I Wasn't Always on the Island
Executive Producer Marc Guggenheim previewed “The Return” by linking it to the lineage of other flashback centered episodes such as "The Odyssey"(1x14) and “The Promise”(2x15). While formally it mirrors those two episodes, “The Return” main thread, Oliver’s secret return to Starling, and sub thread, Ollie and Thea surviving on the island, lack the emotional weight of those previous episodes. There is some fun in “The Return”, having the flashback take place in Starling while the present day is on the island, but with the flashbacks not being that interesting this season and the bad prequel nature of them turns “The Return” into a miscalculated bit of fan service.
Having the flashbacks center around a secret ARGUS mission in Starling City is a novel twist and I understand the need to use contracted actors and sets. However, these cameos with the younger versions of Team Arrow all function on fated moments of Oliver voyeurism, that distract from the less than interesting plot they are running through. The story of the flashback, Oliver’s move towards helping people beyond his immediate social group is a decent encapsulation of the larger movement towards heroism throughout the series.
“The Return” main thread, comes off like a bad prequel, wherein “mythology” is explained on a plot level but it never informs character it just plays on the knowledge base of the audience with winks and nods. While sneaking into Queen Consolidated, Oliver happens to see younger Felicity talk about how “cute” Oliver is…even though he looks kind of demonic in that picture. It is a very Felicity moment but it comes off like 30 seconds of an old greatest hit. All of these intersections give the idea that this is what gave Oliver the idea to become the Hood/Arrow and who to form his team around. In the present however the formation of Team Arrow, and Oliver’s motivations are shown to be more nuanced than the brief message from his father and run ins with future colleagues. Detective Lance is rather prominent in “The Return”, Arrow finally shows the future Captain-Detective at the bottom of a bottle. Despite his longer screen time, Lance is too drunk to be anything more than one note like everyone else. That said, I am all for the series forcing more of its players to wear utterly bad wigs.
Maseo’s comment about the absurdity of wearing a hood and grease paint to hide ones identity is a moment clearly referencing the future, however it is contextualized with the party sequence and a meta joke about how dumb the hood and paint was. Oliver using a Dragon Sleeper to break creepy Drug Dealer’s neck is a similarly nice call back to “Pilot” where Oliver regretfully snaps a neck to keep his secret. These are the kind of brief moments that work in a prequel environment.
While Thea’s reaction to being brought in on the secret last week didn’t fully play with me, it was a necessary moment that was long overdue. The revelation that she technically murdered Sara, was similarly over due. This clearly sets Thea down her path for the remainder the season. This path is also one Oliver has gone down several times in the before. A freshly re-imprisoned Slade Wilson taunts Oliver with the knowledge that Malcolm Merlyn has corrupted Thea and touched her with “the Darkness”. Having Thea corrupted transforms her into another woman Oliver loves that he must save from “the Darkness”. Season 1 he tried to save The Huntress. Season 2 he tried to save Sara Lance. Batman has a better record with his Robins than Oliver Queen dose with protecting the woman he loves. I hate how I phrased that since it robs Huntress, Sara, and Thea of their agency and implies a certain amount of damseling. In the end both of those characters made their own choices, to kill and go back to the League respectively. Oliver’s attempts to “save”( a vaguely specific term here) is also born out of his own want to atone and cleanse himself of “the Darkness”. Felicity is right, Oliver has a bad track record when it comes to these things.
Bits At The End
The reveal of Marc Singer(the Beastmaster himself) as General Matthew Shrieve was a nice end point. Shrieve in the comics is the leader of the Creature Commandos who also have ties to the recently cast Deathbolt.
The latter half of Slade’s villainous taunting, wondering how many people can Oliver Queen lose before there is no Oliver Queen left is interesting and hopefully explored more
Having Thea tell Malcolm that she will still work with him and than in the promo for the next episode apparently rat him out to the League is highly contradictory.