Ok, “The Return” was fun for the most part despite a few bumps in the road. It is weird that all of the episodes of the series where the flashbacks are the main purpose of the narrative focus on Oliver’s relation with one man, Slade Wilson, and rightfully so because of the astronomical effect he has had on Oliver as a person. Only this time we have officially gone a 180 as Slade is in the present and Island Oliver is in the past confronting certain aspects of Starling City. On its own this episode has a basic greatest hits structure as all of our main and/or favorite characters interacting in the past. Drugged up Thea, Drunk Detective Lance, Diggle and his brother, hell even Tommy showed up to remind me just how much I miss Tommy, and yet it felt like we were missing that element that was supposed to make this episode really good rather than stalling for time.
First off, thank you Manu Bennett for continuing to be one of the best aspects of the entire show. Yes, with Slade Wilson’s return this week we got some much needed Oliver revelation face to face as opposed to the usual wheel spinning that we see week to week. Since Slade manages to challenge Ollie on both a psychological and physical level Thea finally got to see just how out of his depth Oliver truly is when he comes up against an opposing force. Slade literally taught Oliver everything he knows about serving and fighting so for Thea to actually finally see the man who made Oliver what he is rather than the master planner we saw last year was more than gratifying to say the least. What really managed to elevate Slade’s return were the quieter moments between Oliver and Slade as they spoke about Oliver as a person and just how much he has left to lose. Slade’s final speech really nailed Oliver and has mostly sealed his victory over his former protégé as he brought up an extremely valid point. Oliver has basically lost everything imaginable in his life in some way or another, so how much more of Oliver Queen is really left? Oliver doesn’t know who he is post Ra’s and that means he is more vulnerable than ever on all fronts.
In watching Slade return this week we also got some extremely gratifying character development for Thea as we got to see her fight and learn the truth about Sara. Oliver has full on committed to being as honest as he can possibly be with her about the things he has done and what she needs to know in order to survive. This will surely force the two siblings to become even closer, but it does also fracture Oliver’s very fragile alliance with Merlyn now that he has revealed what Merlyn did to Thea. Merlyn already hates Oliver for many different reasons and I am positive he got a sick joy out of forcing Oliver to run for his life from Slade, but telling Thea will definitely be the deciding factor when it comes down to choosing to side with Oliver against Ra’s or not. I mean Merlyn loves Thea in his own sick disgusting way, but Thea now fully realizes the type of man her father truly is and that is the one thing Merlyn could never stand for.
As for what did not work in this week’s episode, that was basically all of the various flashbacks that happened. It wasn’t that they were necessarily bad, rather it was in the context of the episode they provided nothing to the viewer in any way. I was happy to see pre-Oliver Diggle with his brother and Tommy being an awesome big brother without really knowing it, but these interactions really added nothing to the overall season story and that was atypical of other flashback heavy episodes like “The Odyssey” or “The Promise”. The flashbacks in those episodes added context for the events taking place in the present day and that really didn’t apply with the exception of the Detective Lance bits. Paul Blackthorne has sadly gotten the short end of the stick this season but this week was finally given the material he so desperately needed. Watching the parallels between drunk Lance in the past and heartbroken Lance of the present really helped to nail everything home. I just wish everything else could’ve been as crisp and fulfilling as Lance’s arc was.
Overall it was an ok week, I just wish it was better.
Final Grade C+
+Slade being Slade
+Thea learning the truth about Sara
+Strongest Lance material of the season
-Really needed more Slade
-Who let Merlyn free Slade?
-I don’t know which was more egregious, Felicity thinking Ollie was attractive in that picture or the atrocious green screen in the mansion.
-I like Diggle’s brother I hope we get to see more of him soon
-This episode made me badly want two things: Tommy back in the present and a Roy centric flashback episode.