TV Recap: Arrow, ‘The Return’

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The Return Plot Summary:

When Malcolm (John Barrowman) drops Oliver (Stephen Amell) and Thea (Willa Holland) back on Lian Yu to train, he also sets Slade (Manu Bennett) free from prison in order to challenge them. Meanwhile, in the flashbacks, Oliver and Maseo (Karl Yune) try to stop China White (Kelly Hu). Oliver struggles as he sees the effect his presumed death has on the people he left behind. Wow. Color me surprised. I never thought Thea would find out about Malcolm this early. Don’t get me wrong, I’m thrilled, but I thought we’d be dealing with Oliver’s stupid conflict for at least another five episodes. Thea has always been a problem character. In Season 1, she was a winey nuisance who pulled focus from more important storylines. In Season 2, she was Roy’s (Colton Haynes) love interest. This season, her alliance with Malcolm has made her much more interesting, but she’s still been more of a motivator for Oliver than her own character. This episode finally put her in control of her own life and she’s never been more compelling.

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As cool it was to see her fight Slade, it was far more gratifying to see her demand Oliver tell her the truth about Sara’s death. Thea’s anger often seems unfounded even overblown. However, her reaction to discovering she had been manipulated into killing a friend really worked here. Willa Holland delivered her strongest work yet, with her best scene being when her character tells off Malcolm. He may have deflected blame at every turn (his complete lack of guilt is hilarious), but her declaration that she is no longer his daughter still hit him where it hurts. I still think she should kill him. Yet, considering she consciously made the decision not to become a murderer like her father and brother by letting Slade live earlier in the episode, wouldn’t have really made sense.

While the Slade/Oliver/Thea/Malcolm storyline was a lot of fun, the flashbacks were the best part of the episode for once. I’m glad we got the Tommy Merlyn (Colin Donnel) cameo I demanded, but seeing the emotional fallout of Oliver’s death was really interesting. Quentin Lance (Paul Blackthorne) was probably the worst off. At the height of his alcoholism, he was meaner and more resentful than we’ve ever seen him. Despite how strong Blackthorne was in the scenes, it was tough to watch a character we’ve all come to care about at such a troubled stage in his life. His present day angst was equally tough. I assumed Lance would immediately forgive Laurel (Katie Cassidy), but after their talk in front of Sara’s grave, it’s pretty clear their relationship is fundamentally altered. Lance’s love for his daughters is as close to an absolute as anything on this show. So, to hear him say Laurel has unforgivably hurt them, then seemingly cut ties, was really stunning. I don’t think this separation is meant to last forever, but it’s going to have a profound effect on Laurel and her continued work as the Black Canary (as Quentin spitefully dubbed her).

Other than Quentin, Oliver was having the roughest time in the flashbacks. At that point in the timeline, Oliver is still basically the selfish playboy who left Starling City three years before. Seeing the emotional fallout from his presumed death causes him to reflect on his choices in a way he’s never had to before. The video his father left behind does even more so. It gave him his first taste of The Undertaking and the list of names that drove his crusade at the series’ beginning. It also showed the first hints of the (often self-destructive) selflessness that defines him. Instead of finally escaping his ARGUS nightmare and returning home, he decided to help Maseo defeat China White. It was a nice bit of character development as well as hint at Oliver’s future — even if the video was a too-convenient storytelling device.

Felicity’s (Emily Bett Rickards) surprise appearance when Oliver broke into Queen Consolidated was also a nice reference to Oliver’s future. Was it kind of cheesy and totally unnecessary? Absolutely. Was it fun anyway? You bet. It did raise an important question: How the hell is Felicity already working at QC? When we saw her in flashback earlier this season, she was a student at MIT. Now–what is presumably a few months later–she’s somehow in Starling City. Maybe she graduated early, but Christ, by how much? She’s 25 in the present day so how is it possible she’s part of MIT’s Class of ’09? Usually this wouldn’t matter to me so much, but I am just about to turn 27 and I need to know exactly how inadequate I should feel. Anyway, the real point of the cameo was to further the season’s main theme: Oliver trying to reconcile the two sides of himself. There’s a line from this great, limited-run comic series called

Translucid that nicely sums up Oliver’s situation:

“By default, the hero puts his true identity to rest, a mercy killing to protect the ego.”

The Oliver who smiled at the rambling girl with the glasses died sometime before he came back to Starling. Now, that Oliver is struggling to come back to life. Felicity is a big part of that and Slade reminded us of the fact when he pushed Oliver’s buttons by mentioning her. Oliver’s greatest fear is that he can’t protect the people he loves. He’s got a right given his history and Slade asked an important question: how many people can Oliver lose before he’s not himself anymore? Looking at who he was in the flashbacks versus who he was at the beginning of the series, it’s pretty clear that he already isn’t himself. In his mind, Oliver Queen is dead and the Arrow is all that remains. Yet try as he might, he can’t keep Oliver Queen away. As I’ve said before, I think this season will end with Oliver making the decision to revive his true self just as the flashback version decides to kill it. This episode only confirmed that thinking and I’m more excited than ever to see it happen. Rating: 9/10

http://youtu.be/N4Uf5aiOBZI ============================================================================================================================================
By day, Marisa Carpico stresses over every detail of America’s election system. By night, she becomes a pop culture and celebrity obsessive. Whether it’s movies, TV or music, she watches and listens to it all so you don’t have to. You can find her risking her life by reading comic books while walking down the crowded streets of New York City, having inappropriate emotional reactions at her iPad screen while riding the subway or occasionally letting her love of a band convince her to stand for hours on end in one of the city’s many purgatorial concert spaces. You can follow her on Twitter to read her insightful social commentary or more likely complain about how cold it is at @MarisaCarpico. ============================================================================================================================================

By day, Marisa Carpico stresses over America’s election system. By night, she becomes a pop culture obsessive. Whether it’s movies, TV or music, she watches and listens to it all so you don’t have to.