Hitting the Bull’s Eye: reviewing Arrow season 2

Stephen Amell successfully balances grit, seriousness, and camp as Oliver Queen (The Arrow). His Oliver Queen believes the world around him and reacts and feels accordingly, but Amell knows its a comic book show and plays it just with the right tone. He's stellar.

Stephen Amell successfully balances grit, seriousness, and camp as Oliver Queen (The Arrow). His Oliver Queen believes the world around him and reacts and feels accordingly, but Amell knows its a comic book show and plays it just with the right tone. He’s stellar.

Just saw the season finale of Arrow and I’m totally blown away at how satisfied I was by the whole experience. Never slowing down and constantly pushing the characters to their brink, the show kept me at the edge of my seat every episode and on my toes and characters I’ve already liked, I began to like even more, and some characters whom I was feeling ambivalent about I had come to like as well.

Stephen Amell, I had said in an earlier blog post, was still finding his way in the first three episodes of the first season, but by the time the second season began, he is Oliver Queen and I really can’t imagine anyone else playing The Arrow now. He has the right balance of making his character take it seriously but playing it in the comic book genre so I completely understand the tone of the whole world. And I see differences between Oliver in the island, five years ago, and Oliver in Starling City, a man changed by the circumstances from his disappearance. It’s subtle but there’s a nuanced delivery and it makes everything.

As the show progressed over the season, more and more people have become aware of Oliver’s secret identity, but the show somehow manages to justify how it hasn’t become public knowledge, why the characters have kept the vigilante’s secret identity from the general populace, and why it isn’t so important. In a way, in 2014, the need for alter egos are not as relevant as they were 20 years ago. There’s more awareness for the strange and the odd and in the world that the show has created, it gives us a space with which to believe that these characters accept and follow the unwritten rules about the identity.

But while the main storyline revolves around an old friend from the island, Slade Wilson, and his quest of vengeance against Oliver Queen; the central themes revolve around Oliver’s relationships with the people he cares about and the task of becoming a true hero despite his past. The plot is clear and evident and interconnected from episode one to 23, but all this serves to deepen or sever his relationships with the people in his life.

**CAUTION: THERE WILL BE SPOILERS FURTHER ON**

The Black Canary (played by Caity Lotz) is, in my opinion, the best addition of this season. Fuck the canon, Sara Lance IS the Black Canary.

The Black Canary (played by Caity Lotz) is, in my opinion, the best addition of this season. Fuck the canon, Sara Lance IS the Black Canary.

In my opinion, though, the two breakout characters of the season are Felicity Smoak and Sara Lance, the Black Canary. The Black Canary is probably the best addition of the season and that’s all because of Caity Lotz. Caity Lotz is just tremendous. She is physically capable and she has a vulnerability that makes her accessible. But, more than that, there is a darkness that she shows us too, which makes her dangerous and kind of a bad-ass.

It is very unfortunate for Laurel, because the moment Sara joined the show, she became irrelevant. In fact, the show’s lowest moments, in my opinion, was trying to keep Laurel from being irrelevant by giving her a journey into her own personal hell. Her storyline was dramatic and problematic as it attracted so much attention and became a distraction for our heroes and making her an easy target. Throughout the middle of the season, I was hoping that Laurel would be taken out for good.

But this was, to my surprise, unbelievably necessary and planned from the beginning, because her story helped push Sara’s story forward and provided a tangible parallel to Oliver Queen’s own internal struggle with his family. When Laurel discovers the truth about her sister and Oliver, after everything she’s been through, all of a sudden, her character snaps back into form and she is now ready to be there for Oliver in the way that he needs her. In a way, this season was Laurel’s own version of the island, albeit shorter but just as dramatic. At the season finale, when Sara gives her jacket to Laurel, I felt that Laurel deserved it and that she has earned her eventual transformation into the Black Canary.

Of all the cast, I felt that Katie Cassidy took the longest to find her stride. She eventually found it mid-season last year, after everyone else was already creating fireworks in their respective roles. This season’s dramatic turn for Laurel did not help make me like Laurel at all but by the last three or four episodes, she turned everything around. Now, I’m excited to see what Katie Cassidy will bring to the table next season.

Felicity Smoak (played by Emily Bett Rickards) is the bomb. She's really the heart and soul of the team.

Felicity Smoak (played by Emily Bett Rickards) is the bomb. She’s really the heart and soul of the team.

Of course, my biggest problem is the fact that Felicity Smoak has become my favourite character of the show. Emily Bett Rickards is just awesome. Her character’s strength and confidence grew with each episode without losing what made her essentially so adorable in the first season. She didn’t turn bad-ass overnight, and turning bad-ass didn’t change her at all. For that, I’m thankful to the writers and to Emily Bett Rickards because Felicity Smoak brings in so much to the show.

She’s not just a comic relief (her lines are the funniest in the show) but she’s the workhorse that makes them effective. She pulls her weight and she’s also the soul and heart of the team. She is the team’s reminder that, at the end of all of this madness, that they are still human. She’s the anchor that keeps pulling them back to the ground. She’s the one who is holding the kite string and reels them back in. I love that about her.

And, yes, I’m shipping for Oliver and Felicity. Barry Allen isn’t good enough for Felicity Smoak.

Everyone else just need fantastic. Susanna Thompson killed it this season as Moira Queen and David Ramsey and Paul Blackthorne did great work as Diggle and Detective Lance. I love Willa Holland and Thea Queen was the reason I made it to episode four of the first season (when I began to truly enjoy the show) but she took a major step back this season in preparation for the next one, I’m sure. Now that she’s with her real father, she’s going to be taking the Speedy moniker a little differently now and I’m sure she’s going to be awesome on her return. A year with her father is just what she needs.

Colton Haynes has proven that he’s not just a pretty face. Working on so many genre shows, He’s got the tone down pat. It’s always great to see Summer Glau doing anything, really, and Celina Jade was a real presence. But the most arresting of the guest cast is Cynthia Addai-Robinson as Amanda Waller. From the last scenes of the finale, it seems we will be seeing so much more of her in the future season and I’m excited. Also, Michael Rowe, who plays Deadshot, wasn’t that impressive to me in the first season, but now, in this season, I’m a fan.

Shit. This basically just became an appreciation post (and a long one at that) but it’s because it is such a satisfying season. Every episode accomplished or resolved something but kept moving forward. It never meandered and when the end came, everything made sense and elements from the whole season were used in conjunction to play out the end game. This sort of vision is sorely lacking in many other shows where there are episodes that just seem like filler or out of place. Here, all 23 episodes were essential and helped build a world, a mythology for Starling City and it’s characters in it.

And, at the centre of it all, Oliver Queen has remained an intriguing and fascinating character through-out. He has grown and he has been broken and he has risen again. Since episode seven or eight of the first season, I defended Arrow and said, “It’s not a guilty pleasure because there’s no guilt. It’s a really good show.” I stand by that. The second season proved it. It is one of the shows I look forward to every week. It’s smart but doesn’t take itself too seriously but serious enough that I’m affected by what happens in it. I like the characters and I believe the world they have fashioned for me to see.

And the third season promises to be even more exciting. Without Queen Consolidated, Oliver has less distractions now and can solely devote himself to vigilante work, but he will have to survive financially as well. How will he be able to operate? And Laurel knows now and he’s got a crack team on his side. It’s a whole new world and a whole new Starling City.

The third season is going to be epic. I can’t wait.

(all photos taken from the Internet and no copyright infringement was intended)

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