As predicted, the fact that last week’s cliff-hanger left Flashback Oliver in Starling City meant that this week’s episode pulled off a clever reversal of the show’s usual structure, with the flashback episodes occurring in Starling City and the present day episodes taking place on Lan Yiu (aka Flashback Island, although we’ll be dropping that nickname for this week because otherwise things will get confusing). Whether the flashback sequences really added anything substantial beyond fan service this week is debatable, but at least the island action delivered the goods.
In terms of the stated purpose of the flashbacks (i.e. to get Oliver from wherever we last left him to his eventual Season 1 return to Starling City, now only two years away in Flashback Years), all this episode really added was the fact that Oliver found the recorded message from his father that would eventually inspire his quest to kill all the bad guys on Queen Snr’s List Of Evil Dudes. You could also make a case for Oliver killing Thea’s drug dealer as a step towards him becoming the cold-hearted killer of the first season, except that if he hadn’t killed him, the dealer would have blabbed about his return, which would have gotten the entire Queen family killed anyway. Still, any excuse to break a drug dealer’s back and toss him off a balcony, eh? Drugs are bad, mmmkay?
Other than that, Oliver spent the episode checking in with whoever was available for the episode, which boiled down to Thea (wild child, drug problem, party crasher, Season 1 wig), Tommy (protective of Thea in Oliver’s absence, beginning a relationship with Laurel), and Laurel (bearing the brunt of Detective Lance’s alcohol-fuelled grief over the loss of Sara, beginning a relationship with Tommy). The only problem is that Oliver is unable to interact with any of the characters (under pain of death from Amanda Waller), which made everything feel a bit like Marty McFly revisiting the events of Back to the Future in Back to the Future II.
That said, at least the show took the opportunity to have some on-the-nose fun with the Starling City flashbacks, which was rewarding if you’re the sort of viewer who has watched every episode and can remember which character Roger Cross played (clue: he was Lance’s dead partner, Lucas Hilton). To that end, we got: (i) our first glimpse of Diggle, interacting with his still-alive brother Andy and adjusting to his new day job as a security guard; (ii) Oliver overhearing Felicity talking to herself, as she lusts over a photo of Oliver in a Queen Consolidated office; and (iii) the aforementioned appearance of Lucas Hilton, as well as a troubled Quentin Lance, still grieving over Sara’s death.
Speaking of on-the-nose material, the flashback sequences also featured what is quite possibly the most groan-worthy line of the entire season, when Maseo chastises Oliver for standing so close to Thea: “Yeah, I pulled the hoodie down over my face.” “That disguise wouldn’t work if you had greasepaint all over your face.” Slow clap, screenwriters. That said, we are genuinely sad that we never got to see a scene of Oliver actually applying the greasepaint before suiting up, pre-mask.
It’s fair to say, then, that the flashbacks have been particularly weak this season, something the showrunners are presumably aware of, because they introduced an intriguing new character this week, in the form of actor Marc Singer (the Beastmaster himself, also of original V fame). He played Amanda Waller’s boss, Colonel (or some other army rank) Matthew Shrieve. In the comics, Shrieve is the human leader of all-monster team the Creature Commandos (so casting the Beastmaster is a stroke of genius), but they’re surely not planning to go there, are they? At any rate, it’s a potentially exciting new direction for the flashbacks, so fingers crossed.
Admittedly, there was one element to the flashback sequences that worked really well this week and they were the scenes between Laurel and Detective Lance. In particular, the scene at Sara’s graveside, with Quentin angrily (and drunkenly) venting to Laurel about Sara’s death, could just have easily have come from the present day section of the episode, to the point where we seriously wondered whether the only reason that they made Paul Blackthorne bald this season was so the audience could tell Flashback Quentin and Present Day Quentin apart in this episode. At any rate, it was strong stuff, and it offered a neat contrast with Lance’s grief and anger with Laurel in the present day sequences. Arguably, poor old Lance is even worse off now, not least because Sara is actually dead. Still, Laurel kind of deserves his anger after pretending to him that Sara was still alive, so it was good to see the show address that in the present day sequences. Also, at least somebody finally said the name “The Black Canary” out loud.
All of which brings us neatly to the present day sequences on Lan Yiu, where, as per the ending of last week’s episode, Oliver has taken Thea to train for the upcoming fight against Ra’s al Ghul. Things get off to a rocky start, however, when it turns out that Malcolm has freed a still-vengeful Slade Wilson from his island prison, purely so that Oliver has to regain his killer instinct! Father. Of. The. Year.
With fan favourite Manu Bennett reprising his role as Slade (easily Arrow’s best villain to date), the island sequences don’t disappoint, from a terrific three-way fight scene to some quality pop-psychology moments between Oliver and Slade, with Slade ruminating, “How many people can Oliver Queen lose before there is no more Oliver Queen?” Slade is still crazy, obviously, but he has an intriguing relationship with Oliver that borders on tenderness at times. It’s almost a shame that Oliver has to leave him on the island at the end.
The real meat of this episode, however, is in the continuing development of the relationship between Oliver and Thea, which is fast becoming one of the show’s most interesting elements. There are dashes of humour (the bit with the booby trap – “What kind of psycho would put that thing there?” “Me.”), some brilliantly absurd moments (Thea casually agreeing to let Oliver dislocate her arm so she could reach the prison-door-opening switch that was located hilariously close to the cell) and, of course, the big reveal, with Oliver finally telling Thea the truth about her role in Sara’s death.
Naturally, Thea is devastated and her horror and sadness eventually gives way to anger that’s directed at her father, leading to her emotionally powerful rejection of Malcolm at the episode’s end: “I will be your soldier, but I will never again be your daughter.”
Willa Holland is one hell of an actress and she knocks these scenes out of the park. As the flashback sequences show, Thea’s character has matured enormously over the course of three seasons and it’s hugely exciting that she’s finally a fully-fledged part of Team Arrow.
Although the flashback sequences didn’t really amount to much in plot terms (particularly given their share of screen time), there is compensation in the clever overlap between the past and present Lance and Laurel scenes, as well as some effective emotional material, in Episode 14. With a decent mix of solid action and strong character development, the pieces are finally in place for the upcoming fight against Ra’s al Ghul, which will presumably take us into the season finale.
Season 1, 2 and 3 of Arrow are available on Amazon Prime, as part of a £5.99 monthly subscription – or, for free next day UK delivery on Amazon items, as part of a £79 annual Prime membership.
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Photo: Warner Bros. Entertainment, Inc.