Arrow "Dead to Rights" Review: Identity Crises

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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