“Who Are You?” was the right kind of episode for an Arrow midseason premiere. Rather than going the plot-driven route, as Arrow has done in the past, it was a reflective episode, both for the characters and the viewers. It was a chance to catch our collective breaths before diving too far back into the Prometheus plot or the drama inherent in the integration of the recruits. (Evelyn doesn’t even appear in this episode).
Though the plot in “Who Are You?” may have been a bit ridiculous, the episode was grounded in a strong exploration of theme, asking its main characters who they are after the trying, traumatic events of the first half of Season 5 (not to mention, you know, everything that has come before that).
Who is Felicity now that she has lost Billy? Who is Curtis now that he has lost Paul? And who is Oliver now that he has lost Laurel? These questions of identity are more complicated than these latest losses, of course, and “Who Are You?” does a good job of focusing Felicity, Oliver, and Curtis’ struggles in recent events, but grounding them in what has come before.
Identity is one of the most important themes in superhero storytelling, and Arrow is at its best when it is embracing it in non-redundant ways. Sure, “Who Are You?”’s flashbacks gave us an iteration of this theme we have seen before, as Oliver wallows in self-pity and disgust over the person he has become. However, the present-day storyline had us seeing these characters processing information and making decisions in new ways, exposing new facets of their identities.
“Who Are You?” represented a quieter, more character and theme-driven narrative episode, the kind I haven’t seen Arrow make in a long while and one that gives me hope for the second half of the season. Here’s everything that went down in “Who Are You?”
The return of Not-Laurel.
It says a lot about Arrow Season 1 through 5 that, when Laurel (Katie Cassidy) miraculously returns from the dead, Team Arrow’s first thought is to believe her miraculous resurrection. They only jump to the correct evil doppelganger from a parallel world explanation after a bit of celebration. And you can’t really blame them, can you?
Luckily, Arrow doesn’t linger too long in the melodrama of the situation, of what it would actually feel like to have a loved one return from the dead. (And, thank all of the gods in all of the multiverse that they didn’t get Quentin Lance’s hopes up with this one. His heart can’t take it!) That would have felt exploitative. Instead, it uses Laurel’s seeming resurrection to reflect on all of the things she has missed, all of the things Team Arrow has gone through.
Despite Laurel’s apparent return, there’s a somber mood to this entire episode. This is a weary group, one that has become used to losing, but too stubborn to give up. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Felicity’s character.
Felicity is done tiptoeing around Oliver’s feelings.
The most interesting throughline of the night? Felicity is done playing minion. Though she has gained much more power on Team Arrow over the seasons, Oliver is still the de facto leader. He gets to make the calls, even if he has proven again and again that he probably isn’t the best choice for the job.
In the wake of Billy’s death, Felicity takes charge — albeit, not in the healthiest way. She’s picked up some of Oliver’s bad habits: i.e. unilateral decision-making without even informing the team of her plans. She throws a party to get Laurel’s DNA. She tells the recruits to take Black Siren out if she shows any sign of double-crossing. She lets Laurel go.
Frankly, these are all good instincts. Though Felicity is taking stupid risks by not telling the others about her plans, she is a better leader than Oliver in a lot of ways. She’s analytical, used to filtering through massive amounts of information, and tends to have the bird’s eye view of the situation. She has greater emotional intelligence than Oliver and is able to see the ways in which he is compromised. Plus, she has the trust of the rest of the team, who even cover for her when Oliver first confronts them about going after Black Siren when he explicitly told them not to.
Refreshingly, Oliver is receptive to Felicity’s leadership and critiques. For me, this was a much more surprising part of the episode than the twists and turns of Laurel’s seeming resurrection. When Felicity tells the others that Black Siren didn’t escape, she let her go, Oliver clears the room to have a chat. But rather than get in a knee-jerk-reaction fight about power, fueled by Oliver’s wounded masculinity, Oliver admits that he does have an emotional blind spot when it comes to Black Siren. Of course, rather than having this translate into a plan that doesn’t take Oliver’s feelings into account, Team Arrow decides to give Black Siren another chance. This is because Felicity has a blind spot when it comes to Oliver.
Black Siren makes a choice.
Using the nanite trackers Felicity planted in Laurel’s water, Team Arrow tracks Black Siren and Prometheus down. The confrontation is less noteworthy for any sense of physical stake for our heroes. (Though the fight between Oliver and Prometheus is viscerally shot by director Gregory Smith, who continues to do good work on the show). No, these stakes are mostly emotional. Will Black Siren choose violence over cooperation? Will Oliver let Felicity take the lead? Will Curtis prove himself a valuable member of the team?
Though Prometheus gets away and Black Siren inevitably chooses violence, our heroes still come away with emotional victories: Curtis uses his new and improved dampeners to take Black Siren down; Oliver accepts that Black Siren is not his Laurel (even if he doesn’t give up hope of “saving” her); Felicity punches Black Siren in the face; Everyone goes home happy. Or at least as happy as Team Arrow gets.
In many ways, this was a quiet episode: the start of a reconstruction for a battered team. They might not be over their most recent losses, they might never completely heal from those wounds, but they are ready to look ahead. The episode ends with the teasing of a new Black Canary, a fierce, leather jacket-wearing woman who beats up two dudes for sexually harassing a girl. She not only represents a hopefully fresh direction for Team Arrow, but for this show in general.
Diggle is saved by Adrian Chase.
I cannot get a read on this Adrian Chase character. One part of me is sure that he’s Prometheus because: 1) this storyline and character are so similar to the Sebastian Blood one from Season 2 right down to their surnames for clues and 2) who else could it be, really? On the other hand, John would be dead right now if Chase didn’t find a way to keep him out of the evil military commander Walker’s hands. The only thing I can be sure of? Diggle’s character is being criminally (pun!) underutilized this season in weird, distracting subplots that feel like they are taking place on another, less good show.
Flashback time: Another day, another Russian thug.
Frankly, it’s hard to keep track of the Russian thugs on this show. Oliver spends most of the flashback this episode getting beaten up by Ishmael Gregor, the Bratva dude who cut a deal with Kovar, seemingly betraying his Bratva brothers. It’s really a stalling tactic for the final moments of the flashbacks, which feature the introduction of Talia al Ghul, who swoops in to save Oliver from Gregor, who she easily takes out.
But what does Talia al Ghul want with Oliver? (She says she has been searching for him.) Does this mean the Bratva storyline is over for now? And will Talia show up in present-day Arrow? (She has to, right?) As always, we’ll probably have to wait until the end of the season to get any real answers out of the flashbacks. For now, let’s hope Talia’s arrival on the scene means a break from the parade of interchangeable Russian thugs. Dolph Lundgren is great as Kovar, but this Bratva flashback isn’t really going anywhere.
Rating: ★★★★ Very good
— Wait, how does Prometheus know about the Legends? Shouldn’t their time travel escapades be secret or something? Did Evelyn just spill the beans on them? How much does Evelyn even know about them? Now, I need to go back and watch all of the Arrow Season 5 episodes to figure out what Evelyn does and does not know. In the mean time, assume she knows everything.
— That picture of Laurel really gets a lot of screen time and a pretty solid character arc. At this point, I think the show is giving it more to do that Diggle.
— “The Lances have a habit of coming back to life.” “Wait, what?” Rene was the constant, necessary comic relief in “Who Are You?”, the normal guy who rightly responded to everything with skeptical exasperation.
— Poor, sad Curtis is desperately broken up about Paul leaving him, and the only one who seems to notice is Rene, which makes me both like Rene better and like every one else less.
— Thea is so lucky she was at that conference.
— “I don’t sleep much … Side effect of wearing haunted rags, I guess. “ Rory also had some zingers in there, too. What would we do without the recruits for comic relief?
— “If by party, you mean my brilliant ruse to gather Laurel’s DNA, then, yes.” OK, who’s going to have this as their next theme party?
— “So, that Laurel’s from an alternate reality?” Or: the scene in which Curtis explains everything to Rene/the people who don’t watch The Flash and therefore have no idea why Laurel has an evil doppelganger. Poor things.
— “That’s a lot of hoops. Why not just kill you?” — Rene, on Prometheus’ convoluted plan.
— “You should have let me kill them instead of some stupid roleplaying idea.” — Black Siren, delivering yet another meta-critique that really helped this episode.
— Oliver’s defense of John is that he is innocent of breaking out of prison because he only escaped prison because he knew he wouldn’t get a fair trial. Unfortunately, I don’t think that’s how the justice system works, Ollie.
— Oliver to Adrian: “John Diggle is a good man, He’s better than the both of us put together.” Um, rude.
— “Oliver, it’s me. Laurel.” “Don’t you say her name.” This is kind of a lot to ask considering it is Black Siren’s name, too.
— “Since when are they taking orders from you?” “I don’t know, but I like it.” Go with it, Felicity.
— Black Siren loved Earth-2’s Oliver, then turned evil when he died. When Earth-1’s Oliver was presumed dead, Laurel just went to law school.
— Line of the episode when someone explicitly states the theme and/or episode title: “We get to choose what we are. We get to choose who we are. So, tell me, who are you?” — Oliver, to Black Siren
— “You’re supposed to be the happy one.” — Rene, to Curtis
— “It must be really frustrating that he doesn’t listen to you.” “No, I’m used to it.”
— “So Mom and Dad are going 12 rounds upstairs.” “They’re just having a discussion.” — Rene and Curtis are like the kids, worried that their parents are going to get a divorce
— “Don’t move, Trinity.” Rene is a Matrix fan.
— “Hey, I kept my wrist straight.” — Felicity Smoak
— Chase calls the president “her,” which makes me 1. Think that this episode was written before the election and 2. Cry.
— “I could really get used to his newfound optimism.” — Felicity, to Oliver. Me too, Felicity. Me too.