Pre-Arrow Oliver goes back to the hood. 

If last week’s episode could be considered the best of ‘Arrow’ Season 3 so far, than last night’s episode, ‘The Return,’ should definitely be counted as a close second. The show played with the format and returned to familiar locations and characters from Season 1, reminded us where the show started and how far they’ve come in the past 3 years. As for the format, with Oliver and Thea returning to Lian Yu for training, the regular format (started in S1) of the main story taking place in the present Starling City with the flashbacks taking place on Lian Yu or Hong Kong in the past was turned on its head, with the main story now taking place in the Starling City of the past, with flashes to Oliver and Thea in the present on Lian Yu. It’s a head-scratcher to be sure, but nonetheless a brilliant move by the show to keep people on their toes, and from a writing standpoint, a great way to keep things interesting.

Diving in, the show opens on Lian Yu where Oliver and Thea training with staffs, Oliver being impressed that Thea had become such a talented fighter after only training for nine months with Malcolm Merlyn. Later that night they reminisce around the campfire, clearly demonstrating that their relationship has become stronger than ever.

Year before, Amanda Waller takes Maseo and Oliver into Starling City, where she briefs them on the fact that China White plans to hold an auction for the Omega weapon, and one of the bidders is an executive of Queen Consolidated named Peter Kang, which is why Oliver is still useful to her. She warns him that if he makes any contact with family or friends she will kill them and Oliver, hoping the warning is enough to keep the man in line. First thing Maseo and Oliver do is a put a tracker on Kang’s car as it leaves Queen Consolidated, with Maseo explaining that they’ll need to get onto Kang’s computer in the building to see what information is there about the auction. As they converse and Maseo points out that because Oliver knows the layout of Queen Consolidated he’s the best one to head inside,  Oliver spots Thea, explaining to Maseo that it is his sister.

Meanwhile, at a nearby bar, Detective Lance is drinking heavily, something we’ve heard was a serious problem at one point but never really seen entirely. Laurel shows up and sees how drunk he is, offering to drive him home. Lance reluctantly agrees to go with her, but we can easily see how ornery he gets while drinking, and realize what a problem the drinking has become, and marvel at how he managed to pull himself out of his alcoholism to become the man we know in the present time of the show.

Back on Lian Yu, Thea wakes up Oliver as he has been saying Sara’s name in his sleep, opening up a discussion whereas Thea starts asking questions about Sara’s death, questions that Oliver is not comfortable answering. He leaves Thea and says he wants to go for a walk, heading to the ARGUS prison complex that holds Slade Wilson on the island. He heads inside and starts talking to Slade, but gets no answer. He opens the cell, and discovers the body of the guard within. Slade has escaped, and Oliver rushes back to Thea to ensure her safety. He explains to her that Slade was being kept on Lian Yu, right as Malcolm Merlyn calls on their satellite phone, explaining that he released Slade as Oliver needs to learn how to kill again, to tap into a primal need to survive to save both himself and his sister. Oliver smashes the phone as Merlyn says it won’t be able to call out anymore, and they are left alone on Lian Yu with Deathstroke hunting them.

Back in Starling City of the past, Oliver follows Thea home to find her alone at the graves for him and his father, touched by her grieving. But only for a moment, as she’s actually there for a drug deal, which fortunately is broken up by Tommy Merlyn, who had come by to thank Thea for his birthday card. It becomes clear to Oliver that in his absence Tommy has attempted to step in as Thea’s older brother and look out for her, but she is not having it. When Tommy mentions that Oliver wouldn’t be happy about her drug usage, she claims that Oliver never really cared that much about what she was doing.

Back on Lian Yu, Oliver takes Thea to their father’s actual grave to claim a gun stashed there years earlier. No sooner does he give it to Thea to defend herself with than Slade attacks, easily beating down Oliver. When he awakes, he and Thea are within Slade’s cell, with the man explaining that he’s going to take their plane off Lian Yu and fake their deaths, leaving them to die alone and miserable in the prison as Oliver had left him. Slade further goes on to tell Thea about everything that happened with Shado, claiming that Moira would not have died if Oliver had just been honest with Slade about what happened, claiming that even now Oliver holds secrets, with Thea noticing that Oliver’s discomfort at that statement.

Back at Queen Consolidated of the past, Oliver deftly breaks into the building at night, using his thumbprint to access the computers (the idea being that they would not have removed him from the system if they thought he was dead, the real question being why they would have ever given Oliver that high a security clearance when his father ran the company and Oliver had little to do with it). He downloads the files on the auction, and also finds a flash drive to download a private file from Robert Queen. He hides as Felicity enters, still in her IT days at Queen Consolidated, talking to herself about how cute Oliver Queen looked in a picture on the desk, despite the fact that he was dead. It was a fun little cameo, but if the episode has a flaw, its definitely that this was the only Felicity scene.

They return to Waller’s base of operations, with Maseo and Waller waiting for the computers to finish sorting all the stolen data and retrieve the auction date. Waller asks where Oliver is, and Maseo covers for him, but is suspicious. Oliver meanwhile crashes Tommy Merlyn’s birthday party, where we see a recently returned Diggle working security with his brother in his first job since getting back from Afghanistan. Its great to see the interaction with his brother, and to remember where Diggle came from, working menial security jobs for rich folk. Oliver sneaks inside wearing a hoodie (a great call-back to his season 1 handle given to him by Detective Lance, ‘The Hood,’ and a subtle nod to how similar Oliver and Roy were in their early days). He spots Tommy, and Laurel, and then Thea, who is told by Tommy not to drink as she is not over 21. She relents and then meets her dealer once more, which Oliver spots. Following the transaction, Oliver follows the dealer upstairs, warning him to stay away from Thea. The man recognizes Oliver, and in a flash Oliver makes the decision to kill the man, snapping his neck and throwing him over the balcony, reminding the audience how callous a killer Oliver/ The Arrow was in his early days.

Back in the present of Lian Yu, Thea demands to know what the new secret is Oliver is keeping from her, and wonders if it has something to do with Sara. Oliver distracts her with a rescue plan, pointing out that the bars were made for grown men, and that Thea might be able to squeeze her arm through to hit the door opener. She is just shy of being able to reach it, and Oliver suggests they dislocate her arm to get the final few inches. Thea agrees and through the pain she is able to open the door and free them. They race through Lian Yu to get to the plane before Slade.

Back at the party in Starling City of the past, the cops arrive with a belligerent Detective Lance and his partner investigating the death. They quickly realize the dead man was a drug dealer, and Lance’s partner makes the comment that it might just be a “vigilante doing a public service,” which Lance sneers at, and I immediately laughed, as they managed to get another of the Arrow’s original names into the show. He spots Tommy and Laurel and lays into Tommy first for having minors at a party, and then Laurel, asking why she has a thing for rich bad boys. Oliver watches from the crowd, just before Maseo arrives and forces him to leave by gunpoint.

Laurel manages to pull her father away from the crowd and they have it out in a secluded corridor. He accuses her of being a sell-out as she has agreed to take a cushy job in San Francisco, reminding her that when she got her law degree she told him she wanted to help people, and that the San Francisco job would only be making rich corporations richer. She says that statement would mean a lot more if Lance was sober, but he points out that he doesn’t need to be sober to see the truth.

Once they are safely away from the party, Maseo lays into Oliver for being reckless, with Oliver arguing that he maintained his disguise by wearing his hoodie, which prompts Maseo to deliver my favorite line of the night (which was a tough call as there were many in this episode):

“That disguise wouldn’t work even if you smeared grease paint all over your face.”

Amusing as it makes fun of the Arrow’s original disguise before he started wearing the mask, and almost makes it seem that Oliver chose that disguise just to prove Maseo wrong. Anyway, Maseo tells Oliver they have the location of the auction, but Oliver is over the mission. He wants to stay in Starling City and help his family. Maseo points out that he could help millions by stopping the Omega weapon, but Oliver thinks his family is more important, and leaves Maseo to fulfill the mission alone.

Back on Lian Yu, Oliver and Thea’s chase leads Thea to accidently set off one of Oliver’s old booby traps, which Oliver barely saves his sister from, one of the spikes grazing his arm as it passes. Thea demands they take a break so they can assess the wound, and she starts asking Oliver about Sara and his secret again, demanding to know who killed her, and why Oliver didn’t tell her about it. Oliver FINALLY tells Thea what happened, explaining that Merlyn basically brainwashed her into doing it, trying to make her see it was not her fault. Thea is devastated, and cannot believe Merlyn would do that to her. Oliver tries to console his sister, but is interrupted when Wilson pounces, taking Thea by gunpoint and holding her hostage in front of Oliver, little knowing how skilled a fighter Thea is. She breaks free from his grip, and then Oliver attacks. They duke it out, with Thea joining the fray to help her brother, making it Queens Vs Deathstroke, in a relatively evenly matched fight. Still, Slade is the more experience combatant (and is Mirakuru enhanced), and seems to have the upper hand until Thea grabs the dropped gun and points it at Slade’s head, ending the fight.

Back at the Queen Manor of the past, Oliver enters the familiar house, taking the fans back to the Season 1 sets, though sadly we do not get a Moira Queen cameo, even though she is mentioned often in the episode. Oliver finds a tablet and plugs in the stolen flash drive to see what the private Robert Queen file is, and discovers a video recording made by his father before his death. In it, he tells Oliver about the book with the names of people who failed Starling City, and tells Oliver that he made some dubious moral decisions in an attempt to save the city (hinting around that he was part of the Undertaking), and realizes now that he was a failure. He says he was only trying to save his family, but that he now knows that he lost his soul int he process, something that he does not want to see happen to Oliver. He tells his son that Oliver can save Starling City, and we get the clearest connection to Season 1 yet, as that was Oliver’s mantra in the beginning, telling the people on the list that they “Failed this city” as he struggled to save it.

At the warehouse where the auction took place (I could be mistaken, but could it be Verdant?), Maseo and the ARGUS agents infiltrate the place, hiding out in the rafter walkways and taking pictures while China White begins the auction. They are spotted and all are shot down save Maseo, who is brought before China White. Oliver shoots his way in, saving Maseo in the nick of time. China White and the bidders flee, with White getting into her car along with her courier who holds the Omega. Oliver shoots brazenly at the car as it escapes, and the car crashes into a dumpster. While Maseo apprehends China White, Oliver retrieves the Omega from the courier, his mission complete at last.

Back on Lian Yu, Thea is torn about whether or not to pull the trigger and finish Deathstroke. Wilson tries to convince her to do it, knowing it would hurt Oliver, but Oliver talks her down, saying that she is not a killer. She does shoot him, but its only a flesh wound, and they take Slade back to the prison. Thea still blames herself for Sara’s death and believes she is a killer, which makes Slade happy as he says Oliver has now lost his sister as well, joining her to the ranks of Oliver’s father and mother. He asks how many people Oliver Queen can lose before he stops being Oliver Queen, and then asks about Felicity, threatening her as well. Oliver is pissed, but says nothing and leaves.

In the episode aftermath, in the past, Oliver and Maseo are debriefed by Waller, and Oliver demands that he be allowed to stay in Starling City. Waller says it is not her call, and then General Matthew Shrieve enters, telling Oliver they need to do a full debrief in China, but then he will take Oliver wherever he wants to do. Oliver agrees, but something doesn’t seem quite right.

Outside her new CNRI office in the Glades, Laurel spots Tommy and he asks why she didn’t take the job in San Francisco, with her pointing out there were more people for her to help in Starling City. Tommy then asks her out, which she says yes to, starting the romance that was already in place when Season 1 began.  At the Queen Manor, Thea finally does visit her family graves to grieve, and brings flowers to her father and brother’s headstones.

Back in the present, Laurel finds Captain Lance bringing flowers to Sara’s headstone, knowing that her body is actually in there this time. Laurel tries to comfort her father, but she sees he has a bottle with him, which fortunately has not been opened. Lance calls her Black Canary and berates her for being a vigilante, though Laurel reminds him of their talk from years earlier, claiming that he helped paved the way toward her career helping people as the Black Canary. Lance explains that he can deal with Sara’s death, and with her being the Black Canary, but he’s going to have a hard time forgiving Laurel for lying to him, for breaking their special bond, their trust. Laurel suggests they go to a meeting together, and Lance agrees, though he tells her to go to different AA meeting site than her, and then exits, leaving Laurel the bottle. As he exits, she pours it out over Sara’s grave.

Meanwhile Oliver and Thea return home at last, and talk about Sara and what has happened. Oliver tells her she can’t tell Laurel, as Laurel sees Thea as a sister, and that she also shouldn’t tell Laurel anything about her relationship with Merlyn. Merlyn enters then, agreeing with Oliver, but Thea goes off on her father for what happened with Sara (Malcolm was not happy Oliver told her that), and for sicking Deathstroke on them in Lian Yu. He tries to defend his actions, but Thea does not believe him. She finishes by saying that she’ll work with Merlyn because Oliver says they need to, she’ll be his student and his soldier, but she’ll never be his daughter again.


* Merlyn was pissed Oliver told Thea about Sara, and it is strange that Merlyn, who we’ve seen is actually not an entirely bad father, would do that to Thea. Could there be more going on? Is there some justification for what he did? I fear that if there is, he’ll be redeemed in Thea’s eyes just before he dies, comic writers can’t resist that kind of tragedy.

* Matthew Shrieve is the man in charge of the supernatural task force known as the Creature Commandos in the comics, is there a chance that Oliver is going to get sucked into his brigade? Would they really open up the world to Wolfman and vampires at this point?

* There had been A LOT of focus on the Omega in the flashbacks, and the ‘Arrow’ flashbacks usually end up informing important plot points in the present. Any chance that the League is going to attempt to use the Omega on Starling City? Holding the city hostage to force Oliver’s hand?

As stated at the beginning of the recap, this was another excellent episode, and ‘Arrow’ seems to be building up more and more momentum every week, proving that the show is excellent at setting up its endgame for the end of a season. With all the balls in the air right now, we definitely have the makings of another epic Season finale in a few months. Let’s just hope they keep up the quality until then!