What’s that? You say you’ve heard Arrow is the best live-action TV adaptation of a mainstream superhero to date? But you haven’t seen a single episode and you’d like to start watching the show’s third season when it premieres on Wednesday, October 8? And you’ve fallen in love with Stephen Amell’s abs from all those billboards and bus-stop ads and you’re not sure if that love will ever be reciprocated? Well, I can’t help you much with the latter, I’m afraid. But I can help you make the most of the precious little time you have left to catch up on the show before season three debuts — by directing you to ten episodes that should give you most of the background you need to follow the saga of Oliver Queen and company when it resumes next month. So let’s draw those bows, er, remotes… and take aim at our TVs!
The very early episodes of Arrow get flack sometimes for redundant villains-of-the-week and the soap operatics of scenes between Ollie and his ex, Laurel Lance, played by Katie Cassidy. But the pilot isn’t bad at all, with director Mark Nutter immediately establishing the show’s breezy pace, gritty (by commercial TV standards anyway) tone, and a neo-noir look that immediately eased initial fears that the show would be another Smallville. Most importantly it offers the best snapshot of Oliver’s agenda upon returning to Starling City, in which he seeks to right his late father’s wrongs. It’s an agenda that will change dramatically as the series progresses.
As its name suggests, “Year’s End” caps the Emerald Archer’s first year back in Starling City (or at least Arrow‘s first half season before the holiday break). Here begins in earnest the story of his first Big Bad, Malcolm Merlyn, a/k/a The Dark Archer (played by Torchwood‘s John Barrowman), who, in a Spider-Man-like twist, turns out to be the father of Ollie’s best friend, Tommy (Colin Donnell), who’s also his rival for Laurel’s affections.
Here, in the first of three episodes that bring Arrow‘s first season to a close, things really get cooking. The immensely likable Felicity, Oliver’s girl Friday/computer hacker (played by the wonderful Emily Bett Rickards) gets ever more deeply involved with Team Arrow, going undercover as a card shark, Oliver learns the truth about Malcolm Merlyn’s involvement in a plot to destroy part of Starling, and we learn the details of that plot and its connection to Oliver’s shipwreck.
Darkness on the Edge of Town
Taking its title from the Bruce Springsteen album and song, this episode finds Malcolm’s killing spree building and Team Arrow going on another undercover mission to locate his doomsday weapon, in a sequence that’s by turns funny and thrilling, demonstrating the confidence the show has gained since it began and the kind of bravura storytelling flourishes that befit a superhero.
The big season 1 finale overflows with action and story. Here Tommy and Laurel’s relationship is resolved, Malcolm’s plan is executed, and Oliver learns the hard way that there are some wrongs even he can’t make right. Although big questions are answered, “Sacrifice” is most satisfying for its lack of closure.
City of Heroes
This season two opener hits the ground running by immediately establishing Oliver’s new MO as a hero who won’t resort to killing. It also re-introduces Roy Harper (Colton Haynes), who’s also the boyfriend of Oliver’s sister Thea (Willa Holland), as a man charting his own course towards heroism. But best of all are the season’s new faces – fan favorite actress Summer Glau as Isabelle Rochev, a tycoon bent on taking over Queen Consolidated, and Caity Lotz – an actress with some serious martial arts chops – as the Black Canary.
A turning point for season 2 in that we see, in flashbacks, what drives Slade Wilson over the edge from Oliver’s friend and mentor to his deadliest opponent. We also learn of his plans for vengeance against the Arrow in present-day Starling City. And there’s a big bonus for longtime fans in the birth of a certain super-powered speedster, who’s getting a show of his own this fall.
City of Blood
Season two reaches a crescendo as Oliver recoils from phase one of Slade’s vengeance by hatching a plan to stop his army of super-powered assassins from overrunning his city. The revelations keep coming fast and furious as Laurel tells Oliver she knows he’s the Arrow. And can we talk about how awesome Summer Glau looks in her Deathstroke mask and armor?!
Streets of Fire
Another episode that lives up to its name, as Slade furthers his plan to watch Oliver’s home town burn. The pace is relentless as Slade’s trust in his closest confidante is betrayed and the Dark Archer returns to town with designs on Thea. A ticking clock is also introduced thanks to mysterious government op Amanda Waller – if Oliver doesn’t stop Slade by dawn, she’ll bomb the city.
Possibly Arrow‘s most satisfying hour (but only if you’ve watched the nine episodes above) – Oliver matches his wits against Slade in the present and past, with the help of Roy, Detective Lance, the Canary, Ra’s al Ghul’s daughter Nyssa, and the League of Assassins.
I had to leave plenty of terrific stand-alone episodes off this list, including the introduction of the Huntress, an adventure with the Suicide Squad (which gives Ollie’s partner Diggle — actor David Ramsey — the spotlight for an episode), and just about any episode featuring the Canary. But if you like what you see above, just know that there’s lots more where it came from. And if you’ve already seen these episodes, let us know what your must-watch Arrow episodes are below!