You have failed this city.

Oliver Queen (Stephen Amell) lives a double life. By day, he runs his billion-dollar corporation and attempts to hold his dysfunctional family together; by night he suits up in green leather and tools around Starling City on his motorcycle opening up multiple cans of whoop-ass on a series of deranged freaks.

His greatest challenge lurks in the shadows, however. It’s someone from his past, nursing an undying slice of blood vengeance, and committed to taking away everything Oliver holds dear, before finally snuffing him. That man is Deathstroke.

Arrow grabbed my attention when I reviewed the previous season. I was enamored by the grittiness of the series and the shrewd storytelling. As someone unfamiliar with the comic book character of Green Arrow, I was caught up in his origin story thanks to the solid work by Amell and the character progression opened up by the writers. The first season was all about Oliver as the vigilante and the guy racked up an impressive body count. A major character death at the end of the first season changes his approach to combating evil and the second season is about how he transforms from a vendetta-fueled killer to a full-on hero with a gooey moral center.

Fear not: the grittiness remains. Yes, that adjective has been driven into the ground as a descriptor for contemporary comic book movies, but it makes sense here. This is a guy minus superpowers who, like his comrade Batman, is simply a ripped dude who maxed out his mortal potential. All of the action is grounded hand-to-hand mayhem, and I haven’t seen any show that’s ever done it as well as Arrow. Each episode features at least one gonzo beatdown scene, nicely-choreographed and sometimes wire-enhanced, but best in class by a mile.

Thankfully all this great action is given proper narrative and character backing. The core of “Team Arrow” is boosted with the introduction of Black Canary (a righteous pugilist in her own right) and the gradual development of Arsenal, Arrow’s traditional sidekick. As nice it is to see some more DC players given burn, I did lament a loss of storytelling focus of the original occupants of the Arrow cave, Felicity (Emily Bett Richards) and John (David Ramsey). They don’t totally disappear, but I’d gladly trade in a scene or two of Canary-angst for some more time spent with these two.

The guts of Season 2, however, involve the arrival of Slade Wilson (the great Manu Bennett, Spartacus: Blood and Sand), better known as Deathstroke. And what an arrival. The guy is money from start to finish, and when he’s outfitted in that armor, it’s geek bliss. He was so good he deserves his own spin-off series; what self-identifying comic aficionado wouldn’t tune into that serialized smackdown?

As is the playbook on Arrow, the real-time action is supplemented with flashback scenes from the island where Oliver Queen was stranded, met Wilson, and cut his teeth as a survivalist. The island stuff is hit-or-miss, but I was pretty locked into what the Starling City stories had to offer (with one notable exception). The two-part finale is nicely bombastic, completing the steady build-up that had been promised in the final third. A good season for a good show.

Warner Bros’ Arrow: The Complete Second Season (Blu-ray) delivers a sterling audio/visual presentation, kicking off with a beautiful 1.78:1, 1080p transfer, rendering all that dark, urban action with excellent clarity. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix is aggressive and sweeping. Extras: deleted scenes, the 2013 Comic-Con panel, a Season One recap episode, gag reel, and featurettes on Oliver’s transformation to hero, the visual effects and the wirework.

There’s one big demerit: Katie Cassidy’s Laurel Lance, currently the worst series regular on television. Shrill, condescending and meddlesome, Laurel continues her dubious run from the first season and somehow manages to become even more of a train wreck. The showrunners are enamored with her for some reason and it looks her role will expand next year. I guess that’s what the fast-forward function on the DVR is for.

THE VERDICT
Not guilty. Floing! (I’m assuming, that’s what the sound effect of an arrow flying through the air sounds like.)

 

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