Get ready for the third season of Arrow with our recap of the first two seasons!

The CW’s Arrow, based on the DC Comics’ character Green Arrow, has had steady success since its premiere in 2012, even launching the spinoff show The Flash. Billionaire vigilante Oliver Queen is back on the CW on October 8, and I’ll be bringing you weekly reviews of the archer’s exploits. To get you up to speed, I’ve recapped the first two seasons, starting with a spoiler-free introduction to the faces and names you need to know.

He’s Not Robin Hood

The only son of billionaire Richard Queen, Oliver was the only survivor when his father’s boat went down on the way to China. Oliver was stranded on an island called Lian Yu for five years. While on that island, Oliver was forced to survive, and to learn the skills that allow him to be the vigilante known as The Hood. For those that cringe at the suggestion of an island full of mysteries, don’t fear — the truth about Oliver’s time on the island is slowly but steadily revealed through flashbacks. Just before the events of the island, Oliver’s father gives him a book of names, demanding that Oliver survive to right the wrongs that have hurt the people of his home, Starling City.

Even Vigilantes Need Friends

Oliver Queen gets an exuberant homecoming welcome when he returns to Starling City, and soon picks up a few new friends to help him in his quest to save the city.

John Diggle: Former military bodyguard, John “Dig” Diggle is the snarky, insightful moral center of the show. Dig isn’t afraid to call Oliver out on his inconsistencies, moving easily between the roles of partner, mentor, and friend to the vigilante billionaire.

Felicity Smoak: The wildly powerful and undefined hacking ability of Felicity Smoak has gotten Oliver through military-grade encryptions, pulled data from the F.B.I., and instantly supplied schematics of buildings all over Starling City.

Thea Queen: Oliver’s sister, Thea, has spent the last five years struggling to grow up and deal with the loss of her father and brother, while her mother grew more and more distant.

Tommy Merlyn: Oliver’s billionaire best friend, Tommy is the only son of Malcolm Merlyn, an old friend of the Queen family.

Laurel Lance: A lawyer in Starling City. Before the boat crash, she was Oliver Queen’s long-term girlfriend. Her sister, Sara, joined Oliver on the boat trip, and died in the crash.

Quentin Lance: Detective with the Starling City Police Department, Quentin blames Oliver for the death of his daughter, Sara, and the subsequent breakup of his marriage.

Moira Queen: Oliver’s strong-willed mother, with many secrets to hide.

Walter Steele: Oliver’s stepfather and current CEO of Queen Consolidated, Walter was Richard Queen’s right hand man.

Now on to the season recaps! Here be spoilers.

Arrow Season One Recap: Vigilante Work-Life Balance

Oliver returns to Starling City after 5 years of being presumed dead, and he’s ready, physically and mentally, to begin his career as a vigilante. What Oliver doesn’t expect, and what becomes the driving force for the season, are the difficulties he will face reintegrating into his family, the emotional toll of maintaining his cover identity, and his own loneliness. Oliver is an extrovert, a former party boy who goes through relationships as fast as drinks, and his last act before being stranded on the island was to cheat on his long-term girlfriend Laurel with her sister, Sara. Sara died in the shipwreck, and Oliver’s guilt over her death, and his love for Laurel, are a constant companion on the island. When he returns to Starling City, he believes himself to be undeserving of love, and is resolved to live without it. Oliver takes solace in his mission, burying himself in his purpose as the vigilante and hiding from having to connect with people. He struggles to reintegrate himself with his friends and family, including his best friend Tommy, who is now dating Oliver’s ex-girlfriend, Laurel.

Despite his mother’s wish that he work at his father’s company, Queen Consolidated, Oliver decides to establish a nightclub, Verdant. The club becomes both a base of operations and a cover for his nightly work as the vigilante. Out of necessity, Oliver begins to grow his team, first adding John Diggle and then Felicity Smoak to the Arrow team. Both Diggle and Felicity challenge his commitment to his list, and in doing so they open him up to fighting other evils in the city. If Oliver’s goal is to make Starling City a better place, he can’t ignore injustices even if the perpetrators aren’t on the list. Once Oliver realizes that, and broadens his scope beyond only the list, the show gets a jump in quality.

Rogues Gallery

As the Arrow team works through the names on the list, a number of recurring rogues appear. On the police force, Laurel’s father, Detective Quentin Lance, becomes obsessed with catching the vigilante, who he dubs ‘The Hood’. A second vigilante, Helena Bertinelli (The Huntress) begins taking out mobsters in a hail of bullets, no matter the cost. International hitman Deadshot, who Oliver discovers was the one who killed Diggle’s brother, becomes a recurring threat, as well as The Count, a drug boss whose new hallucinogen, Vertigo, is sweeping through the city. All these rogues are based on existing DC Comics characters, though The Count is largely re-imagined from his origins as Count Vertigo, a super villain whose powers revolve around inducing vertigo. Don’t worry about missing the comic book references in Arrow, however. These homages tend to be pretty low key, and no prior comics knowledge is ever needed to follow the show.

Through flashbacks, we learn that Oliver was not alone on the island. He is first taught to survive by Yao Fei, a prisoner on the island, and then by Slade Wilson, aka Deathstroke. Slade is an Australian Secret Intelligence Service member who crashed on the island while investigating a group of mercenaries there. Yao Fei appears to betray them, and rejoins the mercenaries. The mercenaries are led by Edward Fyres, who is working to set up an anti-aircraft missile launcher in a plot to destabilize China’s economy by shooting down commercial airliners. Slade and Oliver work together to stop the plan, and learn that Yao Fei’s daughter, Shado, is being held hostage by Fyres, explaining his betrayal. Fyres kills Yao Fei, but Oliver and Slade escape with Shado, and successfully stop Fyres’ plot by turning the missiles on his own camp.

The Undertaking

Back in the present, the Arrow team continues to chase down names on the list. They begin to uncover details about the Undertaking, a plan to level the Glades, a high crime district in Starling City. Malcolm Merlyn, Tommy’s father, is the mastermind behind the Undertaking. Malcolm’s wife, Rebecca, was murdered in the Glades, and since her death he has dedicated himself to his own vision of a safer Starling City. Oliver’s father, Richard, was involved in Malcolm’s plans, and, after Moira balked at the plans to kill all the people in the Glades, Richard decided it was time to get out from under Malcolm’s thumb. That decision prompted Malcolm to have Richard’s boat sabotaged, and since then he has pressured Moira to be a part of his plans. When Walter begins investigating too closely, Malcolm has him kidnapped.

A man who appears at first to be a copycat vigilante using black arrows is revealed to be Malcolm Merlyn himself, whose skill with a bow and martial prowess are enough to defeat Oliver over and over again. Malcolm’s skill, and his drive to destroy the Glades, all stem from the time he spent away from Starling City after Rebecca’s death, which hints toward a link to the League of Assassins and famous Batman villian Ra’s Al Ghul.

Malcolm Merlin has used his resources and Queen Consolidated’s applied science division to create a device that can induce an earthquake. He plans to set off the device to level the Glades, and Oliver and his team try desperately to stop him. Oliver and Diggle take on Malcolm, who has a remote trigger to set off the device, while Felicity talks Quentin through disarming the device. Quentin is successful, but a beaten Malcolm reveals that there is a second device. With no chance to stop the second device, The Glades are almost totally destroyed. In the destruction, Tommy races into the Glades to rescue Laurel, and is killed by debris.

Arrow Season Two Recap: Picking Up the Pieces

Tommy and Laurel’s relationship became strained in season one when Tommy learned Oliver’s secret. Tommy couldn’t think of Oliver as anything other than a killer, but he also couldn’t deny the that Oliver and Laurel still loved each other. His death, attempting to save Laurel, forces Oliver to reevaluate his life as the vigilante.

The first season spent a lot of time and energy trying to convince the people in Oliver’s life, and the viewer, that what he does as the vigilante is good. Laurel, and later her father, become convinced that the vigilante is a hero, and regularly work with him outside of the law. When Hellena Bertinelli started her crusade against her mobster father, Oliver desperately tries to draw a distinction between what he does as the vigilante, calling it justice, and what she is doing, calling it revenge. Oliver often offers the people on his list the chance to change their ways, by returning stolen pension money, dropping lawsuits or otherwise backpedaling on their most recent evil deeds, but he doesn’t extend any similar level of compassion to the hired mooks who guard his targets. To maintain its pace and power as a punchy hour of action and mystery, Oliver takes out a lot of armed guards and hired security without a second thought to whether they deserve the second chances he offers to the (mostly) white collar criminals he’s facing down.

And then season two rolls up and stares that morality problem right in the face, and talks about everything I thought was missing from season one.

Back in the Hood

Oliver commits to not killing any more, and takes on a new name to reflect that: The Arrow. After six months away, he returns to Starling City at Diggle and Felicity’s request. In the wake of the earthquake, Starling City has gotten a wave of new vigilantes, born out of the anger over the destruction in the Glades. The quake also resulted in the escape of several prison inmates, including Oliver’s season one enemy The Count, and new rogues like the Dollmaker, a serial killer who asphyxiates women and turns them into dolls. Oliver’s mother Moira is on trial for her part in the conspiracy to destroy the Glades and for the 503 people who lost their lives in the earthquake.

A group of hooded vigilantes from the Glades murder the mayor, prompting the Glades’ Alderman Sebastian Blood to run to replace him. On the surface, Blood is fighting for all the right things in Starling City, and he convinces Oliver to help him. In fact, he is the leader of the Church of Blood, and is working to build an army using the super solder serum Mirakuru. Blood wants to rule the city, and he’s working with Slade to do it. Flashbacks reveals that back on the island, Slade fell in love with Shado, and he blames Oliver for her death. Not long after Fyres and his men were defeated, the twisted Dr. Ivo, who is experimenting with the Mirakuru serum, arrived at the island aboard a boat. Also on the boat is Sara Lance, who is revealed to have survived the shipwreck and was rescued by Ivo. In a confrontation, Ivo forces Oliver to choose between Shado’s life and Sara’s. Oliver chooses Sara, and Slade blames him for Shado’s death. Badly injured, Slade’s life was saved by being given the Mirakuru serum, but it warped his mind, leaving him zealously committed to destroying Oliver’s life for his role in Shado’s death. Slade’s attack against Oliver is coming from every angle. He is also behind corporate shark Isabel Rochev’s hostile takeover of Queen Consolidated, a move meant to weaken Queen’s support system.

Oliver is shocked to discover that one of the new vigilantes in town, Black Canary, is Sara Lance. While Oliver knew that she survived the boat crash, he later saw her die on the island and believed her to be dead. After her apparent death, Sara was taken in by the League of Assassins, and trained to kill. Hearing of the earthquake in the Glades, Sara went on the run from the League in order to make sure her family was safe. Nyssa, her lover and Ra’s Al Ghul’s daughter, arrives in Starling City to try to bring her back. Nyssa poisons Laurel and kidnaps Sara’s mother, Dinah, in order to force her to return. Unable to handle the killing that being assassin involves any longer, Sara begs Nyssa to let her go, and swallows a vial of poison. Nyssa releases her from her oath, and Oliver manages to save Sara with an antidote. The fact that Sara is alive is revealed to her family, and Lances begin the slow process of healing. Laurel and Oliver’s relationship remains strained throughout the season, with Laurel spiraling deeper into alcohol addiction over her guilt over Tommy’s death, her anger at Sara, and her rage at the Hood for not saving Tommy.

Thea’s boyfriend, Roy, who has been fascinated by the Arrow and going out to fight on his own time, gets nabbed by Brother Blood and dosed with Mirakuru. Only one out of five people survive the dose, but Roy makes it, awakening with super strength and uncontrollable rage. Oliver is forced to reveal his identity to Roy in order to help him, and begins to train him to use his new powers. Oliver failed to help Slade deal with the effects of the Mirakuru on the island, and he starts looking for a cure.

Malcolm Merlyn is revealed to be still alive and meddling with Moira’s trial, having survived his fight with Oliver at the end of season one. Malcolm ensures that Moira is acquitted, and after the trial he tells her that he knows that Thea is his daughter.

After being acquitted, Moira decides to run for mayor, but her candidacy is ended when Slade captures her and Thea. Demanding that Oliver choose between them, Moira begs Slade to spare her children and kill her. Slade obliges her. Slade tells Thea about her parentage, and also reveals Oliver’s secret identity to Laurel.

Danger On All Sides

Meanwhile, Amanda Waller at Advanced Research Group United Support (A.R.G.U.S.), which deals with major threats like the League of Assassins and the Church of Blood, has been building a squad out of dangerous enemies like Deadshot, equipping them with spine-mounted bombs to keep them in line. With Slade’s army near ready, Waller decides to level Starling City with a drone strike to prevent the Mirakuru army from leaving the city.

The Arrow team, along with Nyssa Al Ghul and reinforcements called in from the League of Assassins by Sara, take on Slade, Isobel Rochev, and his army. Armed with an antidote to the Mirakuru, Oliver demands that no one be killed. The antidote is effective, but Oliver can’t get close enough to Slade to inject him with it, and so he and Felicity set a trap, pretending that Oliver loves her in order to trick Slade into kidnapping her. With Laurel and Felicity held hostage, Slade again asks Oliver to choose, and Felicity delivers the cure to Slade’s neck while he is distracted.

As payment for the reinforcements, but also as her choice, Sara returns with Nyssa to the League of Assassins. Slade is locked up in an A.R.G.U.S. high security facility under a hatch on the island (breathe easy, Lost fans) and things seem to be ending well for once for the Arrow team. Oliver has proven that he can be a hero by stopping Slade without killing, though at a high cost. Back in Starling City, Thea, who has become disillusioned and bitter over the season due to nearly everyone in her life lying to her, goes to join the one person who seems to be telling her the truth: Malcolm Merlyn. After wishing Sara well, Laurel and her father Quentin are bonding, when suddenly he staggers. Internal bleeding from the confrontation with Slade’s men has him gasping for air on the ground.

And that’s that! Check out the trailer for season three, tune in to the CW at 8 pm ET on Wednesday, October 8 for the season three premiere, and then come on back here for my review!

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