Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Arrow 3x14 "The Return" (Back to the Place Where Our Story Begins)

"The Return"
Original Airdate: February 18, 2015

What is your greatest fear?

It doesn't matter if it's rational or irrational, really. That part is irrelevant. What are you really afraid of the most in this life? I have a great number of fears, both rational and irrational and some have faded as I've grown up. When I was younger, my grandmother gave me antique dolls, and to preserve them and prevent them from getting dusty, I kept a few in glass cases. I was actually kind of afraid of those dolls (I know, it's absurd) because I thought that they would, one day, get so mad at me for keeping them locked up in glass cages that they would revolt or something.

I'm afraid of drowning. One of my biggest fears is getting pulled under water and knowing that I'm slowly dying but not being able to do anything to save myself. I'm afraid of spiders (only decently-sized ones, not tiny ones) and cockroaches (any Floridian who tells you they aren't afraid of these things is lying) and the dark (hi, I'm twenty-six and still sleep with a night light on) and scary movies and the thought that everything I love could be ripped away from me in an instant. You know what's funny about fears? They can only hurt you until you've conquered them.

Once you learn how to swim and paddle into the ocean, the thought that you could drown may still linger in the back of your head but it's not going to prevent you from getting in the water. Once you stop seeing a spider as a threat and are able to kill it without flinching, you gain something important: strength.

Because once you conquer your fear, you strip it of its power over you.

Once you stop being afraid, you can really start living. It's a lot like what Augustus Waters tells Hazel Grace in The Fault in Our Stars when he places an unlit cigarette between his teeth. He tells her that it's a metaphor, because "you put the killing thing right between your teeth but you don't give it the power to do its killing." That's exactly what we do when we conquer our fears -- we take away their power over us. Because fear IS power. Fear is the very thing that paralyses us. It turns us into anxious creatures who cower and allow our phobias to prevent us from doing or from being. But a conquered fear has no power. It's like that metaphor: you keep it close to you but you never allow it to have power over you anymore.

"The Return" focuses a lot on the idea of our greatest fears and conquering them, as well as what it really means to "conquer" your fears (that's a phrase we tend to throw around a lot, I think, without actually dwelling on its definition or implications). In a way, Oliver never really conquered the island and he never really conquered his fear of Slade. He just... left. And that's the problem with Oliver, really, is that instead of dealing with the consequences of his greatest fears and instead of telling the truth, he buries himself beneath lies under the guise of protecting the people he loves. And he genuinely does want to protect them -- don't get me wrong. But in doing so, he actually harms them. And the person who gets caught in the cross-hairs of fears and lies and secrets this week? Thea Queen.


While I love the Oliver/Felicity relationship, the greatest love story in Arrow has never been that of romantic love. The greatest love story has always been that of familial love. Sara Lance was the greatest love of Laurel's life. And Thea Queen has been the greatest love of Oliver's. It's completely open to interpretation, of course, but the statement made earlier in the season by Tatsu about Oliver losing that which he holds most precious is more likely a reference to Thea than it is to Felicity. I said it last week's review, but I'm the oldest of three siblings. I have a younger brother (who's twenty-three) and a sister who is nineteen. I would do anything for my sister and I pretty much mean that literally. She's the one person in this world who I would be desperate to protect if anything bad happened to her. There's something really special about the relationship between an older sibling and a younger sister. Even though my sister is now closer to twenty than she is to her teenage years, I still see her as my "baby sister." She's still the little girl with dark, wild hair who jumps into the swimming pool and flips around during her tumbling class. She'll always be that girl to me. That's just a fact.

Oliver has always been protective of Thea. He's her big brother, after all, and that kind of comes with the territory. For all of his faults, Oliver genuinely does do anything and everything in order to protect the people he holds most dear. The relationship between the siblings was always pretty adorable (she calls him "Ollie" and he calls her "Speedy") and affectionate, but when Oliver was presumed dead, Thea began to spiral. And we see that his baby sister is always a trigger for Oliver -- Malcolm knew that Oliver would do anything to protect Thea because of how deeply he loved her. In the flashbacks, we saw that Amanda Waller used Thea (and her knowledge of Thea) in order to get Oliver to turn on Maseo. Though Oliver feels guilt for what he did, it's the inevitability there that he would do anything to save Thea that makes me think that the sister is the one he holds most dear to him. Back to the relationship, though: we always saw Oliver and Thea's relationship post-island as sort of guarded and fractured. There is no doubt in my mind that Thea loved Oliver and will always love him, but his return meant that he had to now fit back into her life and she wasn't sure how to do that, especially with his whole overprotective nature. That's not to say that their relationship has been one-sided, but I think that in a lot of ways, Oliver has always loved Thea more up until this point in their journey because he's known more and seen more of the world than she has. He's been The Arrow since the first episode and he's hidden that from her in order to protect her. So of course there have always been parts of his life he couldn't let Thea into -- that he refused to let her into.

That's why I loved "Corto Maltese" so much: it was Oliver finally realizing that he needed to repair his family; that wherever he was, Thea belonged (and vice versa). In fact, here's what I said in the review of "Corto Maltese," verbatim:

The Queen siblings had always been taught that looking put-together was more important than BEING put together. And when you live your entire life like that, suddenly you begin to doubt your own authenticity and the authenticity of others. Thea partied and lived wildly because it was the only way she knew how to feel alive; Oliver puts on a mask because it's the only way he feels he can be seen. I mean, let's just pause for a moment to reflect on the complexity of these two, shall we? Oliver and Thea's relationship has been peppered with lies and secrets and it's driven their walls higher and higher and -- in turn -- has led to them growing more distant.

The foundation of Arrow has always been this: Oliver will do anything for the people he loves. The one thing Oliver usually fails to do, however, is tell others the truth and let them into his broken, messy, guarded heart. He's finally learnt how to do that in "Canaries" with Thea, though, which means that what I noted above is beginning to finally come to fruition: Oliver and Thea can actually look at one another now -- really look at each other -- and see every part of the others' messy, broken lives clearly. Thea doesn't look at her big brother as just her brother anymore: he's a savior of Starling and a hero and a person who sacrificed so much more than she ever believed. And Oliver can look at Thea and though he still sees a baby sister in need of protecting, can also see how deep and dark and broken the parts of her life are that he hasn't been privy to until now.

"The Return" finds the Queen siblings headed back to the island where -- if you recall -- Slade is residing. It also finds them confronting secrets and lies that still exist and serve as a chasm between them. When Oliver continues to evade Thea's questions as to why he changes the subject whenever Sara's name is mentioned, he finally decides to drop the guise of protecting her in order to tell her the truth. The reason that Oliver keeps secrets, continually, from his family and friends is because he thinks that withholding the truth is protecting them. Really, it's damaging them and causing them to question everything they know about who they are and who Oliver is.

So in "The Return," when Oliver has the opportunity to tell Thea about what she inadvertently did to Sara while under Malcolm's control, he refrains from the majority of the episode because he wants to protect her for as long as possible and protect her innocence. The only problem is that Thea's innocence was lost a long time ago, long before Oliver could protect her. The flashbacks in this episode reveal Oliver Queen on a mission to return to Starling City. While there, he sees Thea and follows her to where she's meeting a drug dealer at his and his father's grave. Oliver tells Maseo that the last time he saw Thea, she was in pigtails. The importance of the theme of innocence should never be lost on a viewer while watching Arrow but never more so in this episode.

Oliver sees Thea as his baby sister. His tiny sister. His innocent sister. But Thea hasn't been young and/or innocent for quite some time. And yet, Oliver rationalizes his choices to protect her through that very excuse. He sees her at his grave, buying drugs and he sees her at Tommy's party lying to Laurel and he sees her kill Sara and yet when Thea discovers the truth about what happened to Sara... Oliver tells her that it wasn't her. She isn't a killer. That is not who she is. She is his baby sister, the person who makes jokes and who likes junk food and who flung her arms around him with that girlish grin when he came home. I think that what happens when we love someone as deeply as Oliver loves Thea (especially when they're our flesh and blood) is we see them the way we want to remember them, not as who they really are.

Slade doesn't escape from his prison -- Malcolm frees him. And he does so in order to teach Oliver and Thea a lesson about tapping into their killer instincts, something he believes Oliver to have lost over the years. And when Thea has the opportunity to do so: when she has Slade on his knees (after some really impressive fighting from both her and Oliver) and a gun to his head, Oliver tells Thea that she has to prove to Malcolm that she isn't like him. That she is better than he is. That she is still good and innocent and pure. And though Thea chooses to spare Slade's life and only wounds him slightly, Slade makes a really astute observation. Because he's actually far enough removed from this whole Queen family drama that he is the only one seeing things clearly: Thea's tinged by darkness. Slade can see it in her eyes. He can see that something in her soul has blackened and Oliver can choose to ignore it and choose to see his sister as the little girl with pigtails who he left in Starling before the island.

But that doesn't change the fact that Oliver has lost a part of Thea and she's lost a part of herself that she can never recover. And then Slade asks Oliver the question that has defined this entire season: "How many people can Oliver Queen lose before there is no more Oliver Queen?" Oliver was afraid that telling Thea his secret would cause him to lose her. He was afraid that telling her about what really happened to Sara would cause him to lose her. But the truth is that Thea Queen was lost years ago when Oliver and Robert died. And she never really came back.

Team Lance (Laurel, Quentin)

The theme of "The Return" is about realizing the parts of your story that have changed you irreparably. For Oliver, the parts of his story that have changed him beyond repair happened on the island and in Hong Kong. When Oliver returned to Starling City, he was changed. He was damaged. And though he's spent years recovering from that pain, he's not cured. There is no cure for the hell he endured. Similarly, for Team Lance in this episode, Quentin and Laurel reached the point of no return in "Canaries" when the woman admitted that Sara had been dead for months and she had known. I love that we had the opportunity to witness Quentin and Laurel in the flashbacks throughout this episode. As we already knew, Sara's death (perceived death, I should say) utterly decimated Quentin. He became an alcoholic and his marriage fell apart. "The Return" allowed us a glimpse of his troubled life, including his damaged relationship with Laurel. The young woman took a job, years ago, in San Francisco and her father turned to alcohol in order to numb the pain of his baby's death. What was so painful to watch was how seemingly different Quentin and Laurel were -- she was the adult, picking him up and shutting him up, while he was throwing his career, his family, and his life away.

Addiction is a strange and complex thing. It becomes a part of us -- a dark, weird, and warped part of us -- that we carry around like a shadow throughout our entire lives. People can beat addiction, but it will still always remain a part of their story. Quentin fell into addiction, gradually, because his pain became seemingly insurmountable. But that's not even entirely why he fell into addiction. It wasn't because he was predisposed to it, genetically. It wasn't even just because he was grieving. It was because he was grounded. Quentin tells Laurel in the present-day that Dinah and Sarah were always free spirits. He loved his daughter, but she was always a bit foreign to him in that regard. But Laurel? Laurel was the one who was driven and smart and dedicated and level-headed. Quentin was the same. But what happens when the most grounded people lose their foundation? For Quentin, his family was always his constant. His work was his passion, but his family was the thing that consumed him and filled him with love and joy. When that was ripped away from him, he completely and utterly began to crumble. And the same happened to Laurel when she lost Tommy: when you take away the very foundation of someone's life -- when you rip away their past, their present, and their future -- what your left with is nothing but wreckage and rubble.

The reason why the flashbacks of Quentin and Laurel are so important in "The Return" is because they illuminate the events in the present. Remember that Quentin just found out about Sara's death. He visits her grave and Laurel does, too, surprising her but not him. Where else would Quentin be, really, after hearing that news? He shows up to the grave with a bottle in a bag -- one that he hasn't taken a sip from yet -- and a lot of emotional turmoil that he's dealing with. He's angry because out of all of the people on earth who should know what it feels like to mourn and grieve as he does, Quentin was sure that Laurel would be it. He and his daughter are so alike. It's hard to see that in the flashbacks because we only see a part of Quentin's journey -- the dark part. But when you flash forward and recall how Laurel was in the wake of Tommy's death and how recklessly she responded in the wake of Sara's, it's easy to see how these two realists came undone. It's painful to listen to Quentin at Sara's graveside confront Laurel with so much pain and anger for how she lied to him and betrayed him. And really, Laurel isn't innocent. She should have told him months ago that Sara was dead. Instead, she let her fears consume her. Oliver and Laurel make the same mistake in this episode, actually, and it's paralleled pretty beautifully: they don't see the people they love as the people they love, not really. They still see them as they used to be. Oliver still sees Thea as a child and treats her as such; Laurel still sees her father as a fragile addict and treats him as such, too.

"We were alike," Quentin tells Laurel with pain straining his voice. They were the same. But not anymore. Now, Quentin doesn't know who Laurel is -- the kind of woman that she has become -- and he's not sure he wants to be around that person, whoever she is, for the time being. And so, as Laurel and Quentin deal with their pain, they deal with it separately and that was completely painful to watch unfold.


Speaking of pain, if Malcolm has any bit of a soul left (which I'm not entirely certain he does), it was in a world of emotional pain after Thea's confrontation at the end of the episode. Once the young woman realizes what she's been used to do, she tells Oliver that she was so stupid to trust Malcolm and to believe that he really cared about her. (Aside: Isn't it sad that people on this show beat themselves up because they think other people caring for them is what makes them weak?) Oliver corrects her, but this revelation that she was used as a means to an end really rattles Thea. And it's something that nearly causes her to kill Slade. But never forget, Thea was plagued with darkness long before she ever killed Sara. Back in "Unthinkable," the young woman left for Corto Maltese with Malcolm because she was tired of being lied to. She was tired of being treated like an object, tired of feeling emotion because it only brought her pain.

Malcolm saw himself in Thea in that moment. He saw the person who crumbled and broke and became obsessed with revenge after Rebecca's death. And when Malcolm trained Thea, he trained her to believe in only one option: survival. He taught her that emotion was weakness, feeling was weakness and would only get you killed in the end. He didn't warp Thea's personality because the young woman already believed those lies. She already believed that love only lead to disaster and that lies were inevitable in relationships. She trained to become a fighter so that she could numb the pain that others had inflicted on her and keep it from ever hurting her again.

In "The Return," Thea isn't much better off years prior in the flashbacks. We see the beginning of her drug-riddled adolescence, as she uses drugs in order to cope with the loss of Oliver and Robert. She escapes from her pain through getting high and in the present-day, Thea realizes her foolish mistake. Her mistake was in trusting Malcolm, yes, but it was also in turning her back on the people who loved her. It was in letting Malcolm manipulate her pain for his own benefit. It was in placing her faith in the wrong family member. Malcolm shows little to no remorse for what he did to Sara through Thea or what he did to Thea through manipulation (drugs, remember, which may also have been a trigger for Thea's anger now that I think about it). I don't think Malcolm is redeemable. I waffled for a few weeks over whether or not he was, but "The Return" made me realize that he has absolutely zero remorse for the wrongs he has done. He justifies his choices. He glosses over the pain of others. And Thea will have none of it.

At the end of the episode, she stands up to Malcolm (so many women keep doing that to him in the past few weeks. #LADIES) by telling him that she will work beside him and fight beside him, only because she trusts her brother. And she will be his soldier, if it comes down to it. But never again will Thea Queen be Malcolm Merlyn's daughter. He is no father of hers.

What this episode did well was remind us that there are parts of our stories that are painful. We all have beginnings and we all have journeys that are peppered with darkness and with demons. Some of us have literal prisons, some of us figurative ones. The only question is whether or now we've allowed those pieces of us that are most dark to reach into and tinge our souls. If we have, we might find our innocence stripped from us, through no fault of our own.

You can always go home, Oliver is reminded of in this episode. But that doesn't mean you can ever return to the home you left.

Observations & favorite moments:
  • MVP of this episode goes to Willa Holland. She was absolutely stunning in every sense of the word in "The Return" as Thea Queen. I absolutely loved seeing every facet of her personality -- her vulnerability, her anger, her shock and emotion, her turmoil, her humor -- and Willa played every emotion so beautifully and believably. The scene where Thea snarls (like, literally snarls) at Slade in the prison was fantastic, but the stand-out moments for me were her reaction to finally finding out what happened to Sara (Stephen Amell absolutely sold that scene for me to, as well as when he talks her down from shooting Slade) and the confrontation with Malcolm. Willa doesn't get nearly enough credit for the fantastic work that she does on this series, but this episode was such a shining example of how talented she truly is.
  • "The Return" was a title that worked on a few levels, as it saw the literal return of Tommy Merlyn (I missed Tommy so much) and Slade Wilson (I missed him and his evil ways, too).
  • Oliver and Thea training together with sticks was a fantastic way to open the episode.
  • "This is good. What is it?" "If I told you what it was, you probably wouldn't eat it."
  • "For the first time, I'm glad he's gone. Because seeing you like this would break his heart."
  • I didn't talk about it above, but Hong Kong-ish stuff happened this episode, including Oliver having to sneak into Queen Consolidated. While there, he nearly gets caught breaking into his father's computer by one Felicity Smoak. And as she babbles to herself, Oliver peers around the corner and smiles at her. You can read this scene in a few ways: 1) You can read it as romantic, but I don't know that I would necessarily go that far. 2) You could read it as Oliver being amused by a stranger (I think that one is likely), or 3) You could read it as Oliver finally seeing someone as a person and not a target (I think you can combine this one and the second one). I actually really loved this moment because I think the writers did a careful job at not retconning anything that has already happened in the Oliver/Felicity relationship. When Oliver first meets Felicity after his official return, it's clear he's amused by the babbling and bubbly young blonde. Now, whether or not he smiles at her in that episode because he vaguely remembers the young woman in his father's office is one thing. I do think Felicity's blink-and-miss-it appearance is significant though because this is the first time Oliver has really seen anyone NORMAL since the island, right? Everyone else has been either a trained assassin or a target. Felicity is really, when you think about it, the first NEW person he has seen as an actual person. Truthfully, what do I think? I think that this is the moment that Oliver realizes he still has a soul. He's still human because this babbling blonde Queen Consolidated woman managed to get him to crack a smile. He's not too far gone. He's still Oliver, deep down. #bam #micdrop
  • "You're cute. It's too bad you're, you know... dead."
  • Diggle and Andy appeared briefly and it was awesome.
  • I miss Tommy/Laurel so much, don't you?
  • "I pulled the... the hoodie over my face." "That disguise wouldn't work even if you smeared grease paint over your face." Okay, that was a little too specifically meta there, writers.
  • "What kind of psycho would put that thing there?" "Me."
  • "What good is a family without a soul?"
  • Slade asking about Felicity in prison though. That's one button you do not want to press, dude.
  • By the way, during the commercial break, my friend Deborah tweeted: "At least let her shoot him in the arm a little bit, Oliver." And I responded with: "JUST A FLESH WOUND." Sure enough the same words were echoed after the break so the point is that I'm psychic. Or just a fan of Monty Python.
  • "I'll be your student. I'll be your partner. Even if I have to, I'll be your soldier. But never again will I be your daughter."
Well my dear friends, what did you think of our extended trip into flashbacks this week? Did you miss Felicity and Diggle (and Roy, for that matter)? Do you think Thea is tinged with darkness? And why is Oliver still relying so heavily on Malcom Merlyn? Continue the conversation below in the comments. Until then. :)


  1. Fascinating review as always. This episode was so topsy-turvy (flashbacks and all our beloved characters were in Starling City and present day was on the island) and I liked it. It made me really want to go back and re-watch the pilot knowing what information/experience this added to pastOliver. I liked how centered it was on family relationships; so many lines connect back to that. We got to see more Thea/Oliver interaction than we've seen in the rest of the season put together. We got to see a bit of Diggle/Andy interaction (loved that!). We got to see Laurel and her father in both the present and the past. We got a little of the Malcolm/Thea twisted stuff. And both Maseo and Slade talk about family relationships as well.

    So it was interesting to hear you mention your siblings in connection with all of that. Funny, I thought of my siblings too. (Not hard considering how much we got to see Oliver and Thea interact.) I will be 37 this year and I have three younger siblings, aged 34, 31 and 28. I certainly remember how they all were as little children. Being the oldest, there has never been a part of their life where I was not around somewhere in the background. However, as we've all gotten older, moved away, gotten careers and marriages, become parents, I have found that those sibling relationships have only gotten richer. I love seeing them become adults and create their own lives and families. I live really far away from all of them which is hard but there is nothing sweeter than hearing them talk about their goals and challenges or seeing them take care of their children. I love that they are all adults that I not only love but respect and love to be around. So it was interesting to hear you reflect on your sister in light of Oliver and Thea's relationship because the same scenes made me think that Oliver is missing out if he doesn't respect Thea's ability to create and control her own life. I enjoyed watching them be able to really talk and I think Oliver would be surprised at how much deeper their bond could grow if he were able to see her as the adult she is becoming, darkness and all.

    1. Becca, you know how much I adore your comments so I'm thrilled every week to hear your insight into the episodes. I think it's something about being a first-born, you know? We all GET each other. I love that you totally understand the idea of being the oldest and seeing them as adults. I get that, too, because that's how I see my brother (who just moved to North Carolina) and my sister (who is in college). The baby sister is the hardest to accept, really, in terms of growing up for me since it's so easy to remember what she was like when she's little. I think this episode was a definite necessity for me after "Canaries," where I didn't sympathize with Oliver at all. "The Return" allowed me to do that through his bond with Thea.

      And also, YES thank goodness we got so much Queen family bonding this episode. I really hope that part of Oliver's journey this year is allowing himself -- however difficult -- to see Thea as an adult and not like a child.

  2. This was was epitomized for me when they were in the prison together. Oliver had an idea (after Thea objected to being treated like a tiny, fragile object- right on girl!) and then when he knew how to make her arm longer she immediately understood. He knew it would cause her great pain but it would get them out of their cage. (And if that is not an interesting metaphor I don't know what is, sometimes great pain is the only way to real freedom) She didn't make a fuss about it cause she is pretty tough now. They got it done and then he hugged her and I hope he was super impressed and proud of her. That is what it can be like to work with each other, look out for each other. And I loved watching them fight Slade together!

    Interestingly, when they got back to Starling he councils Thea to keep secrets from Laurel just as things were kept from her, because it would be too painful to tell the truth. I think that will end up being very unwise (AGAIN! C'mon learn this lesson people. You know Quentin and eventually Laurel are going to find out.) But I thought it was very telling that Oliver also said they had to keep the secret because it would complicate working with Merlyn. It made me wonder if Oliver keeps secrets not only to “protect” people but also because the truth can be messy and complicated and he doesn't like that. It gets in the way of the misson. (Like when he told Thea that talking about Sara would mess with their focus and she corrects him. Secrets are NOT helping her focus. Oliver is very fixated on focus, partly the reason he broke things off with Felicity I would argue, and he cuts out things that compromise it. But he's still messed up inside and needs to listen to Thea. Burying things doesn't solve them as you pointed out about fears at the beginning of your review.) He likes to have a clear objective and he naturally eliminates complications, including his own feelings. Something to work on I think if he's going to have healthy relationships with the people in his life.

    Amazing that you mentioned Thea's similarity to Malcolm in wanting to make sure she could never get hurt again. Interestingly, Thea and Malcolm AND Oliver seem to be able to handle a great deal of physical pain without much trouble but emotional pain really freaks them out. None of them handle it very well and all tend to shut it down pretty hard in order to escape it. But that tactic will never really work.

    1. I loved seeing how strong Thea was this episode and Willa Holland did an outstanding job in her portrayal of Thea as both vulnerable but also brave (that scene you mentioned is SO true because she knows what has to be done and Oliver does it as gently as he can -- and then hugs her after which was so sweet -- but he still does it. Because he will do whatever it takes to save his sister, even if it means hurting her briefly in the process.)

      The Queen teamwork was so great because it's such a contrast to the flashbacks where he keeps her at (necessary) arms' length and still treats her like a child. This episode was progress for Oliver, though I do agree: HAVE WE LEARNED NOTHING ABOUT KEEPING SECRETS FROM PEOPLE? Apparently Laurel will find out this year though because KC (I think it was her) said that Laurel's reaction to finding out Thea did it will be surprising.

      Malcolm and Thea have a lot of similarities, as do Malcolm, Thea, and Oliver together (perfect point about the physical vs. emotional pain). So it's interesting to watch how their journeys will diverge -- what happens when they face intense emotional pain will reveal who they really are. I think it'll reveal that Oliver is a lot more human than he believes, that Thea is a lot stronger than she knows, and that Malcolm is a lot darker than he could ever imagine.

  3. And speaking of Malcolm, this episode really convinced me that his soul is pretty far gone, in spite of his efforts during Canaries. Not only did he not only not show any remorse about killing Sara or drugging his child he casually mentioned needing new guards on Lian Yu. That guard is dead because of Malcolm. That was a person with a life and a family and I'm convinced that Malcolm only saw him as an object to be dealt with. SO WORRYING. That is creepy because it says to me that Malcolm really doesn't see people as people. From the Glades to that nameless ARGUS guard, he justifies horrible things by dehumanizing those who don't matter to him. And he dehumanized his own kid and that is horrifying and he doesn't seem to notice. Can't wait to see where his story goes.

    All of the Quentin and Laurel stuff was woven together so beautifully. (Yup, great parallel for Oliver as you mentioned.) That final scene at the graveside was incredibly painful. I loved how Quentin said that he can survive the loss of his child (again) but he doesn't know how to deal with Laurel's betrayal of their relationship. He spoke with such pain and such deep self-awareness. He spoke like someone who has come through addiction and gotten quite a bit of clarity. And I was glad that Laurel took that bottle and poured it out. This whole thing with her father is going to be painful but she's not running into the bottle and neither is Quentin and this gives me hope for them. I loved how the flashbacks made me worried about Quentin coping in the present and then the last scene showed me how strong he has become.

    1. Good Lord, I LOVE Barrowman so can we just appreciate how he is absolutely nothing like Malcolm Merlyn? I'm constantly in awe of how he can be such a bubbly, energetic guy in real life and be like, this soulless monster on TV. Anyway, YES. Thank you for pointing out the guard thing, too. Like, Malcolm believing other people are disposable for the greater good is kind of horrifying, really. And YES AGAIN to dehumanizing Thea. Ugh, I'm so interested to see what happens to Malcolm as the season progresses.

      That Quentin and Laurel scene was so painful, especially because it must be so difficult for him to watch the daughter who was exactly like him turn around and betray his trust. Paul Blackthorne shone in that graveyard scene, truly, and I was so happy to see Quentin hand the bottle to Laurel and then Laurel pour it onto the ground. Progress for both Lances on one front, not so much on their relationship.

  4. A few little things:

    -How creepy was it to see Oliver kill that drug dealer? The music and method of killing connected it so clearly to the pilot. And he killed to protect his sister but also because “No one can know my secret.” I thought it was great to show that connection and how Ollie is becoming the man in the pilot episode.
    - Little scene of Diggle/Andy was wonderful. It brought back that plot point subtly and made me wonder who Andy was protecting when he got killed. It totally hooked me on Andy's story again and I can't wait to see the whole HIVE thing pursued again.
    - I liked that we saw Felicity a bit but like you I wouldn't go so far as to make it a super romantic thing (partly because I don't believe in love at first sight, not really). I think it showed Oliver's humanity as you mentioned and it also showed that he has always found her disarming and funny. I like that it gives the scene with them in 1x03 even more depth. (Although that picture of him is smarmy, not cute. But I guess that is just me ;)
    - The hoodie jokes were a little too spot on for me too.
    - Maseo's speech to him about not risking the lives of countless strangers because you want to be with your family seemed a bit odd and hypocritical of him at first considering what he had down to get Tatsu back. However, the more I thought about it the more I wondered if his line about the family being disappointed in that choice was the result of Tatsu lecturing him after her rescue when she found out how much he risked. But I'm just filling that in for myself so the line makes sense to me.
    -Loved the lines from Maseo and Slade about Oliver losing his soul and losing Oliver Queen. Nice theme stuff for the year. And I always like seeing Slade. His hatred is so centred on Oliver Queen and I like that he has an enemy that has nothing to do with the Arrow.
    - I like the moment where Thea woke up Oliver and he came awake so quickly and alert. Such good character tidbit.
    -Two questions though, why on earth do they need to debrief Ollie back in China? That should seem fishy to anyone with sense. And Oliver told Malcolm that he hesitated during his fight with Ra's? I wonder what that moment was and if it was choreographed in.

    It was a very strong episode for me. It flowed a lot better too IMO. I can feel momentum building and I love that. Thanks for your review. It always gives me a lot to think about and then writing comments make me think again too. Cheers!

    1. IT WAS REALLY CREEPY TO WATCH HIM KILL LIKE THAT. I suppose it's harder though because he was back in Starling. Like... that image of Oliver doesn't seem to fit with the person who came back to Starling (even though Oliver was dark and tormented, I think Hong Kong did a number on him and he had to get through a lot of pain before he really came home.)

      Thanks for pointing out that the photo of Oliver was horrible because I was laughing at it. It looks so hilariously creepy, but I'm happy that the little Olicity scene that was in there didn't retcon anything and actually made me appreciate their initial meeting more.


      Slaaaaaaaaaaaaaade. When he brought up Shado though, I jokingly yelled at my TV: "IT'S BEEN FIVE YEARS, DUDE. FIVE YEARS. YOU'VE BEEN TELLING THE SAME STORY FOR FIVE YEARS." But I do love that Slade was Oliver's mentor and they have a really good and complex dynamic. That prison scene was actually really nice at the end. One, because Slade actually genuinely seemed concerned that Merlyn had dipped Thea into darkness. If Slade is able to notice darkness, you know something is off. Second, I love that he brought up Felicity to make Oliver stop dead in his tracks. That's the trigger button and he knows it.

      I think Oliver DID hesitate in the fight with Ra's? Maybe? I seem to remember the moment right before Ra's goes for a throat punch that Oliver had the upper hand and paused for too long. But maybe I'm imagining that. I can't exactly recall.

      Thank you as always for your comments, Becca! They're so intelligent and insightful. :)

  5. I loved Thea (Willa) this episode and I am rooting more for her "evil broken darkness consumed her" turn because the way Willa acted last night, you know it will be glorious and her redemption story could be its own series. I need this to happen.

    I thought Felicity was cute, as usual but didn't feel it was retcon in any way so I agree with you there.

    The most interesting line to me was when Oliver told Maseo he wanted to come back, not because he missed his family, but to clean up the mess he made (paraphrasing here). That speaks to me so much about the hero that was always in him, stuck as it were, under the Queen facade.

    Love Slade, best big bad we love to love, ever. Like, I'd be okay if my sister brought him home to dinner, married him and had his evil babies. I just love him.

    1. I really and truly loved Thea this episode. I'm never the most emotionally connected to her as a character but seeing her backstory while Oliver was presumed dead was really illuminating. Willa knocked that reveal scene and her final scene out of the park. I could totally see her going dark. I kind of wanted that for Laurel. I waffle between wanting someone on the series to go the supervillain arc and wanting them to all just become heroes.

      I did really think it interesting that Oliver's desire to come back was to clean up the mess he left in his "death." It was really telling, actually. And a good example of the burden that Oliver feels is placed on him to fulfill his father's last wishes to become a better man.

      Love Slade, best big bad we love to love, ever. Like, I'd be okay if my sister brought him home to dinner, married him and had his evil babies. I just love him.

      I LITERALLY snorted laughing as soon as I read that so thank you for that statement and THANK YOU for reading and commenting, April! :)

  6. Slade is so fearsome. I always feel frightened when he's on the screen. Anything could happen with him. I guess Malcolm or R'as should scare me more, but they don't.

    Oliver explaining to The why she should lie -- hilarious. It just sounds so stupid when he says it, yet clearly he believes those things... Hopefully this will be an opening for Honest Roy, who comes down hard when Oliver messes with Thea.

    I feel like Oliver needs to read the "How To Be A Hero for Dummies" guide...

    Step 1: Don't kill people.
    Step 2: Don't screw around.
    Step 3: Don't lie.

    What's next? Not worshipping false idols?

    1. Sorry, that was me, Anon. E./Elizabeth

    2. First of all, thanks for the comment Elizabeth! I really do love Slade as a villain. He's so unhinged. Malcolm doesn't scare me as much only because of John Barrowman, I think. And Ra's I don't really see as scary, per se. But Slade is probably the most terrifying villain the show has had.

      I THINK OLIVER NEEDS TO OWN THAT GUIDE AND READ IT 100 TIMES. It's perfect. Thank you for reading and commenting as always! :)

  7. This was such a great episode and everything that I had hoped it would be and I agree with Becca that it flowed much better and that there is definitely a momentum building. The sibling relationship is one that I find incredibly interesting and it was explored absolutely fantastically in The Return.

    I'm also the oldest of 3 (brother is middle child, and then it's my little sister) and my sister is a very strong minded individual that doesn't take crap from anyone, and she has a strength of character that I saw in Willa Holland's portrayal of Thea.

    As one of the youngest characters on Arrow, Thea has been through just as much adversity and to see how she has grown and dealt with it all was incredible. I enjoyed just listening to Oliver and Thea really talk in a way that few have managed to with Oliver and she did not let him get away with keeping the truth from her and really pushed him to reveal the secret he was so desperate to protect her from.
    Her reactions after realising it was her hand that had taken Sara's life and her absolute killer of a speech to Merlyn were true highlights as Willa knocked it out of the park.

    It was also great to see Slade Wilson again, he is such a fab villain, he knows just how to push Oliver's buttons and it was wonderful to see Oliver and Thea kick his ass! Go Team Queen!

    Normally the island flashbacks are not my favourite scenes in Arrow but it's a different story when it's Starling City flashbacks as seeing Oliver observe from a distance the ones he loves were some beautiful moments (despite the hideous cap/wig ensemble). In particular the scene with Oliver watching the video of his father which showed what lead him to the beginning of his journey in saving the city.

    I would not have minded if there was no Diggle and Felicity in this episode but it was still lovely to finally see Andy Diggle - Yay! And of course the little QC Felicity scene which was very cute and Felicity-esque although I did not take anything romantic from it but it tied in nicely with their first official meet in 1x03.

    Malcolm Merlyn is one twisted son-of-a-b*tch and now that Oliver and Thea have no secrets between and are a force to be reckoned with, I will be extremely happy to see them take him down several pegs.

    Also love the bromance between Oliver and Maseo:)

    Overall a wonderful week for Arrow, and I'm excited (when am I not excited for new Arrow episodes?) for 3x15! Bring It On!

    Sitara x

    1. Sitara! First off, thank you for being so faithful and commenting each week. I love hearing your thoughts. For an episode that was a lot of flashing back and forth, I felt like the flashbacks actually were a part of the story this episode rather than detracting and jumping around if that makes sense? They felt like an organic part of the episode.

      Man, I cannot stress how much I loved Thea in this episode and how much of my own sister I saw in her. We have the exact same birth order! I'm the oldest, middle brother, younger sister who's a bit of a spitfire and a go-getter and is very much the opposite of me. Glad we can relate on that front, so I was able to connect a lot with Thea in this episode. I loved that we got to see the Queen siblings bond because that's something that's been sorely lacking this season and last. They're a lot more alike than they realize and Oliver can't keep seeing her as a child if he ever wants to have a truly functional, adult relationship with her. I'm, too, glad that she pressed him in order to get him to tell her what really happened to Sara. And Thea's reaction to that? Stellar stuff by Willa Holland.

      Man, I love Slade. I also just love Manu's voice. Is that weird?

      I agree with you 100% about the island flashbacks. I usually gloss over those and the Hong Kong ones but I loved seeing how perfectly they tied into the theme of the episode, overall.

      I wasn't expecting Dig or Felicity to make appearances but I loved the little bit that they were there. Also, UGH MALCOLM MERLYN IS THE ACTUAL WORST. I can't wait to see what happens to him.

      Thank you again for your faithful and thoughtful comments! :)

    2. Hi Jennifer Marie

      You are very welcome:) I love the Arrow fandom and reading your reviews so it's great to participate in a small way and share thoughts on episodes as I'm not as active as others with tumblr etc.

      I totally agree that the flashbacks felt integral to the story, and things seem to be linking together with what we've already seen in past episodes quite nicely.

      I don't think that's weird about Manu Bennett's voice, I find it quite sexy;)

      Sitara x

  8. The in-depth and well thought out character analysis and story line you do of each Arrow episode is very impressive. Every week, I look forward to reading your commentary, the others’ observations and I would only be repeating most of what you and the others have said. Well done and thank you.

    What impressed me the most about this episode was:

    • Robert’s whole message to Oliver:

    “…in my efforts to make it right, I IGNORED MY CONSCIENCE AND MADE ALLIANCES WITH TERRIBLE PEOPLE. There’s a book with a list of all their names…. And with these people, I ALWAYS TOLD MYSELF THAT EVERYTHING I DID, I DID FOR MY FAMILY. THAT’S A LIE. Because what good is a family without a soul?”

    • Slade’s comment and observation of Thea :

    She’s lost, your sister…. You can see it in her eyes. She’s been touched by darkness. Was it Merlyn? INTERESTING MAN TO DO IT TO HIS OWN DAUGHTER.”

    ….and of his comments to Oliver:

    “So now you’ve lost your father, your mother and now your little sister. How’s the girl with the glasses? What’s her name? Felicity. HOW MANY PEOPLE CAN OLIVER QUEEN LOSE BEFORE THERE IS NO MORE OLIVER QUEEN?

    Amazing how we are products of our environment, life experiences and choices we make.

    Sorry. Haven't really said anything more than what the others have said :(
    and used my close captioning to quote what was said. Couldn't say it any better than that ;)
    But am definitely looking forward to next week ☺

    1. Anon: Wow thank you so much for your compliments! I'm so touched that you look forward to reading these reviews as much as I look forward to writing them. :)

      Robert's message to Oliver was great. I loved the redemption in the honest line about saying that he didn't do everything for his family -- that was a lie he told himself to justify his choices. It was definitely a necessary moment and I'm glad we got to see the beginnings of the list.

      Slade's observation about Thea was really spot-on and dare I say a bit sympathetic? Look, if SLADE WILSON calls out someone like Malcolm for being a pretty terrible person, you know it's true. And you're right: the combination of all of those things -- our experiences and the people in our lives and our choices -- make us who we are.

      Thanks again for your comment! :)