Once we saw Thea and Oliver land on the Island last week to train for the coming of Ra’s al Ghul, it didn’t take Nostradamus to predict they would run into Slade Wilson, who was imprisoned there at the end of last season. It’s always great to see Manu Bennett in anything, and his return carries dramatic impact, as now Oliver not only has to survive Lian Yu, he also has to keep Thea safe while one of his greatest enemies is bent on revenge.
But this Thea isn’t the lost little drug addict we met in Season 1. In fact, “The Return” showcases the contrast between the girl Thea was and the woman she’s become, as half the episode unfolds in flashback. We watch as the “old” Thea suffers the loss of her family, scores drugs and behaves like a brat to everyone around her. However, the Thea on the island is mentally strong enough to survive everything the harsh terrain and Slade Wilson throws her way.
If this episode of “Arrow” were a comic book, it would be a zero issue, as we we’re treated to virtually the entire cast as they were before the opening of Season 1. We see Oliver and Maseo on a mission from Amanda Waller to track down a super-weapon held by China White, who’s a near-constant presence on the series but never really does anything. She has a plan, we’re told how dangerous she is, and then Oliver takes down her crew in 30 seconds. It’s been three seasons; I’d like to see the always-awesome Kelly Hu do something!
But I digress. In the flashback, we witness Thea and Quentin Lance at their worst: She’s the drugged-out party girl introduced in the first season, while he’s turned to the bottle to hide from his grief over daughter Sara’s (first) death. Again, this provides a great contrast to the present, where Lance is coping with Sara’s second death without the benefit of alcohol. He doesn’t want to dishonor her memory by drinking, but he’s more estranged from Laurel than ever because he’s so angry that she hid the truth from him. It’s fascinating to see the old, broken Quentin Lance, as now we know just how much he’s grown; Paul Blackthorne is nailing the pathos involved in Lance’s arc.
In addition to Thea and Quentin, “The Return” check in on Felicity and Diggle in their pre-Team Arrow days. Felicity is working late and mooning over a photo of Oliver, while Diggle is working security at a party thrown by Tommy Merlyn, with actor Colin Donnell reprising his role (as sparks begin to fly between the young playboy and Laurel Lance).
As for the main event, the island: I never imagined I’d witness Thea Queen facing down Deathstroke the Terminator and buying that she could hold her own, but it happens in this episode. Thea exudes confidence and courage, and listen, it’s not as if Slade had a weight room in that cell for all these months. The megalomaniac is weakened by his confinement, but that doesn’t make him any less ruthless or any less manipulative, as he reveals to Thea that Oliver has been hiding something: her unwitting role in Sara’s death.
Thankfully, however, Thea doesn’t blame her brother for withholding the truth, but instead focuses her anger on the person directly responsible, her father Malcolm Merlyn. When Thea confronts him back in Starling City, she make it clear what she thinks of him. Alas, Oliver and Thea still have to work with Merlyn if they hope survive the coming of Ra’s al Ghul, who’s is taking an awfully long getting here, by the way.
The episode creates a nice parallel between Thea’s temptation to kill Slade Wilson and Merlyn’s recent need to kill Brick. Slade and Brick each took someone precious from Thea and Merlyn, but Thea chooses Oliver’s path of service to humanity rather than Merlyn’s road of vengeance. So Slade Wilson is still alive, and I’m sure we’ll see him leading the Suicide Squad at some point. However, until then, he sits in his prison on the island knowing he was brought down by a formerly troubled girl who has transformed into a more than capable woman.
Despite the brief glimpses at the flashback Felicity and Diggle, I did miss Team Arrow this week. It’s been a while since we checked in with Ray Palmer, and hopefully that suit of his will be ready when Ra’s finally arrives. I’d also like Sin to learn the truth about Sara so she can have some closure.
It’s nice to be reminded where the cast was before we met them in Season 1 and to see how far they’ve come since banding together to help Oliver save their city. But a small part of me remains disappointed, as I was hoping Slade Wilson would return with Oliver and Thea, and we’d be treated to a Deathstroke vs. Ra’s al Ghul brawl.
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