It was easy to be cautious when approaching this week’s episode of Arrow called “The Return.” It was a double, if not triple, return with Oliver returning to Lian Yu accompanied by Thea, with Slade Wilson returning to haunt the Queens some more, and, with the flashback, Oliver returning to Starling for the first time since he was shipwrecked. It’s was a minefield of potential letdowns and Easter eggs, a potential contortion of narrative so it would become contrived, and that’s just the flashback. In the present we have to deal with the potential letdown of Slade’s return, since Manu Bennett owned in the role last year and this season’s big bad in the form of Matt Noble‘s Ra’s al Ghul has yet to match up. So how did it all shake out?
First off, it looked terrible. Well, that’s exaggeration. The opening scene featured an establishing shot of Lian Yu that scanned down the coast line to where Oliver and Thea were sparring. To say that it all looked fake would be something of an understatement, but the fakeness of the CGI was matched only by the terribleness of the hair. I know that Paul Blackthorne‘s gone commando on the top of his dome this season, but whereever they dug up that rug for the flashback is a place best left undiscovered. How any of Blackthorne’s co-stars kept a straight face in his presence while wearing that “hair” is a performance worthy of Emmy consideration.
The story itself though was somewhat more compelling. Oliver and Thea believe they were sent to Lian Yu to train in solitude, but Malcolm’s intention was get Oliver back in touch with his inner killer by freeing Slade and forcing a Lord of the Flies final showdown between the two lest Slade kill Thea and/or escape the island. Considering how out of his way Oliver went to not kill Slade after he laid siege to an entire city, Malcolm’s plan seemed to have a few holes, but that’s okay because is brought Oliver and Slade together again.
The flashbacks provided some key insight. To my shame, the flashbacks this season have grown on me, whether its because we’re getting closer to seeing the Oliver of season one and thus bringing the show full circle, or because the buddy cop nature of seeing Oliver and Maseo run missions for Waller actually has its moments. The episode featured a turning point for flashback Oliver, who was determined to make a run for it while back within the Starling city limits.
One of the questions since the show began was how did Oliver know what the list of names his father left him meant? In “The Return” we find out that while stealing some info on China White’s contact inside Queen Consolidated, Oliver finds two videos from his father Robert, one for himself and one for Thea. The contents of Thea’s video are unknown (for now), but Oliver’s video outlines his father’s wish that the son makes amends for the father’s sins, and this Operation: Arrow is born
That was insightful, but the rest of the flashback revealing how the Laurel and Tommy affair began (awesome crew cut by the way, Colin Donnell), and how Thea’s drug problem got started, and how Quentin indulged in an bottomless bottle of booze to deal with his pain and loss, I could have done without. Meeting Diggle’s often mentioned brother Andy (played by former Bones squintern Eugene Boyd) was a welcome touch, and, of course, when Oliver’s breach in Queen Consolidated set off computer alerts it’s Miss Felicity Smoak that checks it out.
The nature of this kind of story, when so much plot has to be crammed into such a limited time, is naturally going to feel a bit too coincidental for comfort. Are we to believe that in just one night, all of Oliver’s future vigilante stars aligned? Greasing Thea’s scuzzy drug dealer to hide his return, sure I get that, but am I to believe that the Oliver filed away the image of the blonde IT girl that talked to herself for future reference when he needed computer help later? That’s a little too Darth Vader built C-3PO for my taste.
As for the action in the present, true confessions in last week’s episode continued to reverberate. Quentin’s struggle with Laurel’s duplicity is interesting because for once it’s an argument they’re both equally right and wrong about, unlike, say, last season’s slide into drinky druggie Laurel. In complete contrast to his wig in the flashbacks, Blackthorne did great work conveying Quentin’s hurt and loss. In context of the episode, it was a small scene by Sara’s graveside, but I’m glad it was squeezed in. It will be interesting to see where the Laurel/Quentin dynamic goes from here because the way he put some spite into calling Laurel “Black Canary,” Quentin’s clearly not okay with Laurel’s choices lately. She was able to stand up to Oliver to take her place on Team Arrow, but it’s tough to say if her father is going to be more formidable, or less formidable an opponent in the permission department.
Last week’s other confession, Ollie’s coming clean to Thea about the whole Arrow thing, ended up leading to further revelations concerning Slade’s murderous motivations towards Oliver, and Thea’s inadvertent murder of the original Canary, Sara Lance. I loved John Barrowman‘s impetuousness in the line reading, “He shouldn’t have told you that,” when Thea confronts Malcolm about hypnotizing her to kill. Honestly though, he had to know that by sending Thea on a camping trip with Oliver and appointing Slade Wilson as the psycho camp councillor, some stuff he didn’t want known was probably going to become known. Whoever posited the theory that Thea may end up taking Sara’s place in the League as payback took a step closer to fruition.
In island action, brother and sister bonding lead to fighting as Oliver and Thea teamed up to take on Slade and keep him from escaping. Bravo to Willa Holland who held her own in the action scenes even though I had kind of a tough time believing that Thea would be able to keep up with the other two at her current experience level. Maybe Malcolm gave her the League of Assassins crash course. Maybe Slade was just rusty; eight months in the hole will do that to you. It was fun to have Bennett back for just one episode, but it was also a sad reminder that this season’s been lacking in bad guy punch.
There were also some interesting hints and teases in the episode too. Amanda Waller’s off-handed reference to her “superior,” the singular use of the word, is interesting. Waller’s only answerable to one person? There was also Oliver’s off-handed reference to there being two prisoners in A.R.G.U.S.’ Lian Yu facility. Slade is one, but who is the other? Someone Oliver encountered in the flashback years?
Finally, in Oliver’s post-Starling mission in the flashback, he’s introduced to General Matthew Shrieve, who, in comic book lore, is the human leader of the Creature Commandos. Shrieve is played by Marc Singer, who shrewd, and perhaps older, genre fans will recognize as The Beastmaster and one of the co-stars of the original V. I had hoped for a minute that Arrow had decided to use Gen. Wade Eiling, Clancy Brown‘s character from The Flash. Since Eiling is now Grodd chow, it might be interesting to keep him alive in flashbacks, but with the prominence given to Shrieve’s entry, I suspect that the Arrow team has plans for him.
Next week: Back to Nanda Parbat!