I never thought I would say it. But here it is. It is time to review Arrow 3×14, “The Return,” otherwise known as “That Time the Flashbacks were Better than the Actual Episode.”
In this week’s Arrow, Slade naturally escapes from his island prison just as Thea and Ollie arrive. Thus commences a “Most Dangerous Game” episode where Ollie and Thea try not to be killers while trying not to be killed. Throw in a few of Oliver’s leftover booby traps, a few leftover secrets, and some interference by Malcolm Merlyn, and you have the ingredients for a very lackluster episode.
Also, let’s have a quick first-aid lesson: if you find yourself back on your hellish island home, and your little sister trips an Ewokian booby trap, and you are accidentally spiked by said booby trap…
The solution is to apply pressure with folded fabrics. The solution is not a five-minute breather and sharing secrets.
Seriously. Oliver Queen gets injured a lot. He should know this stuff.
So the main event was weak. Very weak. It could have been a lot of Bourne-like plot twists, but it leaned too heavily on its secrets, and we got the world’s most boring bottle episode.
Thea got some good screentime. She made the same not-murdering-people decision as her brother, she finally got mad at Ollie for keeping secrets, and she had a heart-breaking moment when she found out about Sara. She did good.
But weirdly enough, the real strength in this episode came from the flashbacks.
I know. I’m stunned too.
I tend to space out whenever I see flashback hair, to the extent that I don’t really remember what Chien Na Weh’s bioweapon does or what kind of leverage Amanda Waller has on Matseo. I still don’t know why Oliver Queen had to come back to Starling City.
Or why he chose that hat.
But Oliver came back. And in a JJ Abrams-esque parade of coincidences, we got to see Team Arrow before they teamed up. It was refreshing, to say the least.
Among the good flashback choices:
- A meet-cute with Felicity. (Ish. From the shadows. Which sort of fits their relationship.)
- Tommy Merlyn
- More Laurel backstory
- Tommy Merlyn
- More Laurel/Quentin backstory
- Thea/drug abuse plotline (not the best of these arcs but important later)
- Tommy Merlyn
- Digs and his brother
- Tommy Merlyn
You might be sensing a trend. And that trend is that Tommy Merlyn, actual ray of sunshine, should probably not have been axed in season one. Especially since everyone lights up whenever he comes back for like, a second.
We have a Lazarus Pit in canon. Put Sha Do in it. Put Sara in it. Put Tommy in it. Tada.
The addictive parallels between Laurel and Quentin packed a really strong emotional punch. In fact, Paul Blackthorne probably turned in the best performance of the episode (and the best flashback hair to date) as the eternally-drunk grieving father. It also let us see some excellent character growth, since Quentin has just lost his daughter again, and we don’t see him on another bender. We do, however, see the rift between father and daughter, which will surely turn up in the next episodes.
Digs and Felicity’s appearances were minor, but cute. It was nice to see Emily and David get to do some comedy. They’re so good at it.
And now we come to Thea. Willa Holland was, as always, spectacular, and her storyline was, as always, kind of irritating. In fact, in Thea’s plotline (where Oliver discovers she is becoming addicted to drugs) we get to the root problem of all the flashbacks:
Oliver coming back to Starling City? It doesn’t work.
If Oliver had spent three years away, and then came back to the city, he would know some things. In the pilot, he wouldn’t have been surprised about Walter and his mother (which he was), he certainly wouldn’t be surprised about Thea’s drug use (which he was), and since he seems to be pretty well-connected with the world, he would have known about Twilight and Facebook and all of the other funny little media tidbits we laughed about.
The flashbacks in each episode fit with the things happening in that episode. They do not fit with the overall continuity of the show.
The 100 had this same problem with Bellamy Blake. By the time his flashbacks caught up to him, they didn’t make sense. The dimpled cutie who snuck his sister to a dance didn’t work with the villainous caricature who appeared half-naked, smoking a cigar, with an underaged woman on each arm.
Once Upon a Time has this problem with all of their characters Snow White.
It’s like they’re trying so hard to connect the dots in a new and exciting way that they forget what picture they were supposed to be drawing in the first place.
In the same way, flashback Oliver is too far removed from the Oliver we saw in season one of Arrow. The writers are not keeping a handle on their continuity.
Will it cause the downfall of the show? No.
Is it frustrating? Yes.
They should be building on their world, not writing over it. Quentin/Laurel was a good use of flashback. Tommy Merlyn was a welcome use of flashback. Thea’s drug use, while important, is an inconsistent use of flashback.
And when you are playing with a timeline, consistency is crucial.
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