If you haven’t been watching Arrow, that’s okay. I mean, you’re just missing the best live-action comic book show on the air, but making bad choices is your right as an adult. But if you want to catch up before the Season 3 premiere on Wednesday at 8pm on the CW, here’s a primer from a man who would know, Arrow executive producer Marc Guggenheim. —Marc Bernardin
How do I not include this? Directed by David Nutter, who people (well, me) call the “Steven Spielberg of television,” Arrow’s premiere episode laid the series’ all-important cornerstone. It also set a bar for scope and production value that many thought the show wouldn’t be able to achieve on an episodic budget/schedule. But looking back, I’m proud to say that this episode seems small relative to what we’re doing on the show today.
“The Odyssey” (Ep. 1x14)
Notable for so many reasons, “The Odyssey” began what has become an Arrow tradition: Flipping the ratio of present day story to flashback material for a predominantly flashback episode. But the portion of the story that’s set in the present day is notable because this is the episode where Felicity (Emily Bett Rickards) learns that Oliver is the Arrow after he is shot in the chest by his mother — because that’s the kind of thing that happens on our show.
“Salvation” (Ep. 1x18)
During the first season of every show, the writers and producers hope for that one episode where everything not only comes together, but the show exceeds its pilot. One might argue that the aforementioned “The Odyssey” was that episode, but since it was a predominantly flashback — and, therefore, atypical — episode, I give the distinction of “exceeded the pilot” to “Salvation,” which is anchored by Alex Kingston’s Emmy worthy performance as the mother of then-thought-deceased-but-she-really-wasn’t Sara Lance. If you’re not rocked to your core by Alex’s heart-wrenching confession that her character feels responsible for her daughter’s death, you have no soul.
“Sacrifice” (Ep. 1x23)
Our first season finale. We took over the city backlot built for Watchmen for two days to film all the chaos caused by Malcolm Merlyn’s scheme. The episode is notable for being the first to prove that none of our characters are safe from death.
“League of Assassins” (Ep. 2x05)
In the previous episode, Oliver learned that Sara Lance (Caity Lotz) — who we’d come to know as “the Canary” — did not die in the Pilot. In this episode, Sara’s father — Quentin Lance, played by Paul Blackthorne — learns his daughter is still alive and the shockwaves of that discovery make for some of the most emotional moments in the entire series. (Trivia: Our composer, Blake Neely, titled his cue for Sara’s kiss with Nyssa (Katrina Law), “Best Scene Ever.”)
“The Scientist” (Ep. 2x08)
This episode is notable for introducing two series-changing elements to our show: Grant Gustin as inevitable Flash, Barry Allen, and the Mirakuru Serum which — to steal a phrase from the Internet — introduced super powers to the world of Arrow. Barry Allen would go on to be spun-off into his own series, The Flash, and the Mirakuru Serum would form the basis of the second season’s endgame. This episode also features my favorite stunt sequence in the entire series (so far). (Trivia: Arrow’s stunt department, led by JJ Makaro and James “Bam Bam” Bamford, has never received an Emmy nomination for their work.)
“The Promise” (Ep. 2x15)
Our second annual “primarily flashback” episode. In this episode, Oliver and his allies attempt to hijack a freighter called “The Amazo.” Unfortunately, we couldn’t find an available ship to shoot on. So, in what was probably the most financially irresponsible — but totally awesome — move in the history of television, Arrow’s art department, headed up by Richard Hudolin, actually built the entire deck and bridge of a freighter for use in only this episode. Glen Winter directed this episode — which marks critically turning points in both the present day and flashback stories — under the apparent delusion he was filming a 42-minute motion picture. Then again, that’s what this episode is.
“Seeing Red” (Ep. 2x20)
For five-sixths of “Seeing Red,” you think you’re watching a typical episode of Arrow where Roy (Colton Haynes) basically loses his mind due to a Mirakuru Serum overdoes. (Hey, it happens.) This episode lays the foundation for some key developments in Season Three. But it’s that final sixth of the episode that really gets it on this list. Just as Moira (Susanna Thompson) is about to tell her children that Malcolm Merlyn (John Barrowman) is still alive, their limousine is [SPOILER] and the Queens are [SPOILER] by [SPOILER] and Oliver is forced to [SPOILER] before Moira [SPOILER] and is [SPOILER]. If you’ve seen the episode, watch it again with someone who hasn’t just so you can see them jump at the end of Act 5.
“Unthinkable” (Ep. 2x23)
The operatic sweep of Season Two comes to its shocking conclusion in this episode which features a clash of armies, a declaration of love, and a fight sequence so epic it actually spans half a decade.
“The Calm” (Ep. 3x01)
Cynics will think that this episode makes the list in a shameless ploy to get people to watch our third season premiere. (They’re right.) But “The Calm” earns its place. It introduces a new villain in “Vertigo” (played by Peter Stormare), features a fight unlike any we’ve done on the show before and, in its closing moments, kicks off a mystery that will fuel the first half of our epic third season.