Arrow gets personal as the series delves deeper into its island mythology and Oliver (Stephen Arnell) goes to semi-great lengths to prove he’s not a vigilante.
Let’s bitch it out…In some ways, Arrow reminds me of early S1 Revenge: both shows feature overly skilled avengers on the hunt for vengeance, enacting their own unique brand of justice while lying to the ones closest to them. That description is broad enough that it could be used for nearly any superhero story, but the comparison to Revenge is apt because that show initially relied heavily on “red sharpie” take-downs-of-the-week until around the sixth or seventh episode when things became exponentially more complicated. I can see Arrow walking this same thin line, especially in recent episodes which have begun to rely less on action and generic villains from Oliver’s list of names. Instead we’ve had more scenes dedicated to Oliver trying to patch things up (somewhat) with his family and friends and a new level of mythology has been introduced with the introduction of the suave gentleman played by John Barrowman last week..
These are important developments because if the show is to succeed in the long run, it needs to make us care about Ollie’s plight, as well as those around him. This is not to say that the show isn’t a success; it’s the highest rated show since the debut of The Vampire Diaries and it’s already been granted a full season pick-up. Instead, I’m referring to success in the sense that viewers connect to the show beyond its well-executed action sequences and “golly gee” techno-gadgets.
In this regard ‘Damaged’ is the series’ best episode yet. Crucially it’s also one of the least action-oriented, so the show is already testing its less patient audience members. Instead of stunts and training montages, we spend long periods of time with Oliver and Laurel (Katie Cassidy). This follows a pattern where Oliver recently re-connected with his younger sister Thea (Willa Holland), whose character has been toned down from her initial characterization as The O.C. party bitch. Now it’s Laurel’s turn, which marks another crucial step for the show: the believability of the central couple.
Obviously Arnell and Cassidy look good together and their characters have a tense chemistry that clearly indicates they’d like to see each other without clothes on. This is why it’s so nice that they kiss (admittedly who wouldn’t want to smack one on Oliver after a significant scar-y grope session – hot or not?) – because it suggests that the show is aware that its audience can tell these two will end up together and it’s not waiting to dangle it in a season finale.
The success of Oliver’s plan to attract unwanted attention to himself early on so that he prove that he’s not “the hood” requires a certain suspension of disbelief. Much like the Emily character on Revenge, investment in Arrow requires that we believe our protagonist is always one step ahead of everyone else. All things considered it’s no big surprise that the show trots this out , including the expected scene in which Diggs (David Ramsey) wears the hood while Oliver is visible in a completely different location, but these circumstances helpfully draw out the unresolved feelings between the billionaire playboy and his family and friends. Moira (Susanna Thompson) remains a little one-dimensional and Detective Lance (Paul Blackthorne) a little caricaturish, but both get to react nicely to Oliver’s charges.
It’s also a rare opportunity for Laurel and her father to share a scene without one barking at the other about how wrong they are, which makes it easier to believe they care about each other. It’s a good fit for an episode that hammers home the series’ larger preoccupation with “family responsibility” (Ollie’s promise to his father to clean-up the city, Moira’s unsubtle threat to Barrowman’s character warning of repercussions of messing with her family, and the final montage of the rocky state of her marriage to Colin Salmon’s Walter, and Laurel helping her drunken father home from the bar).
- Arnell finally gets to do some decent emoting and voice-over work as he more-or-less confesses how much it pains him to keep his family at a distance in order to take up the mantle as Starlight City’s champion. It’s nice work and further cements the fast friendship these two have built
- Another fun moment: watching Oliver’s demeanour switch from phoney playboy to serious “Hood” at his “Burning Man meets Shawshank Redemption“-themed prison party. After giving a rah-rah “let’s party” speech, he hops down off the bar, all smiles and jokey and switches to dead serious the moment he begins talking to Diggs a few seconds later. Fun stuff
- Walter hits the road after discovering that his wife is keeping secrets (including apparently the murder of the company’s chief of security!). Admittedly her dismissal of his inquiries is quite patronizing and infantalizing, so it’s hardly surprising he needs to take a breather. Still, I like Salmon so I hope his “business trip” doesn’t last too long
- After Oliver’s arrest, the Suave Gentleman (let’s call him that until he gets a name) barely hesitates to order a hit on him. It’s interesting because it suggests that he’s more impulsive than I would have imagined. What do you think, are we meant to associate him with the operatives on Purgatory Isle from the flashbacks?
- Speaking of which, this episode marks the introduction of big Green Arrow villain Deathstroke (Jeffrey C. Robinson) who works for Edward Fyers (Sebastian Dunn). We meet both in flashback after Oliver is captured in the woods on the island. Interestingly, Fyers wants information on Oliver’s sensei and uses Deathstroke to torture the information from him. This leads to a full-on ninja/rescue extravanganza, which is about as good as the action gets tonight. Questions aplenty: who are these men? Why are they on the island? And why does Fyers want to capture Oliver’s sensei?
What did you think viewers? Did you miss the more conventional action/list formula or were you, like me, pleased to see the show exploring its characters more in depth? Do you think Walter will secretly be investigating Moira while he’s gone? How long will Laureltry to fight her attraction to Oliver? And if you could give the Suave Gentleman a name, what would it be? Hit the comments below with your thoughts
Arrow airs on Wednesdays at 8pm EST on The CW