"Probably because you've been logging in so many Hood hours ever since that thing with Helena."

Sorry. I'm not quite as vigilant as Starling City's resident vigilant and wasn't able to recap the second half of the Huntress arc last week. Picking up right where "Muse of Fire" left off, last week "Vendetta," Arrow's eighth episode delivered on almost all fronts and might be the best installment of the still young series. Oliver Queen loved and lost as well as learned some very valuable lessons about justice, not to mention the hard truth that some people really cannot be saved. Lucky for us, the adaptation based on the classic DC comic just keeps improving with every episode and with Helena the Huntress out of the picture (for now, at least), the midseason finale of The CW hit, simply but aptly titled "Year's End," not only upped the ante but also featured the arrival of another rival, this time a killer copycat. Yep, there's another 'Archer' in Starling City, only this new guy prefers his arrows black.

"What? You come back for another pound of flesh?"

Could the arrival of this new archer have something to do with the reveal (two weeks past) of John Barrowman as Malcolm Merlyn? Obviously. But there's a lot of other exciting action before that big (mouth-breathing) reveal, starting with the man in black's assassination of Adam Hunt. And the pound of flesh as penance isn't the first Shakespearean reference for the series, with the Queen's Gambit hidden under the name Tempest. Lofty ideas and cold blooded murder, I like it. Before Oliver and Diggle find out about the murder, they spend a little time sparring both physically and verbally with the latter recommending that the former take some time off from the hood and rekindle the Queen Christmas magic. Oh, fond memories. Too bad, every time Ollie tries to reminisce about the good times he finds himself back on that prison of an island. Actually, it's been quite a while since the series flash-backed to Oliver stranded on the island and the last time we saw him there he was trapped under some rocks, separated from his mentor, Yao Fei.

"Besides, I hear St. Nick has a list of his own. I wager you're in the nice column."

He's spent some hungry days down in the whole but his buddy is able to unbury him and delivers a present in the form of the well mannered torturer with whispers of a way off the island. Still oblivious to the ruckus that the black archer has caused, Ollie is busy investigating why the Queen's no longer throw big Christmas bashes and tries to share warm memories with his cold sister. You can't really blame Thea though, the holidays were a nice reminder of how her father and brother were dead. So much merry! Business dinners are another story, however, and some of Starling City's finest assemble at the Queen residence for a fancy sit down where they can discuss the woes of the city and debate the virtues of vigilantism. This is the first of a few scenes ripped almost straight from The Dark Knight but the series has never been coy about being influenced by the latest big screen version of the Bat. I mean, this is basically a Batman television show because we all know that calling it Green Arrow would be lame, right?

"How about Green Arrow?"

Walter's investigations have also continued and Smoak informs him that one of their own is on the list. After a meeting with the suspicious employee from applied sciences, word is spreading to the wrong people that Mrs. Queen's new husband has been sticking his nose in their business. The cops investigations aren't going particularly well either, especially since the new way over the top cop superior has figuratively handcuffed Detective Lance's instincts and eventually boots him off the case. Good thing the hammy police officer rubs Lance the wrong way because it propels Quentin (who knew?) to change his mind about helping Arrow out, something that's much easier since the hero sent over a nice new cellphone. So much for his whole 'don't go outside the law' motto. Back at the Queen Estate, Ollie rallies everyone for a family meeting and, despite some major eye rolls from Thea, convinces them to let him play Robert, resurrect and host this year's Xmas bash.

"Do you even know what this island really is? It's a prison. I mean this literally."

Oh, and who's this Shane doofus? Thea's a billionaire and, not to sound creepy, smoking hot, I think she can do better than mister mouthful. There was a nice moment between Ollie and his step-dad as well but being called a good man triggers another flashback where he's walking with his former captor turned captive. The man's slickness doesn't seem to sway Ollie, probably has something to do with being shanked, but the story about Deathstroke and Yao Fei is pretty awesome. It not only makes the two ex-prisoners arch-enemies but sets up a great confrontation where Ollie will face off against his mentor's nemesis. But that's not for sometime (and/or has already happened), there are more pressing issues at hand with Merlyn making the moves on Moira, pressuring her to take care of the problem. On cue, the real love interest for Oliver finally makes her first appearance in "Year's End" as Laurel tries to calm down Detective Daddy as he fumes watching his boss lie on TV.

"They call you the Hood. Let's see what you look like without it."

Christmas is interrupted by Tommy and just cause your dad is a super villain doesn't mean you can go anywhere you please and manipulate people. Or does it? Ollie follows the Smoak lead down to the wharf where he's met with a room that's not only half-green and half-black but also contains a Die Hard: With a Vengeance-style bomb (except the colors here are, of course, green and black). You would think Merlyn would splurge on a stronger door to keep his catch inside during the explosion but one little arrow blast is all it takes to free Ollie from the death trap. Time for the party! Who's got the holiday cheer? The festivities kick off with what must be Oliver's hell, hanging out with Tommy and Laurel before being trapped by the latter and forced to talked about it all. Ollie blesses their romance just as Walter and Moira's is becoming re-strained. He can't live with all the lies and, well, she's got some deep and sinister shit going on in her life. She promises to come clean after the party so you know that Walter's time is numbered.

"We might have a bigger problem."

The party doesn't get any better for our hero as he soon stumbles in on his Thea and dummy fooling around but watching him tell the kid to beat it was pretty pleasurable. Soon he's the one beating it (that sounds wrong) as Merlyn pulls a Joker TDK move by using hostages in an attempt to force Arrow to reveal his identity. Dig warns him not to go and he flashes back to his mentor's capture (and murder?) at the hands of Deathstroke but of course he still goes after the hostages and, after getting them out, engages in an epic fight with the Archer. Seriously, when he broke the arrows off his own back that was insane. I do think the doctors might have raised some questions and called the cops but Dig was able to cover for him with, well, everyone. The episode ends with Oliver beaten but not broken, looking out over Starling City, vowing to get the Archer and, more importantly, the person pulling all the strings. I can't wait but sadly, we won't be seeing another installment of the superhero series for over a month.

Arrow returns with Episode 10, "Burned," on Wednesday, January 16 at 8 p.m. ET on The CW. Until then... Don't shoot your eye out!

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