Arrow “The Return” Review (Season 3, Episode 14)

If you read my review of last week’s Arrow, you know how intensely frustrating I found it. I had a hard time separating the elements that worked well from the elements that didn’t, and I was hoping I wouldn’t have to do that again for this week’s episode. Thankfully I didn’t, but that’s not entirely a good thing. It was so much easier for me to see what worked as opposed to what didn’t because the parts that didn’t stuck out like fireworks on the 4th of July.

Most of this episode went back and forth between Oliver’s secret return to Starling City and present day on the island. For the first time in a while, the flashbacks actually worked for me because they shed some light on Oliver’s dogged determination to fix things when he officially returned to Starling City. It’s interesting the things you hear about yourself when people think you’re dead, and Oliver certainly got an earful. While being forced to work a mission for Amanda Waller he was able to check in, albeit from the shadows, with his friends and family. He saw that his sister had become a drug addict; Det. Lance had become a drunk; Laurel was planning to run away to some big corporate law firm in San Francisco; his mother was starting a romantic relationship with Walter; and Tommy was trying to look out for Thea. Needless to say, Oliver was disturbed by everything he saw and heard. So much so that he abandoned Maseo and the mission despite knowing he would suffer dire consequences. I can’t say I blame Oliver for his initial emotional reaction. It was a lot to take in, and the fact that Waller had threatened to kill anyone Oliver contacted didn’t help matters either. It’s a horrible feeling to see the people you care about suffering, and it’s even worse to realize that the people who you thought understood how much you loved them didn’t know it all.

One thing Oliver didn’t seem to realize, at least initially, is that his presence wouldn’t have necessarily been the solution he thought it was. We all handle grief differently. Some people run away thinking they can escape the pain. Some throw themselves into work. Others throw themselves into alcohol or drugs. The lives that Thea, Tommy, Laurel, and Det. Lance were living (and the pain they were carrying with them) wasn’t something Oliver could’ve fixed even if he had chosen to stay in Starling City because each of them was living out the consequences of how they chose to handle their grief. That’s not an indictment against any of them mind you. Death is the easy part. It’s the living that’s hard. They all did what they had to do in order to be able to get themselves out of bed each day and put one foot in front of the other. I’m not advocating drugs, alcohol and denial as the way to deal with your grief though. But Oliver seeing his friends and family suffer like that, and blaming himself for it, was enough to make him want to sacrifice the lives of thousands just to make the suffering stop for those he loved. Ultimately, he made a different choice though. I’m still slightly unclear as to what in Robert’s message actually convinced Oliver to go back, but whatever it was worked. I suppose Robert’s declaration that claiming that you’re protecting your family isn’t justification enough to let innocent people suffer. I don’t know, but whatever it was helped Oliver to decide to do the right thing. He showed up just in time to save Maseo’s life, capture China White, and stop a dangerous bioweapon from being sold to terrorists. Not bad for a day’s work.

The island stuff didn’t work quite as well for me. The confrontation between Oliver and Slade Wilson was much more anticlimactic than it should have been and I was pretty disappointed. Slade has thus far been one of Oliver’s most challenging adversaries in part because he knows Oliver so well. While Slade did say some things to get in Oliver’s head again, it felt like he was just going through the motions. I didn’t feel the kind of animosity and anger that I would expect Slade to have toward Oliver. Furthermore, Slade knows that island just as well as Oliver; if not better. It didn’t make any sense to me that Slade hadn’t set up any traps for Oliver and Thea. It felt like Slade was just in this episode to remind us that he’s locked up on the island and the threat of him isn’t gone.

The other reason the island stuff didn’t work for me was Thea. There were several things she did that just didn’t make any sense. First, she broke away from Oliver while they were running from Slade. Oliver lived on that island for years and he knows it SO much better than she does, so why didn’t she just follow Oliver? It seemed like a plot device to set up the scene of Thea having to choose between becoming a killer or not. Second, Thea’s insistence that Oliver tell her what happened to Sara seemed…odd. I could be wrong, but I don’t recall Thea and Sara being all that close, so why was Thea so determined for Oliver to tell her how Sara died? I get that she feels like there shouldn’t be any more secrets between them, but she’s wrong. Everyone has secrets and they are entitled to them. Did Thea need to know that Malcolm drugged her and used her to kill Sara? Yes, but that probably wasn’t the best time to go into that. Did Thea have the right to demand that Oliver reveal all of his secrets to her? No. Thea was, once again, acting like a whiney brat because Oliver wouldn’t tell her everything, but you know what? People are allowed to keep some things to themselves. It doesn’t mean they love you any less nor does it mean you can’t trust them simply because they don’t reveal everything there is to know about themselves and their past. Oliver has been through a lot and most of it was pretty unpleasant. It’s not surprising that he wouldn’t want to talk about it at every turn nor should he have to in order for Thea to trust him. And let’s be honest, Thea hasn’t exactly been completely forthcoming with Oliver as of late either. She has no right to demand of Oliver what she isn’t willing to give herself.

Something that did work very well was Captain Lance’s conversation with Laurel. The flashbacks allowed us to see how much of a mess Lance was after Sara died the first time and, let’s be honest, he was pretty much a jerk. He was hurting, angry and drunk most of the time which caused him to lash out at people who were hurting just as much as he was. However, this time instead of drowning his sorrows and refusing to confront the hurt, he came right out and told Laurel the truth. It wasn’t Sara’s death that caused him the most pain. It was Laurel’s lies and betrayal. I really loved how when Laurel tried to turn it around and basically claim it was his fault that she put on Sara’s mask, he didn’t let her get away with changing the focus and laying blame on someone else. He brought it right back down to the core issue. It’s not that Laurel put on Sara’s mask. It’s that Laurel repeatedly lied to him. It was choices Laurel made that destroyed the trust between them. Basically, he told her this is all on her and he’s absolutely right. Laurel was completely wrong for what she did and she needs to accept responsibility for it. However, for Captain Lance’s sake I hope he can forgive her. Whatever else Laurel may be, she’s his daughter and the only reason he’s so hurt is that he loves her so much. I’m not saying that forgiveness will happen overnight and rebuilding the trust is going to be an even greater hurdle, but in the end, it’s definitely worth the work.

This episode wasn’t as frustrating as last week’s episode, and I am grateful for that. I do wish the scenes between Oliver and Slade had packed a bigger punch because there’s so much history between them. Since they didn’t kill Slade, though, I have a feeling we’re going to see him again. Something I found funny in a kind of disturbing way was how Oliver and Thea decided to pop Thea’s shoulder out of joint so she could reach further to buzz them out of the prison cell. Um…why? If all you had to do was push the buzzer, couldn’t she have just grabbed a stick and used it to make up the extra distance? Popping your shoulder out of joint seems kind of extreme. Thea’s declaration that she’s no longer Malcolm’s daughter rings a bit hollow to me. It never made sense that she trusted him in the first place. It looks like things come to a head for Malcolm in next week’s episode. That could be interesting. So what did y’all think of this week’s Arrow?