‘No matter how hard I try, Diggle, my past… It doesn’t want to stay buried.’ – Oliver Queen
Picking up right where the first season left off, Arrow quickly dealt with the consequences of ‘the undertaking’, Tommy Merlyn’s death, and the ruptures within the Queen family. While the Arrow’s team expansion, Laurel Lance’s alcoholism and Moira Queen’s mayoral candidacy are major plot points throughout the second season, the story is driven by Oliver Queen’s (as played by Stephen Amell) haunting past.
Since the beginning Arrow had excellent use of flashbacks to connect Oliver’s story pre- and post-vigilantism, but those flashbacks have never been used better than they were used in the show’s second season. The flashbacks seamlessly showcase Oliver becoming a brave warrior – shooting a lot of arrows along the way – while delving deep into the origins of Slade Wilson (brilliantly portrayed by Manu Bennett) being injected with ‘Mirakuru’ (a serum intended to save humanity that only made its hosts strong and full of rage) and becoming the mercenary known as Deathstroke.
On the island that Oliver called home after his father’s yacht sank he met Wilson, who was also looking for a way off Lian Yu. Both Oliver and Slade loved Shado, the daughter of the man that helped toughen Oliver up, but she was ultimately killed when Oliver had to make a choice between saving Shado and Sara Lance (who has a complicated story of her own). Despite the guilt that Oliver felt for Shado’s death, the rage-monster that Slade had become vowed to make Oliver suffer – a promise he would keep as the season progressed.
Slade Wilson’s diabolical plot for vengeance encompassed every aspect of Oliver’s life, from his family to his business to his city. Characters like Sebastian Blood (also known as ‘Brother Blood) and Isabel Rochev are revealed to be pawns in Wilson’s plan all along, with Blood being given a run at becoming mayor and a cult-like following to act as a militia for Deathstroke, and Rochev being given the keys to Queen Consolidated. Wilson even revealed Oliver’s secret identity to Laurel and that his sister, Thea, was only half-Queen – Slade revealed that her father was Malcolm Merlyn, the dark archer behind the first season’s undertaking. Worst of all, Wilson abducted Oliver, Thea, and Moira, forcing Oliver to choose between saving either his sister or his mother. Deathstroke killed Moira after she sacrificed herself to allow her children to live in one of the most devastating scenes of the entire series.
Oliver’s history came to a head in the season’s finale, which saw the army that Deathstroke built take on Team Arrow (with the help of the League of Assassins) in an epic war for Starling City. Wars of this magnitude for control of a city are nothing new in the world of superheroes, but Arrow adds a fight element that is masterfully done. The show makes use of its trusty flashback plot device to choreograph a fight scene between Oliver and Slade on a ship just off of the island’s coast. This scene is spliced with footage from a modern-day final fight scene on the rooftops of Starling City between the Arrow and Deathstroke. As the epic battle depicts two fight scenes between these characters and their alter egos, the audience is treated to a true achievement in cinematography and stunt/action coordination on television. This double fight scene epitomizes what Arrow is about, and tells the entire story of the second season in just a few minutes. That scene can be seen at this link.
The spirit of season two not only lies with the past, but also with the future – specifically the future of DC television. Arrow expanded its world even further with the introduction of the Suicide Squad and the League of Assassins, but there’s another major introduction that changed the course of this television universe. The eighth episode, called ‘The Scientist’, introduces Barry Allen (Grant Gustin), better known to DC comic fans as the Flash. While introducing a character of this magnitude isn’t unprecedented (Barry Allen’s Flash was introduced in Smallville) it never seemed likely, given the more grounded tone of Arrow. Allen, the mysterious forensic scientist trying to deal with his own past, was a welcome addition with instant appeal to the audience and executives alike. The ninth episode, entitled ‘Three Ghosts’, is the second episode of what is now clearly the backdoor pilot for the CW’s currently most watched program, The Flash. The show centered on the speedster could not have happened without the success of Arrow, and DC has now become the end-all-be-all in superhero television.
If Arrow’s first season had to build a comic-book world for television, then the second season expanded on it all while telling a tight, personal story. Oliver’s past and the mysteries of his disappearance came back to haunt him in the most compelling way possible, but hinting at what was to come in the world’s expansion allowed for DC to deliver on the promise of a larger television universe. There’s no such thing as a perfect television show, especially when it concerns an hour-long drama that runs for twenty-three episodes in a single season, but Arrow’s sophomore run gets pretty darn close.
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