Although it was clear based on the pilot, three episodes have confirmed that at the core of Arrow is, well, Arrow: It is hardly a surprise, one supposes, that a show about a vigilante superhero would be mostly focused on that vigilante superhero. Around him, however, is a much more typical collection of interpersonal relationships, relying on broad overtures of conspiracy and romantic entanglement.
Early on in the show’s run, the archetypal nature of these “other” storylines is more likely to get some slack: There is still enough novelty to a show committed to “action” as a television genre that a few dull subplots won’t be enough to sink it. However, over time, Arrow needs to find a way to infuse the energy of its central hero—built around a strong performance by Stephen Amell, increasingly silly Arrow voice aside—into the love triangles, troubled kid sisters, and corporate shenanigans that lack the same verve.
“An Innocent Man” is invested in this effort, expanding supporting characters while simultaneously focusing on the thematic depth inherent within Oliver’s vigilantism. The episode’s title may more directly refer to the man on death row that Arrow and Laurel work to set free over the course of the episode, but there is also the question of just how innocent we believe Oliver Queen to be. Oliver explains to Diggle—after he reveals his identity to his body man early in the episode—that he gained clarity on the island regarding the fate of Starling City and the role he has to play. However, how much clarity is there in murder? When Oliver nearly kills the man who attacked Laurel, the only thing clear is the amount of rage Oliver felt in that moment, and how his actions transcended survival into something different. Although the episode’s flashbacks suggest that one has to learn to kill to survive (and that one must forget love when concerned with such endeavors), the morality of vigilantism is less clear than Oliver would like to believe. He may not be someone who kills indiscriminately—just look at last week, where he went after Deadshot for killing someone he intended to reform—but he is still someone who kills, and the character—and the show—can’t back away from that.
What’s impressive about “An Innocent Man” is how it doesn’t back away from its ending. Oliver’s identity being revealed could have been a threat throughout the series, but having him arrested so quickly speeds up the timetable, which gets credit for surprising me. Even if we have every reason to believe he’ll be set free, and that the show will continue on with Oliver crossing evildoers off his list, it seems more advantageous to face this inevitability now than draw it out over an extended period. It also forces the character’s actions front and center: As Detective Lance lists off his crimes, “murder” landed differently than the others. As much as we’re meant to relate to Oliver, and as much as I’d identify the character’s body count as a good sign for the show’s sense of weight and meaning, that is still something the audience and Oliver have to confront. Although the flashbacks have been a bit on the hokey side thus far, the idea of Oliver’s origin gains more meaning when it becomes more prominent in the present, and “An Innocent Man” achieves this.
Where the episode struggles, however, is in finding the same level of pathos in Lauren Lance’s search for justice. Besides the fact that Oliver’s “I really need to hide my voice when I’m around Laurel” voice is even worse than the normal Arrow voice, Lauren’s idealism lacks the same level of meaning. There are some lines here about how she’s learning the limits of the law that were groan-inducing, which says less about Katie Cassidy—who is doing well enough in the role—and more about the writers’ unwillingness to find an original note to play with the character. As much as I was happy Laurel steered out of the “Falling in love with your love interest’s alter ego” angle by episode’s end—as Oliver’s “real” identity is revealed to be as much revenge-driven psychopath as strong-minded vigilante—the episode still spent a lot of time on dead end, on-the-nose conversations. Setting up the question about justice versus the law introduces a theme the writers are interested in carrying through to Oliver’s arrest, but it needs to be more than a collection of clichés for it to mean something for Laurel.
One of the problems is that Laurel was so crudely defined as a justice-seeking, no-nonsense attorney that any attempts for that character to evolve just feel like we’re being told about the character’s transformation rather than seeing her mind change gradually. By comparison, Diggle’s similar realization regarding the need for justice and his role in that conflict is more natural. It shouldn’t be, on some level: Diggle gains a convenient back-story—brother died, killer never found, etc.—that pushes him toward joining Oliver’s quest for justice more than he gets a well-rounded, dynamic character background. However, David Ramsey has strong chemistry with Amell, and it was easier to buy Diggle’s self-realization than Laurel’s based on the storyline surrounding them. This is not to say that a veteran who returns home lacking purpose in their life isn’t a cliché itself at this point, but it’s one that sets up a strong dynamic rather than a retread of every superhero/love interest relationship.
“An Innocent Man” shows Arrow stepping back from its broader ensemble a bit: Walter gets a small C-Story to explore the conspiracy with the help of Felicity Smoak (and with the obstruction of his wife and the shadowy influence of Torchwood’s John Barrowman), but Tommy completely disappears, and Thea rolls back her wild ways in favor of doling out some romance advice during late night expositional cable news viewings. The result is a more concise piece of thematic storytelling, but the execution often lacks the same kind of care. What pathos the conclusion achieves is done in spite of Laurel’s involvement, while the show’s shifting focus onto Oliver’s interrogations as opposed to his beatdowns means more iffy voiceover work and less solid action (with only the prison sequence really delivering on that level). The show is always going to have a little bit of camp in it, and I often like the show most when it’s willing to be a little funny (as when Oliver was continually pulling one over on his replacement body man), but there were moments in “An Innocent Man” that were funny for the wrong reasons, and worked against what became a good step forward for the character and the show.
- I was just noting how Oliver’s conversation with the new body man sounded more Canadian than most conversations on the show, and then the writers drop in a nice reference to Queen’s “Vancouver subsidiary” a few minutes later. It’s nice to see the writers acknowledging the show’s Canadianness, at least in terms of shooting location (and in terms of “Brodeur” as a last name).
- Whenever being confronted by someone, Stephen Amell’s acting choice as Oliver seems to be putting his arms by his side and not moving them in any way whatsoever. It freaks me out.
- A good note for young writers in this episode: When plotting out episodic stories for a show about a dude who was missing for five years, introduce major news events from during that period that he needs someone to explain to him in detail, so as to integrate exposition into the storytelling.
- We were supposed to laugh at “10:15 to Blood Haven,” right? Because that couldn’t have been intended as even the least bit serious.
- I thought the Hamlet sequence last week was great, so glad to see more of Emily Bett Rickards’ Felicity Smoak: “Did she hyphenate? She seems like a woman who would hyphenate.”
- I often enjoy—or rather can’t stop myself from—thinking about the most obnoxious possible hashtags networks could try to get people to use on Twitter during the episode. I was, accordingly, disappointed by the lack of “#OMGYachtTF” tonight.
- Alasdair, whom I had the kind pleasure of meeting a few weeks ago, should be back next week, provided he regains his power. Superhero pun fully intended.