We posted the results of the four-episode test for Arrow this week, and I have to imagine that some of you are wishing it were a five-episode test so that “Damaged” could have been included in the mix, as it was easily the best episode since the pilot, and probably the best of the series thus far.
"Damaged" was primarily concerned with proving Oliver’s innocence after his arrest last week, and it turned out that Oliver had always intended to be arrested so as to properly throw everyone off his scent as the Hood. As he explained to Diggle, the timeline of his return to Starling City and the Hood’s arrival would’ve set off alarms eventually (even Thea was putting together the pieces, and may still be), so what better way to get the police off your back than to set yourself up?
As many of you predicted, Oliver’s plan involved Diggle posing as the Hood to prove Oliver’s innocence, and it worked—and rather handily so, as Diggle was able to interrupt an arms deal. There is, of course, a bit of a flaw here, since I’m not really clear on what Oliver was planning to do if he didn’t have someone to stand in for him. Good thing Diggle was willing to engage in this war for Starling City, then!
Where the episode really impressed, however, was in the non-Hood stuff. Arrow hasn’t properly balanced the personal drama and the action as well I’d like, but tonight, when given the opportunity to do an episode that was heavy on personal drama, it showed its chop. A lot of credit goes to Wendy Mericle and Ben Sokolowski’s script, which moved briskly but also allowed scenes time to breathe and characters to interact beyond delivering exposition.
Nowhere was this more evident than in way the episode worked the tensions between Laurel and Oliver. There’s been unease between the two of them since Oliver’s return, and "Damaged" wisely brought those things to a head as both characters were forced to deal with not only a lingering attraction to one another, but to understanding one another’s pain. I mentioned this as something to look out for a few weeks back; Laurel explained that the pain the departure of her mother caused both her and Quentin consumed her past the point of even thinking about what may have happened to Oliver on the island.
While Oliver’s showing of his scars resulted in some passionate kissing, the polygraph results put them back where they started emotionally, albeit with a better understanding of each other. Oliver may have been exaggerating a smidge when he told Laurel he wasn’t sleeping or eating (let alone able to sign his name), but there was also an element of truth to it.
Oliver is trying to explain his trauma to someone, even while being in denial about it. Like Laurel and Quentin, he’s throwing himself into a cause, and while it helps him it to talk about it, doing so still keeps people at just the right distance to protect them from his vigilante activities. So even though his confession of “killing” Sarah may have been a calculated move to try and sway Quentin off identifying him as the Hood, it's also part of Oliver trying to continue to atone for his failures, for the wrongs he committed before became stranded on Lian Yu.
This issue of trauma, like the issues of racial and class tensions, is another sign that Arrow is interested in more than just being an action melodrama. It wants to address societal concepts not only in the way that superhero comics have tried to do (particularly Green Arrow books), but in ways that feel character-driven and purposeful.
We got some more glimpses into Oliver’s time on the island, including an exciting showdown between Deathstroke and the Chinese archer that Edward Fyers, Oliver's silver-tongued captor, was seeking. This story has continued to unfold nicely, and it's increasingly the strongest aspect of the series.
Also moving along are Moira’s dealings with John Barrowman’s still unnamed character. It’s clear she’s been in the man’s service for a while, and that his reach is long and deadly. It’s putting a definite strain on her marriage, as Walter is off to Melbourne for an indefinite amount of time. But you have to admire how she managed to transform Barrowman’s assistant showing up to kill Oliver into some criminal element seeking to get revenge on the alleged Hood, thus covering for herself and for Barrowman. She’s a crafty one.
Normally I give shows five or six episodes to work out their kinks. Arrow hasn’t worked out all its kinks yet, but once it finds a way to merge this episode’s compelling personal drama with its action set pieces, while still being able to fully explore those thorny thematic issues, I think we’ll have something very smart and very good on our hands.
– I was annoyed with Laurel explaining what a huge conflict of interest it would be for her to represent Oliver and then doing it anyway. And, seriously, she doesn’t have any clients at CNRI that need her?! I’m being more forgiving toward the situation than I really should be since it’s a narrative contrivance that ultimately yielded compelling results.
– Tommy’s lack of an appearance last week and minimized presence this week is a touch troubling, but we’ll see how things go.
– Diggle looks ridiculous in the Hood outfit. Really, really ridiculous.
– "Burning Man meets The Shawshank Redemption.”
– “Well, you do know us billionaire vigilantes. We do love our toys.” And so does Diggle, as he came off very much like a kid in a candy store when he explored the Arrow Cave: “Oh, that’s sweet.”
– “I wore those horrible fishnets.” Heeeee.
– The “You failed this city!” line returned, and in a completely nonsensical way, as it was directed at a GERMAN weapons dealer. More like, “You took advantage of this city!”
– Edward Fyers is a fairly significant character to the Green Arrow mythology. He was a skilled CIA-agent-turned-mercenary who would be at odds with and team up with Oliver over the course of their careers, and he eventually became a mentor and father figure to Oliver’s son in the comics. Fyers isn’t the menacingly polite mercenary he comes off as here; he was more of a blue-collar sort who saw his jobs as jobs, very much a professional. He also had a killer mustache.
– Speaking of DC Comics characters, the show’s DA is named Spencer. It's likely she's Kate Spencer, a woman in the comics who was a federal prosecutor but became the deadly vigilante called Manhunter (one of many to have that name).
– No clues on John Barrowman’s character yet (unless I missed something in his office...?), but I've included a poll below so that we can continue that discussion with ideas that incorporate some of my theories, as well as draw on some comments from last week... particularly the ones that mentioned Intergang, a major criminal force in the DC Comics universe.