Arrow S3.14 "The Return" review

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The premise of this episode should, by rights, be bulletproof: Oliver and Thea, trapped on the island, hunted by Slade Wilson. Perfect. Surely here’s a chance to deliver an Arrow-centric take on 1932’s The Most Dangerous Game, the classic tale of a crazed game hunter chasing human prey on a remote isle (over the years it’s been homaged/ripped off in everything from Xena: Warrior Princess to The Incredible Hulk to The Simpsons).

The set-up’s a good ‘un but “The Return” doesn’t entirely deliver the goods. The island scenes feel strangely tension-free, content to rely on the occasional jolts supplied by Slade popping up from the bushes when it should be milking the suspense, tweaking the peril, tightening the noose.

But while the set-up is largely wasted Slade Wilson’s still a formidable foe, as much a psychological threat as a physical one. He’s at his most effective as a whispering Lucifer, expertly exacerbating faultlines between the Queens. He plays on Thea’s doubts – “Your brother likes his secrets,” he smiles – and tells Oliver that his sister has “been touched by darkness.” He’s never scarier than when baiting his adversary with the words “How’s the girl with the glasses? What’s her name? Felicity?” Manu Bennett makes these words burn with understated menace, reminding us that he’s Arrow’s unchallenged boss villain. Sorry, Vinnie.

Arrow Trivia

Laurel tells us she has a job with Wethersby and Posner, a nod to Marc Guggenheim and Greg Berlanti’s legal comedy-drama Eli Stone, all about a San Francisco law firm of the same name. Crossover klaxon!

Elsewhere the episode indulges in a longer than usual flashback story, showing us Oliver’s previously unsuspected return to Starling during his exile years. There’s a weird hint of It’s A Wonderful Life about these scenes: disguised as Kurt Cobain, Oliver’s like his own ghost in a world where his absence has had serious repercussions for his friends and family. As Lance says, “I’m just observing how one little boat trip can turn everyone’s lives to crap.” Points for the underplayed gag of Lance being a maudlin, bitter drunk next to a sign saying “Happy Hour”, by the way.

There’s rather too much on-the-nose dialogue as characters spell out their current situations. “It takes more than a fancy corporate law firm job for some of us to get over Sara’s death!” says Lance while Diggle is reminded, “You should never have divorced her!” And the writers can’t resist little moments of retroactive irony: Oliver’s told “That disguise wouldn’t work if you smeared grease paint over your face!” Oliver’s secret trip to Starling is probably best enjoyed as a nostalgic evocation of season one, reminding us just how far the show’s come. Two things: can Tommy the irredeemable cheese stay buried, please? And where’s Moira?

Oh, and I can’t help thinking Thea makes a remarkably quick recovery from her dislocated shoulder, considering she’s waving her arms around a few scenes later. Maybe Oliver smuggled some of that amazing penicillin tea onto the island…

Arrow is broadcast in the UK on Sky 1 HD on Thursday nights, and Arrow in the US on Wednesday nights.

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WritersMarc Guggenheim & Erik Oleson
DirectorDermott Downs
The one whereAs Oliver remembers a secret mission to Starling City during his years of exile, he and Thea must face Slade Wilson on the island

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Available platformsTV
Nick Setchfield
Editor-at-Large, SFX Magazine

Nick Setchfield is the Editor-at-Large for SFX Magazine, writing features, reviews, interviews, and more for the monthly issues. However, he is also a freelance journalist and author with Titan Books. His original novels are called The War in the Dark, and The Spider Dance. He's also written a book on James Bond called Mission Statements.