After an uneven third year and downright strange fourth, “Arrow” is now entering a season that could potentially give the show the creative resurgence it deserves. This season, the story comes full circle as we come to the end of the flashbacks about Oliver Queen’s (Stephen Amell) five years in exile. That — and the variable amount of wisecracks or smiles coming from Oliver in a given episode — makes us excited to look forward … but also back, to what made its best season so great in the first place.
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Hailed at the time as “Arrow’s” best season to date, not to mention one of the best in superhero TV generally, Season 2 of “Arrow” has generally held on to that high regard. It was full of the kind of action-adventure and story that made Arrow a hit, it moved Felicity (Emily Bett Rickards) and Oliver forward both as individuals and as a fanatic-inspiring relationship and it gave us a self-contained story arc that was nothing short of a joy to watch unfold.
1. No sudden moves
A big part of that, of course, comes down to one thing: Manu Bennett’s Slade Wilson, a.k.a. Deathstroke.
Slade had a tremendous journey over the first two seasons of the show: Introduced as a friend of Oliver’s in flashback, all the way to the most dangerous villain our lead hero had ever faced, by the second. That transition from friend to foe wasn’t jarring or rushed — his development spread naturally and carefully over a season and a half’s worth of story, until his arrival in the current day held the kind of weight that a later introduction never would have accomplished: Slade and Oliver’s battle was so powerful because of its meaning and that meaning came about through measured movement.
2. But keep it moving
The Season 5 premiere of “Arrow” on Oct. 5 felt like a reset in a lot of ways: Laurel’s (Katie Cassidy) death could be seen as simply erasing a lot of Oliver’s growth as he reverted back to his murderous ways. But Oliver’s dilemma is the core of the show and finding his way back to the light without Laurel will provide a tangible momentum that may have been missing.
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The Season 2 moment when Oliver kills the Count to save Felicity remains one of the show’s most emotional moments because of how hard he had been working until that point — only when pushed into a corner, with no other means of escape, was he forced to kill, and it worked for that very reason. It questioned the new status quo, threw his heroic journey off its balance and led to a new round of questions.
Season 2 is so good because it maintained the aspects — including the consistently dark tone — that made the show a hit, while developing characters in natural ways. It didn’t resort to tired tropes and conflicts that most dramas do when they hit the wall of their own high concept. You could feel the characters growing, changing, and that’s something this season definitely needs to remember.
3. Never stop to look back
There’s a difference between the show finding its roots — looking back on everything that’s happened, giving it meaning, honoring the story and history they’ve built — and simply returning the characters to who they used to be. That kind of reset is sometimes satisfying in the long term, but never sustains itself properly.
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We see the show trying, however, with the introduction of Prometheus — a villain we’re told was created by Oliver himself, in Season 1 — which could open up story opportunities that reach back into the past, as with the well-developed Slade conflict, or into future, as a living reminder of the dangers this bloody road he’s going down presents.
It’s a season of reckoning for Oliver Queen, we know that. It doesn’t have to be one for “Arrow,” too.
“Arrow” airs Wednesdays at 8 p.m. ET/PT on the CW.
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