Without Arrow, the amazing superhero universe on The CW simply wouldn’t exist. The grounded and gritty approach to the Green Arrow character hit at the right exact time on the network, and it has since expanded out to an incredibly fun multiverse of interconnected heroes all wearing pleather or something like it. It's easy to think fondly about Arrow because of this accomplishment. This is especially true after experiencing season 5, as it was without a doubt the best season in Arrow’s 100+ episode history. It has been a long and rocky road with Oliver Queen, though.
As much we’d all like to forget the dark ages that were seasons 3 and 4, they remain blights on the show’s history -- blights that turned out some real duds in the series' episodic quiver. While those middle seasons are Arrow’s blindspots, they are not the only bad patches in Oliver Queen’s journey. Every season, even season 5, has had some bad episodes.
Even with all that Arrow has given superhero fans, in the immortal words of the Facts of Life theme song, you have to take the good with the bad. We've already counted down the best episodes of Arrow, so without further ado here are the 15 Worst Episodes of Arrow.
15 “Eleven Fifty-Nine” (4x18)
Arrow fans knew that one character, probably a very important one, was going to die before everything was said and done in season 4, as the premiere closed on a flash-forward of Oliver (and Barry Allen) standing in front of someone’s grave. Towards the end of the season, the show finally delivered on its ominous promise, but it left many fans wishing they hadn’t even bothered.
In a mundane confrontation with villain Damien Darhk, Laurel Lance, otherwise known as the Black Canary, was stabbed and later died in the hospital. Laurel's demise finally comes in “Eleven Fifty-Nine”, an episode crafted entirely around shock value.
While the performances in Laurel’s final episode are strong and the emotion of her sudden departure is keenly felt, it isn’t a satisfying end to the character. Laurel meets her maker because a character had to die due to the flash-forward. Overall, it's a very weak death for a character as iconic as Black Canary. Damien Darhk stabs Laurel in the side, and Arrow characters have recovered from far worse than Laurel's apparently fatal blow. Arrow seemed to recognize the mistake of killing Laurel too, as Katie Cassidy was quickly brought back on The Flash as an Earth-2 version of Laurel, and later joined Arrow season 5 as the same character.
14 "The Sin-Eater" (5x14)
Occurring in the awesome season 5, “The Sin-Eater” should have been an equally awesome episode. “The Sin-Eater” saw female villains of Arrow's past (Cupid, China White, and Lady Cop) team up to take on the new Team Arrow. All of the evil ladies were unremarkable or downright annoying in their solo appearances, but the combination could have made them better than the sum of their parts. It did not, not even close.
“The Sin-Eater” gets points for giving us some new Black Canary action courtesy of Dinah Drake, and for adding some logs onto the Prometheus story fire, but nothing else. The connection to tie Lady Cop to Quentin Lance and his work with Damien Darhk falls flat. Cupid is as grating as ever, and China White, as per usual, adds very little. It's suggested that the ladies could team up again at the end of the episode, but it is better for everyone involved if they stay as far away from each other (and the audience) as possible.
13 "Blast Radius" (2x10)
Arrow is no stranger to casting actors with some geek friendly backgrounds. It was no surprise then when Sean Maher of Firefly fame was cast to play the villain Shrapnel in season 2. As good and creepy as Maher was as Shrapnel, the episode around him is a total waste. Arrow tries to raise the stakes for a standalone villain, with Shrapnel threatening to blow up a whole crew and Oliver himself, but it never really goes off, in more ways than one. Maher doesn’t get enough screen time before being quickly dispatched.
It doesn’t help that “Blast Radius” also falls in that time where season 2 was featuring some of its weakest storylines. Roy was stupidly trying to hide his vigilante activities from Thea and failing, while Laurel was in her extreme anti-Arrow mindset and failing to be at all endearing the audience. Arrow season 2 is very strong overall, but “Blast Radius” contains some of its weakest elements in one miserable package.
12 "The Magician" (3x04)
Nyssa al Ghul’s return to Arrow in the beginning of season 3 should have been a reason to cheer. Instead, "The Magician”, which serves as Nyssa’s first episode of the messy season 3, is a confusing drag.
Nyssa arrives in Star(ling) City after learning that Sara Lance has been killed. She correctly assumes, though no believes her, that Malcolm Merlyn killed Sara, so Nyssa becomes a one-woman wrecking crew in the search for Sara's killer. “The Magician” turns Ra's al Ghul's youngest daughter, a complicated and incredibly cool character, into a one-note, violent machine of vengeance.
“The Magician” also serves as a turning point in Malcolm Merlyn’s character. He'd started off as an entertaining recurring antagonist, but “The Magician” sets the stage for Malcolm becoming a frequent, albeit uneasy, ally of Team Arrow. It's an alliance that makes Oliver look reckless at best and downright foolish at worst. The biggest mistake, however, is that it takes away some of the mystique that made Malcom so compelling in the beginning.
11 "Suicidal Tendencies" (3x17)
Despite its ominous name, this is the episode where Lyla and Dig get married. But as you can imagine, an episode named "Suicidal Tendencies" means that things do not go well for the reunited lovebirds -- or for anyone watching at home, really.
“Suicidal Tendencies” is not a bad episode as much it is a messy and rushed one. The idea of Dig and Lyla having to participate in a super-secret mission as a part of Amanda Waller’s Suicide Squad is certainly interesting. The episode just has too many tonal changes and big moments coming at the audience way too fast. It moves from wedding to mission to the big surprise twist of Floyd Lawton AKA Deadshot with alarming speed.
While Lawton’s death is surprisingly emotional, it still feels cheap and rushed. It felt as if Arrow was simply wiping him off the board because the DCEU’s Suicide Squad movie was on the horizon, which of course was later confirmed by the cast and crew of Arrow, who mentioned that the TV Suicide Squad was nothing more than a test for the movie. The show couldn’t use the group or its characters in future outings due to overlap with the movie, and "Suicidal Tendencies" is the sloppy and premature wrap-up to their subplot.
10 "Schism" (4x23)
Neal McDonough was fantastic as Damien Darhk, and that's about the only praise that can be given to the season 4 finale, "Schism." With Darhk, Arrow wrote themselves into a corner by making him far too power for Oliver to take down, so there are a bunch of conveniences in the season finale to cause Darhk’s demise. This includes such winning moments like Oliver turning the whole city around with an underwhelming speech, or Felicity and Curtis having their hacking skills being upgraded to basically magic.
The worst part of “Schism”, though, is how it all wraps up. Damien and Oliver's showdown features some of the laziest choreography in the show's history. It’s like watching two toddlers with barely developed motor functions go at it, not two grown men who were both trained by the League of Assassins. Once Darhk is vanquished, Arrow quickly cleans out with the team, scattering them away. Thea decides to travel to find herself, Quentin skips town with Donna, and Dig chooses to be closer to his family -- by joining the army and traveling halfway across the world from them.
9 "Burned" (1x10)
Like most series, Arrow was really trying to find itself in season 1. There were plenty of things that were experimented with, and most of them didn't last. (Shoutout to Oliver’s awkward narration, which was dropped after a few episodes.) With “Burned”, the show was still trying to figure how to introduce standalone villains that weren’t really connected to the season-long narrative. There were apparently only two options open to Arrow in regards to a villain of the week format: they were either fun and light or entirely dark and serious. In “Burned”, the latter approach is taken, to terrible results.
“Burned” takes a Batman villain, Firefly, and tries to turn his campiness into melodramatic grit. It doesn’t work. Arrow season 1 always went for a grounded option when possible, but to take a villain as silly as Firefly and to turn him into a tragic figure was laughable. “Burned” is a truly dour episode, lacking any kind of life or momentum. The bad guy is stopped by the end, but not in a way that makes anyone feel like Ollie accomplished something great.
8 "The Secret Origin of Felicity Smoak" (3x05)
It’s a shame that Felicity, who is easily one of the show's top characters, got such a poor origin story. There's nothing wrong with the episode on paper. Felicity’s ex-boyfriend from her quasi-criminal past comes back to haunt her and the team. Felicity stands up to him and gets to show her growth, not only from this past we didn’t know about, but from her first appearance on Arrow. All that good stuff is in “The Secret Origin of Felicity Smoak”, but it's buried under some very poor execution.
The college aged Felicity and her goth appearance is a complete joke. Arrow's flashback wigs make their ugly appearance once again, and the whole flashback story is just downright cheesy. It doesn't help that Felicity’s evil ex-boyfriend, Cooper, is one of the most thinly drawn characters ever.
“The Secret Origin of Felicity Smoak” also doesn’t really seem to understand what makes her such a good character. It spends a lot of time devoted to Felicity's relationship with the men in her life and almost nothing else. Felicity is a fully developed and independent character on her own; it has nothing to do with her romantic relationships.
7 "The Huntress Returns" (1x17)
As mentioned in our best episodes of Arrow list, the introductory episode of Huntress/Helen Bertinelli is a solid one. It was the first-time fans were able to really see Stephen Amell’s Oliver Queen open up, and Jessica De Gouw’s Helena showed a lot of potential. In “The Huntress Returns”, all that potential from Helena is squandered.
Any depth found in Helena’s first appearance has been lost. The complicated woman from "Vendetta" has been replaced with an incredibly driven but incredibly dull character in "The Huntress Returns." She's a plot device more than she is a person, honestly.
Arrow tries to get the audience invested in Oliver’s romantic past with Helena, but it fails miserably. Huntress is too wild and too dangerous to be sympathetic -- or believable as a human being. Despite having an established backstory on the show, Helena comes off as incredibly one-dimensional. A big sigh of relief was breathed when the credits rolled, but only because it appeared that this storyline was over.
6 "This is Your Sword" (3x22)
The penultimate episode of season 3 hinges on the twist that Oliver has really been brainwashed by the League of Assassins. While there are some cool fight scenes where Oliver utterly dismantles his team, these sequences are not enough to build an episode around, and neither is a brainwashed Oliver. There is never any real tension to the betrayal, mostly because it's not at all believable that Oliver has truly turned the dark side. As a result, the audience is just treated to Team Arrow, mainly Felicity, crying and yelling at Oliver for betraying them for an entire episode.
“This is Your Sword” also introduces Ra’s al Ghul’s master plan. Ra’s tells Oliver that to become the next head of the League of Assassins, he must destroy his hometown. This not only steals a huge page from Batman Begins, where the idea is pulled off much more effectively, but it goes against everything we knew about Ra’s character up to that point on Arrow. The wise but ruthless warrior is replaced with yet another villain with designs on destroying Oliver’s city. The build-up to a season finale should excite the viewer, but "This is Your Sword" does almost everything to ruin interest and excitement.
5 "Vertigo" (1x12)
The aforementioned “Burned” takes a campy villain and tries to make him gritty and realistic. “Vertigo” goes in the exact opposite direction, and the result is even more horrid. The episode introduces Arrow’s first version of Count Vertigo, played by Seth Gabel. While Gabel is clearly having the time of his life playing The Count, he's probably the only one who's enjoying it.
This version of Vertigo is so over-the-top and loud that he feels like a better fit for the Joel Schumacher version of Batman films, not Arrow. Vertigo is a villain that the audience want to see defeated, but only because he is so very annoying. Every scene with his twitchy, energetic performance is an exercise in patience. Luckily, Oliver would eventually kill Vertigo in season 2, but not after making the audience sit through this stinker of an episode.
4 "Public Enemy" (3x18)
To make Oliver accept the duty of leading the League of Assassins, Ra’s al Ghul tried to make Oliver’s life as miserable as possible as the Arrow. In “Public Enemy”, Ra’s frames the hooded vigilante for attacking and killing the mayor. This is a smart move that quickly become incredibly dumb when Quentin Lance, head of the police, completely buys into the trap. After being Oliver’s ally for most of season 2 and 3, Lance reconnects with his hatred for the Arrow in a big way.
Lance leading the witch hunt for Oliver is an exhausting experience. Quentin does nothing but scream for almost the entire episode, and comes off like a petty moron. Quentin goes as far as to blame Ollie for everything wrong in his life, including Sara’s death, which diminishes Sara as her own person who made her own choices.
“Public Enemy” makes Quentin look bad, sure, but it goes down as a terrible episode of Arrow because it ignores nearly three seasons of character development. “Public Enemy” takes Quentin right back to the unlikable and whiny antagonistic role he filled in the first season. It's a terribly reduction and a complete disservice.
3 "Draw Back Your Bow" (3x07)
It's easy to recognize what Arrow was trying to do by introducing the villainous Cupid to the series. Believe it or not, there probably is a world where Cupid could be a ridiculous (but still fun) antagonist for Oliver and co. Arrow just doesn’t exist in that world.
“Draw Back Your Bow” is Cupid’s first Arrow episode ,and it's a doozy in all the wrong ways. The episode tries to build her up as a serious threat, but she is so idiotic that nothing she does can be taken seriously. Cupid looks to be shooting for campy fun, but she is more irritating than anything else.
There is much more wrong with this episode than the central villain, however, as “Draw Back Your Bow” also introduces Thea’s love interest of the season, Chase. Chase is a jerk that Thea should not put up with at all, but she keeps him around for reasons we cannot comprehend. Meanwhile, Ray continues to hit on Felicity in the creepiest and most unprofessional manner possible. But the true cherry on top of this dumpster fire arrives when Oliver throws a childlike tantrum when he sees Felicity and Ray kiss at the end of the episode.
2 "Broken Hearts" (4x16)
Another episode where Cupid is heavily featured and another episode that is an almost complete train wreck -- we can't imagine you're all too shocked at this point. While Cupid's involvement certainly doesn’t help the situation in “Broken Hearts,” she's actually not the episode’s problem. This outing is supposed to deal with Oliver and Felicity’s sudden breakup from the previous episode, but it fails on every level.
Oliver and Felicity are forced to stage their wedding to trap Cupid. Instead of this leading to any meaningful conversations, it's just the definition of awkward. Felicity and Oliver either make weird faces at one another or go on endless monologues about each other. Nothing is resolved, and oh hey, there goes an hour of your life!
The rest of the team isn’t much better, either. They are all far more focused on Oliver and Felcity’s breakup than the dangerous killer they're hunting. In the end, “Broken Hearts” is a soapy, illogical muddle of an episode. It's the show at its most indulgent and tiring.
1 "My Name is Oliver Queen" (3x23)
The worst season finale of Arrow to date also stands as the worst episode of the series. The episode is presented as if Oliver is finally enacting a master plan to take down Ra’s al Ghul, showing our hero at his most brilliant moment. The reality is that there are so many plot holes and conveniences factoring into Oliver’s victory over Ra’s that's kind of insane that this made it to air. Almost nothing makes sense, and the finale jumps from one big action scene to the next without really trying to justify anything or make the characters act in reasonable ways.
Oliver survives things that should easily kill him, like several shots from a high-powered sniper rifle. Felicity can suddenly control Ray Palmer's ATOM suit, though it took him almost a full season to master it, and Ra's al Ghul, one of DC's greatest supervillains, goes out in one the weakest fight scenes imaginable. "My Name is Oliver Queen" had a big season finale act to follow after season 2's "Unthinkable", so it was always likely to be a bit of a disappointment. "My Name is Oliver Queen" isn't just a disappointment, it's a disaster.
Do you agree? Are these the worst episodes Arrow has to offer, or have others fared worse? Sound off in the comments!
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