Arrow 3×14 – The Return

The ReturnOne of the defining elements of this show has been the parallel storytelling of contemporary Starling City and Ollie’s life 5-years ago. For the first couple of years, the flashbacks dealt with his time on the island, with season 3 transplanting the flashbacks to Hong Kong as Ollie was forced to work for Amanda Waller as part of her covert team.

This week turns it around, with the flashbacks taking Ollie back to Starling in 2010, looking in on the characters at a time before we first knew them, and where they were still grieving the loss of Oliver. Oh… and there’s wigs… a lot of wigs!

Of course, Oliver wasn’t the only one on the yacht when it sank – Sara was there, and we see Detective Lance at a point when he’s turned to the bottle, both for the loss of Sara, and for the way Laurel handled it by wanting to run away.

Much of the flashback is there to remind us of the character position as of the start of the show and, apart from the aforementioned wigs, it does a credible job of it. We’re reminded that when we first met Thea, she was a bit of a hellcat, not really knowing the direction to go in. We see a little of Laurel’s once-secret relationship with Tommy Merlyn, and how it was viewed so badly by her father.

There’s not a lot of Diggle and Felicity in this episode, and it’s all in the flashbacks. Oliver gets to see Felicity flirting with a photo of Oliver, and Diggle is doing security for one of Tommy Merlyn’s parties, where even Diggle’s brother, Andy, gets an appearance.

In the present, Oliver has gone back to the island to train with Thea, where he discovers that Merlyn has freed Slade from his cell. After being captured and locked in Slade’s old cell, we see a change in the interaction between Oliver and Slade. Although the pair are unlikely to ever be described as friends, it seems that the Miracuru-induced rage ebbs and flows, enabling Slade to show the more restrained persona he demonstrated pre-Miracuru.

After Thea is able to break from Slade’s grip, he identifies Thea’s change to a darker persona, and recognises how much effort Merlyn put into driving that change. Coupled with the earlier revelation to her that she was Sara’s murderer, she’s more than a little annoyed at Malcolm.

In some ways, Merlyn is a mirror image of Slade, being a ‘normal’ man who became consumed by rage at the death of a loved one. In both cases, the person who caused the deaths to happen was not the person who pulled the trigger – the difference being that, until now at least, Merlyn had a pass with Oliver. However, now that Thea is aware of just how far Merlyn was prepared to go in order to protect himself from Ra’s al Ghul, Malcolm’s status must be feeling somewhat shakier.

All in all, this felt like an episode more for the show’s fans than the casual viewer; with plot being sacrificed in favour of the character interactions the show is so good at. With appearances from many past cast members, and a look at the time before Season 1, we had the opportunity to see just how far the show has come over the past 2½ years.

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