The last few episodes of Arrow have brought some big secrets to light. Team Arrow learned that Oliver wasn’t so dead after all. Oliver realized that the mission went on without him and he’s not solely in charge any longer. Quentin found out Laurel had become Black Canary and then was devastated when Laurel shared the truth about Sara. Oliver brought Thea into the fold and informed his little sister that they had to team up with Malcolm if they want to defeat Ra’s Al Ghoul, who is still coming for them.
Of course there was still one major secret waiting to be revealed to Thea: her role in Sara’s death. “The Return” picked up where the previous episode left off with Oliver taking Thea to the island for further training. It was only a matter of time before the youngest Queen learned the truth (especially since Oliver had a terrible poker face every time he hastily changed the subject from Sara). But the island (and Malcolm) had an even bigger problem for them to face after Daddy Dearest took it upon himself to release Slade from his prison so Oliver could regain his killer instinct. Would Oliver finally kill his nemesis?
Before we get to that, let’s talk about the other major stories in the episode. Through flashbacks, we got to see a drunken Quentin dealing with Sara’s death the first time around. His grief led to him drinking on the job and insulting Laurel’s life choices, including her decision to take a job in San Francisco and her potentially starting a romance with Tommy (side note: TOMMY!!!!). Present day Quentin wasn’t handling things well either. He went to Sara’s grave with a bottle in his hand and when Laurel showed up, he told her that she broke their trust bond and he left her with the bottle and suggested she go to a different meeting than the one he planned to attend.
First, I’m happy neither Lance succumbed to their desire to drink. They’ve both grown since the last time they dealt with this tragedy. Second, this story breaks my heart so much. I don’t agree with Laurel’s decision to keep the truth from her father, but I do think she made the best choice she could in the moment. The woman lost her sister for the second time. Her mother flits in and out of their lives and Quentin almost died a few months earlier. She was genuinely afraid of losing him too. Grief leads to terrible choices (see Quentin’s treatment of Laurel in the past, which I think was way over the top cruel and unnecessary. I’m not a parent nor am I an alcoholic, but why be so cold to the only daughter you have left?). I hope that these two are able to bond and work through the trust issues because they desperately need one another.
In the flashbacks, Amanda Waller sent Oliver and Maseo (are you guys proud of me? I finally learned his name!) to Starling City to retrieve something that a Queen Consolidated employee was trying to sell on the black market (or at least I think that’s what they were doing? I just can’t bring myself to care about this part of the show. Baby steps). So this allowed Oliver a chance to see his loved ones (TOMMY) all while keeping his head down and hiding in plain sight with a hoodie. At one point, Oliver decided he was done and he’d just go tell his family he was alive, but then he came through and saved Maseo from certain death. Waller was impressed and he wanted to stay behind, but a general showed up who wanted to debrief him back in China and then they’d let him go. Oliver agreed, but even if we didn’t know he had more time away, I think we would have side eyed him for that choice. Run for your life while you can.
A.R.G.U.S. business aside, the flashbacks were really about Oliver coming close to his family and friends and seeing people who would later become important (Felicity admiring his photo in his mother’s office and Digg working security with his brother at Tommy’s party). While I will happily take any excuse to have Colin Donnell back on the show, I found myself rolling my eyes a lot at the convenience of the flashbacks. He just happens to see people at crucial moments in their lives like Thea buying drugs and Laurel visiting town. But then I saw that Marc Guggenheim called the episode a love letter to fans and I suppose I can begrudgingly accept that explanation for how contrived it all felt. And again, I’m not complaining because TOMMY.
Now, let’s get back to the present day island scenes where most of the action took place. Slade easily overpowered Oliver and Thea and proceeded to lock them in his cell. He planned to burn two bodies and make sure they were identified as Oliver and Thea Queen once he returned to Starling City. Since the cell was built for men and Thea’s super tiny, she tried to reach the knob to open the door, but she couldn’t quite bend her arm the right way. So Oliver dislocated it (go ahead and shudder) and they were freed. After almost getting taken out by one of Oliver’s island traps, Thea once again demands answers about Sara and Oliver finally tells her the truth. She barely has time to register it before Slade reappears and it takes both of them to overpower him (very cool scene) and Thea winds up with a gun trained on him. Oliver pleads with her not to kill him and she doesn’t – she gives him a flesh wound instead.
Oliver returns Slade to his cell, but Slade’s not quite ready to stop taunting him. He asks how Felicity is and then he ponders how many people Oliver Queen can lose before he’s not Oliver Queen (interesting question – Slade’s always been so good at pushing Oliver’s buttons). Once they’re back in Starling City, Oliver tells Thea she has to keep the fact that she killed Sara from Laurel (oh goody, more secrets) and Malcolm lets himself into their apartment and is disappointed Thea knows the truth. She’s more disgusted with him than ever and tells him that she will work with him because Oliver says they need to, but never again will she be his daughter (can we get a round of applause for Thea Queen, BAMF?).
I thought all of the Oliver/Thea scenes were extremely well done from their initial training sequence to the two working together to defeat Slade at every turn. Seeing Thea succumbing to drugs in the flashbacks was a nice touch to really drive home how much she has grown and changed. But as Slade pointed out, the darkness has touched her now. One of the best lines ever on this show was when Helena said, “Once you let the darkness inside, it never comes out.” Thea made the right choice regarding Slade this time, but will she always? What’s going to happen when Oliver’s not there to guide her? Where Thea goes next and her continued development could be a really great story if the writers decide to let her toe the line of light and dark.
While this episode held my attention more than most flashback heavy episodes, I did miss seeing Felicity, Digg and Roy in present day (and I missed seeing Laurel interacting with them). The last few episodes have spoiled us with supporting characters having a lot to do and I hope this trend can continue (I suppose I’m okay with Oliver being there too – more baby steps).
Next week, Ra’s returns and he’s got a prisoner thanks to a surprising (or not so surprising) source. It also brings the return of my boyfriend Ray Palmer (hate him all you want – I love him enough for all of us) and he’s suiting up for the cause.