Depending on who you ask, Oliver Queen’s journey from affluent heir to gritty vigilante superhero has been either an exciting thrill ride, or a confusing and boring slog. While Season 4 left most of the show’s fans unsatisfied, it’s important to remember Arrow built the current ongoing DC TV universe and is still worth plenty of attention.
From the devastation of the Glades, to fighting Slade Wilson and his Mirakuru army, to teaming up with The Flash to chase Captain Boomerang, the Green Arrow of the CW’s Arrow has more than just a few chapters worth revisiting time and time again. For better or for worse, re-watching these episodes have shown me just how much Arrow has changed.
At last weekend’s Heroes and Villains FanFest in New Jersey, Stephen Amell spoke about Season 5 and its refocus on the “core mission” of what Arrow should be about: “To save Star City.” Before Arrow returns on October 5, these are some of the best episodes to revisit that live up to that notion, and then some.
“Pilot” (Season 1)
It’s stunning how engaging the pilot episode to Arrow remains four years later. Its low stakes only hint at the larger story to come, and Oliver’s mission to take back his beloved city is no more blunt or bold than when Ollie returns from Lian Yu for the first time. (Or so we think.)
“Lone Gunman” (Season 1)
By episode three, Arrow ramps up its comic book roots with the introduction of Deadshot, an easy foil for a bow-and-arrow vigilante. As the beginning of Oliver’s secret partnership with Detective Lance and a reluctant identity reveal to John Diggle, “Lone Gunmen” is still a stand-out episode despite its early place in the season.
“Sacrifice” (Season 1)
You won’t find many who capital-L love Season 1 of Arrow, but its finale, “Sacrifice” is a pulse-pounding disaster episode that completes a rough but admirable start for the superhero series. With the Skid Row analog the Glades turned into ground zero for the city’s “new beginning,” it was a Biblical armageddon done street level, which is how most Green Arrow stories should be done.
“The Promise” (Season 2)
Truth be told, almost all of Season 2 should fit into this list. It wasn’t perfect, and the constant mention of the “Mirakuru” plot device was dizzying, but the season is still a well-told, structurally sound action-drama with very high stakes that were still reasonable given its grounded world. Manu Bennet’s Deathstroke is still the show’s best villain, equal parts bad guy from a Saturday morning cartoon and Daniel Craig-era James Bond villain.
And Slade Wilson is no more terrifying as a threat than in “The Promise” when he’s a guest in Oliver’s home, infiltrating his personal life. Slade is a time bomb, and here he is enjoying tea with his mother. The tension in “The Promise” still feels heavy, especially when you know what’s to come around the corner.
“Deathstroke” (Season 2)
Aside from the goofy moment in the end when Slade reveals to a distraught Laurel that “Oliver Queen is the Arrow,” “Deathstroke” is still a very, very high mark for Arrow, all because of its small moments.
There’s no bombast here, but a clichéd hostage story made fresh peppered with strategic plotting by its villains. Slade turns Oliver’s friends and family against him while Isabel Rochev (remember her?) seizes control of Queen Consolidated. The life of a superhero is not easy, but it’s when that superhero’s business life takes over the personal side is when Arrow was at its finest.
“The Man Under the Hood” (Season 2)
It’s worth pointing out Cisco and Caitlin of The Flash make their debut in this Season 2 episode of Arrow. But the episode is worth remembering because of the fucking amazing Arrow Cave invasion by Slade. What better way to reveal you have the upper hand than showing up where your enemy hangs his hood?
“Seeing Red” (Season 2)
Roy: messed up by the Mirakuru. Oliver’s mother Moira Queen: Killed by Slade in front of his eyes. “Seeing Red” sees Oliver Queen hit his lowest point with the loss of his estranged mother, someone who was just beginning to wrap her head around her son as a superhero. Compounded by a flashback reveal that Oliver has a son — a very important story that returned in major form last season — and “Seeing Red” is what you get when a show like Arrow is firing on all cylinders.
“Unthinkable” (Season 2)
It’s hard to top a finale like “Sacrifice,” so how does Arrow follow up a year later? By threatening Oliver Queen as a character more than his physical world.
While an army of Deathstroke copies on a Mirakuru roid rage is no minor threat, it’s Oliver forced to live up to his no-kill rule that puts “Unthinkable” on the edge. It’s also the first time we see Team Arrow, with Roy Harper’s hoodied Red Arrow (soon to be named Arsenal), Sara Lance’s Black Canary, and the League of Assassins led by Nyssa al Ghul fighting against Deathstroke and his mad copies. It’s the first time Arrow would fully embrace its comic book-y nature — and it certainly wouldn’t be the last.
“The Brave and the Bold” (Season 3)
Season 3 is a divisive beast. It’s the first time Arrow began to suffer under the weight of its elements, forced to carry on its flashback structure with a convoluted excursion in Hong Kong. And in hindsight, going supernatural with a villain like Ra’s al Ghul may not have been a good idea.
But Season 3 was still great, as in its crossover with The Flash. Teaming up with Barry Allen once again (The Flash had its own crossover episode that aired the day before), the two pursue Captain Boomerang alongside A.R.G.U.S. in an episode that’s as joyous and hysterical as any good comic book should be.
“The Climb” (Season 3)
The mid-season finale to Arrow was a devastating showdown between Oliver and Ra’s Al Ghul, with Matt Nable giving the performance of a lifetime. While I stand by the opinion that implementing the supernatural in a grounded and gritty superhero show was not the right call for the show and its future prospects, Matt Nable killed it as Ra’s and “The Climb” was him, and the season, at its finest.
“Haunted” (Season 4)
Yup, the supernatural still has no place in Arrow and the entirety of Season 4 proved that. Still, Matt Ryan’s street wizard Constantine from the short-lived Constantine series and its retroactive inclusion to the DC TV universe made for one of last season’s best episodes. And it was purely because of Ryan, who very much is Constantine straight from the pages of Hellblazer. Seeing him snark against a dead-serious Oliver was priceless and we yearn for more.