You get a lot of history and attachment to characters over the course of 60 episodes and this week’s episode had a homecoming feel with welcome appearances from former cast members — plus an Arrow vs. Deathstroke rematch!
The flashbacks are beginning to have diminishing returns at this point in large part this season because the switch to Hong Kong and Oliver’s sorta spy apprenticeship with Maseo as Waller’s errand boy hasn’t nearly been as much fun as the fight for survival on the island with Slade, Shado and Sara.
Typically, the current day/flashback ratio is 80:20, but it was more of an even split this week, which was a bit frustrating since an hour of Slade vs. Oliver and Thea is more than enough of an exciting premise for this week.
Maseo and Oliver head to Starling City to prevent China White from auctioning off the Omega weapon in conjunction with an employee at Queen Consolidated. I was torn on this as it seemed risky to have Oliver operating in the shadows in Starling and most likely seeing familiar faces but not being able to tell them he’s alive. Although in hindsight, it explains why he was somewhat emotionally detached when he saw everyone the first season.
I’m sure there’s some sort of actor’s union requirement, but I wish there was some way the special guest stars — particularly returning cast members — could be put in the end credits so as not to “spoil” their appearance until they show up on screen.
During his rounds, Oliver sees Tommy trying to prevent Thea from descending further into her drug habit, spots Felicity for the first time as she admires his picture on Moira’s desk and a drunken Quentin Lance calling out Laurel for helping fat cats getting fatter (a classic Green Arrow line from the comics).
Sadly, no appearance by Susanna Thompson as Moira Queen or Colin Salmon as Walter Steele. At QC, Oliver taps into a computer and gets the auction location as well as a file from his father.
The best moment though was watching Diggle working security with his brother, Andy (Eugene Byrd) who we hadn’t seen before, as Diggle complains about babysitting these rich kids at Tommy’s birthday party. Oliver, “hiding” under a green hoodie, corners Thea’s drug dealer and when he recognizes Thea’s brother, Oliver doesn’t hesitate to kill him. Maseo grabs Oliver and questions why he risked blowing his mission by being discovered. Oliver meekly explains he had the hoodie down and in the line of the night, Maseo says that wouldn’t work even if he smeared grease paint over his face. Cute.
Oliver wants to stay and help fix the mess his death has caused among his family and friends. He gets as far as back in the Queen mansion and plugs in the file from his father, which reiterates that he did bad things and needs his son to save this city. Reminded of his greater purpose, Oliver arrives at the auction in time to help Maseo capture China White and secure the Omega weapon. And while that should really mark the end of the Hong Kong/Waller association for Oliver, Waller introduces him to Gen. Matthew Shrieve (Marc Singer), who wants to debrief him back in China.
The more significant flashback moment directly tied into the current day events as Quentin is spiraling after Sara’s death and only finding solace drinking. Laurel continually tries to be there for him, recalling a significant storyline from Season 2 when the roles were reversed and Quentin was so patient when Laurel started her alcohol abuse. Those are the moments when the flashbacks serve a purpose and work best. Laurel’s flashback tale ends on a positive note though as she finally agrees to go out with Tommy. Thankfully that doesn’t end up terrible for her … oh right.
Present day, Quentin is at Sara’s gravesite with an unopened bottle when Laurel arrives. He’s upset, not just over Sara’s death, but because Laurel broke their bond of being honest with one another. Paul Blackthorne always delivers in these emotionally heavy scenes and this was no exception. Laurel suggests they go to an AA meeting and Quentin knows he’s struggling and agrees, but doesn’t want to be at the same one with her. Again, it’s a testament to the character building done over these three seasons that there’s a moment of concern that either Laurel or Quentin will try to numb their pain by drinking and a feeling of relief when she opens the bottle and pours it out.
Oliver and Thea are at the island at Merlyn’s suggestion to hone their skills in nature. He kinda left out the part about freeing Slade Wilson to provide a more life-threatening challenge. Slade remains focused on ensuring Oliver experiences all of the pain he’s endured so after his first attack, he locks Oliver and Thea in the prison that’s been his home since Slade’s failed attempt to destroy Starling City.
After they escape the cell, Thea wants to know what Oliver is still hiding from her. Rather than milk it out to the season finale, Oliver thankfully tells her now that Merlyn used her to kill Sara. This was the other shoe to drop for Thea and Willa Holland handled this devastating news superbly. You could feel the heartache of her realizing how Merlyn has manipulated her all along.
They can’t reflect on this long as Slade ambushes them again giving us a fun, but far too brief Oliver/Thea vs. Slade brawl. Outnumbered and with no Mirakuru, Slade ends up losing this fight and looking at the wrong end of a gun held by Thea. Once again, Slade proves a test for a Queen sibling. Thea doesn’t kill him, but Oliver may regret convincing her not to as Slade lies down on his prison cell cot and asks about Felicity. That is indeed a threat Oliver!
Back home, Oliver tells Thea she cannot tell Laurel about Sara’s killer. That is the only secret Team Arrow needs to keep to the grave. Thea can’t believe how Merlyn used her and he steps out from the shadows (this guy is good), not to apologize for turning his daughter into a killer, but to remind them of the big picture — stopping Ra’s al Ghul. Gotta admire Merlyn’s commitment to being such a terrible person. Thea agrees to the pact with the devil she knows to take down the devil she doesn’t, but assures Merlyn she’ll never be his daughter again.
This was a tricky episode as it felt almost too ambitious with significant happenings in both the flashback and the current day leading to Slade’s too brief appearance and a hastily explained away reason for why flashback Oliver has to keep working with Waller. Still, even in a somewhat problematic episode, there were a number of great moments in what remains an outstanding season of TV’s best comic book show.