The best Slade plans came to fruition in this week’s Arrow episode, which was packed with action, intense emotion, and even a sprinkling of humor (I’m still chuckling over the hood and grease paint conversation between Oliver and Maseo). “The Return” really flipped the switch of Season Three’s formula by focusing more on flashbacks than on present day material. There was still a fairly even split between younger Oliver secretly in Starling City and Oliver and Thea on Lian Yu, but the overall emphasis of the episode seemed to fall more on the flashbacks. As the title suggests, this episode was about the return of Slade Wilson and the first return of flashback!Oliver to his home city.
Two big highlights of the episode were Slade Wilson and Tommy Merlyn, both of whom are compelling characters and were very missed when they first left the show. But even more than Slade and Tommy, this episode was about Oliver and Thea’s relationship. But before we get to that, let’s talk about Slade.
Slade was as formidable a villain as ever and his scenes in this episode were memorable. As much as the show has hyped up Ra’s al Ghul as a villain, it seems even he can’t top Slade as a threat to Oliver—both physically and emotionally. Slade will forever be a man who tormented Oliver over and over again, and now he’s back (with a little help from Malcolm Merlyn). The one shortcoming in Slade’s return was that they didn’t give him enough screentime, therefore they couldn’t bring out his full potential. If they had dedicated a little less time to flashbacks, Slade could have really been a formidable villain again, instead of being more like a thorn in their side until Thea got him. I wanted to see more of Slade being Slade.
Seeing Tommy back was bittersweet because, since he was only present in flashbacks, his character can still be nothing more than a memory. He was great, as usual, playing the big brother stand-in with Thea and the flirty playboy with Laurel. There was nothing to dislike about Tommy’s role in the flashbacks, even if he wasn’t able to do much about Thea’s drug problem or the Lance family’s grief. And speaking of Lance, Quentin portrayed as more vulnerable and drunken version of himself was very well done, too. It was the right drama in the right places.
Having Oliver lurk in the shadows while watching all of his loved ones was both heart wrenching and silly. Heart wrenching because he had to endure seeing such turmoil in the wake of his “death” and silly because his timing was way too convenient is some scenes. Plus, a couple scenes felt a bit unnecessary. I loved the flashback scenes, especially with Oliver “meeting” Team Arrow before they were a team. But having Felicity and Diggle present in the flashbacks didn’t serve much purpose other than as fan service. While fun, there was little point to having Oliver see them. However, it was fun to see Digg’s brother for the first time.
One important point of having the flashbacks was Oliver wavering between sticking to his mission and revealing himself to his family. He sways back and forth for a while until he watches the video from his father. Robert manages to convince Oliver that he can be better than his old man; he can save his city by acting selflessly. In this case, it means not allowing himself to go home. He has to stick it out for the good of everyone, even strangers. It’s a huge, defining moment for Oliver toward him becoming a hero.
Stepping away from the flashbacks for now, let’s return (get it?) to Lian Yu for some Queen family bonding time. Thea and Oliver survival camp scenes were delightful to watch, even before Slade’s escape. And as soon as Thea said that line about “no more secrets between us” to Oliver, we just knew she was going to find out something devastating. It was almost laughable, Thea thinking there was nothing left for her to find out about from Oliver’s big book of secrets. I have to commend the entire cast for their acting in this episode, but special points go to Willa Holland and Stephen Amell. The Queen siblings performed beautifully, especially during the big reveal about Thea killing Sara, their time in Slade’s prison cell, and the final showdown with Slade.
Slade’s role in this episode was essentially a way stop on Oliver’s journey toward not only finding his true identity between Oliver Queen and the Arrow, but also toward defeating Ra’s al Ghul. Slade’s role, while brief, was pivotal. He’s like a gatekeeper, daring, taunting, and warning Oliver about losing what makes him human; losing his soul. And what’s the main thing that can save Oliver’s soul? His loved ones. More specifically in this episode, Thea.
In flashbacks and in present time, Oliver is focused on his little sister. He even ran the risk of Waller’s wrath by dealing with Thea’s drug dealer (and by dealing I mean killing). Taking Thea to Lian Yu built their bond into something more than it was before. Oliver needed to bring her to purgatory—his home away from home—so that she could understand what he’s been through and he could understand that she is capable of handling more than he once thought. She will always be his little sister, but more than ever, he has to see her as an equal. That’s why he told her the truth about Sara, why he gave her a gun, and why he dislocated her arm so they could escape. Thea, like Oliver, had to break and be re-forged on Lian Yu so that they can stand together and defeat Ra’s.
The important subplot of the episode was the aftermath of Quentin learning about Sara’s death, and it was painful (in a heartbreaking but good way). The acting was incredible, and Quentin’s speech about Laurel breaking their bond was so justified, yet so sad. I wanted to give them both a hug. Although it was a small part of the episode, it was handled excellently and was so important to show after all the build up of Laurel keeping that secret for so long. She wanted to protect her father, and instead she may have lost him for good.
So what’s the verdict? I give this episode 9 out of 10. I know, I know, I’ve been giving a lot of Arrow episodes 9 out of 10, but that’s what I think they deserve. I had to take a point for the flashback scenes that were like fatty extras—delicious but not needed. “The Return” was great TV, but it wasn’t perfect. That being said, watching Thea and Oliver grow closer to each other (painful, yes, but also strong) and then having Thea cut into Malcolm with her verbal knife was brilliantly dramatic.
What did you think of “The Return?” Share your thoughts in the comments.
Great dialogue from the episode:
“How many people can Oliver Queen lose before there is no more Oliver Queen?” – Slade
“He [Merlyn] freed Slade to prove that we’re killers. You gotta prove to him that you’re not.” – Oliver to Thea
“I will be your student. I will be your partner. Even if I have to, I will be your soldier. But never again will I be your daughter.” – Thea to Malcolm
“You’re cute. It’s too bad you’re, you know, dead . . . I really need to learn to stop talking to myself.” – Felicity to Oliver’s photo
“That disguise wouldn’t work even if you smeared grease paint over your face.” – Maseo to Oliver
“What good is a family without a soul?” – Robert Queen
“What kind of psycho would put that there?” – Thea
“Me.” – Oliver
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