Tonight’s episode title, “The Return”, could refer to a number of things: Oliver Queen’s post-island return to Starling City in the past, his return to Lian Yu in the present, or perhaps a return of a worthy adversary in the unforeseen future. Let’s find out!
Opening up tonight’s hour is a fun little brother-sister stick fight, but not the kind you probably had as a kid. Replace these training sticks with sharpened blades and you’re in for one hell of a fight. Oliver and Thea get to share in some campfire stories, martial arts training, and peaceful nights asleep out in the island air. At this point, it dawns on Oliver that perhaps he should check on the prisoner he left marooned on the island many episodes ago: the one and only Deathstroke (Manu Bennett). Surprise, surprise, Slade Wilson has flown the coop, killing his A.R.G.U.S. guard and leaving him dead on the cot as a decoy. Oliver remembers Slade’s last words to him – ya know, the ones about killing everyone he holds dear – and rushes back to Thea.
Thea’s safe – for the moment – and Oliver tells her that he imprisoned Slade on the island and that he’s escaped. Oliver gets a call from his new mentor, Malcolm Merlyn, who let Deathstroke free in order for Oliver and Thea to reawaken their killer instincts, or die trying. They visit Robert Queen’s grave on the island to retrieve a weapons cache Ollie stocked there … too bad Slade got there first. He gets the drop on the Queens, and leaves them unconscious in the same prison Slade has occupied for months.
Slade uses this opportunity to gloat over his captives and to play more mind games regarding the deaths of Shado and Moira Queen. He leaves them to their own devices for a while, and the Queens’ own unshared secrets start to make their captivity even uglier. Oliver sidesteps Thea’s questions about his past when he realizes that the prison cell “was made for men … fully grown men” and gets Thea to press the conveniently placed cell door-release switch (after dislocating her shoulder, of course).
Back in the woods, Thea nearly gets punched out for good by a swinging death trap, but Oliver knocks her aside and takes the hit instead. Taking a moment to recuperate, Oliver breaks the news to Thea that she was the one who fatally shot Sara while under the influence of Malcolm’s drugs. She obviously reacts poorly to this news, and is so distracted by it that she doesn’t see Slade sneak up behind her with a drawn gun. The Queens team up to take him down. After a brief kerfuffle, Thea turns the tables and holds Slade at gunpoint. Oliver attempts to talk her down, saying that Sara’s death is not on her, but Slade’s would be. Though the commercial break tried to trick you, Thea never shot Slade; they lock him up in his prison cell instead. (Not the smartest decision, I have to say.) Slade continues to goad Oliver, who leaves him behind a second time.
The Queens’ little camping trip comes to an early end and they head home. Ollie gets Thea to promise that she won’t tell Laurel about the truth behind Sara’s death, or about Malcolm’s hand in it. Thea takes her father to task, not for unleashing Slade upon them, but for making her kill Sara. She agrees to be his student, his partner, and his soldier, but refuses to be his daughter.
Waller briefs Oliver and Maseo on China White’s arrival in the country in order to auction off her half of the bioweapon. She plans on meet up with Peter Kang, a wealthy business man and family friend of the Queen’s. This is exactly why Waller needs them both alive. (Though who exactly is the superior she mentions?) Oliver and Maseo track Kang, but it’s the former’s job to access the CEO’s computer directly. Having returned to Starling City for the first time in years, Ollie’s emotionally taken aback when he spies a somewhat grown-up Thea in her school uniform. Rather than following Kang, they follow Thea instead; she pays her respects at Oliver’s grave, but also gets a drug fix from her dealer who meets her there. Luckily, Tommy Merlyn (Colin Donnell) busts onto the scene to chase the dealer away. It’s one of the more heavy-handed flashback scenes this season, but I appreciate that they’re trying to heighten the emotional tension between Ollie and Thea in the present.
Back to the task at hand, Oliver runs a program on Kang’s computer at Queen Consolidated, and almost gets busted … by Felicity. (I guess they had to work her into the story somehow.) They learn the time of the auction and attempt to find its location in a short time. Oliver makes his way to Tommy’s party (where Diggle is running security for rich kids … “I guess they had to work him into the story somehow”), and almost runs into Laurel, Thea, and Mr. Merlyn himself. Oliver – hooded up – plays rough with the drug dealer … make that too rough, because he kills the criminal and throws him over the balcony… Guess that killer instinct was alive and well back then.
Robert Queen himself (Jamey Sheridan) makes an appearance as well, via a recorded video message. He tells Oliver of the book that will guide him in his quest to right wrongs. He can start by helping to shut down China White’s weapon auction. He arrives just in time to save Maseo, who alone remains after White’s goons mow down the A.R.G.U.S. team. China White ends up in Waller’s custody, and Oliver and Maseo manage to capture Kang and his briefcase full of bioweapons.
General Matthew Shrieve (Marc Singer), Waller’s superior, arrives to debrief Oliver … back in China. He promises that after they’re done, Oliver has a free ticket to go wherever he wants.
In a double-flashback, Laurel checks in on her dad, who’s nursing his wounds (resulting from Sara’s death … the first time) at a local watering hole. Later, he gets his act together (more or less) and shows up on scene to handle the death at the rich kids’ party; he takes his pain out on all the gathered guests. Meanwhile, Maseo finds Oliver and leads him away at gunpoint in order to help stop the auction, but not until they have a little spat. Oliver abandons Maseo with the hopes of seeking protection from Waller through his family’s connections, and righting all the wrongs he’s caused.
Tying up the weird plot arcs of this episode’s flashback, Quentin is back to drinking (or at least pretending to) and mourning Sara’s death. He’s still pretty upset with Laurel; he can deal with losing Sara a second time, but he wants nothing to do with his other daughter at the moment.
Let’s be honest, tonight’s hour was a little scattered and unfocused. If the aim was to focus on strengthening the relationship between Oliver and Thea, then I suppose they succeeded. If, instead, the purpose was to reawaken Arrow’s killer instinct, then with the exception of a murdered drug-dealing criminal, the vigilante is not quite there just yet. It looks like Malcolm will continue to ruffle feathers over the next few episodes, but the real highlight of next week’s installment appears to be Brandon Routh’s Ray Palmer donning the A.T.O.M. suit.
★★★ Good — Proceed with cautious optimism
(An explanation of our ratings system follows here.)
Slade: “Welcome home, kid.”
Is Amell wearing one of those baseball-hats-with-hair wigs in the flashbacks? He looks like a budget version of MacGruber.
Flashback Felicity: “You’re cute. Too bad you’re dead.”
Drug Dealer: “How’d you like to be dead again?”
Quentin Lance: “You spoiled billionaires sure know how to throw yourselves a good party.”
Robert Queen: “You can save this city.”
Maseo, who brings a handgun to a machine-gun fight?
Oliver: “You have a choice to make.” Kang: “What choice?” Oliver: “Whether or not you want to keep your hand.”
General Matthew Shireve is a strange Easter egg to drop, but we’ll take it!
Slade: “How many people can Oliver Queen lose, before there is no more Oliver Queen?”