Being a superhero with a lot of money can be rough, especially when said superhero is looking to use the riches belonging to his non-costumed self to further the goals of improving an entire city. The do-gooder is always forced to decide which persona can help the most, and more often than not, that persona is the one wearing the tights (or the hood, or the cape, or the body armor). This choice often results in the public persona losing some of his standing, and earning a reputation as a selfish, uncaring, elitist jerk.
"Identity" did absolutely nothing new with this well-trodden ground of conflicting, well, identities. Oliver tried to do right by Starling City by throwing a fundraiser for Glades Memorial Hospital (galas and fundraisers happen really quickly in Starling City; party planners, caterers, and event venues must be thriving), only to duck out on the event to stop China White and her new associate Bronze Tiger (Michael Jai White, whose talents were completely and utterly wasted here) from hijacking FEMA trucks headed for the Glades. As a result, Oliver Queen's name got dragged further through the mud by Sebastian Blood (Kevin Alejandro), the very man Oliver was looking to impress and partner with to rebuild the site. Of course, that Oliver's hooded alter ego isn't very popular with the police didn't help.
But It doesn't matter that "Identity" failed to subvert this particular superhero narrative, because its execution of that narrative, and the rest of the episode as a whole, was very good. It's probably the best standalone episode Arrow has offered to date in terms of balancing a case of the week, Oliver's affairs both with and without the hood, Thea and Roy's relationship, and the island flashbacks. It didn't sag, it didn't feel overly stuffed, it didn't fall victim to any of the other complaints I've often leveled at the series with regard to its structural components.
At the heart of all this is Oliver's struggle to become that "something more," to not be the killer he once was. It's not just about how he behaved as the Hood last season, but how we're seeing him behave on the island, where Island Oliver has concerns about always being a murderer on some level. Killing is, after five years of survival and whatever else happened both on and off Lian Yu, the natural choice for Oliver. Tommy's reaction to Oliver's secret identity, ham-fisted and lacking as much nuance as anything else on the show last season, provided the logical reason as to why Oliver would change his behavior now. Think of it like this: The new shift in Oliver's attitude, motivated by Tommy's opinion of him, is along the same lines as Bruce Wayne's no-kill, no-gun policy as Batman, which was motivated by witnessing his parents' murder. What will matter, going forward, is how well Oliver copes with this change, and whether he's able to successfully continue in this vein.
Of course, this attempt to change alters Oliver's vigilante persona in a number of ways. He spared China White and Bronze Tiger, leaving them for the authorities... and so they can easily resurface later, of course. Then there's Roy, who Oliver is both protecting and putting at risk by making him an intelligence-gatherer, which I'm sure Thea will be simply thrilled to find out about at some point. Both decisions represent risks to his safety, the safety of his team, and the safety of the city as a whole. But these are the prices you pay when you don't want to just shoot someone through the neck with an arrow.
And, of course, there's the matter of Laurel. Oliver obviously can't tell Laurel what's going on, and his efforts to win her over to his costumed side have failed miserably as Laurel, showing some serious forethought, now has Oliver trapped by a SWAT team with seemingly no way out. He'll escape, of course, but what matters is that Oliver's attempt to transform the identity of the Hood from killer to hero isn't going to be an easy one. Getting caught by the woman who once defended him—handy, the way the Lances have more or less changed sides on the issue of the vigilante, and how Laurel's much better at getting her man than her dad ever was—just illustrates that it's going to be very difficult to convince other people that the Hood has changed, let alone actually doing the changing.
This notion of identities even extends to Diggle and Felicity—which was quite obvious, since Oliver spelled it right out for us:
Oliver: I need a Girl Wednesday.
Felicity: It’s ‘Friday’ and the answer is "No."
Oliver: These computers have been upgraded. Far more processing power than your typical secretary.
Felicity: Did you know I went to MIT? Do you know what I majored in? Hint: Not the secretarial arts.
Oliver: Felicity! We all need to have secret identities now. If I’m going to be ‘Oliver Queen, CEO,’ then I can’t very well travel down 18 floors every time you and I need to discuss how we spend our nights!
Felicity: And I love spending the night with you... 3... 2... 1... I worked very hard to get where I am and it wasn’t so I could fetch you coffee!
Diggle: Well, it could be worse. My secret identity is his black driver.
It was a hilarious exchange, to be sure—Amell is a great straight man, Rickards is fantastic when she's acting flustered, and Ramsey could give a course in deadpanning—but along with the Carly discussion, it also illustrated the challenges that Felicity and Diggle face as their personal and professional lives collide with supporting Oliver's mission. They have to play stereotypical roles as the perky blonde secretary and the black driver, roles that are considerably not what they hand in mind for themselves given their obvious talents, and I appreciate that Arrow acknowledged that with Felicity's frustration and Diggle's comment. Whereas Oliver gets to be a CEO, albeit one with an increasingly lousy reputation, he's still a CEO, with all the power and wealth that such a position brings with it; they're societal cliches, with all the inequities that Diggle's button on that scene conveyed.
Diggle's off-screen break-up with Carly is likewise important, because it illustrated the strain of dual lives. Diggle's been Oliver's conscience for a while now, and the reminders that identity struggles aren't exclusive to Oliver are very necessary. It'd be nice if that lesson could penetrate Oliver's skull and stick for once, but I'm hopeful that his apology to and sympathy for Diggle at the end of the episode represent him turning a corner.
Given that Bronze Tiger, a character from the comics, was dealt with rather quickly, I'm going to focus on the other character from the comics who was introduced in this episode, Sebastian Blood. In the comics, Blood is normally a cult leader of some sort, complete with superhuman powers of persuasion (read: hypnosis) and some degree of occult ability. He was a recurring villain in the animated Teen Titans series, where he ran a school for young villains to form an army he'd use to take over the world, similar to the way the comic book version of Blood wanted to mobilize his followers in a quest for world domination.
It wouldn't be hard to strip away Blood's superhuman powers and still have a compelling character, and that's what Arrow achieved with its iteration of Blood. The alderman is a charismatic and gifted orator, whether he's surrounded by his supporters or by the elites he so clearly loathes. He's in his element no matter what, and small touches—like his refusal to shake Oliver's hand in the office or allowing his voice to carry without a microphone at the gala—indicate the degree of confidence the character has.
I'm not familiar with Kevin Alejandro's past work on True Blood or Southland, but he was very good here, probably the most comfortable arrival I've seen from any Arrow guest-star since Manu Bennett first showed up as Slade. Alejandro displayed an immediate ownership of the role that helped to lock in a sense of the character, which is very necessary with a character like Blood. I'm not sure what the show's plans are for Blood going forward, but I am very excited to see them unfurl, and what Alejandro does with them.
You all know how much I love it when the island story parallels the present-day story, so I'm sure you were able to predict that I was happy not only with how the flashback immediately addressed Oliver's head-bashing incident, but also with its attention to the notion of change and dual selves. It certainly wasn't anything really mind-blowingly deep, but I appreciated the symmetry. And much like the flashbacks from the early portions of Season 1, the pace of this week's was a bit more measured, which I also rather like.
Finally, I like the way the island flashbacks are slowly building up their group dynamics as we see Slade grappling with being a third wheel to his two younger companions. Sure, his advice to Oliver about Shado being a distraction was accurate, but was it motivated purely by a desire to see Oliver survive, or by something else with a bit more longing attached? Last week he pointed out that Oliver's not the only one who cares about Shado, so there could be something more than just wanting this little group to get off the island together. In any case, if we keep getting more of Manu Bennett's shockingly adorable "awkward face," I'll be game for that.
– Trick arrows are officially here! With remote taser arrows and bolas arrows, we're like, what—five arrows away from the punching glove arrow?
– "I had a secret entrance installed when I ran the club. Kidding."
– China White's little spiel introducing Bronze Tiger was pretty much the worst superhero comic book dialog Arrow has ever done. Also: The show's fight choreography is still pretty painful. That skirmish with Bronze Tiger was chopped up to the point of... pointlessness. Arrow could borrow a page from S.H.I.E.L.D.'s playbook on that front.
– It's likely been mentioned here before, but I just love the dresses the wardrobe department selects for Felicity.
– Good grief. Can all the characters go on not mentioning whether Malcolm's dead? Sheesh.
– "You know, I've been meaning to tell you that it really weirds me out to no end the way you refer to yourself in the third person like that."
– "We're getting dangerously close to hug territory, so I'm going to fall back."
What did you think of "Identity"?