Arrow 3.14: The Return
This week's episode took Oliver back to the island of Lian Yu - this time with his sister Thea - and I for one had missed it. One of the things I enjoyed most about Arrow in its first two years was the Lost style flashbacks that added depth to the story while we saw the origins of the Arrow on the streets of Starling City.
This year, the weakest elements of the show have definitely been the flashbacks. Oliver working for Amanda Wallace in Hong Kong hasn't been anywhere near as thrilling as Oliver, Shado and Slade versus Edward Fyer's military forces in season one. Or the arrival of Sara, the appearance of the freighter and Dr. Anthony Ivo and Slade's descent into madness as he becomes infected with Mirakuru in season two. My main gripe has been with Oliver willing to work for Waller - and I know the show presents us with reasons - but their return to Starling City in 2010 only made this more apparent.
While it was fun to see characters like Tommy back and Thea, Diggle and Felicity all pre-season one, it didn't offer much new and I didn't really buy why Oliver would leave again. On the positive side, the 'Alpha' story line seemed to come to a satisfying end with China White captured and Waller's boss General Matthew Shrieve offering to let Oliver go if he returned to China for one final debrief. He is obviously not going to go free, but I hope it sends the flashbacks in an interesting new direction. I also loved the use of Starling City as the setting for the flashback with the island serving as the present day setting.
Malcolm Merlyn continued to pull the strings as his suggestion of Thea and Oliver using the island as a training exercise became something far deadlier; a game of cat and mouse with Deathstroke himself, Slade Wilson. It was a welcome return for Manu Bennett's eye-patch wearing villain. I loved how far Merlyn would go, unleashing their mother's killer in order to push Oliver to re-hone his killer instincts as he prepared for his fight against Ra's Al Ghul.
The idea of what makes someone a killer came to the forefront with Thea as she learned that Merlyn forced her to become Sara's killer. This revelation was the last straw in the already crumbling relationship she had with her father and I loved her speech to him upon their return to Starling City.
"I will work with you to stop Ra's. Because that's what my brother says we need to do. So I will be your student. I'll be your partner. Even if I have to, I will be your soldier. But never again I will be your daughter.".
This was some powerful stuff from Willa Holland who has gone from strength to strength this season. Seeing her as the immature, drug-taking school girl in the flashbacks reminded us of how far Thea has come. Her relationship with her brother is stronger than ever and Holland nails the bond with Stephen Amell's Oliver.
The interplay between Oliver and Slade was amazing too, the scenes between them in the prison as strong as the fight scenes outside. Their connection from allies to enemies was a core part of the show's success in the early years and while Arrow has moved on, it was nice to revisit this relationship once again.
The one thing the flashback did give us was seeing Quentin Lance end up back in the position he was five years ago. In 2010 he was a drunk mourning the death of Sara and three years later he was mourning her all over again. It was nice to see the show is taking the time to deal with the fallout of Laurel's lies to him. Keeping her death from him - and learning that her mother knew - might have ruined the bond they had. Ironically, Laurel running about as a masked vigilante is the one thing he didn't really have a problem with.
Ultimately, this week's episode didn't move the story on, except to have Thea learn that she was Sara's killer. But thanks to the return to the island and Slade it was one of the strongest too - despite a somewhat frustrating flashback. I get the sense that things are about to chance both in the past and the present and that is a great thing.