Arrow #3.18: “Public Enemy” Recap & Review

Posted: April 8, 2015 in Review

It’s nice to be reminded just how thrilling a show Arrow can be when everything’s firing right.

In perhaps an apropos way, the show seems to have lost a step this season because it’s struggled with its identity. Now that the Arrow was seen as a positive for the city, embraced by the police and hailed not only as a hero but a champion, the show has been wayward. Not a series to be complacent, they didn’t want to rest on their laurels and quickly set about shaking up the new status quo. Whether or not everything was strongly plotted — in the past, the show is noted for doing a pretty strong job of breaking the season story quite well — for much of the season it’s felt like they’ve been searching for a true threat and a proper direction to tell this story, this theme of identity and legacy. There have been fits and starts throughout the year, but this hour feels like the first that really solidifies and maintains the danger.It’s the sense of breathlessness that propels everything forward and keeps the audience engaged the entire episode.

In order for a breakneck pace to work, a proper antagonist has to make everything hell for our story’s hero, forcing action at every turn. This hour is graced with two, but most specifically, it’s the the relentless nature of Captain Lance’s pursuit of the Arrow that fires the exciting chase. In the end, it’s quite devastating that the once-partners find themselves opposite each other again. Yet, theirs was always a tenuous connection, a temporary peace born of necessity in a city where the threats have escalated. There is a often a chicken-egg theme that plays throughout comic superhero stories; a debate on whether the hero was born in an environment where threats to the people have become so extreme that they require an extreme response, or if the threats are directly related to someone jumping around on rooftops in a mask claiming to “help” the city.

Arrow has always played both sides of the argument. Oliver built his campaign on the idea of righting his father’s wrongs and taking down crime that has festered in Starling City for many years. It would seem that the costumed and megalomaniacal versions of the threats have stepped to the fore since the hooded vigilante came on the scene. Yet, characters like Brick, China White, and Bronze Tiger existed long before Oliver Queen first took up a bow. Even Sebastian Blood’s cult lived underground for far longer than Oliver’s been operating as the Arrow. And of course, Ra’s al Ghul and the League of Assassins, including Malcolm Merlyn, have been around for ages. As we’ve seen, Oliver wasn’t even the first masked vigilante in Starling, with Ted Grant’s Wildcat having proceeded him by a few years. It would seem Oliver was forged by the darkness that exists within the core of the city.

Lance, of course, either isn’t familiar with all of that or refuses to see it, and rightly so. The vicious verbal showdown between officer and detainee in the transport capably illuminates the toll of Oliver’s work the past three years. There has, indeed, been sacrifice in the journey towards peace, and no one knows that better than Oliver. But Lance isn’t spared, either. In ways, he’s lost as much as Oliver. His marriage, his daughter, the relationship with his other daughter and potentially her life with the path she’s chosen, innumerable citizens, his partner, his credibility, his very core beliefs. Laurel attempts to excuse or explain away her father’s vendetta by offering that he’s “in pain.” The truth of the matter is that pain is everything, and it’s the kind of fuel that makes Lance a very dangerous man.

What’s worse is Quentin doesn’t understand the complexity, and his rage leads him blindly. Even when presented with missing puzzle pieces by the ominous Ra’s al Ghul, Lance doesn’t have the whole picture, and he’s decidedly detrimental because of it. He becomes the point of the weapon that is the city, as Oliver identified it, that now attacks its hero. Part of the make-up of the episode was the idea that the truth of a situation can be very powerful. Oliver attempts to use it to take full blame and deflect any consequence falling on his team members, a lesson he poignantly gathered from his brief interaction with Shado’s twin sister, Mai. Ra’s, however, uses the truth as a means to stoke Lance’s hatred and pain. It’s compelling that not a single thing Ra’s reveals to Lance is a lie. Every bit of it is true, and yet the reveal demonstrates how the truth can be used to manipulate people for nefarious deeds.

While Ra’s relentlessness isn’t as enraged as Lance’s, it’s safe to say that it’s just as choking. What really works about the episode is the idea that Oliver is left with no choice but the two Ra’s gives him: accept the offer or rot in prison. It’s quite fascinating how quickly everyone turns on the Arrow, which would seem to be forced until you realize just how hypersensitive our society has become. Trevor Noah, the comedian tapped to take over hosting Comedy Central’s The Daily Show from Jon Stewart, went from being hailed to being ostracized within less time than the average work day. If a man who was originally seen as a thug taking the law into his own hands, but then is thrust into the spotlight as a hero and savior for the city, is then seen as potentially indiscriminately killing people without provocation, it’s really not that hard to imagine that the public would turn on him and fast. Ra’s plays it perfectly to back Oliver into a corner. Even taking him down elevates Oliver into the role he doesn’t want to accept.

Then, on top of it all, Ra’s takes away the one thing that offered Oliver some leverage, his anonymity. Starling City knows Oliver Queen is the Arrow.

There is certainly precedent for this. In DC Comics continuity prior to the New 52 “reboot,” Oliver Queen was outed as the Emerald Archer. With his distinctive Van Dyke beard, the “secret identity” game was a bit on the level of the Clark Kent glasses gambit. Still, people couldn’t guess, and so it turns out that Quentin Lance never actually suspected Oliver was the Arrow here. It doesn’t come as a surprise; he did arrest Queen for the vigilante’s activities way back in early Season 1, though this was all to plan so that Oliver could potentially forever discount anyone who would accuse him in the future and deflect any suspicion. The showrunners talked all week about how this episode was going to change the series forever. Once your hero’s identity is blown, that’s not one you easily walk back from.

What’s exceptionally great about this development is that it makes Oliver desperate. He is scrambling, literally in the case of outrunning the cops trying to capture him at Verdant and ending up on Diggle’s doorstep. Short of just outright leaving and abandoning everything, something Oliver knows he can’t do because it leaves innocent lives at risk, Oliver is truly pushed into a situation where he has no resources to get out. It’s surprisingly how quickly the aspects of life that you’ve built, that you consider secure and unshakeable, can be quickly toppled. The interesting thing is that there are any number of threats that could have done this to Oliver. Malcolm Merlyn, Helena Bertinelli, Slade Wilson, Amanda Waller. Even Barry Allen and Ray Palmer. It becomes quite clear how fragile the framework of our lives, the lives that we know day in and day out, truly is. Oliver is often quick to assume the lion’s share of the load of everything, frequently suffering from a martyr complex, even if fault does lie with him. For him to turn himself in, while it might seem like the normal bullheaded Oliver move, actually rings authentic because there is no other option if he doesn’t want to join the League.

It’s all very tantalizing, and the reality is that, no matter if they can somehow clear his name or deflect it for the general public, Quentin Lance is always going to know Oliver is the Arrow. That makes Roy Harper’s bold move both astounding and confounding.

Roy has had kind of an odd path with his guilt over killing the police officer while Mirakiru’d up last year. Learning the truth earlier this season left him confused and adrift, yet he seemed to find a measure of peace in anonymously lending assistance to the officer’s family. When Thea was going through her struggle after learning the truth about being Malcolm’s pawn to kill Sara, Roy seemed like a solid foundation to help prop Thea up. Here, though, Roy falls apart all over again. Sure, being forced to injure cops by the situation has to put immense strain on the guilt that surely still exists, but it seems a bit strange to see him flip this badly, as if he made no progress at all. A little subtlety might have helped, but overall, it sets up Roy’s journey for the remainder of Season 3 quite well.

He owes so much to Oliver, Roy feels. This isn’t just about saving his life from the vigilante known as the Savior. Oliver gave Roy a purpose to feed something that has always existed within him, that need to protect. It’s why he felt most lost of Team Arrow, even more than Felicity, when they first learned of Oliver’s apparent death at the hands of Ra’s al Ghul. It’s also why he was the first to suit back up and hit the streets. It’s why he couldn’t abandon the fight against Slade last year when Thea wanted to run away with him. There’s a mentorship, a brotherhood, a bond between them, and that was most heavily identified in “Guilty” when Roy pleads with Oliver not to give up on him. So, of course, Roy is going to be the one to sacrifice himself for Oliver. Of course, Roy is going to show up dressed as the Arrow and cast doubt in the media, the police, the public that Oliver Queen is the vigilante.

That look between the two to close the episode was a powerful, weighty one.

Meanwhile, Felicity is left to her own crumbling diorama of a soap opera, as Oliver becomes public enemy #1 and Ray Palmer takes a pretty nasty arrow to the chest to protect her. The parallels between Ray and Oliver continue as Felicity is once again charged with having to save the life of a man she cares about. What’s enjoyable about the whole hospital affair, aside from the quippy interactions with Ray and the broad fun of Felicity’s mom, is that she’s faced with a situation she’s both not prepared for and has very limited knowledge about. Felicity is a wonderfully intelligent and extraordinarily capable person, but often they’ve taken to giving her god-level abilities when it comes to technology as a quick writing fix around problems. The Chloe Sullivan Syndrome, if you will. Something that was particularly appealing about Felicity early on in the series was that she occasionally had to consult others to accomplish some things. It felt far more realistic and grounded and also seemed to showcase the ingenuity of her networking ability. Putting her back in a situation where she knows little about the tech actually humanizes her without diminishing her stature and importance.

More important, it also steered Arrow‘s version of Ray Palmer back towards the field of his source material. Okay, not nuclear physics, but the concept of the nanites (“nanotech”) used to enter the structure of the blood clot on the atomic level and shrink it are certainly more up the alley of the comic book Atom than the battle suit employed by his live- action counterpart.

This also offered both Ray and Felicity the opportunity to put some things in perspective for themselves, as the potential for death is wont to do. For Ray, that means admitting the depths of his feelings for this woman he has chosen as a business, science, and romantic partner. It, perhaps, might not have been the best timing to make declaration, seeing as they’ve only really been dating for a month, six weeks at the most. Still, it’s not as if they haven’t been dealing with these romantic feelings and attractions for the better part of the last year, so it’s not entirely out of line. For Felicity, though, it seems to confirm what has been obvious for a while now. As much as she enjoys Ray as a person, there is much about him that is really a stand-in for Oliver, who she really loves but has made himself completely unavailable to her. The parallels in Ray’s path with Oliver’s are too great to ignore. It’s rather unfortunate because Ray is a great guy who is willing to open his heart up to her.
It’s also unfortunate that this is the dramatic crux of Felicity’s story this season. I’m all for romance. I would never, in a million years, consider myself a shipper, but I do happen to think romantic relationships should be explored on TV shows, particularly genre shows. They are an important part of the human experience, can make for compelling drama, and can serve to enliven and enrich characters. However, when romance becomes the sole focus of a character, something is missing. For Felicity, boiling her story down to a choice between Oliver and Ray seems both reductive and disserving. It’s understandable that it satisfies a segment of the audience, as there’s nothing wrong with that. The problem is that we’ve essentially seen Felicity stuck in a rut as a character all season. How additive has this been to her? I’d say I like her with Ray because it seems more fun and engaging. I don’t particularly care for her with Oliver because they seem to bring out toxic aspects of themselves whenever things turn romantic. In the end, though, it’s hard to feel that Felicity has made much strides this year beyond possibly opening herself up to relationships she can never have.

Count me in the column that feels Felicity is a better character and Emily Bett Rickards is a better actress than the material they’ve given them this season.

Thankfully, they threw the audience a bit of a curveball by not going back to romance well for Oliver and Shado in the past timeline. It’s quite often a bit tricky to pull the twin sibling card, and here it can’t shake feeling like gimmick. Still, it was nice to see Celina Jade back, and there was a noticeable difference between her Shado and her Mai. Mai feels more fragile and less experienced in the world. She is very much an open wound, trying to figure out what became of her family when this huge piece of the puzzle is dropped into her lap. Coincidence can be just as tricky as the twin card, but Oliver’s and Akio’s brief stay at Mai’s was a suitable diversion.

What’s a bit baffling is why this little jaunt separating Oliver and Akio from Maseo and Tatsu was necessary. Unceremoniously, they return in the nick of time to save everyone from Waller’s men. Something doesn’t smell right in Denmark. And if this was just simply a way to goose the flashbacks, it might be time to revisit the need to have flashbacks. Here, they manage to tie Oliver’s admission to Mai that Yao Fei and Shado had died into the lesson about truth, but it’s hard to say that it provided any key context.

What “Public Enemy” does provide is a thriller in what we can now term the “classic” Arrow mode. It is an absolute showcase for Paul Blackthorne, who brings a welcome and unrelenting urgency to the proceedings that catapults the narrative forward. The partnership between Lance and the Arrow had its enjoyment factor, but there is quite a bit to relish in a nigh-rabid Lance barking orders and issuing condemnations of our hero. Guests Brandon Routh and Charlotte Ross add their wonderful charms, and Matt Nable’s eerily composed Ra’s al Ghul offers the perfect puppet master with his reach felt everywhere. They launched into this season hoping to shake up the status quo. Even with the cliffhanger stabbing of Oliver at mid-season, this felt like the first time all year where things really fell apart.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s