Arrow: 318 “Public Enemy” Review
Reviewed by Louis Rabinowitz.
Secret identities. They’re as much a staple of comic books and their adaptations as American flags and large amounts of punching – and in Arrow, Oliver Queen’s secret double life was a huge focus of season one, back when the amount of people who knew his identity was in single figures and he actually led a public life. Since then, the list of people with knowledge of the Arrow’s true identity has slowly ticked up to encompass around ninety per cent of the show’s regular cast – but before this episode, it was still a secret identity…
The latest episode, Public Enemy, was hyped as a huge game-changer for the show – and it absolutely delivered. Chock-full of revelations that can’t just be hand-waved away next episode and making changes to the status quo that might never be undone, part of what made Public Enemy such a strong episode of Arrow was the consistent, barely faltering pace. From the moment Ray was shot with an arrow in the mayor’s office to those final moments with Roy (don’t confuse them), Public Enemy’s pervading sense of doom and fear essentially never had any real time to dissipate. If Arrow has been a tad slow in parts this season, particularly early on, then this is a reminder of how breakneck the show’s pace can be – and it’s all the better for it, with the tension never faltering throughout the 45 minutes.
Though he’s only seen in a couple of scenes this episode, it’s here that we see what Ra’s al Ghul is really capable of. The mid-season finale demonstrated that he’s a more than worthy physical opponent for Oliver – but Public Enemy saw Ra’s essentially orchestrate everything that went wrong for Team Arrow; from tipping off the SCPD to delivering the long-awaited revelation to Lance, all of the terrible stuff that happened can be traced back to our favourite inexplicably Australian villain. Though another battle is probably on the way, seeing Ra’s as more of an expert manipulator; his pulling of strings (it’s worth mentioning that as with most supervillains, there are no strings on him) and using people as weapons underlined just how much Ra’s towers above almost all of Oliver’s previous foes. It barely seems possible how Oliver can defeat Ra’s at this point – and that helps to hammer in just how hopeless and desperate Team Arrow is at this point.
Despite Ra’s al Ghul’s background manipulations, the true antagonist of Public Enemy was former friend Captain Lance. The detective/officer/captain (delete according to preference) has hovered between being a friend or a foe to the Arrow – and despite helping him out lately, revelations about Oliver and Laurel’s perhaps slightly ill advised secret-keeping of Sara’s death sent Lance over the edge and back into anti-vigilante mode. It’s arguable how much sense Lance’s actions make, as his assertions about the Arrow not helping the city don’t exactly hold up considering the catastrophes Oliver’s publicly averted, and it’s also unclear how much sense Lance’s actions are even meant to make. However, Paul Blackthorne’s performance went some way to papering over the cracks in the writing – Blackthorne was required to carry half the episode on his shoulders, and he delivers with a multi-faceted performance that expertly illustrates Lance’s feelings of betrayal, anger and fury with a layer of mild insanity on top. The writing of Lance’s character in this episode was a tad muddled, but it’s hard to fault Blackthorne for the performance he gave.
It wasn’t entirely doom and gloom, as Public Enemy delivered the requisite light-hearted comic relief subplot with Felicity, Ray and Felicity’s mother, featuring cheery topics such as life-threatening blood clots and potential brain damage. These scenes were hardly the most exciting part of the episode and sapped a little of the episode’s carefully built-up tension, but Brandon Routh continues to be a likeable and engaging performer, and the slightly random reappearance of Charlotte Ross as Felicity’s mother provided some enjoyable levity courtesy of her fun double act with Emily Bett Rickards. However, the subplot’s conclusion provided a groan-worthy moment that doesn’t bode well for the final few episodes – the assertion that Felicity doesn’t love Ray and has to make a choice is not only predictable, but a little dull. Oliver and Felicity’s relationship just isn’t that interesting – to dig that up may have been necessary, but it felt like another moment crafted to begin pushing Ray out of the Arrow picture; which is a little bit of a shame, even if Ray will be popping up on the new spin-off.
By this point, an awful lot of people – both good and bad – knew Oliver’s secret identity, but it was still something of a surprise to see it completely revealed to the entire city here. Even considering the final moments, it’s effectively the end of secret identities on Arrow – which is a very bold step to take for a show with a hero that works in the shadows as something of an object of fear. It does, however, hopefully indicate that Oliver’s identity crisis is soon to reach an end – with no reason to try and live a double life anymore, a whole raft of interesting new story avenues have opened up. Could Oliver take a more traditional ‘hero to the city’ role in season four? Will he head over to the League of Assassins? Those answers will have to wait – but Public Enemy’s massive, irreversible changes to the status quo promise a season four that will be hugely different to its predecessors.
And with Oliver en route to jail, the final scene provided one final twist in the tale. Roy’s murder of a cop under the influence of mirakuru last season has been mined on several occasions for drama with varying success – but it was here that all Roy’s building guilt and angst finally came into fruition, giving us a logical and understandable reason (even if the foreshadowing at the start of the episode may have been a tad heavy-handed) for his sacrifice. Roy taking the fall is another game-changing moment for the series – it might take Oliver out of the limelight in terms of suspects for now, but sending Roy off to jail is yet another example of Public Enemy’s commitment to huge changes in characters’ situations, and a superb payoff to a thread that’s been bubbling away for an entire season now.
So, where do we go from here?
Bold, thrilling and action-packed, some elements of Public Enemy might not hold up to scrutiny, but it’s nonetheless an episode that packs revelations and plot twists the consequences of which might echo throughout the rest of the show.