REVIEW: HEROES – SEASON 4

Starring

Hayden Panettiere (Nashville)
Robert Knepper (Izombie)
Jack Coleman (Spawn)
Zachary Quinto (Star Trek)
Milo Ventimiglia (This Is Us)
Masi Oka (Get Smart)
Greg Grunberg (Alias)
Cristine Rose (How I Met Your Mother)
Adrian Pasdar (Supergirl)
James Kyson Lee (Sleepy Hollow)
Ali Larter (Final Destination)
Sendhil Ramamurthy (Beauty and The Beast)

Robert Knepper in Heroes (2006)

Recurring / Notable Guest Cast

Dawn Olivieri (The Vampire Diaries)
Madeline Zima (Crazy Eyes)
Ray Park (G.I. Joe)
Deanne Bray (Universal Signs)
Elisabeth Röhm (Angel)
Ashley Crow (Minority Report)
Jimmy Jean-Louis (Arrow)
Lisa Lackey (Planet of The Apes)
Rachel Melvin (Sleepy Hollow)
Saemi Nakamura (The Truman Show)
Zeljko Ivanek (The Event)
Louise Fletcher (Star Trek: DS9)
Rick Worthy (Duplicity)
Swoosie Kurtz (Mike & Molly)
Tessa Thompson (Westworld)
Christine Adams (BLack Lightning)
Ernie Hudson (Ghostbusters)
Candice Patton (The Flash)
Jayma Mays (Paul Blart: Mall Cop)
Danielle Savre (Boogeyman 2)
Santiago Cabrera (Big Little Lies)
Danica Stewart (Passions)
Andrew Connolly (Patriot Games)
Ravi Kapoor (Bones)
Todd Stashwick (The Originals)
David H. Lawrence XVII (Lost)
Kate Vernon (Battlestar Galactica)
Tamlyn Tomita (The Eye)
David Anders (Izmbie)
Sasha Pieterse (Pretty Little Liars)
Eric Roberts (The Finder)
K Callan (Lois & Clark)

Deanne Bray in Heroes (2006)

The first season of Heroes remains a landmark moment in television. Taking Watchmen’s ‘if superheroes existed’ thesis to its natural conclusion, the show’s realisation of the ultimate nerd fantasy of ordinary people with extraordinary powers and subtle nods to comic book tropes was a revelation, producing one of TV’s all time great villains, the delightfully menacing Sylar. Then it all fell apart.Masi Oka in Heroes (2006)The fun, frenetic pace of the first season was almost completely absent from its follow-up. In a jarring and completely misjudged shift of tone, the show became more about the nefarious dealings of the mysterious ‘Company’ and less about character development and the simple joy of watching a cheerleader mend her own bloody and broken shinbone. (The season also introduced the worst superpower ever: the ability to kill by dilating your pupils.) Admittedly, this was partially as a result of the 07/08 US writers’ strike, but the show never recovered critically, haemorrhaging viewers at an alarming pace. In following this unmitigated disaster, Tim Kring and co attempted to return to the heart of what made the show such a blast in the first place and, a handful of ridiculous plot points aside, they have been reasonably successful. However, viewers had lost faith and THE show was officially axed by NBC.Robert Knepper in Heroes (2006)However, with the fourth and final season going back to basics, as well as injecting some much needed warmth and depth into several previously underdeveloped characters, Heroes definitely went out with a bang. Season four follows the characters attempts to return to normality following the tragic events of Nathan Petrelli’s death at the hands of Sylar. In an attempt to keep his death a secret, psychic ex-cop Matt Parkman enters an unconscious and powerless Sylar’s mind, convincing him he is Nathan. All does not go to plan, however, as Sylar’s subdued consciousness worms its way into Matt’s head, taunting him and attempting to force Parkman to restore his identity by any means necessary.Robert Knepper and Zachary Quinto in Heroes (2006)Hiro Nakamura, previously just a loveable, if highly one-dimensional, comic book nerd, is finally given some depth, after discovering he is terminally ill with a brain tumour. Following a mysterious encounter with shadowy carnival owner Samuel Sullivan (played to creepy perfection by Prison Break’s Robert Knepper), Hiro decides to use his time travelling powers to change tragic or regretful moments in his past, often to destructive effect. The majority of the plot revolves around the arrival of Samuel’s peculiar fair. As self-healing cheerleader-turned-fresher Claire Bennet soon discovers, it is much more than a travelling freak show. The carnival is a tight knit group of ‘heroes’ travelling under the radar. However, as Samuel tries to convince Claire to join his family, things may not be as they appear.Hayden Panettiere and Madeline Zima in Heroes (2006)With season four, the creators have finally realised what it is viewers loved about Heroes in the first place. Like all good comic books, the series is a rollercoaster ride, with an engaging (if a tad stupid) plot, and a plethora of dastardly villains. Characters are given conflict that, for a change, is genuinely thrilling. Hiro’s awful dilemma is particularly heartbreaking, bringing some essential empathy to what was previously the show’s increasingly tired comic relief. Although it may have proven too little, too late for casual viewers, the season is a worthy farewell to what deserves to be remembered as one TV’s most enjoyable shows.

 

REVIEW: HEROES – SEASON 3

Starring

Milo Ventimiglia (This Is Us)
Adrian Pasdar (Supergirl)
Jack Coleman (Spawn)
Sendhil Ramamurthy (Beauty and The Beast)
Cristine Rose (How I Met Your Mother)
Zachary Quinto (Star Trek)
Hayden Panettiere (Nashville)
James Kyson Lee (Sleepy Hollow)
Masi Oka (Get Smart)
Greg Grunberg (Alias)
Ali Larter (Final Destination)
Dania Ramirez (Mojave)

Sendhil Ramamurthy in Heroes (2006)

Recurring / Notable Guest Cast

Brea Grant (Halloween II)
Ashley Crow (Minority Report)
Željko Ivanek (X-Men: Apocalypse)
Jamie Hector (All Eyez on Me)
Ntare Mwine (Treme)
Blake Shields (The Hollow)
Robert Forster (Automata)
David H. Lawrence XVII (Lost)
Kristen Bell (The Good Place)
Randall Bentley (Upside)
Jimmy Jean-Louis (Arrow)
Malcolm McDowell (A Clockwork Orange)
Alan Blumenfeld (Pathology)
George Takei (Star Trek: TOS)
Dan Byrd (28 Days)
Francis Capra (Veronica Mars)
Noah Gray-Cabey (My Wofe and Kids)
Demetrius Grosse (The Rookie)
Lisa Lackey (Planet of The Apes)
Eric Roberts (The Finder)
Adair Tishler (Dollhouse)
Stephen Tobolowsky (Groundhog Day)
Bruce Boxleitner (Supergirl)
Loren Lester (Red Eye)
Jessalyn Gilsig (Nip/Tuck)
David Anders (Izombie)
William Katt (Carrie)
Seth Green (Family Guy)
Breckin Meyer (Garfield)
Taylor Cole (The Originals)
Aarti Mann (The BIg Bang Theory)
Justin Baldoni (Jane The Virgin)
John Glover (Smallville)
Swoosie Kurtz (Mike & Molly)
Kevin Alejandro (Arrow)
Kenneth Choi (Spider-Man: Homecoming)
Diana Scarwid (Psycho III)
Ravi Kapoor (Bones)
Edwin Hodge (Red Dawn)
Alexa Nikolas (Red State)
Cam Clarke (The Lion Guard)
Ellen Greene (Little Shop of Horrors)
Clint Howard (Apollo 13)
Michael B. Silver (Jason Goes To Hell)
Michael Dorn (Star Trek: TNG)

Hayden Panettiere and Milo Ventimiglia in Heroes (2006)I love the concept of a weekly show about people dealing with superpowers and an evil government agency coming to get them. I also really like that it doesn’t shy away from the violence, especially when it comes to the ruthless power collecting ultimate bad guy (who at times shows his good side) Sylar. What I don’t like is how scattered and uneven this show has become. I dare anyone to try and make sense out of the first half of the season titled “Villains”. The only crime committed was a lack of concern for a coherent plot. Luckily the second half of the season “Fugitives” got the show focused in and back on track. More after the jump…Masi Oka, James Kyson, and Brea Grant in Heroes (2006)The first half of the season “Villains” was advertised with big campaigns claiming that this season “Heroes will battle Villains.” I was super stoked because the way my mind pictured the structure of the show was switching the narrative focus over to the villains and showing the events through their perspective making all the good guys side characters. I realize this sounds a bit ambitious, but coming off of a lackluster sophomore season I thought the creators were pulling out all the stops. This is not what happened. Instead what came out of the first half was a jumbled, messy plot that had moments of brilliance mixed in with a heavy dose of confusion. I still was thoroughly entertained, but I’m an easy sell when it comes to anything comic book oriented.Zachary Quinto in Heroes (2006)The plot of “Villains” centers around the revelation that Arthur Petrelli is in fact alive and planning some dastardly things at Pinhearst, in his search for the catalyst (the nebulous source that gave all these characters powers). If Arthur can get his hands on the formula then he can create a whole slew of super humans to do his bidding. This is a pretty cool plot, especially when a ton of super baddies are released from Level 5 during a crisis leading to HRG and Sylar teaming up to round them up. Sylar has a lot of moral issues this season as he grapples with his true nature, is he a monster or was he programmed by the Company to be this way?Jack Coleman in Heroes (2006)There are some really fun things he gets to do this season, especially the buddy cop-esque episode where he and HRG are trying to stop a bank robbery being held up by super villains. The plot gets confusing when time travel keeps being thrown in and the actual source of the catalyst was jumbled for me. Is it Claire or Hiro’s mother or both or just a formula? I have no idea. There’s also a two-part episode where another eclipse happens and they all lose their powers. I understand why in the dramatic arc of the story this was put in, but it’s not fun to watch superheroes without powers and these two episodes dragged a bit. I liked the initial idea and towards the end the showdown with Arthur and the Petrelli boys is great, but this half loses steam here and there with just too many ideas on the table.Now comes the second half of the season “Fugitives,” which I thought was awesome! Nathan outs himself to the President as being a person with abilities and is then put in charge of rounding up all people like him in the interest of Homeland Security. Nathan’s motives are a bit sketchy, has he turned to the Dark Side or is this all a way to help Claire, or is it a way to work the system from the inside and eventually destroy it? I’m not telling, but there are a decent number of twists throughout. The reason this half of the season works so much better is because there is a clear through-line and the story is way more focused. Basically it’s the U.S. government versus everyone with abilities, as villains team with heroes and the lines of good and bad are blurred to fight a bigger enemy that threatens all their existence. It’s also a classic comic book plot that works well for a reason, because it seems realistic that this is how our government would react if living Weapons of Mass Destruction started popping up all over the country.Hayden Panettiere, James Kyson, and Brea Grant in Heroes (2006)“Fugitives” has a clear bad guy in the ruthless Agent Danko, who will stop at nothing to detain and sometimes simply destroy anyone with abilities. HRG and Angela start playing both sides and their characters have some great moments. Sylar takes a trip down memory lane to try and find out who his real parents are and some interesting new developments come up leading him down a darker path then before. And Sylar acquires his best power yet, when he kills a shape-shifter, could he be any more unstoppable? While Nathan grapples with the morals of the decisions he’s made and how to fix this manhunt he’s started. Not to mention a great deal is revealed when the gang of heroes goes to Coyote Sands to find out about a mysterious project called “Icarus” which turns out to be a concentration camp for people with abilities where some pretty bad stuff went down. Lots of action, suspense, twists, and a more focused plot makes “Fugitives” a bad ass return to form for a series that has had some ups and downs, but is still dear to my nerdcore heart.Hayden Panettiere, Masi Oka, and James Kyson in Heroes (2006)The first half of season three meandered a bit, but was still fun to watch. The second half reminded me why I started watching the show in the first place and gives a great deal of hope for season four, especially with the cliffhanger we were left with at the end of “Fugitives.” Let’s just say it won’t be politics as usual this coming season…

 

REVIEW: HEROES – SEASON 2

Starring

Milo Ventimiglia (This Is Us)
Jack Coleman (The Vampire Diaries)
Masi Oka (The Meg)
Greg Grunberg (Alias)
Adrian Pasdar (Agents of Shield)
Hayden Panettiere (I Love You, Beth Cooper)
Noah Gray-Cabey (My Wife and Kids)
Ali Larter (Obsessed)
Sendhil Ramamurthy (Beauty and The Beast)
David Anders (Izombie)
Kristen Bell (The Goood Place)
Dania Ramirez (Mojave)
Dana Davis (10 Things I Hate About You)
James Kyson Lee (Sleepy Hollow)
Zachary Quinto (Star Trek)

Masi Oka in Heroes (2006)

Recurring / Notable Guest Cast

Jimmy Jean-Louis (Arrow)
Adair Tishler (Dollhouse)
Stephen Tobolowsky (Groundhog Day)
Shalim Ortiz (Grand Hotel)
Nicholas D’Agosto (Gotham)
Katie Carr (A Perfect Man)
Eriko Tamura (Dragonball Evolution)
Cristine Rose (How I Met Your Mother)
Ashley Crow (Cake)
Dianna Agron (Glee)
Barry Shabaka Henley (The Terminal)
Holt McCallany (Justice League)
Lyndsy Fonseca (Agent Carter)
George Takei (Star Trek: TOS)
Dominic Keating (Star Trek: Enterprise)
Randall Bentley (Upside)
Adetokumboh M’Cormack (Lost)
Nichelle Nichols (Star Trek: TOS)
Tohoru Masamune (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles)
Mark Christopher Lawrence (Chuck)
Alan Blumenfeld (Wargames)
Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa (Mortal Kombat)
Elya Baskin (Spider-Man 2)
Leonard Roberts (Smallville)
Rena Sofer (Traffic)
Sabrina Perez (Terminator: TSCC)
Saemi Nakamura (The Wolverine)
Joanna Cassidy (Blade Runner)
Jaime Ray Newman (The Punisher)

David Anders and Masi Oka in Heroes (2006)Initially, I wasn’t watching Heroes when it aired on TV, though I did manage to catch the first season when it came out on video, and I was amazed. I think it did a couple of things exceptionally well. Combining the nature of a hero and villain into the framing of a comic book, it managed to capture the feeling of serialized television at a level that not many shows reach. Almost every week, you were left with a scene that made you immediately want the next seven days to go by as fast as humanly possible. Additionally, creator Tim Kring made the heroes global. While many were in America, one was located in Japan and spoke Japanese with his friend. I don’t recall a prime-time show devoting an entire storyline to one foreign-speaking character in awhile, but I don’t watch as much as others to know for sure.Katie Carr and Milo Ventimiglia in Heroes (2006)Nevertheless, Heroes has captured the hearts and minds of many, and Season Two was full of expectations following the Season One cliffhanger, where Nathan Petrelli (Adrian Pasdar, Judging Amy saved his brother Peter (Milo Ventimiglia, Rocky Balboa) from blowing up the world by grabbing him and flying the brothers into the atmosphere while Peter’s niece/Nathan’s biological daughter Claire (Hayden Panettiere, Remember The Titans) watched from below. The first episode of Season Two found the characters in many different positions. Peter was alive but severely burned. Claire was starting school in California, away from the comforts of Odessa, Texas, but under the watchful eye of her father Noah (Jack Coleman) and away from the mysterious yet diabolical “Company.” Nathan’s friend Matt Parkman (Greg Grunberg, Alias) was becoming a New York Police Detective and staying with Mohinder (Sendil Ramamurthy) while the two raised Molly (Adair Tishler, Pop Star). Niki (Ali Larter, Legally Blonde) seemed to have her power under control and has D.L. (Leonard Roberts, Drumline) and Micah (Noah Gray-Cabey, Lady in the Water) with her as well. Finally, remember that Japanese character I spoke of earlier? Well Hiro (Masi Oka, Get Smart) is in 17th century feudal Japan, wondering what it is exactly that he’s doing there. And Sylar (Zachary Quinto, Star Trek) was last seen crawling into a sewer, never to be seen again?Dania Ramirez and Shalim Ortiz in Heroes (2006)It’s from here that things get a little complicated. Kring, Executive Producer Jeph Loeb and the rest of the show’s cast and crew listen to fan feedback and truly take it to heart, and I’d be remiss to not mention Kring’s interview with Entertainment Weekly in which he seemed to creatively say “My bad!” when discussing the viewers’ reaction to the second season. Among the things discussed were the character development of new heroes and villains, which might work in other places, but not when you have an already established cast of characters. To borrow from another show for a second (specifically Lost), if the fanbase is there, you can get away with dropping in a new character or two, and bring character development along at your own pace. Do we know all there is to know about Ben’s backstory? And he’s been on the island for a couple of seasons now. The balance between keeping a new character fresh while advancing the older characters’ arcs is a challenge, but maybe virtual abandonment wasn’t the best way to go for Kring. It also didn’t help Kring that Maya and Alejandro were his version of Nikki and Paolo either. With the exception of Elle (Kristen Bell, Veronica Mars), Kring would have been better suited to keep the familiar faces more at the forefront. But hey, what’s done is done.Kristen Bell in Heroes (2006)There were other elements of the show that Kring rued over as well, but one other thing that occurred that impacted the show and was out of his control was the Writers’ Guild Strike which forced Kring to curtail the season, along with a story arc that would have had apparently significant ramifications, if the supplements on this set are any indication. The main stories for Season Two surrounded the characters’ physical and emotional states after their initial mammoth confrontation, but also for several older cast members who were being stalked and eventually eliminated by a hero with a grudge. And hovering over everyone’s heads was a virus that, if released, would have wiped out the world, as Peter finds out in a flash forward of sorts.David Anders in Heroes (2006)Upon further review, perhaps Season Two of Heroes doesn’t deserve as much scorn and ridicule as it’s received. If we were to examine the season as a living breathing figure, it would be comparing it to someone who committed murder, but in the time after the act, showed remorse for the act and the loss. When it starts to take tangible steps on the road to recovery, the townspeople put down their pitchforks and torches, but the murderer gets hit by lightning before the townspeople can accept or forgive him. As a post-script to all of this, the moral of the story appears to be that you can learn from your mistakes, and Kring debuted the Season Three episode at the 2008 Comic Con in San Diego. The show hit the ground running after nine months in creative cold storage, but there are still components of it that make revisiting Season Two a slight prerequisite, so spend the time in doing so.Eriko Tamura in Heroes (2006)One of the reasons why I devoted so many words to Heroes is that, well, there’s a lot to talk about. It’s worth revisiting Season Two not only for what happened, but for what might have been as well. The storylines are decent, and the band came back for another tour so to speak, and with this presentation you get solid technical specs and a multitude of extra material. Fans of the show should snap this up promptly.

REVIEW: ARROW – SEASON 1 & 2

CAST

Stephen Amell (The Vampire Diaries)
Katie Cassidy (Black Xmas)
Colin Donnell (Chicago Med)
David Ramsey (Pay It Forward)
Willa Holland (Legion)
Susanna Thompson (Dragonfly)
Paul Blackthorne (The Dresden Files)
Emily Bett Rickards (Brooklyn)
Manu Bennett (Spartacus)
Colton Haynes (Teen Wolf)

RECURRING / NOTABLE GUEST CAST

Colin Salmon (Limitless TV)
Jamey Sheridan (The Ice Storm)
Annie Ilonzeh (Beauty and The Beast)
Brian Markinson (Izombie)
Derek Hamilton (Disturbing Behavior)
Hiro Kanagawa (Heroes Reborn)
Kelly Hu (The Vampire Diaries)
Ty Olsson (X-Men 2)
Byron Mann (Dark Angel)
Roger Cross (First Wave)
Euegen Lipinski (Goosebumps)
Michael Rowe (Tomorrowland)
John Barrowman (Reign)
Currie Graham (Agent Carter)
Kyle Schmid (The Covenant)
Sarah-Jane Redmond (V)
Jessica De Gouw (Dracula)
Jeffrey Nordling (Tron: Legacy)
Tahmoh Penikett (Battlestar Galactica)
Sebastian Dunn (The Other Half)
Andrew Dunbar (Leprechaun: Origins)
Danny Nucci (Eraser)
Ben Browder (Stargate SG.1)
Christie Laing (Scary Movie 4)
Patrick Sabongui (The Flash)
David Anders (Izombie)
Ona Grauer (V)
Adrian Holmes (Smallville)
Agam Darshi (Sanctuary)
James Callis (Battlestar Galactica)
Rekha Sharma (Dark Angel)
Chin Han (The Dark Knight)
Janina Gavankar (True Blood)
Alex Kingston (Flashforward)
Anna Van Hooft (Flash Gordon)
Celina Jade (The Man with The Iron Fists)
Seth Gabel (Salem)
J. August Richards (Angel)
Summer Glau (Firefly)
Dylan Bruce (Heroes Reborn)
Caity Lotz (The Machine)
Michael Jai White (The Dark Knight)
Kevin Alejandro (Ugly Betty)
Bex Taylor-Klaus (Scream: The Series)
Teryl Rothery (Stargate SG.1)
Aubrey Marie Anderson (The Unit)
Jimmy Jean-Louis (Heroes)
Cle Bennett (Flashpoint)
Dylan Neal (Sabrina: TTW)
Cynthia Addai-Robinson (Spartacus)
David Nykl (Stargate: Atlantis)
Sean Maher (Firefly)
James Kidnie (Robocop: The Series)
Katrina Law (Chuck)
Michael Eklund (Bates Motel)
Nicholas Lea (V)
Robert Knepper (Cult)
Tara Strong (Batman: The Animated Series)
Lochlyn Munro (Little Man)
Jorge Vargas (Power Rangers Ninja Storm)
Carlos Valdes (The Flash)
Navid Negahban (Legion)
Danielle Panabaker (Sky High)

Image result for arrow pilotAfter turning the story about Clark Kent’s evolution from humble teenager to world’s greatest hero into one of the most successful science fiction TV series of all time, what exactly do you do for an encore? The obvious answer would be a series about a young Bruce Wayne. Or maybe a crime procedural starring the men and women of the Gotham City Police Department. Instead, The CW gave us Arrow, a series that simultaneously explores Oliver Queen’s first months as a vigilante hero and the painful hero’s journey he undertook while stranded on a remote island. Even considering Green Arrow’s popularity in Smallville and Justice League Unlimited, it wasn’t the most obvious choice. Nor was it the choice many DC fans wanted. But ultimately, it was a choice that paid off.

To their credit, they succeeded. Even right off the bat, there were many notable elements that he writers introduced into the Green Arrow mythos. Generally a loner in the comics, here Ollie was given a full family and circle of allies. Some were inspired by characters from the comics, while others were entirely new creations. Probably the most successful new addition was John Diggle as Ollie’s personal bodyguard-turned-ally in his war on crime. Watching the dynamic between Ollie and Diggle morph from cold and hostile to warm camaraderie was a treat. And the two sequences featuring Diggle in the costume rather than Ollie suggested that this show could have a life beyond that of its lead character.Image result for arrow pilotAmell’s performance grew stronger over time, and the subtle ways in which he distinguished his performances during the present-day and flashback scenes stood out.With other characters, it was more a question of the scripts shedding light on motivation and relationships before they really came into their own. This was certainly the case with Moira Queen (Susanna Thompson), who was a bit of a hard sell as a sympathetic mother figure until viewers came to understand her role in “The Undertaking.” Similarly, Tommy Merlyn (Colin Donnell) came across as a fairly flat and unimportant character at first. But by the end of the season, Tommy had emerged as the emotional heart of the series and Donnell’s one of the strongest performances.Jessica De Gouw in Arrow (2012)Felicity Smoak (Emily Bett Rickards) was endearing, her instant charm made fans fall in love with her making her a regular was the best choice when they headed into season 2. As Laurel, Katie Cassidy was excellent as future Black Canary, dealing with her emotions of seeing her former boyfriend back from the dead and the lost of her sister.  Structurally, the season started out strong and finished even stronger. The writers managed to weave together an overarching narrative as Ollie slowly uncovered the truth of The Undertaking and his own parents’ involvement while contending with various smaller villains and conflicts. Anchoring the series throughout were the frequent flashbacks to Ollie’s five years on the island. The pilot episode offered a tantalizing glimpse of what had transpired over the course of those five years with the Deathstroke mask discarded on the beach. Various plot twists revealed just how complicated that story is, teaming Ollie with Slade Wilson (Manu Bennett) and Shado (Celina Jade) in an ongoing guerrilla war against mercenary leader Edward Fyers (Sebastian Dunn). Particularly once Slade entered the picture and his bond with Ollie became a major focal point, the flashbacks emerged as one of the strongest elements of the show.

Everything in Season 1 culminated in two climactic episodes as Ollie fought for the survival of Starling City in the present and to stop Fyers from sparking an international incident in the past. These episodes offered a satisfying blend of big action scenes and emotional character showdowns. In particular, the final scene between Ollie and Tommy that closed out the season was perhaps the best the show has delivered so far.

Right off the bat, “City of Heroes” set the tone and direction for Season 2. We saw a despondent Ollie still crushed by the death of his best friend, Tommy, and having retreated to the island in a self-imposed exile. Though Colin Donnell only briefly reprised his role as Tommy this season, his character was very much a lingering presence driving the actions of Ollie and Laurel throughout the year. And his death formed the crux of Ollie’s renewed mission. It was right there in the revised opening sequence – “To honor my friend’s memory, I can’t be the killer I once was.” And that, more than Ollie’s battles with Slade Wilson or Sebastian Blood or Isabel Rochev, was the core conflict of the season. It’s easy enough to fight criminals by shooting them dead. But could Ollie muster the strength and the courage not to kill, even if it meant putting himself, his family, and his city in greater danger? It was a struggle, but the most satisfying element of the finale was the way Ollie definitively answered that question and established himself as a better class of vigilante.Manu Bennett in Arrow (2012)Overall, Season 2 was a good showcase for Stephen Amell’s acting talents.  Ollie was haunted by demons and shouldering heavy burdens throughout the year. He suffered more often than he succeeded, and Amell conveyed that pain well. Most impressive was the way Amell was so capable at portraying Ollie at different periods in his life. We saw plenty more of Ollie’s life on the island in the various flashback scenes. Having already spent a year fighting for his life against men like Edward Fyers and Billy Wintergreen, flashback Ollie was closer to the man he is in the present, but not all the way there. And we even caught glimpses of a pre-island Ollie, most significantly in “Seeing Red.” More than the changes in hairstyle or fashion, it was Amell’s purposeful shifts in vocal intonation and body language that differentiated the different versions of Ollie.Having established himself as one of the better supporting players in Season 1, it was very gratifying to see Manu Bennett step fully into the spotlight and become the big antagonist of Season 2. That’s despite him not even being revealed as the secret mastermind of Brother Blood’s uprising until the mid-season finale, “Three Ghosts.” But it was crucial that the show spend so much time, both this season and last, in building up the brotherly bond between Ollie and Slade and the island. We needed to feel the pain of seeing them broken apart and Slade become a vengeful villain hellbent on tearing his former friend’s life down. And it wasn’t until much later still that we saw how that rift occurred and Slade turn his wrath against Ollie. It’s a testament to both the writing and Bennett’s acting that the character never quite lost his aura of sympathy even as he murdered Ollie’s mother and tried to do the same to Felicity. This was a man driven half-mad by the loss of the woman he loved and an injection of a super-steroid. But conversely, I appreciated how the finale took pains to establish that it wasn’t just the Mirakuru fueling Slade’s anger. Even now, super-strength gone and exiled back to the island, Slade is a clear and present danger to Ollie’s world.Three GhostsThe show introduced Sebastian Blood and Isabel Rochev as Slade’s subordinates, with Blood serving as the most visible villain for much of the season. I really enjoyed Kevin Alejandro’s portrayal of Blood. Alejandro’s Blood was so disarmingly charming that it was often difficult to reconcile him with the masked man kidnapping drug addicts and turning street thugs into super-soldiers. Ultimately, Blood became the sort of villain who does the wrong things for the right reasons. He had an honest desire to make Starling City a better place. And when it became clear to him that Slade Wilson wouldn’t leave a city left for him to rule, Blood did the right thing and aided Team Arrow.Most of the increasingly large supporting cast were given their moments to shine in Season 2. I was often disappointed that Diggle wasn’t given more to do, but at least he was able to take a starring role in “Suicide Squad.” Diggle’s backseat status was mainly the result of Sara Lance stepping into the limelight early on and eventually becoming the fourth member of Ollie’s vigilante crew. The Arrow had his Canary finally. Sara’s own struggles with the desire for lethal force and reuniting with her family often made for good drama. But among Team Arrow, it was often Felicity Smoak who often had the best material.  Emily Bett Rickards had much better material to work with this year, whether it was her unrequited love for Ollie, her burgeoning relationship with Barry Allen, or her desire to pull her weight alongside her more physically capable allies. The final three episodes all featured some standout moments for Felicity as she established herself as a force to be reckoned with.
Elsewhere, Roy Harper was often a focus as he transitioned from troubled street punk to superhero sidekick. Roy’s temporary super-strength powers were a welcome story swerve and a fitting physical manifestation of his inner rage. His character arc received a satisfying conclusion in the finale when he proved himself worthy and received his own red domino mask, but lost Thea as a result.As for the various women in Ollie’s life, Felicity and Sara aside, Season 2 was a little more uneven. Moira definitely had an interesting ride. She started out Season 2 fighting for her life while on trial for her role in the Undertaking. Then, in an unlikely turn of events, she was spurred to run for mayor. And finally, her life did end when she became a pawn in Slade’s cruel game. It was a terrific finish for Moira, proving once and for all that, whatever wrongs she committed, she was only ever trying to ensure her children’s survival. Thea was more up and down throughout the season. She was often underutilized, but received a boost late in the season when she learned the truth about her parentage. Laurel’s character  had her own crucible this season, spiraling into into drug and alcohol addiction and losing her job before hitting bottom, rebounding, and playing her part in saving Starling City.The Mirakuru drug served as a plausible, pseudo-scientific way of introducing super-strength and allowing Slade to transform into Deathstroke. And even when it came time to introduce the Flash midway through the season, Barry Allen never felt too out of place alongside the more grounded characters. Season 2 really opened the floodgates as far as drawing in characters and elements from other DC properties. Barry Allen’s debut was the most high-profile, but we also saw plenty more of Amanda Waller and A.R.G.U.S. “Professor Ivo became a recurring villain, along with a very different take on Amazo. And in a welcome twist, it turned out that even the Batman franchise is fair game with this show. Early on we learned of Sara Lance and Malcolm Merlyn’s connection to the League of Assassins. Nyssa al Ghul appeared in a couple of episodes, and we know her father is out there in the world, leading his shadowy organization in the hidden city of Nanda Parbat. Even Harley Quinn had a brief cameo.And beyond the introduction of all these new elements, the scope of Arrow really opened up in Season 2. The action was bigger and better choreographed. The scale of the conflicts was bigger. The producers simply seemed to have more money to throw around. And whether that was actually the case or just the result of experience and planning, the end result was the same. Arrow became a bigger, more cinematic TV series this season.