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Ranking All 8 Seasons Of The CW’s Arrow

It’s been quite the run for The CW’s Arrow.  This year marks the eighth season for the show, and while many fans may have faded over the years, I feel it is the show that started the major superhero movement on the small screen.  I somewhat see it as what Batman 89 did for the superhero genre on the big screen.  It was a starting point and even worked as a catalyst for many of the other shows we have today.

The show gained popularity in its first few seasons and paved the way for many others to follow, not only with DC, but Marvel as well, spanning cable TV and streaming services alike.  Once the Arrowverse was established, it also led to the groundbreaking crossover events that continued to raise the bar over the years. In honor of the series finale of Arrow coming this week I thought we would take a look back at all eight seasons and rank them from worst to best.  I will also categorize them by villain(s) since we all know that a show is only as good as its evil antagonists.

8.) Season 4 — Damien Darhk

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Yikes.  Season 4 is where I think most people started to jump ship with the show.  Up to this point, the seasons were dark, gritty, and fairly straightforward, which is what made such good storytelling.  The realistic grounding began to fade with Season 3, but Season 4 took it to a whole new level.

The season began by focusing on Oliver and Felicity’s new life together, which also started the big Olicity push that most fans were opposed to. Season 4 introduced a villain who was supposed to rival even the great Ra’s al Ghul!  Unfortunately, what we got was a guy with wise-cracking one-liners and magical powers in the form of Damien Darhk and H.I.V.E.  I was initially excited about the inclusion of H.I.V.E. only for the overall plan to be a rehash of Season 1.  Although The Glades was not the target, the entire city was, so that a new Utopian city could emerge…meh.

The mid-season cliffhanger was actually really interesting and had huge potential.  I remember watching and thinking, “alright, now we are going somewhere,” only to be extremely let down. Felicity and Oliver are driving off one evening only to be surprisingly t-boned by a car then being shot at, resulting in Felicity taking some bullets!  Many thought this was the end of Felicity, but she ended up being paralyzed and resemble DC’s Oracle for a little bit of time before rushing her back to her feet (literally). This is where I really began to notice the writers rushing their storylines and creating quick fixes for plot points that could (and should) have been given more time.

Constantine made an appearance to help Oliver, but once again the focus on magic takes away from the original grittiness of the series.  The season finale was by far one of the most anticlimactic.  The city was about to be destroyed…again…while Oliver and Darhk duke it out in the streets in a fairly boring choreographed fight scene.

I give the show credit for trying something new, but in the process, they completely changed the original identity of the show.

7.) Season 7 — Ricardo Diaz / Emiko Queen

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Season 7 actually had some great potential, and if they would have followed through it would have been much higher on the list, but once again fell victim to a disjointed storyline. The first half of the season had Oliver in Slabside Prison with the inmates knowing he was the Green Arrow.  I thought they may rush this idea like they did when Barry Allen was in prison, but they actually did well and I enjoyed it more than I thought, seeing as Oliver was not able to don the hood.  It was good storytelling and did have a bit of an Arkham Asylum feel to it. Ricardo Diaz was at his best in the early part of this season.  He did such a great job of always having a one-up on Oliver, and I feel that he was one of the more underrated villains in the series.

These all seem like positives, so why is it so low on the list?  Well, for starters we didn’t see much of the Green Arrow.  Even though the Slabside storyline was good, it focused more of the team on the outside doing the work, which never really interested me because it took away from our primary hero. Speaking of Slabside, why was Talia al Ghul there, only to help Oliver escape and then never be seen again? The LongBow Hunters were briefly brought in as well, but this was another storyline from the comics that could have spanned a majority of the season as well, but was reduced to extended cameos.

Season 7 struggled because the approach where they had a secondary villain begin the season then transition to the primary villain was dropped and they had two primary villains.  Diaz had been a mainstay to fans for a season and a half only to switch to Emiko Queen, who they dropped the ball with.

Originally I thought the female archer was going to be a reincarnated Shado (which would have been awesome), but when I found out it was Emiko Queen, Robert Queen’s illegitimate daughter from an affair (which paralleled Malcolm and Moira’s affair-child, Thea).  Emiko looked to be working for a man named Dante and the Ninth Circle (an international elite criminal organization). If they would have followed the source material, they could have had more success.

In the comics, the Ninth Circle did exist and consisted of Dante, Virgil, and Robert Queen being the founding member with Moira Queen as a member as well.  What awesome potential this had!  Unfortunately, they took the quick way out. Emiko ended up being the leader of the Ninth Circle, killed Dante and was mad at Oliver because of misdirected anger and the resentment she had for Robert completely neglecting her and her mother.

We did find out that she was the reason the Queen’s Gambit went down (thanks to help from Malcolm Merlyn), but this wasn’t capitalized on either. Roy returned, which was great, but it wasn’t enough to save the season. In the end, Emiko is killed and while dying has her revelation and tells Oliver she is sorry.  Blah. This was another prime example of what happens when the showrunners began to over complicate the stories and rush tying together loose ends.

6.) Season 8 — Anti-Monitor

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I don’t really hate this season. It isn’t awful, but it has been used to set up the crossover event and the Green Arrow and the future spin-off.  This makes sense seeing as there are a limited number of episodes and it is the final season.   The first seven episodes were building to the crossover event.  There were some great appearances from seasons past such as  Susanna Thomspon’s Moira Queen, Jamey Sheridan’s Robert Queen, Willa Holland’s Thea, and Paul Blackthorne’s Quentin Lance, but the story comes across as overly complex and jumpy at times.  The complexity of the storytelling is what hurt Arrow in its later seasons.  While Oliver and Diggle were trying to figure out The Monitor’s plan there was a good deal of earth jumping which made it difficult to follow.

Since the crossover event, we have had the backdoor pilot of Green Arrow and the Canaries in order to promote the spinoff.  I wasn’t particularly fond of the episode.  I just couldn’t get interested in it and I still don’t like the quick fixes that the show relies on.  For instance, Mia gets a brain dump from Laurel and Dinah and miraculously knows how to fight from the brain dump, yet technically those memories never exited with the new earth…but whatever.

This is a major digression in comparison to Oliver’s training over a couple of seasons (and flashbacks) from Yao Fei and Slade as well as Sara being trained by the League.  I am looking forward to the series finale as I feel we will get a good deal of fun appearances and nods across the eight years of the series.

5.) Season 6 — Cayden James, Black Siren, Anatoly Knyazev, Vigilante, Ricardo Diaz

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Season 6 started with a whimper from that fallout of Season 5 (which I will touch on later). The series took a different approach since the villainous archer story had been played out (until Season 7…) and they tried something new by having five villains working together.  It was an interesting, but odd pairing. Cayden James, Black Siren, Anatoly, Vincent Sobel (Vigilante) and Ricardo Diaz all had their strengths, which was a new approach to taking down the city and Oliver who is now the sole provider for his son, William.

Eventually, the odd-man-out was actually in charge the entire time.  Ricardo Diaz seemed like hired muscle who didn’t get much screen time, but he was the man with the plan.  As the rest of the villainous group begin to fade away, Diaz remained on top and flexed his muscles taking over The Quadrant, a group of mafia families, in order to establish his dominance. Episode 19, “The Dragon” was the best of the series as the focus was not on Oliver, but Diaz showing viewers his past which made him into the bitter, angry man we knew.  The episode did a great job of giving the character depth, as well as some sympathy from fans, in a different approach to their typical character development, or lackluster explanations.

What put this season at the number five spot for me was that the Helix dynamic didn’t work.  The show began to become overly techy which was difficult to follow.  Maybe I was just too dumb to understand their technical lingo, but it seemed like a way to give Felicity a more dominant role, but people speed talking using technical jargon become overly annoying.

Another rushed area ending with more questions that were never to be answered with any certainty involved the return of Slade Wilson, which would have made this season higher if they would have followed through with the storyline.  Slade returned and tracked down his son, Joe Wilson, who was a part of the criminal organization the Jackals.  Unfortunately, once the two found each other, they disappeared after a couple of episodes never to be seen together again.  I wish they would have focused on the Jackals this season.  Any time Slade returned ratings went up, but it was not meant to be.

4.) Season 3 — Ra’s al Ghul

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I was somewhat indifferent about this season.  It started to stray from the realistic foundation that set Seasons 1 and 2 apart, but that was to somewhat be expected with the incorporation of Ra’s al Ghul.  The season wasn’t bad, but I struggled because I felt like it was a plot that Bruce Wayne/Batman had been in and they just adapted it for Oliver.

We knew that Sara had ties to the League of Assassins, which is where she had her training, and the incorporation of Nyssa al Ghul was welcome.  Most assumed Talia would come in to play, but Nyssa was the surprise.  Ra’s gave Oliver 48 hours to find Sara’s killer which lead to the mid-season finale consisting of Ra’s and Oliver in hand-to-hand combat at the top of a cliff.

The episode ended with Oliver being stabbed by Ra’s looking as if he was falling to his death.  The mid-season finale was anticlimactic for me seeing as we knew our hero had to be alive somehow, so there wasn’t much of a twist.

The remainder of the season consisted of Team Arrow, now with a “trained” Laurel due to her couple sessions with Wildcat (rushed storyline again)… tracking Brick (played wonderfully by Vinnie Jones), and the nice return of Malcolm Merlyn. The Suicide Squad was also present in this season, but it really wasn’t enough to push it over the edge for me. Oliver goes through what it takes to become the next Ra’s al Ghul (Batman anyone?), but obviously tricks Ra’s before defeating him.

This was the first time the flashbacks were not on Lian Yu, but moved to Hong Kong where Oliver was tracking the Omega Bio Weapon. The flashbacks had been so good and interconnected to the present-day plot that this season it felt forced and lacking cohesion.

The high points of the season consisted of Matt Nable’s portrayal of Ra’s al Ghul, and viewers finding out that Thea killed Sara due to her father, Malcolm, drugging her in order to pit Oliver against Ra’s, but overall the season was a bit too predictable, a masked page from Batman comics and didn’t have the lasting power of the first two.

3.) Season 5 — Prometheus aka Adrian Chase

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This is probably the ranking that most people may disagree with me. Another season that I thought was going to be great, had a some good potential, and even though it had its issue it replicated the first season and went back to its roots.

They reused a formula that worked.  Have a secondary villain at the beginning of the season building to the primary villain around the mid-season break,  then finish with the antagonist that was behind the events from the beginning.  Tobias Church looked to be the main man trying to take down the city. He overpowers Oliver’s new team of Curtis, Evelyn Sharp and Wild Dog (which they focused on a bit too much at times) but then the mysterious Prometheus makes his presence felt leading fans to speculate the connection to Oliver. The identity of Prometheus had the rumor mill running wild.  I personally thought it was Tommy Merlyn, but I was definitely wrong.

There were other characters introduced this season including Human Target for an episode and Vigilante. Adrian Chase initially seems like a stand-up DA only for viewers to find out that he has Oliver’s number in his public life as mayor, but his personal life as Green Arrow.  I initially thought Chase was Vigilante, only for the twist to be that he was Prometheus!  Again the show had elements of leading the audience in one direction, then turning those expectations on their heads.

Chase had been stalking Oliver, murdering people in the exact ways Oliver did when he was The Hood.  Why? Well Oliver killed Chase’s father, so it was revenge, but the way he went about seeking retribution wasn’t only physical but extremely psychological for Oliver which was a major positive for the season. You know the villain is strong when Oliver enlists the help of not only Team Arrow, but ARGUS, the SCPD, and the Bratva.

Another twist occurred was when we found out that Chase had infiltrated Oliver on every level, even within his own team. Evelyn Sharp was actually working for Chase all along! In order for Oliver to take down Chase he had to travel back to Lian Yu and enlist the help of unlikely allies in the form of Nyssa al Ghul, Malcolm Merlyn, Digger Harkness (Captain Boomerang) and Slade Wilson (when Oliver went to the Lian Yu prison with the Deathstroke mask and you heard Slade’s voice, it was completely awesome)!  Meanwhile, Chase had the aid of Black Siren, Evelyn Sharp, and Talia al Ghul!  It was a pretty awesome showdown.  Oh, and while this was happening there were also bombs covering the entire island that were set to detonate.

The show finally had brought back some intrigue and anticipation that it hadn’t had in some time mainly because it reverted back to its darker roots, better storytelling, returning popular characters and focused on Oliver.  In the end, we didn’t know who would be a casualty of the island (until the next season) but Chase made Oliver choose between his friends or his son, William.

Oliver chose William leading to Chase blowing up the island then committing suicide.  It was pretty intense.  The main gripe I had was that somehow Samantha (William’s mother) Malcolm Merlyn, and apparently Evelyn Sharp were the only casualties from an entire island exploding and in later seasons we would revisit Lian Yu which looked fairly untouched.

2.) Season 1 — Dark Archer aka Malcolm Merlyn

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The season that started it all.  It was definitely good.  There was a good story, character development, intrigue, questions, twists, and it was fairly simple which made the storytelling that much better. Stephen Amell, John Barrowman and Manu Bennett were the standout performers when the series aired in 2012.

Billionaire playboy, Oliver Queen, headed out on the Queen’s Gambit with his father.  Amell played the arrogant, entitled playboy extremely well.  His portrayal honestly made me irritated with the character.  He was in love with his girlfriend, Laurel Lance, or so we thought, until we see who he decided to bring on the Queen’s Gambit with him, Sara Lance, his girlfriend’s sister. Wow, that was low!

From there, the ship goes down (thanks to Malcolm Merlyn) apparently losing Sara, leaving Oliver and his father on a raft where Robert kills himself in hopes of giving Oliver a better chance of survival. He leaves with Oliver a mysterious book of names, which is key over the next two seasons.

The flashbacks to Oliver’s time on Lian Yu were excellent and were just as intriguing as the present-day plotline.  We see Oliver’s transition from naive playboy to trained survivalist thanks to Yao Fei and Slade Wilson.

Other positives from the season include Oliver’s emergence as “The Hood”, extreme vigilante, the introduction of The Huntress, Count Vertigo, Deadshot, and Oliver and Diggle’s early relationship. While the flashbacks were my favorite part of this season, the primary storyline was just as strong.  Oliver being brought back from the dead (figuratively), his relationship with Laurel, and best friend Tommy Merlyn, is completely changed with the emergence of Malcolm Merlyn’s plan to destroy The Glades with the rest of society’s elite, including Moira Queen! Borrowman does such an amazing job blackmailing Moira and challenging Oliver publicly and privately as the Dark Archer.

The season finale was outstanding.  It looked as if Quentin Lance (Laurel and Sara’s father) was going to sacrifice himself for the city, but in a twist, the Markov device goes off and destroys The Glades.  This was great because usually the villain’s plans are thwarted, but Malcolm’s actually came to fruition, which correlated well to Oliver being young in his new role of vigilante. One could assume that more experience could have changed the outcome.

The show ends on a major cliffhanger, which made waiting for Season 2 seem to last forever. With the “defeat” of Malcolm, The Glades were destroyed and resulted in the death of Oliver’s best friend, and Laurel’s boyfriend, Tommy.  The death scene was emotional and took Oliver into a psychological battle as he felt he was at fault for his friend’s demise.  The unanswered questions involved the dynamics between Oliver, Tommy, Laurel, Sara, Lance and the Queen’s would still need to be tied up. Those loose ends would come back into focus with the best season of the series…

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1.) Season 2 — Deathstroke aka Slade Wilson

If you’re reading this article then you probably guessed that this would be number one.  Season 2 was an extension of Season 1, but had the luxury that the majority of character development was taken care of in the previous season so established characters and storylines could now be explored with much more depth. The flashbacks and present-day intertwined well showing the initial breakdown of Oliver and Slade’s relationship which boiled into their present-day conflict. Politician, Sebastian Blood, looked as if he would be the primary villain at the beginning of the season, but Slade was waiting in the wings.

Season 2 brought the introduction of new characters who were all connected to Oliver in some way. Sara Lance returned in the flashbacks showing that she had in fact not died when the Queen’s Gambit went down.  She and Oliver looked to find a way off the island, which led into trouble where Oliver was forced to make a choice over who would die:  Shado (Yao Fei’s daughter and the love interest of Oliver and Slade) or Sara.

Anthony Ivo held Oliver, Sara, and Shado, and when Ivo told Oliver to choose, he went to shoot Sara but Oliver put himself in the line of fire turning Ivo’s attention to Shado, killing her. This scene was one of the best in the series due to the anticipation it created for the audience and compares with another scene later in the season involving Moira Queen.  Slade blames Oliver for Shado’s death and also ends up being enhanced by Ivo’s Mirakuru drug leading to a volatile Slade Wilson.

In the flashbacks, Sara gets swept away on the Ivo’ ship, Amazo, but returns years later to become the vigilante Canary. This was also a great move because she and Oliver’s story paralleled each others. We also find out that she was trained by the League of Assassins and was a lover of Nyssa al Ghul, Ra’s daughter.  This was a great way to bring in the League and it also established how Sara was trained so well as Oliver was under Slade and Yao Fei.

This is a concept that the series lost as the seasons progressed.  Laurel was trained over a couple of episodes by Wildcat and Mia regained her training by a brain dump.  At this stage, the writers had a long-term, well thought out plan.  It was simple, which is why it succeeded. Season 2 also had Roy Harper trained under Oliver leading to the eventual Arsenal and his negative connections to Mirakuru. Barry Allen was introduced as well, which was used as a backdoor pilot to The Flash leading to its own series the following October.  It was a hell of a season!

In the middle of the season, Manu Bennett takes over, and damn is he good. He makes his way into Oliver’s life and I was completely and utterly shocked the moment he kills Moira Queen in front of Oliver paralleling Oliver’s choice between Sara and Shado years earlier. There were moments in the season that completely drew the viewer in emotionally. A Mirakuru enhanced Slade dons the Deathstroke outfit and it was everything we could have hoped for!  Even though he was defeated at the end of season, Bennett’s portrayal of the character kept me wanting more and whenever Deathstroke was in an episode of Arrow after Season 2, the ratings usually increased.

RELATED – Arrow: Felicity Smoak Returning For Series Finale

Seasons 1 and 2 definitely set the bar high for the other seasons and they didn’t quite make it there.  Season 4 seemed to be the most detrimental which was when some of the fanbase began to move away from the show.  It did get better at times, but once the storylines became more complex, the writing seemed to fade because plot holes could be found all over the place.  The simplicity of the first couple seasons made it so the writers could focus on the interconnected flashbacks and primary storylines, which lead to more depth and overall a better show.

Even with my rankings, this Tuesday will be an extremely bittersweet day.  I will miss Arrow.  It kick-started so much of what we have today and is the only CW show I have honestly kept up with consistently.  Thanks to the writers, actors, and actresses for eight great, fun years.

What do you think of the rankings?  Am I way off?  What would your rankings be and why? Leave your thoughts in the usual spot, and thanks for reading!

The series finale of Arrow airs this Tuesday, 01/28 a 9 p.m. on The CW.

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