Arrow has never shied away from causing pain to flashback Ollie during his time on Lian Yu and in Hong Kong: betrayal, murder, torture. Oliver, not the most verbose of men, summed up this period best in season two as a time in his life “where nothing good happened.” Despite all of Ollie’s flashback trials, though, nothing has felt more cruel than having Ollie, in this week’s flashback, travel to his former home, Starling City.
Ollie is brought to Starling City (circa 2010) to help A.R.G.U.S. stop Chien Na Wei from selling Armageddon, a potent chemical weapon, to the highest bidder. But the weapons auction is mere window dressing; the heart of the flashback is Oliver’s sort-of homecoming. Amanda Waller certainly is not going to give Ollie any vacay from his secret government work, so she forbids him from making any contact with his family and friends. At first, it seems like Oliver is going to obey Waller and stay focused on his mission. But once he unexpectedly spies his sister Thea in the street, Oliver’s focus quickly unravels. Oliver follows Thea to the cemetery, where she visits the graves of Oliver and her “father,” Robert Queen. What’s great about Arrow is that scenes often take unexpected turns: What could have been a maudlin exchange of a brother overhearing his sister cry over his grave instead became a portrait of an angry, restless teen who just wants to score some drugs from a local dealer.
Thea’s rebellion is quickly quashed by Tommy Merlyn (R.I.P.), who is sweetly attempting to look out for her in Oliver’s absence. (It’s always lovely to see the charming Colin Donnell as Tommy, even when his 1920s undercut hairstyle seems a bit out of place in 2010. The flashback is not that far back.) Turns out Tommy is having a big birthday bash at the Merlyn mansion, and although Tommy warns the underage Thea at the cemetery not to come, that warning pretty much guarantees she’ll be there.
She’s not the only Queen to show up uninvited. Ollie, in a black hoodie, wanders through the party with his face partially covered by the hood. The scene is shot in sharp angles and overlaid with creepy music, which, combined with Oliver’s hoodie, gives off a major serial-killer vibe. But that’s not too far off from what happens: When Ollie witnesses the cemetery drug dealer sell Thea drugs at the party, he corners the dealer on a secluded upstairs balcony. The dealer, of course, recognizes Ollie right away, which prompts Ollie to break his neck. Thanks to Oliver “Buzzkill” Queen, the party ends after the cops show up to investigate the murder, including an appearance by a drunk Detective Lance, who’s still reeling from Sara’s death at sea. Maseo shows up during the police investigation to persuade Oliver, using a gun to the back, to leave the party and return to the mission at hand before Waller kills them both.
Admittedly, the scenes at the cemetery and the party require a certain suspension of disbelief. In theory, Oliver needs to be close enough to overhear all of these conversations and yet remain out of sight. In the cemetery, he and his Wayne’s World–esque hat/hair combo are laughably out in the open. Like, if Thea turned her head ever so slightly to the right, she’d see her dead brother is very much alive. (And in desperate need of a haircut.) The party scene does nothing to bolster Ollie’s incognito status. With his Unabomber hood up the whole time at the party, Ollie would only attract more attention. Plus, Maseo pulling a gun on Oliver in a crowd of people, with cops just a few feet away? That’s an Assassin 101 no-no.
I don’t envy the director charged with having to find a balance between Oliver bearing witness to the world around him and staying undetected. But I’ll gladly overlook those few minor flaws for a chance to see flashback Ollie explore the world that he has left behind. And the world that he hasn’t yet discovered: This episode reveals the first time that Oliver ever laid eyes on Felicity Smoak. It’s a short but sweet scene at Queen Consolidated headquarters, with Felicity babbling to herself at a picture of Oliver that Moira Queen keeps in her office. (“You’re cute. Too bad you’re, you know, dead. Which is obviously a lot more worse for you than it is for me.”) As Oliver hides out of sight and overhears Felicity talk to two-dimensional Ollie, his face breaks out into a smile that only Felicity can charm out of him. (My Olicity feels are so strong they overpower the logical part of me that wants to know how he can hear Felicity talk to herself from so far away and through a thick glass window. Shhhhh, brain. Shhhhh. Olicity.)
Oliver is at Queen Consolidated as part of his mission for Waller, a mission that he successfully completes by capturing Chien Na Wei before she can auction off Armageddon. (Am I the only one tickled by the idea that nefarious crime lords would participate in a formal auction for chemical weapons?) Having defeated Chien Na Wei, Oliver expects to be set free from A.R.G.U.S.’s grip. But as always, flashback Ollie gets bad news: Before Ollie can go home for good, Waller’s supervisor, General Matthew Shrieve, wants to send Ollie back to China for debriefing. Why do I have a feeling this is not going to end well? Oh, I know why I have that feeling! Because Arrow.
Even though the present-day scenes — mostly Oliver and Thea on Lian Yu, engaging in a Malcolm Merlyn-sponsored Hunger Games experiment — are in the minority this week, they provided the majority of thrills. Oliver and Thea’s wilderness bonding session quickly takes a dark turn, after Slade Wilson escapes from his supermax prison cell on the island. The Lian Yu woods have never felt so creepy or foreboding. Slade manages to capture the Queen siblings and promptly locks them up in his old cell. But the Lian Yu prison was built for burly men, not slim ladies like Thea, who tries to reach her long stick arms through the cell bars to unlock the prison door. Her arm can’t quite make it, so what’s a vigilante brother to do? Well, with Thea’s consent, he dislocates her shoulder, so that her arm reach the buzzer.
But they’re not out of the Lian Yu woods yet. Oliver tells Thea that Malcolm drugged her and made Thea kill Sara. Thea, understandably, freaks. While Oliver tries to calm her, Slade Wilson attacks. There’s a good old-fashioned punching sequence between Oliver and Slade (it’s rare to see Oliver just pummel someone, without a bow and arrow). Thea grabs a gun and wounds Slade, who’s then captured and thrown back into his old cell. As Oliver leaves Slade to rot, Slade points out that Oliver has already lost his mother and father, and now appears to be losing his sister to a “darkness.” Oliver shrugs off Slade’s attempt to get into Oliver’s head, until Slade, in a creepy, deliberate voice, asks simply, “How’s the girl with the glasses?” With one quick flinch and a cold stare, Oliver reveals that he has one more weakness Slade could exploit: Felicity.
- Paul Blackthorne tore my heart out with his scene at Sara’s grave with Laurel. “You and I. We had a trust. And a bond ... How could you do that to us?” Also, Detective Lance’s wig. Finally, a good-looking flashback hairpiece.
- “That disguise wouldn’t work even if you smeared grease paint on your face,” said Maseo to Oliver, who’s wearing a hood. Hee hee. A nice callback to the Arrow’s early costume choice.
- Loved that they squeezed in some Diggle this episode, and that we finally get to meet his brother, Andy.
- I thought the stronger Olicity scene this week was the one Felicity wasn’t even in. Slade’s not-so-veiled threat to Felicity finally got a reaction out of the usually cool Oliver. Also, does this mean Slade caught on to the fact that Oliver had real feelings for Felicity? Or did Slade never realize that the season-two finale's love declaration was supposed to be a fake-out? THESE ARE THE QUESTIONS OF OUR TIME.
- “I will be your student. I’ll be your partner, and, even if I have to, I will be your soldier. But never again will I be your daughter,” said Thea to Malcolm. Willa Holland is on a roll, y’all.
MISSING THE MARK:
- “You knew my life was always headed toward the mask.” Huh? This made no sense and was a blemish on what was otherwise an effective scene between Laurel and her dad.
- I was willing to suspend my disbelief for the cemetery and party scene, but the show was asking too much with Maseo and his A.R.G.U.S. men during the auction. It’s just plain silly that a roomful of crime lords would not immediately notice that half a dozen armed men were walking above them in the rafters.
NUMBER OF SHIRTLESS STEPHEN AMELL SCENES: 0 (Although the prison-cell crotch shot was appreciated.)
NUMBER OF EPISODES SINCE STEPHEN AMELL WAS LAST SHIRTLESS: 3
Update 2/20/15 (2:55 p.m. EST): A previous version of this story stated that Oliver broke Thea's arm so it might reach the buzzer. He in fact dislocated her shoulder.