'Arrow' keeps getting better: 'Lone Gunman' ups the ante yet again

arrow-stephen-amell-shirtless-again.jpgWhen a pilot is as successful as the first episode of "Arrow" -- which was both critically lauded and a ratings hit -- we sometimes worry that it's peaked too early and that subsequent episodes might not live up to its promise. Luckily, we don't have to be concerned about that with this show. The second episode of "Arrow" was as compelling as the first, and this week's third installment, titled "Lone Gunman," proves that the show didn't need any time to find its footing.

Written by bosses Greg Berlanti, Marc Guggenheim, and Andrew Kreisberg, and directed by Guy Bee (one of our fave directors in the genre), it's no wonder that "Lone Gunman" is so effective. Early on in the episode, Oliver ( Stephen Amell) -- as Arrow -- is attempting to scare some sense into one of his marks, when suddenly the man is shot to death by a sniper, who lands a bullet in Oliver's shoulder, too.

Oliver had been planning to give the mark a chance to right his wrongs, so he's not particularly impressed by the lack of morality on the part of the unknown gunman. What follows is an investigation that brings Oliver into the fold of the Russian Mob -- which, apparently, he's already pretty familiar with, seeing as he's got a tattoo that indicates he's already entered the "bratva" circle of trust. (Crazy what a guy can get up to on a deserted island, no?)

As with previous episodes, the "hit of the week" story is compelling and action-packed -- we particularly loved a moment when Oliver realizes he can't protect the city on his own, and he has to ask the ever antagonistic Detective Lance ( Paul Blackthorne) for backup. The stakes are further raised because the titular lone gunman has Oliver's family in his crosshairs.

Our favorite parts of the episode, though, are the more emotional ones. "Lone Gunman" delves further into Oliver's relationship with his sister, Thea ( Willa Holland), which has proved to be one of the most interesting dynamics on the show. When Thea is driven home by cops after drunkenly breaking into a store, it becomes clear to Oliver that while he feels a responsibility to save his city, there's some saving to be done at home, too. A telling exchange between Oliver and his mother, Moira ( Susanna Thompson). He sees his reckless, spoiled self in Thea -- and he admonishes his mother for his general lack of parental guidance as a youth. It triggers a shift in the family's policy of denying problems and pretending everything is fine.

arrow-lone-gunman-felicity.jpgOliver will also have no choice but to address his best friend Tommy's ( Colin Donnell) relationship with the love of his life, Laurel ( Katie Cassidy). Whether you're feeling the love triangle aspect of the show or not, the scenes reveal a lot about Oliver's maturity, about his bond with Tommy, and about just how well Laurel knows Oliver. We'd kind of figured that Laurel and Tommy were just biding their time together for convenience's sake, but it seems that there may be something deeper behind their relationship -- whether it's a genuine love for each other or some mutual Oliver Issues remains to be seen.

More awesomeness to look out for? Laurel gives us the first taste of the hero she might be destined to become when she gets caught up in a fight scene. Cassidy has finally found a the role that showcases her range of talent, and we're loving it. Additionally, we get a bit of Diggle's ( David Ramsay) backstory amidst all of his hilariously dry one-liners -- including a promise to watch Oliver pee. (We'll just... offer that up without context, because we can.) And, for those of you who are in it for the eye candy, Oliver pulls a Sam Winchester as he calmly and shirtlessly stitches up his own bullet wound. It's disturbing and hot at the same time.

All in all, "Lone Gunman" packs in so much emotional resonance, relationship drama, and high-octane action sequences that the episode feels much longer than an hour -- in a good way.

The good news is that "Arrow" has officially been picked up for a full season of 22 episodes -- no surprise, given that it's currently The CW's highest-rated series. We can't wait to see more, especially if it continues to hit the bullseye like it does with "Lone Gunman."

(You didn't think we were going to publish an article about "Arrow" without making some kind of cheesy reference to a bullseye, a target, or taking aim, right? They'd kick us out of the TV reporter club.)

Tune in to "Arrow" on Wednesday nights at 8 p.m. EST on The CW.
Photo/Video credit: The CW