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Why Arrow Was Never Able To Top Season 2

Arrow had an acclaimed eight-season run, but the show’s second season remains its best. Arrow began on the CW in October of 2012, with Oliver Queen (Stephen Amell) returning to Starling City a half a decade after being marooned on the island Lian Yu in the China Sea. Having built himself into a skilled warrior, Oliver takes to the streets of Starling City by night as a hooded vigilante armed with a bow and arrow. Known by numerous names over the course of the show, Oliver eventually adopts his title of Green Arrow from the comics in the show’s later seasons.

The popularity of Oliver Queen’s adventures and death on Arrow would eventually lead to the spin-off shows The Flash, Legends of Tomorrow, Supergirl, Black Lightning, and Batwoman, collectively comprising the Arrowverse. Arrow and the larger Arrowverse would give Oliver Queen a complete character arc, with his violent methods of justice gradually softening, eventually becoming the Spectre, and sacrificing himself to save the entire multiverse in the Crisis On Infinite Earths event. While Arrow made Arthur’s nobility and selflessness core elements of his heroism throughout its run, Arrow season 2 was the peak of everything great about him as a character and of the show itself.

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Arrow Changed Once The Arrowverse Expanded
The Arrowverse’s Supergirl, Flash, and Arrow
When Arrow began, its tone was frequently likened to The Dark Knight trilogy. With The Dark Knight Rises having been released just months prior, the gritty style Arrow adopted certainly made the tonal similarities easy to see. Arrow had a cutthroat quality not seen on most live-action superhero shows. Oliver Queen’s visceral, deadly urban missions and dark persona also offered a new spin on Green Arrow for viewers more familiar with Justin Hartley’s lighter performance on Smallville. Once the Arrowverse began, Arrow itself hit a turning point.

With the generally colorful and cheerful tone of the other Arrowverse shows, Arrow had to lighten itself up somewhat as a vector for the Arrowverse’s annual crossover events. While this did not inherently diminish the quality of Arrow, it did make season 3 into a soft reboot of sorts. In acting as the basis for a televised shared universe, Arrow had to make a trade-off of jettisoning some of its take-no-prisoners attitude in order for the show and Oliver himself not to feel like outliers. This change also made season 2 stand out more.

Arrow Season 2 Was Its Most “Pure” Season
Green Arrow readies an arrow.
The cliffhanger ending of Arrow season one saw the death of Oliver’s best friend Tommy Merlyn (Colin Donnell). This made it and Arrow season two a kind of two-part story, with Oliver gradually re-evaluating his own approach to vigilantism and recruiting allies. Arrow season two still planted the seeds for the Arrowverse, with the appearance of Barry Allen (Grant Gustin) acting as a backdoor pilot for The Flash. Still, by pre-dating the full birth of the Arrowverse, Arrow season 2 was the last time the show had to only concern itself with the story of Oliver Queen and his supporting cast.

Despite ending on a flashback to Oliver meeting Amanda Waller (Cynthia Addai-Robinson) in Hong Kong, Arrow season 2 also finished its story in a relatively conclusive way. In some respects, the lack of external ties to anything (other than its aforementioned setup for The Flash) added to Arrow season 2’s rewatchability. As part of Oliver Queen’s journey to becoming Green Arrow, Arrow season 2 showed the value of simplicity in the compact story it told.

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Season 2 Had Arrow’s Greatest Villain Conflict
Deathstroke talks to Oliver in Arrow.
Arrow season 2 also told one of the most deeply personal hero-villain conflicts in Oliver’s battle with the vengeful Slade Wilson (Manu Bennett), who had been stranded with Oliver on Lian Yu. While numerous Arrow villains have had their share of grudges against Oliver, Slade holding Oliver responsible for the death of Shado (Celina Jade) was especially venomous and bitter. Arrow raised the stakes from season one massively with Slade commanding an army of assassins and added just a dash of sci-fi elements in Slade’s “mirakuru”-enhanced physical strength. Even as it did both of these, Arrow season two held firm to the grounded tale it began as.

Slade Wilson’s transformation into Deathstroke in Arrow had a monstrous feel to it, with the mirakuru adding to Slade’s bloodlust and irrationality and making him perhaps the most violent and ruthless villain on Arrow. This also made Oliver’s victory in returning Slade to his imprisonment on Lian Yu one of the best scenes of the whole show, with Oliver proclaiming that Slade “helped me become a hero” and thanking him for it. Arrow season two’s epic Green Arrow vs. Deathstroke showdown ultimately made the season the peak of the show’s individuality and the grounded nature of Oliver Queen’s arc.

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