The Return is quite aptly titled on a couple of levels; the modern-day Oliver Queen (Stephen Amell) makes his return to the hellish island of Lian Yu, whilst the flashback version of Ollie finds himself making an incognito return to Starling City in the aftermath of his apparent death.
In terms of current time on the island, the aim of this jaunt is to get sister Thea (Willa Holland) up to speed ahead of a potential battle with Ra’s al Ghul (Matt Nable). Fending for themselves on the bleak locale, things take a worrying turn for the Queens when it’s revealed that Malcolm Merlyn (John Barrowman) has made sure that Slade Wilson (Manu Bennett) has been able to break out of the underground prison in which he has been housed since we saw him at the conclusion of Season 2. Whilst this turns out to be a chilling proposition for Oliver and Thea, as viewers it’s nothing short of a treat to see Bennett’s Deathstroke make a return, chewing his way through any inch of dialogue thrown his way.
As past Ollie and his dodgy wig return to Starling at the orders of Amanda Waller (Cynthia Addai-Robinson), of all the thousands of people in Startling City he just so happens to cast his eyes on a young Thea. Oliver and Maseo (Karl Yune) are on a mission as part of their pursuit of China White (Kelly Hu), but the episode gives a fantastic insight into the fallout of Oliver Queen’s believed death. Obviously Thea is a key part to this, showing some of the ‘off the rails’ way that we saw glimpsed during Arrow’s first season, but the most interesting and heartbreaking depiction is that of Quentin Lance (Paul Blackthorne). We all know that Oliver Queen was presumed dead for 5 years, but often we forget that Sara Lance had seemingly deceased along with Oliver. As such, we get a Quentin Lance who is a bitter, spiteful drunk who is struggling to deal with the passing of his youngest child. We’d expect nothing less, but Paul Blackthorne (complete with hair) is exceptional in his performance here, snarling at Laurel (Katie Cassidy), bartenders, Thea, and even Tommy Merlyn (Colin Donnell) gets it in the neck from the bereaved Lance.
It’s hard not to gush over both facets of The Return, with the past and the present both shining equally. In the past, we get to see the cold killer side of Oliver Queen in action as he snaps the neck of someone dealing drugs to Thea at Tommy’s party. How anyone missed the actual transaction is beyond us, for the drug deal taking place was as obvious as a Rolf Harris denial. Still, it is a great excuse to see Oliver at his most brutal once more. Sure, The Arrow has been delivered wonderfully over three seasons, but there’s still a certain coolness to seeing the non-nonsense clinical elements that were present when we were first introduced to our hero back in Season 1. On previous elements of the show coming back into play, we also get to see Robert Queen’s book and Oliver’s famed ‘list’ come into the story once more.
And back to the present day Deathstroke death match on the island. Playing like an extreme Krypton Factor, Slade is out for revenge on Oliver and is by proxy after Thea as well. Much like in previous seasons, there’s a unique brotherhood and weird sense of honour to Wilson’s relationship with Ollie. Similarly, the chemistry between Stephen Amell and Manu Bennett is just as electric and enjoyable as it was in times gone by.
If the threat of Slade Wilson on the loose on a booby-trapped island wasn’t enough of an issue for Thea Queen, things only take a further turn for the worse when she finally grinds Oliver down enough that he gives in and reveals all to her, making her aware that it was actually she who killed Sara Lance. All of a sudden things become crystal clear for Thea on why the League of Assassins may be eying up a trip to Starling City at some point in the near future. It also gives the younger Queen an insight into just how messed up daddy dearest Malcolm is, for it was he who orchestrated the whole death of Sara. During the airing of this particular item of dirty laundry, there’s a fantastic sense of sadness to Oliver. He desperately wants to hold the horrible truth from his sister yet finds himself in a position where honesty is seemingly the new policy for the siblings. It’s also worth mentioning that we get to see Thea proving her mettle here, doing impressively well when pitted in a physical altercation with the nails Deathstroke.
The Return as a whole is a great, great episode, and both past and present deliver some intense viewing. This latest outing ranks up there with some of the very best that Arrow has delivered over its three seasons, and it was a uniquely intriguing option to look at the death of Oliver Queen from the point of view of those who were left behind. Whilst it was great to see the return of Tommy and how the young Thea rebelled, it was Quentin Lance who made for some of the most riveting moments of the flashback portion of this episode. And talking of Lance, it appears that the modern day Captain Lance is washing his hands of daughter Laurel after she withheld knowledge of Sara’s death from him. It’s a harsh, bold move from Quentin, but yet you feel his pain and can understand his logic.
Elsewhere, there’s a nice blink-and-you’ll-miss-it Diggle (David Ramsey) appearance during Tommy’s party, and Digg’s brother Andy is even included. Then there’s the debut of General Shrieve (Marc Singer), who throws up all sorts of possibilities for the past version of Oliver Queen going forward. Plus the present day action has the the prospect of Ra's and the League of Assassins on the near horizon.
An excellent episode that is one that makes you just want to sit on your sofa for the next seven days anxiously awaiting the next outing.
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