"I keep my promises, kid."
"I bet Thea and Laurel will be my favorite characters." Show of hands: who said that when Season 3 started? If you're raising your hand, you're either a liar or part of a very small group. But here you have it, people. Arrow has turned one amazingly unlikable character and one okay one into rational, appealing characters. Thea's suddenly the voice of reason and means well and, unlike almost everyone else, she's able to respond accordingly to big news -- even after it has been blatantly withheld from her. I mean, if you're going to lie to someone, maybe say something other than "now isn't the right time," Oliver. Because that's sure to make them change the subject, yeah? Anyway, let's talk about the episode.
"Why is Oliver brought back to Starling City? Why does Amanda Waller need him?" Those two thoughts appeared in my head when last week's episode concluded. Thankfully, they justify bringing Ollie back to his home but the handling of the mission is kind of iffy. We're talking about a person with Amanda Waller's resources bringing Oliver -- a guy who tried to escape while in another country -- back to his home. It's a little tough to believe they didn't keep him on a shorter leash and his way of eluding detection wasn't the best around ("Nothing to see here; just a shady guy watching you"), but despite those nit-picky critiques, this look into the past did offer a good amount of emotion. Having Oliver see how far his sister has fallen was pretty moving and a nice reminder of how much Speedy has changed since the first season. It also enhanced the Laurel/Quentin dynamic and, even though that didn't get much focus, Paul Blackthorne's performance was superb. What's up with CW dads nailing the emotion? Joe West gets the tears flowing over in The Flash and here, Quentin is killing the emotional scenes. Oh, and China White keeping calm and collected under pressure was quite cool.
Look, there's no way around it: I'm always going to be excited if the show brings Deathstroke back. Manu Bennett did an awesome job as the lethal character, so the chance to see him scream at Oliver and threaten him once again is terrific. That said, he does come off as feeling a tad underused. It's understandable since the episode needs to focus on the Thea/Oliver and Laurel/Quentin relationships, but the action scenes with the dude weren't all that thrilling. The opening training sequence was shot well, but then the melee battle between the three of them was full of quick cuts and rough shots. That made it difficult to be impressed by the choreography and unfortunately, it was a kind of forgettable skirmish. I can't be the only one who felt like he was also downplayed physically, right? (I'm under the impression the Mirakuru wouldn't weaken.) Still, getting a solid reminder of Slade's hatred was very welcome and you can tell Manu has a blast with those lines. Those opening lines playing in Oliver's head? Oh yeah, welcome back, Slade.
Merlyn. Freaking Merlyn, man! His plan was awesomely diabolical. I love how they're handling this guy and making it abundantly clear he'll never be someone team Arrow can get behind 100%, but in this case, they're willing to put up with his nonsense. In his own messed up way, hes helping Ollie and his daughter. Slade was my favorite villain in this series, but I'm loving how they continue to handle Malcolm this season.
I don't mind a cheesy line or two, but it seemed like there were a handful of not-so-great and blunt lines. Stuff like, "I was dreaming" and "that was a booby trap" comes to mind. I'm not sure how I feel about all of the really meta stuff, either. I mean, when Maseo has the line about the disguise not working even if he had paint (or whatever) on his face, I found myself laughing and saying to myself, "that's a bit too on the noise."
John Diggle's cameo worked in this one. It's short, funny, and an organic way to remind us the dude exists. Felicity's, however, felt forced. Sure, her dialogue is funny, but it seemed like throwing a bone to the Olicity fan club. (Relax, I'm rooting for them as well.) Even then, doesn't having him first see her like that and never even tell her kind of take away from what they have just a little bit? "From the first moment I saw you, I knew I loved you. Oh yeah, that moment was just me watching you... from the shadows. Sorry for telling you about this just now."
Random thoughts: I understand his desire to do those things, but did anyone else think Oliver wasn't being smooth and stealthy like, at all? And who else thought the wig was kind of distracting while he wore that hat? How'd they get Slade back to the cell? After a "flesh wound," they just made him return to a place where he'd be stuck until he dies of old age? Seems a bit easy given how strong and deadly he is. Who else wanted to exclaim, "come on!" when Ollie blatantly dodged Thea's question while they were trapped? I'm glad they didn't wind up dragging that one out. Lastly, that ending was pretty abrupt. I guess they want to just let the moment of Malcolm feeling hate for Oliver sink in. Or at least that's how I viewed it. But if they're bringing Ray Palmer back in the next episode, it's a little surprising they didn't end with a big teaser for that story arc.
"The Return" just goes to show how much more interesting character relationships can be when they stop lying and finally tell everyone else about what's going on instead of dragging it on and on and on. Watching Oliver and Thea finally discuss these things instead of dodging them is like a breath of fresh air for the show. I get they live in a crazy world, but you can only stretch a lie for so long and it's excellent they tackled a big one in this episode instead of dragging it out; something we know they totally could have done. The emotional material here (Oliver/Thea, Laurel/Quentin) was great and, even though the action wasn't all that epic, Deathstroke's minor role was good fun. Sure, I have a number of minor criticisms with this one, but it sold most of the drama well and it has me legitimately excited to see what'll happen next with Malcolm and Laurel. Also, I know it's called team Arrow, but who else kind of wants to start calling it team Thea?