Arrow-LogoIt’s dark in the forest, as the thick trees obscure almost every trace of sunlight. The wind blows the leaves together, and the noise drowns out any sign of life. Suddenly, a new sound breaks through the forest canopy, something mechanical, and it’s getting closer. A twig snaps, and from nowhere a figure bolts through the trees. He runs and runs as the foliage smacks against his impossibly ripped physique that is just not fair when compared to regular and perfectly adequate guys. He heads for a rocky outcropping and bursts through the trees on the edge of a cliff. He reaches the edge and stops running; his body glistening with sweat in a way that totally doesn’t look like it was applied from a spray bottle by some adoring PA. There’s a plane in the sky, and it’s come for him. Oliver Queen, the Green Arrow,

Last time television viewers saw Oliver Queen, his best friend had just died, the love of his life had left him, his mother was headed to jail, and his home city literally blew up in front of him. The second season premiere of Arrow picks up several months later, and Oliver has returned to the island he was trapped on for five years. Before he was stranded there, but now he’s returned as some sort of self-exile after failing to stop Malcolm Merlyn from blowing up the Glades neighborhood in Starling City. Now Diggle and Felicity, his trusty sidekicks in the fight against crime, have come to bring him back, but not as the hooded vigilante, but as the head of Queen Industries. The company is the subject of a hostile takeover, and Oliver must return to the city to defend his family legacy. Of course stuff starts blowing up pretty quickly and soon Oliver is back in the green hood doing his best-Batman voice by the end of the episode.

At first glance, it seems like Arrow is repeating itself, as the opening moments mimic those of the series premiere from a year ago. Oliver returns home after being stuck on his island, and has to reconnect with his family and work to rebuild the Queen family name. But the moment he arrives back in Starling City, it’s clear that things are different. The city is in ruins, his mother is actually facing the consequences of her actions instead of shirking all responsibility, his sister Thea has taken control of his nightclub/secret lair, and her boyfriend has become addicted to saving people and desperately wants the vigilante to return. Over with the Lance family, Detective Quentin has been demoted to Officer after teaming up with the vigilante, while Dinah, the love of Oliver’s life, pops up for like four minutes and seems oddly unaffected by the fact that her boyfriend died and her other boyfriend disappeared. Again.

This is really the set up episode, and a whole smorgasbord of story points are introduced throughout. To their credit, the writers of Arrow have really embraced the status quo change after the destruction of the Glades. There’s no denying or trying to downplay the events, instead it was the biggest thing that ever happened in Starling City, and the lives of every single person on the show have been dramatically affected. One of the most interesting elements of the new status quo is the rise of other vigilantes, ostensibly inspired by Oliver’s actions, but in reality are little more than thugs hiding behind the false image of justice. It makes sense that others would mimic the Hood, he’s not Superman flying through the sky shooting laser from his head. He’s just a regular guy in costume, and Oliver is forced to deal with the unintended consequences and wonder what exactly the difference between them is. Oliver’s main goal upon his return, however, is to save his family company from a hostile takeover by Stellmoor International, led by the ruthless Isabel Rochev, portrayed by fan-favorite Firefly alum Summer Glau. She’s like a female Lex Luthor, brilliant and dangerous, but with just a bit more sexual tension thrown in.

Despite the major status quo change, some of the negative aspects of Arrow’s first season have carried over. There is still the constant hint of melodrama punctuated by some overly dramatic music, especially when Dinah shows up, if only to constantly emphasis the tragic nature of their relationship. The only problem is that Oliver and Dinah have the least amount of chemistry between them of any pairing in the show. There are more sparks between Oliver and Diggle than he has with Dinah. The show actually seems to tactfully acknowledge this, as sidekick Felicity has progressed from nerdy/quirky/comic relief girl into full look-how-actually-gorgeous-I-am-when-I-let-hair-down mode. And hopefully this season Stephen Amell will have the chance to play Oliver in a different way than constantly weighed down from the heavy burden of justice.

After the explosive over-the-top finale last year, Arrow had set the bar pretty high for itself. The creators behind the show made the smart decision to avoid going for even more spectacle and instead focus on the surprisingly real consequences of vigilante justice and domestic terrorism. By raising the question of how Oliver’s ruthless and fatal style makes him any different than the masked gunman who are kidnapping and ransoming the rich and powerful, Arrow reveals it’s rather lofty ambitions. Oliver, by virtue of his training and self-assigned mission, sees himself as a soldier but when others do similar things he views them as little more than thugs. The character arc the season premiere has set up for Oliver presents him with two choices: to be a soldier, or be a hero.

Despite the usual amount of CW-ness thrown on top of it, Arrow continues to be a surprisingly good show. The season premiere is sure to please fans, as it actually deals with wide ramifications of last season’s finale, highlights fan-favourite characters and sets up new goals for them, and introduces new plot twists instead of rely on the same dynamics and themes as last season. That, and Oliver takes his shirt off in the first two minutes. Arrow clearly wants to grow larger, and the premiere does a great job presenting a show that is on surprisingly firm ground, while also having ambitious plans for the future.