Arrow: 314 “The Return” Review
Reviewed by Phil Boothman.
Another week, another much-publicised return of an otherwise-departed character, this time as everyone’s favourite one-eyed psychopath Slade Wilson makes another appearance. Unlike Sara last week, he’s not a drug-induced hallucination and therefore has slightly more to do, but the events surrounding his return manage to be almost as inconsequential as Sara’s appearance in “Canaries”.
As we left them last week, Oliver and Thea had been stranded on Lian Yu by Malcolm as part of their training to take on Ra’s al Ghul, and as we rejoin them this week they’re doing that stick-fighting thing that Oliver seems to enjoy doing with everybody. After struggling through a night dreaming about Sara, Oliver heads off to his secret A.R.G.U.S. prison to visit Slade, but instead finds the body of his prison guard in the bed and Slade himself nowhere to be seen.
He manages to make it back to Thea in time to pick up a satellite phone call from Malcolm, who reveals that he released Slade in order to rekindle Oliver’s killer instinct, to stop him from hesitating in the same way as he did when fighting Ra’s the first time. So he takes Thea to their father’s grave, where he stashed a gun at some point in the past, but they are both attacked and knocked unconscious by Slade before they can do anything.
Slade decides not to kill them both, instead imprisoning them both in his cell, trapping them in ‘Purgatory’ and heading off to make his escape from the island, but not before dropping a pretty heavy hint on Thea about Oliver’s proclivity for keeping secrets. However, as she grills Oliver about the stuff that he’s not telling her, he gets distracted by figuring out that Thea can escape from the prison as it was built for grown men, not young women. So instead of talking, they spend their time trying to force Thea’s arm around a hideously impractical corner to release the doors, and are only able to complete the task by dislocating her shoulder and forcing her arm the last few inches
However, upon their escape they run into one of many booby traps left on the island by Oliver the last time he was there, and Oliver is injured by a big swinging log covered in spikes, because apparently he’s a vicious son of a bitch when he wants to be. As the pair of them rest for a moment, Thea corners Oliver and forces him to tell her the truth, so he does: he informs her that Malcolm used a mind-controlling plant extract on her and made her murder Sara, a revelation which understandably shocks Thea. She also finally realises the real truth about Malcolm, that he is a total self-serving sociopath who has no problem manipulating the people he claims to love to save his own skin.
The epiphany is short-lived, however, as Slade attacks them again, but this time by working together they manage to incapacitate him. Thea threatens to shoot Slade to put a stop to their problems, but Oliver manages to talk her down, telling her that she is not the person Malcolm wants her to become, and she doesn’t have to kill in order to solve her problems. So they knock Slade out and take him back to the prison, where he points out to Oliver that he tends to have a corrupting influence on the people in his life, and particularly the women: however, the thing that really seems to get to Oliver is Slade mentioning Felicity, an area which is clearly still a sore spot for him.
Thus ends the return of Slade Wilson, and as nice as it is to see Manu Bennett back in the eyepatch, the fact that his appearance had so little necessity and consequence to it was more than a little frustrating. After all, this is the man who spent last year running circles around Oliver and Team Arrow, tore down Queen Consolidated and damn near destroyed half of Starling City with his complex, personal mission against Oliver; to see him reduced to little more than a wild-man threat of the week who really poses very little threat to Oliver and Thea and whose only real contribution to the overall story arc is forcing Oliver to reveal the truth about Sara’s death is just kind of disappointing.
It is the flashbacks which are given more significance this week, as A.R.G.U.S. send Oliver and Maseo from Hong Kong back to Starling City to interrupt the sale of the Omega virus, which apparently involves a high-ranking employee of Queen Consolidated. However, Oliver can’t help but look in on his friends and family, and because of this the episode includes the return of another well-liked character in the form of Tommy Merlyn. Oliver sees that Thea is getting involved with drugs in his absence, and that while Tommy is trying to look out for her and stop her from getting in too deep, she is not particularly responsive. There’s even an interesting moment when she tells Tommy that he is ‘not her brother’, something which recent revelations have proved to be entirely false.
Oliver even trespasses on a party being held by Tommy, and almost blows his cover by threatening Thea’s dealer. However, as the scumbag dealer sees his face and recognises him as the missing billionaire, Oliver is forced to swiftly and brutally break his neck and toss him over the balcony, thus pretty much ruining the party. But alongside these fun activities, Oliver is somewhat committed to continuing his mission, and breaks into Queen Consolidated to figure out the location of the virus sale, discovering in the process a video file made for him by his father. After breaking away from Maseo, he heads back to the Queen mansion and watches the video, which tells him about the List (remember the List? That was a long time ago…) and encourages him to save the city, which inspires him to go and help Maseo.
Together, they manage to stop the deal from going down and recover the virus, but as the US Army takes control of the operation they inform Oliver that he will need to be debriefed back in Hong Kong, and his first taste of freedom in a long time is entirely ruined.
A few other things happen in the flashback, as Laurel is forced to deal with her father’s rampant alcoholism (and his really, really terrible wig), Oliver is almost discovered in his father’s old office by everyone’s favourite super-nerd Felicity, and we finally get a glimpse of Dig’s brother as they provide security for Tommy’s party, but none of these really have much of an impact on the story other than providing some cute ‘how did they all meet’-type information.
Overall “The Return” is a reasonable outing for Arrow, but one which doesn’t ever feel entirely necessary. Add to that a disappointing return for a fun character from the past and some really, really awful flashback wigs, and this episode felt like a bit of a non-starter.