Last week’s episode found Oliver cementing his new M.O. as a street warrior who would not kill. “Identity” finds him figuring out how to practically implement this newfound philosophy. Arrow has never been a subtle show and that extends to its handling of such broad concepts as the nature of identity . Then again, its world has basis in the realm of comic books, which tend to be about as subtle as a punch to the face. Though not as enthralling as the season premiere, “Identity” still serves as a good palate cleanser after the non-stop bombast that was “City of Hope.”
After a gratuitous training montage that once again highlights Oliver’s glistening abs (wouldn’t be an Arrow episode without it), we’re launched into this week’s dilemma. Masked motorcycle riders are attempting to highjack a hospital supplies truck en route to Glades Memorial. We soon learn that these attacks have been a frequent occurrence and, as a result, the struggling hospital is on the verge of closing its doors due to a lack of resources. Naturally, it’s up to Oliver to uncover and stop this operation and its team leader China White, making her dramatic return after a somewhat underwhelming appearance last season.
China White’s appearance this time around is only a slight improvement. While actress Kelly Hu proves more than serviceable as a lethal action gal—see her performance as Lady Deathstrike in X2—she lacks the innate, menacing charisma of, say, Jessica De Gouw as the Huntress. As if to pick up the slack, she is now aided by Michael Jae White as a claw-wielding assassin named Bronze Tiger (best known to comic book fans as a member of the League of Assassins and the Suicide Squad). A true-life martial artist (and the man who donned the Spawn costume back in 1997), White has always been a formidable screen presence as well as a shockingly gifted comedic performer (see 2009’s hilarious Black Dynamite). Here, he’s mostly employed to slash his claws and look threatening doing it, which he does with great gusto. Nevertheless, it’s a real shame that the episode resigns such a great actor to that of a glorified henchman.
That being said, this is a story about Oliver, not his villains. More so, per the episode’s title, it’s a story about identity. Identity drives everything here, from the episode’s overarching themes down to little jokes during the amusing Oliver-Felicity-Diggle banter scenes. Specifically, after Felicity expresses displeasure at being forced into the role of Oliver’s executive assistant, Diggle dryly quips, “it could be worse—my secret identity is a black driver.”
Now that he’s no longer playing the single-minded vigilante with a tunnel vision perspective, actor Stephen Amell is being given a much more interesting character to play. Early on, Amell got his share of criticism for being a wooden lead. Subsequent episodes showed the actor was far more than a pretty face if given the right material. Never is this more apparent than during his confrontation with Roy near the beginning of the episode. After the young hotshot dismisses his attempts at drawing a parallel between the two, Oliver forcibly seizes Roy and articulates, with great conviction, the burning desire that drives the two to action. It’s these moments of downplayed, yet sharp writing coupled with Amell’s dedicated delivery that gives Arrow its unique flavor. The show may never be a gourmet entrée; rather, it’s the kind of addictive, mouth-watering meal that you find yourself perpetually craving for days after.
Meanwhile, in the Island flashbacks, we see the aftermath of Oliver’s violent explosion that resulted in him brutally murdering Shado’s captors. This, however, mostly amounts to a brief exchange with Shado that ends with the couple both frolicking naked in a pond while Slade watches in jealously. As someone who thought last year’s Oliver-Laurel-Tommy triangle only barely worked, the concept of another love triangle—on the Island no less—can’t help but fill me with dread. While one fully understand the writers’ need to spice up some of the Island material, which sometimes felt like padding in the first season, forcing melodrama may very well backfire.
In the wake of this unwanted surprise, however, the episode concludes with a very pleasant twist of fate. The final moments finds Oliver-as-Arrow traveling to Laurel’s office for what looks to be a standard encounters. Suddenly, Laurel turns the tables on our hooded hero when she gives a signal and a squad of policemen come bursting in to surround him.
Two episodes in, and Arrow has already tossed in the kind of cliffhanger that most shows would save for much later in the run. Gotta admire the audacity there. Even if “Identity” had been a substandard episode (which it most definitely wasn’t) this would be more than enough incentive to have me anxiously awaiting for next week—same Arrow time, same Arrow place.