Arrow season 3 episode 14 review: The Return

Arrow's flashbacks continue to be the weakest link in an otherwise solid show, as The Return demonstrates...

This review contains spoilers.

3.14 The Return

There was a point somewhere near to the end of Arrow‘s first season when I just stopped really trying to cover the show’s flashbacks in these reviews. The fact that it could be done without really missing anything major says a heck of a lot about the general importance of those minutes we’re subjected to every week, but then every season we’re served an episode like The Return, and there’s a problem.

The flashbacks in season three have been even less engaging than those of past seasons, taking the action away from Lian Yu and moving it to the comparatively drab Hong Kong, with characters we’re only mildly interested in and a crushing sense of inevitability when it comes to Oliver’s story.

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While the odd parallel or bit of character development comes from the flashbacks, they’re mostly just filling precious time with stuff that could have been explained by a single line of dialogue, a particular acting choice or just the audience’s imagination.

The Return at least did something a little clever with the concept, splitting the action between Lian Yu and Starling City but reversing the order in which they came. Seeing Starling City in ‘present day’ was meant to be a little treat for viewers and Thea and Oliver’s showdown with Slade on the island furthering the actual plot, but the running time definitely didn’t match up with the importance of those things.

Because we spent most of our time watching Oliver hiding in crowds, spying on his friends and family from afar. We already know that Quentin was an alcoholic after losing Sara, that Tommy and Laurel had dated, that Thea was a wild child. What did seeing all of those things again (with the exception of Quentin, which we arguably hadn’t) really accomplish? Throw in that Felicity moment, and I’m about ready to tear my hair out.

Thankfully, the island stuff was better, even if the excitement at seeing Slade again quickly dissipated when you realised how little there is left to do with the character. I was leading the campaign to bring him back, but now hope they just leave him down in his cell.

But watching Thea and Oliver interact has become an unexpected joy, especially now that she knows pretty much every secret he’s been hiding from her since the first season. Maybe it was vital to see how awful she was back in 2010, if only to appreciate how far the character has been allowed to come since.

She’s capable even if Oliver doesn’t quite accept that yet, and one of my favourite moments of the episode was probably them both nonchalantly dislocating Thea’s arm in the name of escaping their cell. It’s the first time I really believed she’d been trained by a sociopathic assassin over the summer break, and the first time I could really see the potential of having her join Team Arrow.

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Then there was the scene between Quentin and Laurel, which was the best outcome to this scenario if only because Quentin is having much the same reaction as the audience to Laurel’s decision. A rift between these two might make the season three side-lining of Quentin even worse, which wouldn’t be good, but it is satisfying to see him being so angry with his daughter for not telling him about Sara. It just about justified the flashbacks involving these two, because this was one parallel that wasn’t remotely a stretch.

So we got through the big flashback-heavy episode of season three and, while the action on the island was pretty excellent, those trips back to the past felt especially redundant. I understand the show can’t just drop them at this point, but I hope they start getting more interesting soon, if only to keep them from impacting the quality the rest of the show consistently puts out.

Read Caroline’s review of the previous episode, Canaries, here.

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