Arrow: The Return review

Arrow goes back to the island and back to its previous two seasons this week, and it worked out pretty well. Here's our review...

This Arrow review contains spoilers.

“How many people can Oliver Queen lose before there is no more Oliver Queen?”

I think I can safely say that “The Return” was one of the more ambitious episodes in the history of Arrow. Not in terms of scope or scale, necessarily. But it did at least try to do some very different things than we’ve become used to. It didn’t always work, but I have to give it credit. 

I guess I’d better get right into this one. So…

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Meanwhile…On an Island…

Yep, we’re starting here this week. I mean, really, how could we not? This wasn’t a total flashback episode (I’m hoping that we do get one on the scale of season 2’s “The Promise” at some point), but we’re either on “the island” or dealing with stuff pertaining to the flashback stuff that I usually stick in this section so…here we are. With all of the callbacks to season one and season two, “The Return” almost could have been a “clip show.” Except…it wasn’t. It was more clever than that.

Right away, though, this week’s format is a tricky proposition. It means no costumes, for starters. That’s not a problem. Arrow has been showing serious confidence and maturity lately, and while there’s still plenty of comic book fan service most weeks (not this week, though), after three seasons, the core characters on Arrow stand on their own quite well.

Much of Arrow season three has been a bit of a throwback to season one. Except, you know, better…because season one wasn’t great. But there was a stated desire for the show to get back to its roots this year, and I think they’ve done that fairly successfully. “The Return” is the most explicit attempt to recapture that flavor, and I think they do it pretty well, despite a few stumbles.

For example, I think some of the “Ollie returns to Starling” stuff was too convenient. The near encounter with Felicity was particularly irksome. While Felicity is always a welcome presence in any episode, I feel like her little moment with Ollie’s photo was more to satisfy the contractual obligations that come with being a series regular rather than anything having to do with the story.

Y’see…I have a problem with what I call “prequel-itis.” The most egregious example is, of course, those three movies that Mr. Lucas made. Gotham is plenty guilty of it, too, and I routinely howl about it in my reviews of that show. But essentially, prequel-itis is the overwhelming desire for a book/movie/tv show to reference events that haven’t happened yet in order to make sure the audience knows that the book/movie/tv show knows where this is going. It’s incredibly annoying, and “The Return” steps in it a couple of times.

But not too badly. In fact, most of “The Return” is pretty slick. I had nearly forgotten what a bitter douchebag that Quentin Lance was during season one, and the fact that I’ve now spent nearly two entire seasons worrying that he’s about to die is pretty remarkable considering how unlovable he was early on. Colin Donnell is always a welcome sight, but I could have done without the “and this is how he started romancing Laurel” bits. 

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I must confess, I kind of enjoyed watching Oliver croak Thea’s dealer, but that might just be because he looked like a more rat-faced version of DJ Skeevatz (until he took the dirt nap last week). Actually, it was because it was a neat callback to one of Ollie’s preferred ways to kill guys in season one. Consistency, I suppose, is a good thing. But the convenience of it all took me out of things a little.

The best stuff this week came, not from season one, but from season two. Holy moley, does this show miss Manu Bennett, or what? Seriously. On paper, having Ra’s al Ghul as this season’s big bad is a great thing. In reality, nobody has come remotely close to generating the kind of menace that Slade Wilson did during season two. Arrow has been seriously lacking in the villain department this year, and seeing Deathstroke this week just drove that home.

[related article: How Deathstroke Became DC Comics Most Versatile Villain]

I got a kick out of the fact that he put on the ARGUS guard uniform after he threw Oliver and Thea in the slammer, too. Nice touch.

Warner Bros. will make a Deathstroke movie in the next few years, or he’s going to show up in the Suicide Squad movie. It’s inevitable. When that happens, well…good luck topping Manu Bennett in the role, because this guy just nails it.

I got a real chuckle out of the fact that it was Malcolm Merlyn behind getting Slade out of that cell, too. That was a fun phone call. “Your satphone is going to stop working after this call.” I love Merlyn far too much for him to ever really call him a villain, y’know?

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As for the actual Hong Kong stuff…I realize they’re trying with this plot, but it’s still consistently the weakest part of each episode. This week was an improvement, to be sure, and I bet that if all the flashback sequences from season one through now were just watched on their own in chronological order, it would work pretty well. Ollie does have an arc back here, and it is getting served this season, I just still don’t think it’s as much fun as last year’s.

Oh, and special love for Willa Holland this week. Her final confrontation with Merlyn was plenty badass. Going back to the first two seasons, did any of you ever think that the character of Thea Queen would turn into someone this interesting? Well done. “She’s lost,” Slade said in the previous scene.

Maybe she is, but Oliver and Malcolm’s loss is the audience’s gain.

DC Universe Watchtower

– We finally get to meet John Diggle’s brother…Andy Diggle! I feel like it’s common knowledge at this point, but just in case. Andy Diggle is the name of a really excellent comic book writer. This is not by accident. He wrote Green Arrow: Year One, a book that had considerable influence on the tone of this show. Totally worth a read if you dig Arrow, by the way.

– Marc Singer shows up as Matt Shrieve. Shrieve is the leader of the Creature Commandos. The fact that Arrow is even giving us a hint of the Creature Commandos on TV is so ridiculous that I don’t know what to do with myself. Basically, and I don’t know how hard they’re gonna go with this concept, but basically…it’s like if Dracula, Frankenstein, and the Wolf Man were in the army and fought in World War II. 

I feel like I missed something, but I also feel like they didn’t go very heavy on the DC stuff this week. They didn’t need it. “The Return” stood quite well on its own. But if I did miss anything, well…you know what to do.

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3.5 out of 5