The Flash recently blew up its entire universe, using a single, stunning episode to reveal the true identity of the big bad, dramatically kill off a regular character, permanently sideline another, and finally let the girl know who’s behind the hero’s mask. And then all of that was undone thanks to time travel and a magic reset button ending. I enjoyed it because I assumed such an ending was inevitable, but a lot of fans felt cheated. I can relate. However, haven’t we watched enough geek TV at this point to sense when certain things are going to stick and when the writers are going to bend over backwards to make them go away? So many weekly TV shows are forever trying to revert back to their default setting, and the major shake-ups that actually stick don’t normally happen until mid-season or season finales.
That’s probably why some people absolutely adored Arrow’s “Public Enemy.” The entire city finds out that Oliver is the Arrow! That’s some season finale-level shit. The AV Club’s Alasdair Wilkins was positively gitty, arguing, “If ‘Public Enemy’ isn’t the best episode Arrow has ever done, it’s damn close. It has the outsize scale and storytelling of a season finale, yet its placement a few episodes before the end of the current run means that the show can’t delay dealing with the consequences of what unfolds here.” ScreenCrush deadpanned, “Arrow’s ‘Public Enemy’ Completely Blew Up the Show, We Should Probably Talk About That.”
Picking up immediately from the moment Maseo framed the Arrow for the Mayor’s murder, “Public Enemy” was an episode-long city-wide manhunt for the Arrow and his sidekicks. Captain Lance was informed along the way by Ra’s al Ghul that Oliver Queen is the Arrow, information he used to publicly out Oliver through a TV press conference, accurately reasoning that even if he really is being framed for the mayor’s murder it’s still indirectly his fault. This is a moment two and half seasons in the making. Lance FINALLY! knows Oliver’s secret, leaving nobody in the dark on the subject anymore. Last year, he said he no longer really wanted to know who the Arrow was. That was back when he trusted him. Oliver’s lies about Sara killed that trust, and it doesn’t help that Quentin only just now learned that Sara and Oliver actually spent time together on Lian Yu after the boat wreck.
Oliver is ultimately left to either opt out and accept Ra’s al Ghul peculiar job offer or turn himself in to the cops, and as is usually his way he makes his decision on his own, content to take the fall in exchange for immunity for his friends. Roy refuses to let it go down like that, ending the episode by ambushing a police convoy transporting Oliver to prison and having a “I am Spartacus” moment by announcing that he is actually the Arrow.
This all recalls “Over the Edge,” an episode of The New Batman Adventures in which Commissioner Gordon only learns that his daughter Barbara is Batgirl after she falls to her death from a rooftop during a fight with the Scarecrow. Immensely hurt that his supposed ally Batman would put his daughter in such danger, Gordon uses absolutely everything at his disposal to bring Batman to justice, discovering and broadcasting his secret identity and arresting Alfred and Dick “Nightwing” Grayson along the way. By the end, Barbara wakes up, revealing everything had simply been a Scarecrow fear toxin-induced dream.
It’s that thing again about shows wanting to revert back to their default setting, and what you think about “Public Enemy” might have a lot to do with how much you think Arrow will simply revert back to business as normal. After all, this is a show of big ideas and stunning cliffhangers which very rarely pay off as much as you want, either due to their creative reach exceeding their budgetary grasp or simply because they can’t get out of their own way. When Oliver appeared to die in the mid-season finale, fans want insane, yet Oliver was back to normal three episodes later, his recovery not magical or mystical in nature, lazily chalked up to “his will to live.” “Public Enemy” used “the newscaster lady” (as Diggle humorously called her) to remind us Oliver was previously accused and found innocent in the cop’s on-going game of “Who is the Arrow?” thus re-introducing a legal loophole. We never saw Oliver sign any kind of confession, and though they have solid evidence against the Arrow in the recent murders the cops don’t appear to have any evidence connecting it to Oliver. Then it all ended with Roy taking the fall for Oliver, crucially showing up in the green hood and brandishing the signature bow and arrow whereas Oliver had none of that incriminating evidence on him when he peacefully walked into the police precinct to turn himself in.
If not for the surprising Arrow spoilers in the big recent Flash trailer I’d assume the only parts of “Public Enemy” to have a lasting impact will be Roy’s imprisonment and Quentin’s hostility toward Oliver.
Instead, we know Oliver will some point soon start dressing like a member of the League of Assassins, likely after accepting Ra’s offer, although it’s unclear if that’s because public suspicion post-“Public Enemy” will render impossible any attempts to continue living as Oliver Queen. We could also ultimately be headed toward an Iron Man situation in which the show does away with secret identities, but I find that really hard to believe, mostly because Tony Stark having a super suit makes that open lifestyle far more palatable than Oliver merely having a bow and arrow.
We’ll get those answers when Arrow returns to kick off the final 5 episodes of the season in two week. For now, wasn’t the actual journey of watching Oliver’s entire world crumble in “Public Enemy” kind of exhilarating? Wasn’t it fascinating watching Lance finally confront Oliver, “You spent a year making me look like a fool. You spent a year making me your accomplice. Do you have any idea what you’ve done? What you’ve done to all of us, to the people you claim to care so much about? You’ve made us criminals, you’ve made us liars and victims! You, Mr. Queen, are not a hero. You’re a villain.” Wasn’t it compelling to realize Lance was actually right about all the people Oliver has failed to save and the collateral damage he’s caused? It was like when the Doctor was put in his place on Doctor Who by someone sternly asking, “If you hadn’t visited us, if you hadn’t chosen this place on a whim, would anyone have died?”
In theory, “Public Enemy” was amazing, and as I argued in my last review I am trying really hard to just embrace the mess that is Arrow, remembering how to merely sit back and enjoy the show. However, all I kept seeing in “Public Enemy” were things that didn’t make sense. Lance puts out arrest warrants for the Arrow and his accomplices, yet he full well knows that Laurel is Black Canary, Roy is Arsenal, and Felicity is the computer whiz. Diggle is his only blind spot. Showing leniency to Laurel I get, but the whole time Felicity was waltzing through her tacked-on drama with Ray in the hospital I kept expecting cops to show up and arrest her. Lance was simultaneously going all-in on capturing the Arrow AND holding back, and though the argument is it’s because all he really wants is revenge against the Arrow for Sara if he was serious about it wouldn’t he use all resources available to him, such as bringing Felicity in as leverage?
Maybe he has no real legal way to bring Felicity in, but what about Thea and Roy? When Lance’s squadrons raided Verdant looking for Oliver I was stunned to later see both Thea and Roy walking free. Surely they would have at least both been brought in for questioning, Roy possibly arrested if Lance could find a way to prove he’s Arsenal. Moreover, were the cops somehow not allowed to try and look in the Verdant basement, something Lance would likely again be suspicious about after Tommy tricked him in the first season?
Perhaps more damning than all of that, has the show actually done enough to make us believe and understand why exactly Ra’s al Ghul is so determined that Oliver become his replacement? If the second half of last season could be summarized as “She Just Wasn’t That Into You” to mock Slade Wilson’s obsession with Shado might the latter half of the current season be written off as “Dude, Oliver’s just not that into you. Take a hint, Ra’s.” Or maybe, “Oliver wasn’t nearly as impressive in that mountaintop fight as you seem to think he was.” Or, “You seriously don’t have any other worthy candidates? What about Maseo?” It is at least a welcome departure from the mad men with bombs and super soldiers of season’s past, but if you aren’t fully on board with Ghul’s decision to court Oliver doesn’t it kind of undercut everything that’s being done in its name, such as trying to turn Starling City against the Arrow?
THE BOTTOM LINE
As a “What If?’ scenario, “Public Enemy” was an astonishingly ballsy take on the “What if the entire city discovered the superheroes’ secret identity?” story. Sadly, it was riddled with glaring logical flaws that were only sometimes papered over by an inspired line-reading or speech from Paul Blackthorne. However, unless Barry Allen shows up time travel won’t give the writers an easy way to get everything back to normal. Has Arrow really just torn up its whole universe, or are we mostly just set up for Roy to be in prison for a while? Regardless of the answer, the journey to that point was at least kind of fun, depending on how much you were willing to ignore.
2. I don’t have much to say about Felicity, Ray, and Felicity’s mom, as it existed mostly in the periphery of the things and served as an excuse to begin the inevitable break-up process for Felicity and Ray as well as getting Ray closer to the incredibly shrinking man of the comics (now that he has those nanobots in him). I kept expecting cops to show up and bring Felicity in for questioning about the Arrow, not for her to have a heart-to-heart with her mom about how she loves Oliver, not Ray.
3. Ra’s al Ghul looked slightly older this episode, right? As in the lazarus waters are wearing off, and he’s finally starting to age thus re-emphasizing his desperation for Oliver to take his place.
4. That was some kind of trust fall when Oliver, Roy, and Laurel jumped off the side of the building, Laurel lacking any weapon to help break her fall and trusting Oliver would catch her.
5. Instead of saying, “Who is she?” when she saw Shado’s twin sister, I wanted Katana to stop, look around, and observe, “Wait, this place looks exactly like my old apartment.”
6. And why was Shado’s twin sister just randomly walking by the bathroom after she’d promised to entertain the little kid while Oliver showered? Perhaps she somehow sensed a Stephen Amell shirtless moment.
7. They really tried this week with his scenes with Thea, but it’s hard to buy Roy as a character this show cares about when it completely forgot about him after being shot, potentially fatally, by Ray’s ATOM suit last week.
AVClub – “If ‘Public Enemy’ isn’t the best episode Arrow has ever done, it’s damn close. It has the outsize scale and storytelling of a season finale, yet its placement a few episodes before the end of the current run means that the show can’t delay dealing with the consequences of what unfolds here”
TV.com – “My overall response to'”Public Enemy, and a large part of what really frustrated me about the episode, could be (and probably will be) waved away as nitpicking and as ignoring all the action-related stuff that likely had a lot of folks’ blood pumping”