Pressing business first: the DC Universe’s premier hitman, assassin and all round persecutor of titanic teens, Deathstroke, doesn’t get nearly as rushed and undignified treatment as Deadshot did in Arrow’s third episode.
Feel better? Good!
If there’s one thing that Arrow is getting damn sharp at, it’s in reflecting the themes of the episode by chronologically continuing the tale of what happened to Oliver Queen (Stephen Amell) on that island. Obviously last episode’s cliffhanger – Oliver dragged from Queen Manor by dogged detective Quentin Lance (Paul Blackthorne), who suspects he’s the mysterious hooded vigilante they’ve taken to imaginatively calling ‘The Hood’ – isn’t going to be that difficulty resolved, being as it came in the first third of the season, and not in the latter third, and the actual mechanics of him escaping the charges have been used in numerous Daredevil, Spider-Man and Batman comics within the last five years.
It’s the emotional territory they go through to get there that’s really impressive; Oliver appoints a reluctant Laurel Lance (Katie Cassidy) as his attorney – suspension of disbelief obviously has to kick in, as it’s hard to imagine a legal system that allows a father/daughter face-off, especially when both have such colourful history with the Queens – and a series of court appearances and interrogations culminate in Oliver taking a polygraph test to try and convince the glowering Quentin that he’s not the man he thinks he is.
We were all previously au fait with the idea that the party-hard socialite Queen sporadically pretends to be – like Bruce Wayne – is the mask, and Arrow, like Batman, is the real person, but here, as Oliver admits he was tortured on the island, and shows Laurel his scars, it throws the whole thing into doubt. Is the damaged, deeply troubled survivor the real Oliver Queen, or is that just an elaborate double-bluff aimed at further disguising the cowled crusader? His stumbling attempts to reach out to the people around him would suggest the former.
Amell gets a chance to demonstrate a bit more range than his near-Bale Bat-growl and smirking at people, and Cassidy is as capable and emotionally engaging as ever (she mentions wearing black fishnets for halloween, to the delight of geeks everywhere still hoping she’ll become Black Canary), but it’s Paul Blackthorne who really gets to flex his acting muscles, revealing someone every bit as damaged and driven as Oliver himself. If anything, they’re the two with the most in common, but sadly the most dividing them.
Back on the island, Oliver is captured by black-clad thugs hunting the green survivalist who gave him shelter, and subsequently turned over to a mute Deathstroke for torture. Here just a statuesque figure, chilling in his silence, this first appearance of Deathstroke is more akin to the looming Michael Myers or Jason Vorhees as he slices chunks off the screaming Oli, his mask impassive and uncaring.
Obviously, there’s a couple of balletic fights shoehorned in there, and we get the appearance of a much anticipated comic-book villain, but ‘Damaged’ is more about advancing the characters – some who were in danger of becoming stale as they continually barked their motivations at each other in a melodramatic status quo – that it is in narrative box ticking, and is another high point for Arrow as a result.