For the past several weeks, I’ve been saying the flashbacks on Arrow have been the weakest part of the show, stating that I simply don’t care about Ollie’s misadventures with Maseo under the thumb of Amanda Waller. The end of last week, however, promised a bit of a change, with the present day storyline taking the action to the Island while the flashbacks “returned” (hey, like the title “The Return”) Oliver to Starling City while he’s meant to still be dead. Now, are the flashbacks in this episode more interesting than they have been recently? Yes. Are they anything close to interesting enough to warrant the continued use of them? Nope. I can only hope, following this season, the writers just allow us to take as read that Oliver’s done some bad things and continues to do things for the next two years’ worth of flashbacks. Because if not, then what? Will the sixth season just be flashbacks to the first season?
Since I’m already talking about the flashbacks, let’s just stay on the flashbacks. Amanda Waller has brought Oliver and Maseo to Starling City for a very important reason: China White is planning to sell the Omega device (which may as well just be called “The MacGuffin Device”) on the black market. She’s obtained this from a guy named Kang who works at Queen Consolidated. They put a tracking device on his car, but there are still important documents Oliver will need to get from inside QC, which means he’s going to have to go into the office secretly to do so, whereupon he sees Felicity who was still just a lowly, self-talking IT person at the time. They do not meet here, obviously.
Elsewhere, Oliver’s peeping how things have gotten crappy in his absence; Thea is buying and using drugs, but luckily Tommy Merlyn’s a good guy and is looking after her, even if she does say the hilariously ironic “You’re not my brother.” Laurel is just finishing law school and about to take a job in San Francisco at a very famous firm, but her dad, still a drunk and still with hair, thinks she ought to stick around and actually help people. Diggle is seen briefly with his brother Andy, both working as security for Tommy’s party, which Thea comes too without anyone’s permission. Oliver shows up to spy on everybody like a real creep and sees her buy drugs from a dealer again. He decides it’s smart to threaten him, but of course he recognizes Oliver, then pulls a knife, soooooo Oliver snaps his neck and throws him over a railing. When Detective Lance shows up, he’s pissed at everybody, and runs his mouth at Tommy for being rich, Thea for being spoiled, and Laurel for even being associated with them.
Maseo finds Oliver and tries to take him back, but Oliver decides he’s back and he wants to stay, so he goes to his house (which has turned into a green screen for some reason) and plays a video his dad left him which talks about needing to be better than him and that he needs to save the city. Oliver ultimately decides to go help Maseo take down China White, which they do, and he returns to Waller who introduces him to General Shrieve (Marc Singer) who says he needs to debrief Oliver back in China but that he can go anywhere he wants after that. Suuuuuuuuuuure he can.
In the present, Oliver and Thea have gone to the Island (which has a name, but I can’t be arsed to learn it) at the urging of Malcolm Merlyn for training purposes. Thea’s all happy because now there are no secrets betwixt them… umm, okay, yeah, let’s go with that. Oliver’s impressed that Thea’s learned all this stuff in only 9 months, which, let’s face it, is pretty impressive, almost absurdly, comically so. He tells her he likes returning to the Island on occasion because it reminds him who he is. That night, Thea wakes Ollie up because he’s saying Sara’s name in his sleep. She asks what happened to Sara, but he says this isn’t the time, so he goes for a walk, eventually coming to the ARGUS prison that’s holding Slade and Capt. Boomerang (who does not feature in this episode). He goes down to see Slade but finds a dead guard and Slade gone. Merlyn clearly let Slade out, which he admits to Ollie during a phone call on the sat phone. He wants Ollie’s killer instinct to return, and having to either kill or die at the hands of Slade Wilson is a good way to do it, I guess.
Slade comes out of nowhere and cold-cocks Oliver and brings him and Thea to the cell and locks them in, presumably to starve them to death. Slade is STILL pissed off about the whole Shado thing. Like, dude, chill out already. He’s going to leave them there to rot while sending news to Starling City that they died in a plane crash. Slade tells Thea that Oliver still has many secrets to tell, which I think she clearly knows, but Oliver gets an idea to dislocate Thea’s shoulder so her tiny arms can reach the release button. As they escape and head to the airplane Slade is planning to steal, Thea trips a giant Ewok trap Oliver set years ago and he pushes her out of the way, sustaining a skewered arm in the process. She still wants to know what happened to Sara, so he finally tells her it was Malcolm’s doing, and she was the one he made do it. Naturally, she’s upset.
When Slade attacks them again, Thea manages to knock him down and pulls a gun on him. Oliver begs her not to kill him, saying it’s exactly what Merlyn wants and that she’s not a killer. Sure, she technically riddled Sara’s body with arrows, but she didn’t know what she was doing. Ultimately, Thea shoots, but only Slade’s arm, and they get him back to the prison.
In the present in Starling City, Capt. Lance is visiting Sara’s grave and is holding a bottle of whiskey. Laurel appears, and Lance tells his daughter exactly why he’s upset; not because she didn’t TELL him about Sara, but because SHE didn’t tell him about Sara. Does that make sense? He feels betrayed by the person in the family he felt closest too, despite that not ever actually feeling that way to an observer. Laurel says they ought to find a meeting, and Lance agrees, but says they need to go to separate ones. He hands her the bottle and leaves; she pours it out on Sara’s grave. LITTERING!
Back at Thea’s flat, Oliver tells her that she can’t tell Laurel the truth. Merlyn materializes and Thea lays into him about everything. He’s pissed that Oliver told her but keeps playing that old record about how he did it to save them from Ra’s al Ghul. Uhhhh, no he did not. Thea says she’ll train with Merlyn, be his student, his soldier, but never again will she be his daughter. OUCH. Necessary, but ouch.
Lot of revelations happening for Thea in these last two episodes, and this is a good thing. If she’s ever going to be properly brought into the fold, there needs to be common ground and understanding. The further along in the show we go, the more it becomes clear that people who know about Oliver’s secret or are involved in it have far more interesting arcs and storylines than those who don’t. How boring was Laurel last year? How superfluous was Thea until the whole Malcolm thing? Now they’re both in it and are way more interesting for it.
While I think the idea of swapping locations for the flashbacks is interesting, and like I said, the flashbacks this week are far more engaging than they have been, I still hold firm to the idea that we don’t need the flashbacks anymore. The present is so much more exciting and since we know that ultimately Oliver did a lot of bad things and gets off the Island in the show’s pilot, then there’s very little mystery to be mined from it anymore. And my GOD do I hate Amanda Waller. I know that’s the point, but I hate her so much it makes me want to stamp my little feet.
Next week, it looks like the whole Ra’s al Ghul thing is coming back around, and Ray Palmer seems to have been busy during his two week break building himself the first Atom suit. Badass, you guys. Bad. Ass. “Nanda Parbat” is next week, so sharpen your swords accordingly.