As we await “The Calm” before the storm of Arrow Season 3 with tomorrow night’s premiere, GATV reviewer Matt Tucker offers his reflection on the superb, densely packed second season of the series. Continuing from yesterday, Matt presents a countdown of the next ten installments of his ranking of all of the twenty-three episodes of Season 2.
Your “Arrow Year Two” countdown:
- 23. Blast Radius
- 22: Tremors
- 21. Birds of Prey
- 20. Time of Death
- 19. Crucible
- 18. Broken Dolls
- 17. League of Assassins
- 16. Identity
- 15. City of Blood
- 14. Blind Spot
- Today – Season 2 Episodes 13-4
- Wed 10/8 – Season 2 Top 3 Episodes
Number 13: “Keep Your Enemies Closer”
Season Episode: 2.6
Series Episode: 29
Original Airdate: November 13, 2013
Credits: Sokolowski & Schwartz (writers); Bee (director)
Synopsis: Diggle’s ex Lyla went dark while tracking Floyd Lawton for ARGUS. Amanda Waller recruits Diggle to help find her, and Team Arrow heads to Russia with Isabel Rochev along for the ride. Oliver uses his Bratva connections to locate Lyla in a gulag, and Diggle gets arrested to get into the prison, as Oliver runs interference with Isabel. Diggle and Lawton have to work together to find Lyla and escape. The assassin reveals he was contracted by a clandestine group to kill Diggle’s brother and there’s something bigger behind it.
Guest Characters: Sara Lance/Canary (Caity Lotz), Shado (Celina Jade), Floyd Lawton/Deadshot (Michael Rowe), Isabel Rochev (Summer Glau), Amanda Waller (Cynthia Addai-Robinson), Lyla Michaels (Audrey Marie Anderson), Anthony Ivo (Dylan Neal), The Captain (Jimmy Jean-Louis), Jean Loring (Teryl Rothery)
With a relatively large number of people knowing Oliver’s identity as the Arrow and the number of people running through the Arrowcave, it’s a bit easy to forget that it all started with Oliver and Diggle. Diggle was a standout character of the first season because he presented a moral compass for an Oliver finding his way back to humanity. They’ve even included him in the comics because of how important that relationship is on the show. With so many characters to work through in Season 2, though, Diggle was unfortunately often sidelined.
That made this opportunity to push his story forward such a welcome one, and it’s a great story. Diggle being forced to work with the man who killed his brother, learning that there was much more to the story than he ever knew (elements of which still have yet to be explored), made for powerful stakes and a very personal escapade. It also refocused just how good of a man Diggle is.
On top of that, we learn more about Oliver’s connection to the Bratva, something that helps immensely getting into the Russian gulag to find Deadshot, and yet offers more questions. We find out that Lyla’s work in ARGUS is for the mysterious Amanda Waller, who seems to be quite familiar with who Team Arrow are and what they’re doing. Deadshot is further fleshed out, making him a more interesting character. And we’re treated to a fun flirtation between Oliver and Isabel, that you know is just not going to end well in the long-run.
There’s the one glaring flaw with the episode, though, that knocks it down some pegs. Yes, we eventually become aware that Isabel knows everything about Oliver from the beginning. Logic, though, is tossed out the window when they all return on the QC plane with a wounded Diggle and a woman who didn’t arrive in Russia with them … and Isabel doesn’t question it at all.
Number 12: “City of Heroes”
Season Episode: 2.1
Series Episode: 24
Original Airdate: October 9, 2013
Credits: Berlanti (story); Kreisberg & Guggenheim (writers); Behring (director)
Synopsis: Rogue copycats called the Hoods mete out violent vigilante justice in the earthquake-ravaged Glades, eventually killing the mayor of Starling City. Diggle and Felicity bring a reluctant Oliver back from Lian Yu. Hesitant to pick up his bow again, he does when the Hoods kidnap Thea. He realizes the city needs him, but that he can’t do things the way he did them before. Laurel blames him for Tommy’s death and wants to hunt him down. In the past, five months after stopping Fyers, Oliver, Slade, and Shado discover there are now pirates on the island.
Guest Characters: Sara Lance/Canary, Shado, Isabel Rochev, Sebastian Blood (Kevin Alejandro), Walter Steele (Colin Salmon), Adam Donner (Dylan Bruce), The Hoods
We had very little idea just how tightly-packed this season would be, but we should’ve from this exceptional beginning. Well-plotted with numerous story threads that would only deepen and sprout more as the season went on, the taut-paced hour brought us back into Starling just like Oliver, and yet it clearly defined just how everything was changing. Oliver couldn’t be the vigilante anymore and this perfectly set up the dilemma that would be his overriding arc on the season.
Laurel’s hatred of the Hood was a bit irrational, but she’d lost Tommy in the CNRI collapse during the quakes. Big thing was suddenly Laurel had an external focus that wasn’t pingponging her between other characters. She feels immediately relevant here, and it’s an important step forward for the character. This contrasted with her father Quentin, busted from detective down to patrol officer, who sees the value in working with the vigilante now, offered a terrific bed of soil to cultivate the different views on heroism that formed the main arc of the season.
As if Stephen Amell hadn’t cemented himself in the first season, he owns Oliver Queen from the get-go here. What that offers is a constant center that allows some of the more fantastical elements that seep into the Arrow world this year to feel grounded and honest. This episode shows the reprecusions of the first season through Oliver’s POV, and Amell makes you feel it all.
Number 11: “The Scientist”
Season Episode: 2.8
Series Episode: 31
Original Airdate: Devember 4, 2013
Credits: Berlanti & Kreisberg (story); Kreisberg & Johns (writers); Schultz (director)
Synopsis: A theft at Queen Consolidated and others leads Oliver to fearfully believe someone is trying to reproduce a serum he saw on the island. The serum grants superhuman abilities but kills nearly everyone who takes it. Those who survive go mad. When he tries to prevent the theft of the last component needed, Oliver fights with Cyrus Gold, a serum-enhanced thug who overwhelms Oliver and injects him with the serum. As Oliver is dying, Diggle and Felicity frantically turn to Barry Allen, a crime scene investigator from Central City in town to find clues to his mother’s death from the thefts. In the past, Oliver, Slade, Shado, and Sara find the Japanese sub and the Mirakuru serum. To save Slade, they inject him but he appears to die. Ivo and his men show up and capture everyone.
Guest Characters: Sara Lance/Canary, Sebastian Blood, Shado, Isabel Rochev, Anthony Ivo, Malcolm Merlyn (John Barrowman), Barry Allen (Grant Gustin), Sin (Bex Taylor-Klaus), Cyrus Gold/The Acolyte (Graham Shiels), Officer Daily (Jesse Hutch)
Superpowers come to the Arrow-verse version of the DCU in an odd yet big way. To keep to the grounded nature of the show, the “powers” are rooted in a Japanese super-solider serum from World War II that Ivo is trying to locate in the past. Blood and his acolytes, include Cyrus Gold, have been experimenting as a way to create a superhuman army, and for fantastical as it all is, it’s actually a rather sensical way to expand the world. Tying this into everything that happens with Slade, and connecting Barry Allen, who will be the first prominent metahuman hero in this world, is smart, organic plotting.
The juxtaposition of Slade’s seeming fate in the past with Oliver’s potential death in the present amps the threat. It’s more than a bit convenient that scientist Barry is around to handle this particular ordeal, but that doesn’t draw away from a plausible way to bring him into the hero fold.
What’s even better is this is all fun. Barry is a likeable and light presence, perfect for the colorful part of the world that will be in The Flash’s orbit, and a welcome contrast to Oliver and his surroundings. The meta aspect of Barry being a nerd and hero fan is a somewhat played out trope, but it provides a good motivation to want to get him involved.
What doesn’t rank this higher alongside its resolution counterpart is that there is just a bit too much going on in this episode. Not even touching on everything with Roy, Thea, and Sin’s investigation into the serum mess from a completely different angle, or Malcolm’s threat to expose Thea’s parentage met with Moira’s threat to sell Malcolm out to the League of Assassins.
Number 10: “State v. Queen”
Season Episode: 2.7
Series Episode: 30
Original Airdate: November 20, 2013
Credits: Guggenheim & Greenberg (writers); Rooney (director)
Synopsis: Moira is on trial for her hand in the Undertaking and Donner is confident he’ll win. Many citizens start falling ill to a mysterious flu, but Felicity discovers it’s actually an altered form of the Vertigo drug. Donner falls to the flu, the Count kidnaps him, and embarrasses him on television. Laurel has to try the case against Moira and attempts to convince her not to take the stand. Moira testifies and Laurel reveals that Moira had a consensual affair with Malcolm Merlyn, which punches holes in her coersion defense. Felicity is captured by the Count, who reveals he knows the Arrow is Oliver Queen and was hired to take him out. Oliver is forced to take the Count’s life to save her. Moira is amazingly acquited of all charges. On her way home, she’s taken to a meeting with Malcolm, who discloses he knows Thea is his daughter.
Guest Characters: Sara Lance/Canary, Sebastian Blood, Malcolm Merlyn, Shado, Adam Donner, Cyrus Gold/The Acolyte, Officer Daily, Jean Loring, Anthony Ivo, The Captain, The Count (Seth Gabel), Kate Spencer (Chelah Horsdal), Barton Mathis/The Dollmaker (Michael Eklund), The Butcher (Ron Selmour)
There’s a minor complaint to be had in Moira’s trial moving so quickly after the slow, methodical pace leading up to it. A trial like this could easily have gone on for months and would’ve more naturally fit with how they’re telling the story. Yet, this wasn’t about the trial. This was about moving pawn pieces and trying to keep revelations hidden, and it’s all rather dense, intricate work.
Funny enough, the two big reveals here were both inevitable and somewhat anticlimatic. There always seemed to be more than a little something between Malcolm and Moira, which makes the brief affair not much of a shock. Though I can understand the impetus behind discrediting her defense, that this was Donner’s big smoking gun was a bit oversold. Frankly, I’m surprised that Donner hadn’t learned about Thea, which would’ve made an even more impressive splash in the case.
Pitting Laurel against Moira, at least in a legal sense, was often an intriguing impulse, and it gives Cassidy good stuff to work with. In particular, being put in the position to try the case as laid about by the DA’s office rather than herself and having to use information of the affair when it would harm this woman she’s known and been close to for a long time. These kinds of character-based dilemmas always add a powerful extra hand to the story.
That Thea could be Malcolm’s daughter never really felt like a stretch, and the character possibilities that provides left a lot of promise for the season. The only downside of it all is that it took till the end of the season to start exploring it. Now, we have Season 3 to look forward to.
Number 9: “Heir to the Demon”
Season Episode: 2.13
Series Episode: 36
Original Airdate: February 5, 2014
Credits: Coburn (writer); Stanzler (director)
Synopsis: Nyssa Raatko, daughter of Ra’s al Ghul, head of the League of Assassins, leads a group to retrieve Sara. The pursuit is extra charged because Nyssa and Sara were lovers, and Nyssa feels jilted by Sara’s disappearance. Nyssa poisons Laurel and kidnaps Dinah to coerce Sara to return to Nanda Parbat. She agrees but collapses when her mother is free, having fatally poisoned herself. Oliver saves her with herbs from the island, and Sara explains why she left the league. Nyssa agrees to free Sara from her bond.
Guest Characters: Sara Lance/Canary, Sebastian Blood, Walter Steele, Nyssa Raatko/al Ghul (Katrina Law), Dinah Lance (Alex Kingston), Mark Francis (Nicholas Lea)
This had all the possibilities to be a sensationalized story with the fact that Nyssa and Sara shared a romantic past. The marketing leading up to the broadcast used it as a way to tease people into watching. That left a bit of unease going into the episode, but thankfully, that was all unfounded. The hour treats their relationship not only respectfully but as just a matter of course. It’s not meant to tantalize, and as a result, creates as beautiful and honest bond between Sara and Nyssa.
Coming relatively hot on the heels of the appearance of Ra’s better known daughter, Talia, in Nolan’s Batman trilogy, they do a good job of establishing a character that shares some traits of the various adaptations of Talia that have been out there, but feels like her own person. Nyssa is a minor character in the comics but here she makes a huge impact. What’s more is Katrina Law makes her likeable and fun; you want to root for her and have her around.
Getting to play with the assassins again, in much better fashion than the earlier episode “League of Assassins,” the stunt team offers an exciting hour, especially in the use of scrims as a way for Nyssa to enter a scene. The fight sequence between the Arrow and Nyssa is one of the most exciting and visually impressive of the series. More important, the high emotional stakes elevates this from an outright fun episode to one of potent relevance.