It’s quickly becoming tradition for an episode of Arrow to focus on the flashbacks more than the present day material. Sadly, of the three of far, “The Return” might be seen as the weakest of these.
The premise was both strong and believable. Malcolm sent Ollie and Thea to the island to “conquer their fears” and become what they need to be to beat Ra’s al Ghul. However…going forward required a big trip back down memory lane, with tour guide being the one and only Slade Wilson.
It was great seeing Slade back in the game, even if only for a brief amount of time. He is still the scene stealer we all know and love him for. Sadly though, he didn’t get many scenes to showcase his true power. I did like that it was Malcolm who helped free him, that added a nice little twist upon the episode, but unfortunately, it felt like Slade didn’t capitalize on what could’ve been.
For example, he defeated Ollie and Thea (epically, of course), then trapped him and her in the prison. Then he (epically) threatened to strand them there, take their plane, and make the world think they were both dead. Brilliant! Except, an undisclosed amount of time later, instead of fleeing the island like he promised, he was basicially waiting for them to escape. On one hand, I understand he might think of doing that. On the other hand, he promised to torture Ollie, not kill him. So why wait? And don’t say he couldn’t have gotten to the plane in time. Like I said, he had the ability.
Also, even though the scenes between him and Oliver were great, inciting a kind of Wrath of Khan revenge subtext, it almost got discarded so that Ollie could talk with Thea about his secrets. Most importantly, the truth about Sara. I didn’t like that Ollie sleep-talking her name, it seemed WAY too convenient. And in true Thea form, she didn’t let it go until she found out she (unknowingly) killed Sara. Though I’m glad she found out, and the weight of what she “did” will no doubt affect her character going forward, I just wish it didn’t feel so forced.
Before I wrap up the island storyline, I want to note the beautifully evil ending monologue from Slade. Asking the question, “How many people can Oliver Queen lose, before he’s no longer Oliver Queen.” This is a question that kind of has been hanging around all season. His parents are gone. Sara and Shado are dead. Thea was missing for a while. Laurel is now the Black Canary and at risk of dying. And of course, Felicity has more or less rejected them being together again. True, he has Diggle and Roy, but they are just as at risk as the rest of them. How much more will Oliver be willing to take?
Moving on to the flashbacks, it was both interesting and sad to watch them unfold in “The Return”. On one hand, we got to see the end, more-or-less, of the Omega saga. With the weapon being taken, and China White being captured…for now. However, the almost unnecessary use of almost every character in the Arrow roster appearing in the flashbacks to show “where they were” when Ollie return to Starling at that time was a little on the nose.
To be fair, Laurel, Tommy (yay Tommy!), Thea, and Quentin were masterfully used here. Showing sides of the characters we technically didn’t get to see in Season 1. Especially for Tommy, Laurel, and Quentin. The latter of whom put on a masterful performance as a drunk, angry, father who basically lost everything because of the Queen’s Gambit sinking. That was powerful stuff. As was Tommy trying to straighten out Thea (although we know he fails horribly…).
However, the use of Diggle and Felicity was really pointless. True, we got to see Andy for the first time, but I felt that could’ve been done more significantly. Instead of them basically being bouncers at the party. And Felicity? Yeah, you know I love her, but her walking into Roberts’ office…at night…and then talking to a picture of Ollie? Really?
Then of course there was all the “doesn’t this happen in the future?” moments like Maseo referencing the facepaint Ollie will use and so on. It was a little much. Oh, and where was Moira during all this? Thea said she was at the office earlier in the day, where was she, or the maid for that matter…, when Ollie arrived home? That also was too convenient.
The one thing I did like was how Ollie got the file from Robert’s computer addressed to him. That was one of the first clues we got in season 1 that Ollie wasn’t always on the island. I liked how it played out. It also makes me wonder if he had the same message for Thea, or something different was on it. Don’t know if we’ll find out.
Then there was the ending of the flashbacks. Which we got to meet Waller’s “superior”, Matthew Shrieve, who has big ties to the DC universe if you know where to look. His “promise” to send Oliver “anywhere he wants to go” after a “debrief” was way too easy a tell that something bad is going to happen. And considering Maseo and Tatsu haven’t been traumatized yet, we definitely know something will go down.
Finally, the scene between Laurel and Quentin in the present was brilliant. Him finding out about Sara truly being dead really broke him, just as Laurel feared it would. But the side effect was that he doesn’t trust Laurel anymore. Which in and of itself is believable. This will be something to look forward to going forward.
In the end, “The Return” did enough things right to make it a good episode. However, there were some things that could’ve been done better. And there too many nudges to things that have happened or will happen. Overall though, another strong episode.