For 95% of its running time, “An Innocent Man” seemed like exactly the type of routine installment that “Arrow” would like to settle into, with a story that starts out seeming like filler. It’s good to see that “Arrow” isn’t in too much of a hurry to build up a colorful rogues gallery, as this week we get another episode free of any comic book villains. Instead the writers make use of Oliver’s List for a familiar A-plot: clearing the name of an innocent man framed for murder. Meanwhile, the overarching developments inch forward as Oliver and his bodyguard John Diggle have it out over our hero’s extracurricular activities. And then there was that final twist that could change everything, but we’ll get to that.
Things pick up right where we left them, with Digg awakening from his poisoned bullet bender to discover that Oliver forgot to change out of his crimefighting gear. Hilariously, Digg immediately tries to attack Oliver, despite his post-curare hangover. As one might expect, Oliver’s unmasking is a hard pill for Digg to swallow, and Oliver’s sincere offer to join his little crusade reads to him like the delusions of a damaged brat playing dress-up (at best).
Despite this rebuff, Digg doesn’t spill the beans to Oliver’s mother when he hands in his resignation, leading to a replacement bodyguard who’s at least twice as clueless that Oliver has no trouble giving the slip in the first minute. Once Oliver sets his sights on clearing a wrongly-accused widower who’s mere days from execution for killing his wife (she was working for one of the names on The List, natch), he of course drafts Laurel to take up the case, leading to the first real meeting between Laurel and Oliver’s alter ego. The voice changer was a nice touch, although I’m surprised he only ever uses it when talking to Laurel (unlike his “Smallville” counterpart.)
The “Batman Begins” parallels don’t stop there as Laurel’s attempts to uncover the truth rattles the cages of the guilty corporate bosses who arranged the frame-up. Eventually they plan to squash her by inciting a good old-fashioned prison riot at Iron Heights Penitentiary while she meets with the client. Oliver catches wind of the attempt on her life (on that note, I really wish Oliver would stop expecting his targets to confess when he threatens to re-enact Custer’s last stand on them) and rescues her by disguising as a prison guard. While there is little doubt that our hero will prevail and save the day, it’s not a clean rescue, as Oliver nearly beats a man to death who tried to strangle Laurel. I wouldn’t be surprised if this outburst was due not just to seeing Laurel in danger, but knowing that he was the one who involved her in the case to begin with, which would’ve made two Lance sisters who perished because of him.
Meeting with Diggle again, Oliver sweetens the job offer with a couple of juicy tidbits; first, the list, with the reveal that Oliver’s father killed himself to ensure Oliver’s survival rather than the official died-in-the-yacht-crash story, and the fact that the unsolved murder of Digg’s brother Andy was committed by the assassin from last episode (and yes, eagle-eyed viewers can spot the name Andy Diggle among Deadshot’s tattoos. Not just a nod to the comics after all. Well-played, show). After a heart-to-heart with his sister (who we met last week) where Digg wonders how much good he’s doing babysitting “punks and spoiled 1%-ers, he ultimately reconsiders and offers his services toward making sure Oliver’s private little war doesn’t ground him down. Maybe he was just sick of watching his replacement bring shame to the bodyguard profession.
Some intriguing developments occurred over in the C-story, where Oliver’s step daddy Walter Steele worked to track down some misplaced millions in the Queen accounts, leading him to a warehouse containing the wreckage of the Queen’s Gambit. At first I thought he was sniffing out the truth about Oliver’s night life, but it’s really Moira’s dirty little secrets he’s just stumbled upon. Is it suspicious that she went to the trouble of finding the yacht but not Oliver? In related news, John Barrowman of “Doctor Who” and “Torchwood” fame makes his first appearance as the mysterious unnamed affiliate of Oliver’s mother, who grills her about the common thread linking the hooded vigilante’s targets, revealing that Oliver’s not the only one who knows about The List. The yacht reveal also suggests that Walter is not part of the conspiracy at all, which makes for a nice subversion of the forced Hamlet analogy that came up last week.
And in flashback land, Oliver recalled learning the joys of snapping a birdie’s neck with his bare hands so he wouldn’t starve to death. I’m glad the Island Adventures are unfolding in snippets, as I’ve always felt it was the ideal way to dole out a superhero’s backstory on a TV show, especially if that hero went through years of training. I imagine we’ll eventually get an episode that’s all flashback.
Another thing I like about The List, especially its origins as we know them, is that it helps put the legacy of Oliver’s family in stark contrast to that of Nolan’s Batman. Bruce Wayne’s parents tried to save Gotham City from its decent into depression, but Oliver’s family and the company they kept help precipitate Starling City’s sorry state of affairs.
At the close of the hour, Detective Lance finally proves his mettle by scrubbing the security footage from the shooting last episode, where he finds Oliver in the stairwell collecting his vigilante man-purse. Digg’s not in Oliver’s new inner circle for a minute before Detective Lance comes knocking with a warrant for Oliver’s arrest. Yikes, that was fast. Usually they save this sort of thing for season 2 or 3.
We’ll see how Oliver handles the potential identity spoilers next week when we also meet another masked bad guy (and the “Teen Titans” fans did rejoice).