Arrow "S3E14 The Return" - Review

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Arrow "S3E14 The Return" - Review

The Return – Both in the flashbacks and present day Oliver Queen confronts his past to direct his future. Merlyn sends Oliver and Thea back to the island for Oliver recover his killer edge unaware that Slade “Deathstroke” Wilson has been released from his prison with a mind for vengeance on the Queens. While back in 2010 Oliver and Maseo return to Starling City in pursuit of China White causing Oliver to see the devastation his tragedy caused to family and friends until he discovers something that will change his path forever.

This episode has been described by the show runners as a love letter to fans. While regular Arrowheads have never felt wanting for affection the episode does a wonderful job of celebrating how far and developed its many characters have become by taking things back to their origins. While the focus of both stories is on Oliver we’re treated to a ton of tit bit character appearances as Oliver stalks in the background of many scenes. A lovely brief Felicity cameo sees her affections pre-dating their vigilante activities and Oliver’s little smile suggesting his half of the Olicity chronicles may have just written its first page. For the second time this season we’re happily reunited with Colin Donnell as Tommy Merlyn; here honouring his departed best friend by being a surrogate big brother to Thea. His scenes with Laurel are also interesting as it’s implied as the beginning of their more than friendship. Laurel’s conflict with her alcoholic and mourning father, Detective Lance, reflect nicely back to the present day bombshell dropped last week over Sara as we see he how badly her death hit him the first time around. We see Dig recently back from service and reluctantly beginning is career in spoilt rich boy day care. Even more intriguing is that finally meeting Dig’s much talked about deceased brother. With episode 17 confirmed as a Suicide Squad outing it could be a very deliberate plant for subsequently showing his death via Deadshot in flashbacks. In S2E6 Deadshot revealed he made the kill under contract from HIVE; this would seem an ideal way to incorporate the Hierarchy of International Vengeance and Extermination into the show. This may even be setting them up for a large villain presence in season 4 hopefully including their comic connections to Death Stroke (which we will file under “A” for awesome). Speaking of the big Manu himself, his return has been teased for a couple of months but the wait was worth the while as with barely a growly “kid” we’re reminded why he was such a kick ass on screen presence. His actions feel completely in keeping with his character as he tries to make good on his promises of vengeance (brilliantly over laced as audio when Oliver discovers his escape). He’s as mad and ravenous for blood as you’d expect from someone incarcerated for so long yet still retains his tactical composure as he executes his plans. Yet also brings the pain well into the fight choreography, highlighted by an excellent two on one as Oliver and Thea combine to defeat him (a great precursor to the pair ultimately teaming up in regularly hero activities as Thea gets ever closer to adopting the Speedy mantle).

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Yet for the first time since he went cliff diving this is Oliver’s story as parallels between the flashbacks and present create a fantastic examination of his psychological journey as while he fights not too become the driven killer again on the island we witness the how he acquired it the first time in the past. The contrast between Oliver before and after watching his father’s video message is staggering. His movements become more clinical and precise as if focused for the first time. We’ve already seen him learn to be an archer; now we’re seeing him become a vigilante as he does whatever he believes must be done without hesitation or reservation. Just the look in his eyes as he shoots down China White’s escape is a statement in itself. While the ending is a great introduction of a new character to set up the conclusion of the Hong Hong/China story arc his promised exit strategy implies a less obvious new direction in connection to preceding events. When Oliver’s told he’ll be taken anywhere he likes (though maybe not at first) it looks like rather than returning to Starling City he’ll ask to go back to the island. Firstly because his father’s notebook is there so he’ll at least need to swing by for a pick up but we could well see him choosing to stay there. Yes he has his purpose but he’s still far from the green one man war machine we saw returning to Starling after his five year exile. So it looks like he’ll suffer some form of failure or defeat in the remainder of the season’s flashbacks making him realise he’s still not ready and needs to train harder. This will see him re-entering purgatory by choice as a training grounds to hone his skills until he’s finally ready to become something else and save his city. The episode also has some great fun implying other staples of Oliver’s character. The biggest being his first use of a green hood and Maseo telling him “that disguise wouldn’t work even if you smeared grease paint all over your face”.

There’s also some clear setup here for darker Thea arc. Her past drug addiction scenes showing her vulnerability in times of loss and grieving and in finally learning the truth about Merlyn making her kill Sara we have a clear tipping point as much of her world suddenly crashes around her. Slade observes that she has darkness inside her and claims she’s already lost and it’s only with heavy persuasion from Oliver that she doesn’t become a killer again when the chance to avenge her mother occurs. Her final moments are quite powerful as she slices the emotional ties between her and her father “I will be your student, I’ll be your partner, even if I have to I will be your soldier but I will never be your daughter again”. It looks like we will see her becoming a full blown killer again before the season ends only to be saved by Oliver and Roy.

You could almost call this episode plot relevant fan fiction for all the audience indulgences it delivers but it does it so well that its finds nothing but a welcome reception. Many familiar recurring set locations like the Queen mansion are a treat to re-visit and while many of us would like to see Slade back for more than just a week the actually feels more of tease and affirmation to that glorious day looming on the horizon. Similarly to Buffy’s season 3 single episode return for Spike (S3E8 Lovers Walk) it keeps the character feeling significant within the story despite their absence in preparation for main cast return in a later season. When shows like this circle back to their history so well it just reminds us how much quality they’ve built up. Arrow, while we want you to keep firing forwards, if this will be the results, please feel free to look over your shoulder again sometime.