Based on the DC Comics "Green Arrow" superhero comic book series, Arrow has been reinvented for a modern day audience. Starling City has been torn apart by the Undertaking, so the need for the hooded vigilante -- now known as The Arrow -- is more urgent than ever. After retreating to the island on which he was once stranded, Oliver Queen (Stephen Amell) returns to protect his mother, sister and besieged company but comes to realize that allies and enemies have switched sides, and the stranglehold of evil on family, friends and city is diabolically linked to his fateful shipwreck. A once-tight comrade-at-arms and a strength-enhancing, yet mind-warping serum may prove to be the mightiest adversaries The Arrow has ever encountered. Can justice find its target in this 23-episode season? Or will all fall before the fury of Deathstroke?
Between seasons 1 and 2, 'Arrow' went from being an entertaining effort on behalf of The CW to bring a small section of the DC Universe to television, to being a consistently terrific and engaging series that strived to go beyond the basic mechanics of superhero fiction to explore the motivations of its characters in surprising ways.
Season 2 was an improvement over an already decent season 1 in almost every way. The characters were better defined; the acting was more consistent; the special effects were much sharper; and the action was some of the best that television had to offer. Most of all, though, the series managed to turn the now-daunting network effort of producing 23 episodes a season into an epic struggle between a hero battling his own demons, while also trying to stop an incredibly powerful villain. In all, 'Arrow' season 2 ushered in the kind of superhero series that didn't seem possible just one season prior. It even managed to be the launch pad for The CW's newest series, 'The Flash,' hinting at even bigger things to come.
So while 'Arrow' began following the Marvel Cinematic Universe blueprint of connecting everything and turning successful franchises into an enormous playground where everyone can come to play, it put the series in a place where it had to backtrack on some of the previous seasons' declarations.
For one, Stephen Amell's salmon-ladder-climbing-billionaire Oliver Queen would have to make the transition from vigilante to hero. That meant the character's much-debated propensity for ventilating bad guys with his signature arrows would have to be rethought, lest Oliver wind up being looked at as a target other heroes would like to see put down. Secondly, 'Arrow' writers and producers Greg Berlanti and Marc Guggenheim would have to backtrack a little on the "no superpowers" rule they had previously instilled – possibly still thinking this hooded vigilante series would exist as all previous shows and movies had before Marvel altered the face of the superhero landscape with 'The Avengers': i.e., in a vacuum.
In many ways, 'Arrow' season 2 was forced to look in on itself and start over – it had bigger responsibilities than finding clever ways to get Stephen Amell's shirt off. It was, in effect, the nexus of a whole new universe. The show and its titular character needed to start acting accordingly. The trick, then, is how Berlanti and Guggenheim made that introspection and desire to change for the better seem as though it had been the show's objective from day one.
To be honest, the quality of the storytelling and execution on 'Arrow' had grown dramatically toward the end of the first season, when the Dark Archer – a.k.a. Malcolm Merlyn (John Barrowman) – was scheming to launch his sinister gentrification program, the Undertaking, which came complete with a very super villain-y earthquake machine. But more than all the ways the plot mechanics precisely mirrored those of its source material, the series itself began to function in a much more fulfilling way. Oliver Queen's arc became more significant, while other characters began developing more consequential threads of their own. Most notably, the series wisely did away with Oliver Queen's sometimes BFF Tommy Merlyn (Colin Donnell).
It was a wise move to have Tommy die for two reasons: 1) the cast of 'Arrow' was bloated from the get-go, and 2) the writers used Tommy's death as the springboard from which a new Arrow could be born.
As such, season 2 became the character's transition from vigilante to hero in 23-not-so-easy steps (it can't be easy to turn over a new leaf when you're already dressed like so much foliage.) But the series made Oliver's "no kill" policy as compelling as possible and it worked, not only in the larger sense of the season's tighter, more focused narrative, but also in terms of making the supporting cast enjoy a more meaningful relationship with the protagonist and with one another.
For starters, it brought recently demoted Detective Quentin Lance (Paul Blackthorne) into the fray as a police liaison for the nascent Team Arrow by way of Felicity Smoak (Emily Bett Rickards). The tenuous working relationship between the man who once headed up the task force to bring the vigilante down and the vigilante himself generated far more entertaining threads than the cat and mouse adventures they had in season 1. But that was just the beginning of what the writers had in mind for a storyline that was as much about the maturation of Oliver Queen's alter ego, as it was about the principle that the more characters there are lined up against a common threat, the more cohesive the storyline.
After figuring this out, 'Arrow' apparently said, "let's throw in a whole gaggle of heroes to combat the season's primary antagonist." That meant welcoming the previously dead (spoiler: she didn't die) Sara Lance (now played by 'Mad Men's Caity Lotz), as (unofficially) Black Canary, as well as Roy Harper (Colton Haynes) into the fold. It also meant that the island-set flashbacks that had previously served as momentum killers, suddenly took on a whole new dimension, as they became the origin story of Arrow's greatest threat to date, Deathstroke – a.k.a. Slade Wilson (Manu Bennett).
Through it all the season still found time for two episodes centered on John Diggle (David Ramsey), in 'Keep Your Enemies Closer' and the Easter egg filled 'Suicide Squad,' which continued the 'Spartacus' cast reunion that was kicked off with Manu Bennett by featuring Cynthia Addai-Robinson as Amanda Waller (fellow cast member Katrina Law made two appearances as Nyssa Al Ghul, daughter of Ras Al Ghul and sometimes lover of Sara Lance.) Those two episodes could have been throwaways, but 'Arrow' used them to shine the light on an excellent character who too often found himself standing in the background. The result of those efforts, then, became a much more fulfilling finale when it came time for Team Arrow to unite against the forces of Slade Wilson in another battle to save Starling City (and what was left of Oliver Queen's personal life) in the spectacular season finale 'Unthinkable.'
The season wrapped with a thrilling episode that raised the bar for what the series could accomplish visually as well as narratively. The final battle between Slade and Oliver interweaves their first showdown on the Amazo with the battle to end Slade's siege of Starling City by way of his mirakuru-powered minions. And with that technical achievement, 'Arrow' also set a new bar for concise storytelling that, despite a handful of speed bumps along the way, made for an all around better written, better performed, and better filmed season of a show that few people likely thought could ever become this good.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Arrow: The Complete Second Season' comes from Warner Home Video as a ridiculously large nine-disc set (four 50GB Blu-rays and five DVDs) + digital download. The oversized package also makes room for a handy episode list for quick reference.
As with everything else in season 2 of 'Arrow,' the image on the Blu-ray was given something of an upgrade. Gone from the 1080p AVC/MPEG-4 encoded transfer is the presence of any grain, which was noticeable throughout the season 1 discs. Here, the image is clear and pristine, from start to finish. The image is very precise, with strong, well-defined edges in almost every scene, and a high level of fine detail that reveals plenty of facial features and textures in clothing, hair, and background elements. Even the CGI effects are more impressive this time around.
Contrast is very high throughout, which is paramount, given the fact that Arrow and his cohort of heroes are typically out running around in the dead of night. Shadow delineation is superb, as dark areas run the gamut from smokey gray to pitch black without a hint of banding or crush. Complete darkness is inky and full-bodied, accentuating scenes that call for all the more. Brighter scenes never run hot, and maintain plenty of information in even the most sun-dappled extremes – take a look at Oliver in the tree during the season premiere 'City of Heroes' for a terrific example of this.
As with contrast, the color is also very good. Oliver's green uniform stands out in brighter conditions, but also manages to be distinguishable in darker moments as well. This season brought something of a brighter palette to the proceedings, and Slade's orange and blue uniform was front and center in that shift. Elsewhere, brighter primary colors – though sometimes rare – manage to pop and stand out without looking oversaturated or too hot.
Aside from some moments lacking depth, and a few inconsistencies in which the focus runs soft for too long, this is a superb image that will certainly please fans of the series.
As 'Arrow' upped the ante on the action department throughout season 2, it should come as no surprise that he DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix was put through its paces.
The sound is dynamic in nearly every episode, offering a wide array of layered elements to enhance the well-choreographed actions set pieces, as well as it does the quieter moments at stately Queen Manor – wherein the silence between the embattle Queen clan is enhanced by the surprising range of the show's score. Elsewhere, sound design comes into play on location, as the sounds of Lian Yu become as immersive and distinct as an evening in Oliver's nightclub/headquarters Verdant. The aural experience is fairly striking for a television series, as the rear channels pick up everything from animal noises to the bustle of a nightclub at full capacity. LFE even comes into play to feed the music and grant another dimension to the sound of the setting.
But it is during the action sequences where the sound is at its best. Again, LFE comes into play to deliver epic punches, explosions, and the occasional barrage of gunfire. The mix's directionality and balance ensure that kinetic moments sound their best, but never at the expense of the character's dialogue, which always sounds clear and distinct.
If there were a drawback, it would be that the sound becomes a little flat in certain places, as though the intention to create a feeling of isolation was taken too far, and the design can sometimes ring hollow or even tinny. Thankfully, it doesn’t happen too often, as this is a strong example of what an action-oriented series should sound like.
Year One - Bonus Recap Episode (HD)
Arrow 2013 Comic-Con Panel (HD, 26 min.)
From Vigilante to Hero (HD, 24 min.) – This featurette offers a discussion on the transformation of Oliver Queen in season 2, in which he went from a man on a quest for vengeance, to a full-fledged hero.
How Did They Do That? The Visual Effects of Arrow (HD, 11 min.) – This offers a glimpse at the impressive special effects of the series, which are often more intensive than you might think.
Wirework: The Impossible Moves of Arrow (HD, 9 min.) – This featurette shows how the series incorporates physical wirework into its increasingly complicated fight sequences.
Gag Reel (HD, 5 min.)
As superheroes and properties inspired by comic books continue to dominate the pop culture landscape, certain programs like 'Arrow' help to justify their popularity. Not content to rest on its laurels and ratings success from season 1, the show used its sophomore effort to deepen its characters and breathe more life into the world that it had created. Surprisingly, by expanding the universe, the show didn’t diminish the importance of Oliver Queen and his alter ego; it managed to raise his profile and turn him into the lynchpin of an exciting venture that continues to explore the depths of its characters, while providing plenty of visceral excitement as well. With a very nice looking image, terrific sound, and passable extras 'Arrow: The Complete Second Season' comes recommended.