera barely lingered on her. "

    This is pretty funny. This episode also featured the incredible Kelly Hu in a tight dress (and for once *not* wearing that horrible white wig), but we only got split-second glimpses of parts of it. Laurel's best physical feature by far is the shape of her upper body, but she almost always wears clothes that hide it. They really go as far out of their way to *not* show off the women as they do to show off the men. I find it pretty odd to be honest.

  • Draconax Mar 03, 2013

    To be honest, it's kind of refreshing *not* having a CW series throw eye candy at me to entice me into watching the show, and really, they don't need to to draw in the male audience. Giving them some female boners with topless scenes from Amell and Bennett doesn't hurt to draw in the female viewership.

  • noelrk Staff Mar 01, 2013

    Would it be odd if the situation were reverse and we only their bodies as opposed to Amell, Bennett, and to a lesser degree Ramsey?

  • tnetennba Mar 01, 2013

    Yes that would be odd as well, but I wouldn't mind. :-)

  • Montana_Katana Mar 01, 2013

    I know this is probably a stupid thing to complain about, but good god that red unitard/romper/overall thing Laurel had on was hideous.

  • noelrk Staff Mar 01, 2013

    Oh, no, not stupid. I had it in my notes, but then decided it would look really petty of me to mention (plus I wasn't sure what it was called). But, yes, it was HORRIBLE. So so very ugly. No one should ever ever ever wear that.

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