In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the iconic version of Green Arrow was crafted by Neal Adams and Dennis O’Neil. Oliver got the goatee and a new costume from Adams, and O’Neil transformed the billionaire playboy who fought crime as a hobby into a man who'd lost his fortune and decided to fight crime to help those who needed it most: the poor, the disenfranchised, and ethnic minorities.
Oliver Queen very much became the 1970s liberal, and he was contrasted with law-and-order beat cop and cosmic do-gooder Hal Jordan, a.k.a. Green Lantern. The two emerald-clad heroes set out on a road trip through America, helping loggers and Native Americans, stopping drug lords, facing the perils of overpopulation and pollution, and even dealing with a Charles Manson-type cult leader.
That version of Green Arrow laid the foundation for what would continue for years in the comics, with stories often centered on social issues instead of supervillains. And even when Oliver came back from the dead (as all characters do in comics), he was still a liberal iconoclast who would rail against Aquaman for not allowing elections in Atlantis. This notion of the character even carried over into the animated TV series Justice League Unlimited, where the character was recruited for the expanded Justice League because of his emphasis on the “little guys.”
I only bring all this up because Arrow started to inch into this particular aspect of the character in “An Innocent Man.” It’s worth knowing where the show is attempting to come from as it tries to reconcile the Oliver who's out to help people who cannot help themselves because the system has failed them with the Oliver who's very much a vigilante with demons weighing on him.
Oliver maintained throughout the episode that he wants to help people like Declan, the episode’s client/case of the week, a man framed for the murder of his wife/would-be-whistleblower. Oliver believes that people like Declan can’t get a fair shake because the “criminal elite” of Starling City “see nothing wrong with raising themselves up by stepping on other people's throats.” There’s an element of class warfare here (regardless of where we all land about Oliver shooting bodyguards or murdering people, though clearly he has murdered people if he’s being charged with it), and Oliver is well aware that those in power, including his own father, have made it so that only those are already rich survive. He’s looking to make sure that such things stop.
And we even got this through Diggle, as he lamented that his current job in private security affords him no opportunity to make a difference, and instead he “protects punks and spoiled one-percenters.” It’s what drove him to accept Oliver’s offer to help clean up Starling City (not as a sidekick, thank the TV gods), but perhaps as a new mentor, someone who can keep Oliver’s soul from being “scrape[d] off in little pieces.”
But there’s a wonderful friction between these two men’s world views, and how they see this war for Starling City, as they both refer to it. Oliver comes off as the spoiled brat playing soldier (an attitude Diggle does not appreciate), a man who doesn’t fully understand the philosophy he’s spouting. Oliver is very much the white knight Diggle called him out as last week, the well-meaning limousine liberal who just doesn’t get it.
In "An Innocent Man," Diggle provided a needed corrective on the issue. It was astounding last week that a show on a broadcast network, let alone on The CW, would mention gentrification, and now this week Diggle confronted the privilege that Oliver enjoys, puncturing in a small way the fantasy that much of TV operates in for the sake of narrative convenience. I don’t expect Arrow to give up the fantasy, but I’m so very intrigued to see how the series navigates this tension, and how much of a voice for this sort of thing Diggle becomes.
The episode also put Oliver’s lack of faith in the system up against Laurel and Quentin’s belief in it. Laurel, in her role as a lawyer in legal aid, is doing similar work to Oliver... but through the system, just as Quentin taught her. However, even Laurel is aware that the system is broken, and she admitted as much to Oliver when she said she “thinks there's too many people who only think about themselves” in Starling City.
It’s just that Oliver isn’t well-balanced enough to deal with such a notion. The rage he showed as he mercilessly beat the man who attacked Laurel in the prison shook Laurel out of being a potential ally and into someone who sees, as Diggles does, a man who's gotten lost trying to do right in a way that may have worked on the island, but doesn’t necessarily work in Starling City. She’s still too attached to the system to break out of it completely, and believes that it can still be fixed from the inside, through legal (or slightly extra-legal) means, not unlike Hal Jordan did in the comics I mentioned above.
Despite all this, I still found the core of this episode dull. The Declan case felt... blah, is really the best word I have for it. It was more of a vehicle for ideas than an actual plot. There’s nothing wrong with that, but Arrow isn’t on sure-enough footing yet to carry off that sort of an act.
But with that said, the series is showing no fear about burning through plot. Quentin had the bright idea to check the security tapes from last week’s shooting at the auction after Laurel mentioned Oliver using a ski mask in the prison, and there he found Oliver digging a costume out of a trash can. It was a gutsy move on Arrow's part to tell this story so early, and I’m interested to see how the show wiggles its way out of this particular narrative bind while still maintaining just enough believability.
Meanwhile, Walter discovered the remains of the Queen’s Gambit in a warehouse owned by Tempest, LLC, a fake company that Moira started up. This was done a little too easily, and mostly off-screen, limiting the enjoyment of that particular chase. But on the upside it meant more Felicity, and so we’ll call it even. Plus it means a big potential blow-up between Walter and Moira!
And speaking of Moira, we finally met the man in the limo played by John Barrowman (I imagine there was some squeeing at his appearance for many of you). I’m withholding comment on Barrowman’s character until he has a larger part to play (which I believe starts next week), but I do want to use that scene to bring this post full circle a bit.
With that scene, the show sort of backed off its desire to be seen as having Oliver not going after “the rich” but after “the list.” The list, this brief scene implied, just happens to be rich. It was a disingenuous thing to do given the narrative of the rest of the episode, and it left me just a tad worried about how dedicated Arrow is to fully exploring these ideas.
– Hopefully you all found Thea much more tolerable this week. No doubt you’ll say, “Well, she wasn’t being a spoiled brat, but she was still useless! Get rid of her already!” Consider your objections noted and filed.
– Flashbacks were fine. I'm enjoying getting to see how Oliver goes from a spoiled layabout who struggles to kill a bird to a man who nearly beats people to death.
– Your DC Comics factoid of the episode: Blüdhaven is a sister city, of sorts, to Gotham City (where Batman hangs out), and actually has worse crime rate than Gotham. When Dick Grayson stopped being Robin and became Nightwing, it’s where he relocated.
– No Tommy this week. I can only assume that’s because Colin Donnell was trying to figure out how to survive being a traveling actor using only his guitar and a Microsoft Surface tablet.
– The producers haven’t revealed who Barrowman is playing, but I’m predicting/hoping he’s Maxwell Lord (minus the powers). Of course, the show could just play me for a sap and make him Deathstroke, but then what about the mask in the pilot, huh?! NOTE: If you’ve seen a spoiler about the character’s identity, PLEASE DO NOT SHARE IT IN THE COMMENTS, or even hint at it.