Arrow Season 2: Hitting Its Stride

Throughout the season, I haven’t been shy about needling Arrow. I was even kind enough to give a few friendly suggestions along the way. The show did a lot of interesting things as it built towards Slade vs. Oliver, but many of the standalone episodes felt a little flat. Towards the tail end of the season, they started to feel like placeholders because Slade was busy taking a nap or something. It highlighted the show’s need to maybe only run for about 15 episodes a season. Since it is the biggest show on the CW, there is no chance of that ever happening. There were a handful of quality standalone episodes in the season (“Suicide Squad” springs to mind), but there were plenty that felt like they were just getting in the way.

That being said, the show’s final run of episodes this season were the best work the series has done to date. It accentuated a lot of what the show does really well while mitigating some of the weaker points of the series (Laurel). The action sequences in the show continue to improve by leaps and bounds, and the final sequences with Team Arrow vs. Slade’s army and Oliver vs. Slade serve as exhibits A and B of these improvements. If you wanted to nitpick about how the Arrow team got its hands on the mirakuru cure, so be it. Still, you knew the show was going to find some way for its heroes to win the day, and the resulting battle more than made up for whatever narrative stretching the show was doing. It’s a great sign for a series to show stylistic improvements like this as it grows. It clearly had some more money to spend this year, and the fight scenes looked a lot cleaner. Several of them popped off the screen. The big action sequences in the finale would serve as high-water marks for a lot of series of this nature. Arrow just finished its second season. There’s still plenty of time to improve on what is the show’s biggest strength.

The action sequences were terrific down the stretch, but a lot of the emotional/human elements really worked as well. Some of them were definitely shoehorned in there (“Hey Dig, even though I’m pointing heat at you, I wanted to tell you your ex is pregnant.” Sheesh), but a lot of them felt organic given the dire situation Team Arrow found themselves in. Given everything that’s happened to this point, I buy Thea’s decision to leave with Malcolm Merlyn if only because it would have been stupid to have her continue to run the club as if it was business as usual. Oliver’s conversations with the various women that flit in and out of his top spot were all well played, but I kind of bristled when I found out Oliver’s conversation with Felicity was all a ruse. Yes, I’m one of those people on the internet invested in the Felicity-Oliver relationship. I think Stephen Amell has much better chemistry with Emily Bett Rickards than Katie Cassidy, and the relationship makes considerably more sense given how vital Felicity is to Oliver at this point. Still, their moment at the end leads me to believe that poor Felicity will eventually get her man, even if it’s just a temporary situation before he settles on Laurel (as will probably be the case).

Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Stephen Amell’s continued growth this season. While I’m completely in the tank for Amell, it’s hard to disagree with the fact he absolutely carries this show. Parts of the ensemble around him got stronger this season, but Amell is the guy who makes this thing go. What’s more, everyone around him knows it and plays their parts accordingly. Amell had some interesting transitions to work through as Oliver Queen this season, and he handled them all with the proper level of emotion and vigor. He has tremendous presence on screen, but he doesn’t chew up the entire scene. His game is similar to Kevin Durant: He can go score whenever he wants, but he’s also a great facilitator for his teammates. There’s a humility in his star power that is really impressive. More than anything else, I’m looking forward to his continued growth as an actor in season 3. Arrow really hit its strides down the stretch of its second season, hopefully they don’t break it.