Trust is a universal element of storytelling, because it’s the heart of any interaction between living, sentient beings. We learn about it constantly, through fables about frogs underestimating the nature of scorpions, history lessons on who screwed over whom for what, and, most importantly, personal experience. Seeing as our lives are pretty much defined by what happens when we interact, most good drama comes from asking how our own perceptions of others help or hinder us, and whether those perceptions can (or should) be changed. While you’re taught from a young age to be wary of boys crying wolf, wolves dressed as grandma, or grandmas on TV pitching iron “energy” bracelets, balancing caution with belief, in people, ideas, or yourself, becomes one of life’s many ongoing challenges.
Considering it’s the first word in this week’s title, it’s not surprising that Arrow decides to spend the hour letting everyone around Oliver invest heavily in those they care about, only to have that trust misplaced. Boiling the matter down to an a rather ubiquitous feeling, “Trust but Verify” sees a younger generation of characters mistreated by an older one, whether it’s Tommy and his father, Thea and her mother, or Digg and his old commanding officer, ex-Special Forces team leader Ted Gainer. Even when they aren’t wearing masks, figuring out the real identities of those closest to you can be a hurtful process, both emotionally, and, depending on the circumstances, physically.
Let’s start with Digg, who is probably fairly close in age to Captain Gainer, but nonetheless the son/mentee of the relationship, which is strong enough to create a serious roadblock for the starting lineup of Team Arrow. A series of armored car robberies lead Oliver to suspect that Gainer’s Black Hawk security group, made up of former-Special Forces tough guys, has been violently cannibalizing the businesses they are meant to be protecting. Oliver’s observation that the masked highwaymen use military maneuvers seems extremely convenient at first, before it’s revealed that he was investigating Gainer already, as he’s on the list.
Why? It’s never made clear, which is becoming a running theme for the listees, as they’re usually judged for whatever crime they’re presently committing, not for what ever it was that put their names in the ledger in the first place. The vagueness works to the plot’s benefit this week though, as Oliver and Digg find themselves at odds over whose father (or father figure) they trust more. Digg owes his life to Gainer, and that’s more than enough to make him not just challenge Oliver’s accusations, but also the source from which they come.
It’s never really been established why it is Oliver treats the ledger like Gospel, and we’re only teased with the answer this week, which Oliver assures us is hard proof. “I can be wrong. The list isn’t,” he tells Digg, with plenty of conviction, but without the courage to tell his partner why exactly that is true. Of course, he turns out to be right -about Gainer that is-, as to disprove the list this early would be messing with the show’s format. The plot is dynamic and action heavy, but Gainer’s alpha male, ex-military rationale for his crooked ways can be added to another list, the one of social and class issues Arrow raises, only to squander or ignore. There’s a nice potential for symmetry between Gainer’s adjustments to civilian life after war, and Oliver’s own post-island trauma, but the episode finds no time for it.
The A-plot does manage to tie-in Digg’s sister in-law, albeit in the form of a hostage (and a possible love interest), and while it’s less universal, the episode’s other welcome theme is “getting secondary characters involved in the main plot” I’ve been begging for this for weeks, and it’s handled pretty well, actually. As soon as Thea announces she’s about to turn 18, you already know a dramatic confrontation at a party is in the cards, but there are some actual stakes for once. Mistaking a meeting between Moira and Malcolm Merlyn as being amorous might seem hokey at first, as miscommunications over subtle gestures often can be in TV, but it’s the kind of warm-up to greater things Thea’s character needed.