Last season, Arrow took Oliver Queen to the verge of becoming something more than a mere vigilante on a deadly mission to save his city. But before he could take the next step into becoming a full-fledged hero, the Hood, Arrow or the Vigilante – whatever you like to call him – found his resolve tested in a way he never thought possible, and the first season of The CW's biggest hit in years wound up ending on a surprisingly dour note that also made a sometimes goofy superhero procedural feel more legitimate and grounded.
As season 2 opens up with 'City of Heroes,' Arrow is first tasked with getting the audience caught up on where everyone stands, how much time has passed, how Starling City plans to deal with the aftermath of the Undertaking, and the revelation that Malcolm Merlyn had planned to kill thousands in the first step of creating his new vision for the city. That's a lot of exposition to handle, and to the credit of Greg Berlanti, Andrew Kreisberg and Marc Guggenheim, they manage to work through it quickly and in an entertaining fashion that includes Oliver swinging from a tree to pluck Felicity Smoak from being reduced to a smoldering pair of eyeglasses after she inadvertently steps on a land mine.
Beginning season 2 back on the island Oliver left in the series premiere is a nice touch (Deathstroke mask and all), and a way to ease into the sometimes-choppy transition that comes from switching the main narrative to the flashback sequences. But it's a skill the series is going to have to learn after promoting Manu Bennett from guest star to series regular.
As with the present day story, the flashbacks have made a small jump in time, long enough that Stephen Amell has been fitted with a new, less awkward-looking wig for when he gets to play a semi-green (pun!) Oliver Queen, who is straddling the fence between defenseless billionaire playboy and newly-trained killing machine. This maturation of the character in these flashback sequences leads to a demonstration of Oliver's ferocity and his growing competence with regard to his hand-to-hand combat skills; but, more importantly, it is tied closely into the present day issue of Oliver's reluctance to don the green hood out of respect for Tommy's memory – or at least because he no longer wishes to take lives for the sake of his mission.
To their credit, Berlanti & Co. avoid using Tommy's death too overtly, but they also know that in order for it to mean something beyond last season's finale there needs to be some sort of carry over. Here, Arrow manages to weave nearly all of the threads running through 'City of Heroes' through the ramifications of the destruction of the Glades and, by extension (for Oliver and Laurel, anyway), the death of Tommy Merlyn.
While Oliver struggles with the social fallout of Moira being publicly connected to the Undertaking – which partially comes in the form of a potential hostile takeover of Queen Consolidated by ruthless businesswoman Isabel Rochev (Summer Glau) – he is also struggling with the emotional and ethical fallout of his inability to stop Malclom and prevent his friend's death. Although this could have been a simple and familiar comic book trope of the hero turning from his destiny because of the weight of all the lives he couldn't save, the episode does a decent job in presenting the idea that shunning his alter ego completely would have more disastrous long-term results for his city and the people he loves than the simple dearth of a single hooded vigilante.
Oliver finds the Vigilante's absence has created a vacuum of sorts, one that a gang of copycats has eagerly decided to fill. While the Hoods are a temporary, yet dangerous threat that must be reckoned with – they manage to assassinate the mayor, infiltrate Queen Consolidated's boardroom and kidnap Thea – the more dangerous aspect caused by the Vigilante's disappearance actually refers to the idea that was created by Oliver when he first donned the green hood and started shooting one percenters who had failed Starling City. By making Oliver's first adversaries this season victims of Malcolm's earthquake machine, the premiere suggests that in post-Undertaking Starling City, the idea of someone battling social injustice by operating outside of societal and legal norms is somehow not only a good thing, but it's also something that just about anyone can become.
This is reflected not only in the violent gang cavorting around in the name of the Hood, but also in the continuing adventures of Roy Harper: Boy Vigilante and, probably to a greater degree, the mysterious blonde haired woman who jumped to Roy's defense after a trio of street toughs looked to be gaining the upper hand in a fight against him. Whatever Oliver thought he stood for at the end of season 1 and again at the beginning of 'City of Heroes,' it's clear his actions have captured the imagination (and fists) of people all over Starling City – and perhaps beyond.
Season 2 starts off by illustrating the physical and emotional wounds that were inflicted on account of Malcolm Merlyn's Undertaking and, to a lesser extent, Oliver Queen's failure in completely stopping it. But 'City of Heroes' isn't only interested in examining the lingering effects of the last season's events; it's also interested in what will be the next stage of a hero's evolution. The episode spends a great deal of time and expends some clunky dialogue in getting the point of Oliver's new no-kill (or at least try-not-to-kill) policy across. By the end, it's pretty clear the message has been received.
It's an unsurprising, but logical step in the maturation of not only Oliver Queen, but of the show itself. It will be interesting to see where this leads the series in the coming weeks.
Arrow continues next Wednesday with 'Identity' @8pm on The CW. Check out a preview below: