Arrow Review: “Damaged” (Season 1, Episode 05)

That’s more like it. Though a single episode isn’t enough to prove that a show has definitively found its footing, week five of Arrow was firing on all cylinders, delivering the tight, fun, respectably acted hour of superhero television that the show has been striving towards, one which will hopefully become the new template for future stories.

It sure doesn’t hurt that last week’s bumbling prison break makes for one hell of a stark contrast, but even without, “Damaged” is easily the best episode of Arrow yet, bringing all the show’s established strengths to the forefront, while revealing a few new ones that offer a lot of potential.

If nothing else, the episode marked the moment when Arrow finally started to outgrow the baby shoes that come with a new series. The ham-fisted exposition explaining everyone’s relationship to one another? Minimal. Flashbacks to Oliver’s time on the island? Informative, and brought up logically with relation to what’s going on in the moment. The fight choreography? Genuinely badass. And Oliver copies Batman’s thought process, not just his vocal patterns this week, so it’s a big improvement even just acoustically.

Aside from a few rushed personal beats and some acceptably convenient plotting (and the lack of any new nifty trick arrows), Arrow finally did right by its comic book origins, rather than simply use them as an excuse for sloppy writing and two-dimensional characters.

Unlike last week’s episode, which stalled for time by going out of its way to ignore a juicy lead-in cliffhanger, “Damaged” hit the ground running, jumping immediately into Oliver being taken into custody on suspicion of being the hooded vigilante, and teasing us with the knowledge that A) he’s been taken prisoner before and B) he’s planned for this. It’s a boast that could easily smother all the tension of Oliver’s secret being revealed, were there much to begin with. Five episodes in, it’s hard to imagine a scenario in which Oliver is outed as being Green Arrow this early, so the fun is in figuring out just how it is he’ll not only prove his innocence, but get all parties interested in the corporate assassin off his trail for good.

Whereas the show has thus far been content to cherry pick threads out of Batman Begins, it actually one-ups it this week, by addressing something very obvious: a billionaire playboy returning from exile the same time that a masked vigilante comes to town is incredibly suspicious. It’s in fact, so obvious, that Moira’s higher-up in the conspiracy, played by John Barrowman (who IMDB lists as “Well Dressed Man”), is already cluing in, and makes it clear to Oliver’s mother that the organization doesn’t make exceptions when it comes to keeping their little cabal secret and safe, by any means necessary.

Now that we have some context as to the structure of this side plot, it’s become a lot more interesting. Whereas Moira’s covert moves against Oliver have been borderline diabolical up until now, she develops into someone relatable once we see her chafe under the power wielded by her backdoor partners. We still don’t know why Queen Industries is involved with these guys, but it’s readily apparent that Moira is in over her head, something reinforced by Walter confronting her about his warehouse discovery. It’s a whopper of a lie to call her on: “Honey, I found the sunken yacht.”

Moira’s dishonesty seriously jeopardizes her relationships, despite her well-meaning intentions, and that’s the classic superhero dilemma Oliver has to contend with during his interrogation by Detective Lance, who’s practically giddy now that he thinks he’s tied his personal archenemy to his professional one. Oliver brings in Laurel as his defense attorney, both as a character witness (what party boy would moonlight as a masked crusader?), and as a means of burying the hatchet with the Lance family once and for all. In a clever little move, Oliver willingly submits himself to a polygraph, which he lies his way through almost flawlessly, before giving the still wounded detective (inadmissible) evidence that he takes responsibility for the death of Laurel’s sister, Sarah.

Getting to the scene is somewhat roundabout, as Laurel is willing to handover Oliver to an insane asylum as a plea bargain, despite believing in his innocence, and Polygraph Proofing adds to the growing list of skills Oliver picked up on the island, but the payoff is a strong acting scene for Amell, along with some key new information. Cutting back to the island, a healed Oliver gets separated from his survivalist mentor (who, as the master of arrows, shall be referred to as Ur-row), and winds up captured by the S.W.A.T. guys we first glimpsed a few weeks ago. To underline just how far he’s come as a tale spinner, the younger Oliver sounds like a guilty five year-old when the military unit’s leader, a wild-eyed Brit named Edward  Fyres, and his head henchman, major D.C. villain Deathstroke, interrogate him on the whereabouts of Ur-row.

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