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Arrow’s “The Return” (S3,EP14) & The Danger Of Rewriting Your Own History

Posted on the 19 February 2015 by Weminoredinfilm.com @WeMinoredInFilm

“The Return” was a very engaging Arrow episode which appeared to make crucial progress on several fronts. Oliver told Thea that she killed Sara! Now, Thea has pretty much turned on Malcolm, with next week’s trailer revealing that her ultimate response will apparently be to try and hand her bastard dad over to the League of Assassins! Captain Lance is super pissed at Laurel for having lied to him about Sara’s death! And, frankly, good for him.  Okay. That might actually be it, but, still, Oliver’s not lying to Thea about anything anymore. If these two were in joint therapy we’d call that a breakthrough. The rest of the episode felt a lot like something they would want to put out there during this current Nielsen sweeps period. There were multiple big guest stars, two of them returning villains (China White, Slade Wilson) and one a long since dead friend in flashbacks (Tommy). There was a pretty cool action scene involving Oliver actually dropping on top of a moving car, and all of the actors brought their A-game although Colton Haynes was MIA and Emily Rickards and David Ramsey were each limited to one brief scene. So, why does it feel like I am just building up to some kind of “And I hated it” reveal?

I didn’t hate it. I actively enjoyed watching “The Return,” and not just because those flashbacks let us see Quentin Lance with hair again, although that didn’t hurt. However, despite my enjoyment I couldn’t fully escape the nagging feeling that most of what went down in “The Return” was ultimately a waste of time, another example this season of a flashback-heavy episode that needlessly fills us in on stuff we pretty much already knew. Seeing Malcolm Merlyn react to his wife’s murder a couple of episodes back was nice in that it gave John Barrowman something different to play, but it merely depicted what had already been rather effectively conveyed through character interactions during the first season.  However, at least that merely felt redundant.  “The Return” was far worse.

Arrow The Return
Opposed to The Entire Idea of The Flashbacks | Why am I opposed to the mere idea of Oliver ever having made it back to Starling City before his return depicted in the pilot?  Because after watching this episode I re-watched the pilot (thanks Netflix!), and at around the six minute market a shirtless Oliver (vintage Arrow) strolls through his room while his voice-over informs us, “After 5 years, everything that was once familiar is now unrecognizable.” I actually smirked a little because now I am burdened with, “Dude, you were just back there like 2 years ago. You already knew your house looked exactly the same.” It’s the same way that pretty much any conversation Oliver has in season 1 about Sara now comes with a new subtext of, “Oh, btw, I am totally lying to you about how Sara really died. The last time I actually saw her she was washed away while trying to help me save the day and beat the bad guy, making her kind of a reformed hero. I doubt that you’d want to hear about any of that, though.”

Arrow Two Saras

Plus, we all have to kind of giggle that the Sara they talked about in that first season was quite literally a completely different person

To me, the danger that Arrow sometimes falls into when it tries to re-write its own history is that it inherently cheapens instead of informing what came before.

Like Those Flashbacks With Thea |  Seeing Oliver find out that Thea had started abusing drugs to deal with her grief only really serves the purpose of re-enforcing his love for her, revealing that in the past he actually straight up murdered a drug dealer to protect her just as he will now do anything to save her soul from Malcolm’s corruptive influence in the present. It doesn’t really tell us anything new about Thea, other than maybe that she used to use her presumed dead brother and father’s headstones as a drug spot which seems like something they just picked because they needed it to be somewhere semi-public that Oliver could peep in on. It also cheapens the moment in the first season when Oliver first discovered that Thea had a drug problem, not that that was some iconic moment in the show or anything. However, it again prompts thoughts like, “What, did you think she wouldn’t get drugs from someone else after you killed that one dealer?”

Not So Much The One With Felicity | You could have a similar reaction to Oliver over-hearing Felicity talking to herself in the office while he hid from her view because now we know that the first time she made him smile was not actually the famous season 1 scene when she cocked her head in adorable disbelief at the obvious lies he was feeding her about why there were bullet holes in the computer he wanted her to hack:

Arrow Lone Gunman Felicity Headcock
I had less of an objection to that because it seemed more inconsequential.  Learning that Felicity thought Oliver was attractive years before she met him was another, “Well, duh” moment, but seeing her talk to herself was a reminder of  a more season 1 era version of Felicity, back when we all loved her.  I was actually more distracted by why she was even up there since back in season 1 I got the impression that when she entered that big office when it belonged to Walter it was the first time she had even been on that floor of the building. But, again, it was such a brief bit of comedy in an episode short on humor.

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But Definitely the Stuff with Laurel |The only real new information revealed by the flashbacks was that Laurel briefly attempted to go all corporate lawyer (or at least I didn’t remember that ever being discussed ) before her drunken dad basically shamed her and turned her back toward the path of helping the helpless (I do love my Angel references). This is again a re-worked history which is simply there to draw a connection to the present. I actually always liked the idea that after Sara and Oliver’s apparent deaths Laurel became a lawyer for the downtrodden, a regular Rachel Dawes from Batman Begins/The Dark Knight. I don’t really want to know that she only did that because her dad steered her in that direction, or at least put her back on that course. However, it was there in this episode to highlight the type of connection Laurel had with her father thus adding considerably potency to his denunciation of her in the present. I am left, however, feeling like they had spent two and a half seasons with those two. That should have been plenty of time for their confrontation over Sara to be crushing without any kind of new “Dad, it’s like you always knew that by telling me to help those in need you were actually preparing me for a life as a costumed, mask-wearing, black leather-lovin’ vigilante” backstory.

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Oliver, Thea & Slade Become Fast Friends |Thea went 13 episodes without knowing that she killed Sara, and after Oliver only told her part of the story last week many were down on the fact that Thea was still partially in the dark. Now, that she finally knows you could maybe be down on the fact that she found out while Slade Wilson was trying to kill her thus not really giving her much time to react or process the news. However, I was relieved that Malcolm unleashed Slade because at the start of the episode I was seriously questioning why Oliver and Thea couldn’t have just trained together back in Starling City. In general, the less this show reminds me of how stupid it is that Oliver and Thea are uniting with Malcolm the better. Slade was a welcome distraction, and I even got a kick out of his whole “I am evil, I know that, but Malcolm doing that to his own daughter? That’s fucked up!” conversation with Oliver at the end. It is always tricky when you bring back your previous season’s big-bad for a one-off appearance halfway through the next season, and maybe to some Slade seemed kind of wasted here as his drama with Oliver feels kind of resolved at this point, giving it a “Oh, this guy. He’s still pissed about all that old stuff?” feeling.  However, Manu Bennett is still as good as ever as Slade, and his parting threat against Felicity is a sure conversation-starter for what might happen next.

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Slade hated Sara. So, shouldn’t he be thanking Thea, not threatening her? Or does he even know that Sara’s dead?

Slade was ultimately a super efficient way of getting Oliver to tell Thea that Sara was not on her but what she does from this point forward is, and the build-up with Thea’s continual “Tell me the truth about Sara” to the pay-off (i.e., her freak-out when she finds out) to the stinger (i.e., her telling off Malcolm) was arguably some of Willa Holland’s best work on the show to this point.

THE BOTTOM LINE

In general, I didn’t want to know that Oliver already knew how messed up everyone’s lives had become after his apparent death because so much of the early drama in the first season was about him coming to terms with that. I also didn’t need to see him watching a video from his dead which more neatly spelled out exactly what he wanted him to do, or that his signature catchphrase actually came from his dad. That all retroactively weakens Oliver Queen as a character to me. Yet I can’t deny that it was kind of fun, in a change of pace kind of way, to revisit earlier versions of all of our characters (not so much Roy). Plus, Colin Donnell is still effortlessly charming, and Stephen Amell and Willa Holland are kind of killing it right now with Oliver finally coming clean to Thea about everything. So, it was an episode I enjoyed watching but kind of intellectually rejected.  That seems like a wishy-washy conclusion, but to me this episode was like a summer blockbuster you enjoy while you’re watching but starts falling apart in your head once you walk out of the theater.

THE NOTE

1. Quick, somebody scan through every notable review written for this episode and published on the internet and count up how many of them make a joke about Katie Cassidy’s altered face really standing out more in those flashbacks.

2. Didn’t that picture of Oliver Felicity talked to kind of make him seem less handsome and more menacing in a Dexter Morgan kind of way?

3. Spin-off Pitch: An Agent Carter-esque limited series featuring Oliver and Maseo in a buddy comedy covering their time working together in the past.  You’re welcome, CW.

4. China White is a badass and everything, not flinching for a second while enemy soldiers are gunned down behind her. Yeah, yeah, yeah … but didn’t that make those Argus soldiers seem totally incompetent? “How Not to Make Noise While Sneaking Up On Your Enemy” is probably like Chapter 2 of their field manual.

5. Thea’s drug dealer in the past looked exactly like her DJ boyfriend/League of Assassins baddie. I can’t be the only one who thought that.

6. Plot hole alert: Somebody logged into the Queen Consoldiated system using Oliver Queen’s biometric indicator, i.e., his thumb. Isn’t that the kind of thing they would notice? Wouldn’t that perhaps set off an extensive investigation? Wouldn’t Thea and Moira suddenly be forced to wonder if Oliver was perhaps still alive, or he was dead but somebody had somehow replicated his thumbprint?

7. Was it slightly jarring for you seeing Queen Manor again?

8. Tommy doesn’t want Thea at his party, but when she arrives with a fake ID he looks displeased while doing nothing to stop her. That wasn’t a nightclub or something; that was his actual home. So, a fake ID shouldn’t automatically mean he couldn’t throw her out as kind of a tough love move, right? They made him seem helpless to do anything when he wasn’t.

9. Slade tells Oliver that maybe if he had told him the truth about Shado to begin with everything would have been different. Are the writers reading internet comment boards? Because that’s just the latest example of the dialog reflecting long-standing fan arguments.

10. Please, Arrow, stop saying that Oliver didn’t beat Ra’s al Guhl because he hesitated to kill him. Your actual fight scene did a piss-poor drop of depicting that.

NEXT TIME

SECOND OPINIONS

GirlonComicBookWorld– “The episode reminding us that the strength of Arrow has a lot to do with its villains, mainly Slade and Malcolm”

TV.com – “Far more than Thea becoming a fighter, the maturation of the character is what has elevated her into the ranks of Arrow‘s most interesting characters.”


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