“A show like Arrow, Stephen Amell is going to play Mr. Bad Ass all the time, he’s not a completely happy superhero. I sometimes have to show his inner sadness. I’m going to do it, I’m going to make you cry.”
Those are the words of Arrow composer Blake Neely. Back in July when at Comic Con, I attended a panel on the Characters of Music. It had producers of a show or movie and their composers, aka the masters of the score, all talking about how music is essentially a character in a story. Blake Neely and executive producer Marc Guggenheim of Arrow were part of that panel.
So why am I bringing up this event for this Arrow review? Because, out of everything that was most perfect about “Damaged,” easily my favorite episode of the season, the score somehow grabbed my attention the most. Stephen Amell knows his strength to show off those inner moments of intense sadness, and when it connects with Katie Cassidy, sparks always fly. Add a gorgeous scene this week where Laurel Lance can see both Oliver’s intense scars both inside and out in one tear jerking moment, all to knock out hit-you-in-the-gut score, an iconic and forever memorable scene is born.
The score has already been hitting home runs with the scenes in the Oliver cave (does the warehouse have a real name yet), but I got goosebumps this week when John Diggle went to the place to check out Oliver’s billionaire toys. Another standout is the polygraph scene, where Oliver has clearly learned how to beat the test. He could have just done that, gone in, did enough to prove his case, but the choice to use the emotional score combined with the flashback torture scenes, thus exposing Oliver’s inner vulnerabilities while answering the questions is just perfect.
This episode had everything. A fantastic, fast paced, “I can’t believe the hour went by so fast” story. Yet when it came time for the real heart and the vulnerability of our superhero to be shown, the pace dropped to a slow crawl, and we were sucked in by the powerful drama. Executive producer Marc Guggenheim said at Characters in Music panel that Arrow would have cinematic storytelling, and this week definitely felt like I was in a theater.
The super badass scene of the week though didn’t feature Oliver, but the fight between the famed comic character Deathstroke and Oliver’s now named Mandarin rescuer, Yeo Fei. Fight scenes always seem a little watered down in television but for the short time these two went at it on the screen, we all witnessed some very fast, sleek, and utterly awesome close combat.
I also was hollering over seeing John Diggle in the green hood. Whoo hoo! John’s presence in that hood though mirrored nicely with some very interesting questions raised in this episode about Oliver’s actions and the consequences. His choice of Laurel as his lawyer was clearly a manipulative move, as was his attempt at winning Detective Lance’s favor through the polygraph and then thanking him sincerely when Lance saved him from the attacker. Laurel even confronted him about the suspicious marks in the polygraph afterward, proving that she still had trouble trusting him despite the tender moment they shared by calling off any chance at a relationship.
It was Oliver’s plan to get himself arrested so he could have “The Hood” show up while he was on house arrest in front of a large party of witnesses that got him the biggest lecture. John had every right to resent that ploy, being asked to put on the hood. “I just don’t like being played. I’m the one guy you don’t lie to.” Manipulated or not, John did see the greater good coming from his choice to follow the arms dealer and put on that hood. It’s interesting though that it was Oliver that crossed the line, eventually delivering the fatal blow by arrow, not John, even though that choice came after words of warning. “When you were stuck on that island, plotting your grand plan to save the city, I don’t think you realized the effect it would have on the people in your life. Or how you hurt them.” Oliver ends up justifying his choice with one clear response. “It doesn’t hurt anyone worse than it does me.” He’s still sticking with the mantra that the mission comes first.
The flashbacks on the island this week pushed the mythology along in an interesting twist. Oliver was captured by soldiers looking for Yeo Fei, led by a Brit by the name of Edward Fryers. It’s fascinating that this bratty playboy didn’t roll over and give up Fei when suffering the painful physical torture, even though they weren’t exactly on the best of terms at the beginning. It certainly earned him a rescue, but what did he see trustworthy in Fei that he didn’t in the others? More to come on that I’m sure.
Also, Moira is in over her head. John Barrowman (we’ll just go with that until he actually gets a name) has her number will stop at nothing to conceal their dastardly plot, killing the security guard that Walter hired to move the Queen’s Gambit wreckage. This causes Walter to leave town, probably for fear of his safety. That and perhaps she’s too damaged as well. Too bad, I was hoping Walter would stick around and try to expose her secretly. Maybe that’s what he plans to do on his trip.
My favorite line was Oliver to Thea, who was suspicious over his arrow gift from the Pilot. Oliver had the perfect answer for that. “Now I’m sorta happy I didn’t buy you that shot glass with the panda on it because then you’d be worried I was Panda Man.”
We know Oliver’s birthday now! May 16, 1985. Wow, I getting ready to graduate high school on that day. Also, the mug shot shows that he's somehwere around 6' 1" or 6' 2". Hey, fan girls do obsess over this stuff at times!
Here’s something thinky. Detective Lance thinks that Oliver was using Laurel as his lawyer to get at him. Laurel defends, “No, he’s using me to get through to you.” Isn’t it kind of weird that they’re both right? I think that Oliver wants to create a public enemy with the detective for his alter ego, but prove to him that he himself isn’t such a bad guy and good enough for his daughter. Or, do I have it wrong? Does he want him to publicly hate him and be an ally to his Arrow persona? Or perhaps Oliver is playing the detective’s vulnerabilities both ways to suit his needs at the time? It’s a very thin line and one that will likely backfire in some way. It’s been shown both ways through the season now and I’m curious to see how this dynamic plays out.
Here’s a few other fun soundbites from that panel. Call it my inner production junkie, but knowing this stuff makes you appreciate what goes into these episodes every week.
Blake Neely: It’s (the score) definitely a character. It’s the emotional content of the show that’s missing. We can add the emotion that’s not necessarily there, we can change the scene, we can manipulate the audience. To me it’s important to establish that character early on and stick with it especially in a TV show. You’ll get, “Oh, I’ve heard that theme, you did that last week and you did that a couple weeks ago.” Yeah, I’m going to do that the next 17 weeks because you’re not going to repaint the sets are you? It’s a character, it’s an established theme. It’s not because I’m too lazy to write a theme it’s because it’s working and it’s the sound of the show.”
Sometimes actors push back on score though. I loved this story. Neely: I think music is a character. It’s not always invited to the scene, it’s not always necessary for the scene...Well when you ask an actor it’s not even a character. “Why did you score my scene? It’s was not supposed to be funny and you made it funny.” I’m like, “It’s funny now.”
When I see something this good on just the fifth episode of a new show, I know we’ve got something extraordinary going here. CW Wednesday nights are clearly my event nights now. Judging by the recent ratings, I’m not the only one.
Screencaps from Home of The Nutty.