By Rich Epstein
You didn't really think we could go an entire season without seeing the Island of Lian Yu, did you? This week, Arrow continued their tradition of one flashback heavy episode per season. The episode starts off with Oliver Queen (Stephen Amell) and Thea Queen (Willa Holland) on the island, training with bamboo sticks. Oliver is impressed with how much Thea has learned over the past nine months. They have a long conversation over some roasted meat (Oliver prefers not to tell Thea exactly what kind of meat it is) and as the talk turns to the past, the flashbacks begin…
In Starling City, Amanda Waller (Cynthia Addai-Robinson) tells Oliver and Maseo Yamashiro (Karl Yune) that China White (Kelly Hu) is in town to auction off the bio-weapon. Peter Kang (James Rha), an employee of Queen Consolidated has been on China White's payroll and will help with the sale. Oliver knows Kang, which, as it turns out, is the reason that Waller has kept him and Maseo alive. Either Oliver helps Waller and A.R.G.U.S. stop the sale and recover the bioweapon or he and Maseo will be killed, along with anyone else that finds out Oliver is alive.
The two begin to follow Kang, in the most unsubtle way possible. Maseo is dressed in a business suit, while Oliver is unshaven and wearing a baseball hat and soon-to-be-familiar green hoodie. The two talk, then get into a car together and pull out immediately after Kang. Maybe they should be a little less conspicuous? Either both wear business suits, or both go for the street look? People tend to notice two such mismatched people together. Maybe both look like businessmen?
Cut to Detective Quentin Lance (Paul Blackthorne) drinking alone at a bar. It does not look like it is his first drink. Did I mention that it is the middle of the day? Laurel Lance (Katie Cassidy) walks in to take him home. He tells Laurel that "it takes more than some fancy corporate law firm job for some of us to get over Sara's death." Ouch. That would probably sting a little more if it wasn't two and a half years after Sara's death. Hey, how dare you continue to go on living your own life after what happened. It's got to be tough for Laurel…your sister dies, your mother leaves, and your father is drinking himself to death. But, hey, at least we know how much better life will end up being for her, right? Oh, yeah. She's going to lose her boyfriend, become a drunk get fired, get her sister back only to lose her again and generally be nothing but a source of misery.
Oliver and Maseo need to get to Kang's computer to figure out where the sale is likely to take place. They decide that Oliver, who knows the layout of Queen Consolidated, will go in at night. Why they had to follow Kang to decide to break into QC hours later I do not know. While waiting, Oliver spots Thea who is apparently interning at QC.
Back to the present. Oliver has been saying Sara's name in his sleep and it wakes up Thea. Awwww, he's still thinking about her. She confronts him for not telling her about Sara's death. He tells Thea that he didn't want to upset her and that Laurel didn't want anyone to know. Thea asks who killed her and Oliver goes for a walk. He checks on Slade Wilson's (Manu Bennett) prison, which is an A.R.G.U.S. facility, but all he finds is a dead A.R.G.U.S. guard. I really get the feeling that ARGUS agents are not particularly competent. I mean, Waller apparently has a ton of people working for her but needs to force an unwilling Oliver to do everything. And I guess this is why, the rest of the people are just inept. Also, shouldn't they have cameras or anything? Or maybe more than one person on the entire island?
Oliver races to Thea only she isn't at the campsite. Luckily, she was just getting wood. Just as Oliver starts telling her about Slade, Merlyn calls to tell Oliver that he let Slade out to help Oliver regain his killer instinct. I love Malcolm Merlyn, and not just because he looks so much like Captain Jack Harkness. He is just so friggin evil. But not like a monster evil, he's smart, knows what is in his own best interest, and is totally willing to risk the lives of everyone around him to get what he wants. I'm actually rooting for him at this point. I am hoping that he trains Oliver and Thea, Oliver takes out Ra's al Ghul, and Malcolm disappears.
Flashback Oliver and Maseo follow Thea as she goes to speak to the graves of Oliver and their father. Only she isn't there to be sentimental, she's meeting her dealer. That's pretty cold. Out of all the places to buy drugs, you choose your father's grave? In walks Tommy Merlyn (Colin Donnell) to save the day. He was there to thank her for her birthday card, and just happened to have incredible timing, not to mention the fact that he somehow decided to look at the graves out back rather than in the house. The scene ends with a shot of the father's empty grave, which leads into a shot of the real grave back on Lian Yu…
Oliver takes Thea to where their father is actually buried. Not to pay respects, but because he had a gun hidden there. Wow, these two are really not overly sentimental about grave sights. He gives it to Thea, just in case. Unfortunately him, Slade knew where the grave was and was waiting for Oliver. Slade knocks them both out, immediately.
Oliver wakes up in Slade's cell, with Thea next to him and Slade outside. He isn't going to kill them, rather, he is going to leave them in the cell to rot while he burns two bodies in Starling City to make the world think they died. I know this just can't happen or there would be no show, but you would think he would learn not to play with his victims. He ended up in a cell on a desert island for the past nine months because he refused to kill Oliver outright, needing to torture him over a long period of time instead. He could have killed Oliver numerous times last season, but didn't, and he lost because of it. So, he is going to do the same thing again? Gee, I wonder what the outcome will be.
Back to Starling City circa five years ago, and Oliver breaks into QC and logs onto Kang's computer. Pictures of Oliver's father remain all over the place. There is a fingerprint reader to get onto the computer, but Oliver is still in the directory so he gets in. He puts in a disc with the program to download all of the data, which should take about 90 seconds. Oliver notices two additional files, titled "For Oliver" and "For Thea". He puts in a thumb drive to copy the files, which will take six minutes. Yes, Maseo's program can transfer the contents of the computer in ninety seconds, but it will take six minutes to get these two files off of the network. Maseo warns Oliver that someone is coming, and it's Felicity Smoak (Emily Bett Rickards).
Wait, isn't she still in school? You know, like when we saw her in school in the flashbacks a couple of months ago? She walks into the office, sees the picture of Oliver and his dad, and talks to herself about how cute Oliver is and how it's too bad he's dead. I understand what the writers were trying to do here, but it didn't work. It was weird for her to show up and talk to herself, and kind of creepy for her to look at how cute the dead guy was. Anyway, Maseo finds out that the meeting is that night, in four hours, but hasn't yet discovered where as he is sorting through 2.7 gigabytes of data. Waller wonders where Oliver is, and Maseo says that he must be checking on their weapons. Somehow, I doubt that.
Cut to Tommy Merlyn's birthday party, where John Diggle (David Ramsey) and his brother are providing security. I love Diggle and Felicity as much as anyone, but there was no real reason to include them in this episode. It feels a little too much like R2D2 and C-3PO in The Phantom Menace. They are here because they think the viewers want to see these characters five years earlier, not because it actually makes sense for either of them to be involved in the plotline. Oh, hey, speaking of Diggle's brother, who ordered the hit on him, anyway? Diggle seems to have dropped the whole search for his brother's killer. Maybe having a kid has rendered him a little less revenge-thirsty? Oliver sneaks into the party, because apparently Diggle used to suck at his job. Oliver is watching Tommy and Laurel at the party when Thea shows up, despite not being invited. Her dealer is also there. Oliver follows the dealer upstairs and threatens the dealer who recognizes him. He then kills the dealer and throws him off the balcony.
Back on the island, Thea and Oliver are trying to figure out how to get out of the prison. Actually, Oliver is trying to figure it out while Thea complains. Thea then insists on finding out what Oliver is still keeping from her. She asks when he will stop treating her like a "tiny fragile little object", which instantly triggers something in his mind. The prisons were built for full-grown men, and Thea is a small woman. She can reach her arm between the bars and almost reach the release. She can't quite reach it until Oliver dislocates her shoulder. I have no idea why they are doing it this way. Oliver's arm fits through the bar as well. In fact, he slides his arm through the bar to help guide her to the release. So what exactly can she do that he can't? Regardless of logic, they escape the prison and race to catch Slade before he reaches the plane.
Flashback Detective Lance oversees the investigation of the drug dealer's death. Tommy tells him that the drug dealer must have crashed the party, lots of people did. Did I mention that Diggle and his brother suck at their job? I assume Tommy is telling the truth, since he had just threatened the dealer earlier in the day. Laurel steps in, and her father goes off on her for being at the party. "Wow, you really have a thing for these rich bad boys don't you. You'd think maybe, just maybe one of them getting your sister killed would have cured you of that but…" He's obviously drunk and Laurel goes to yell at him. He calls her a golddigger. I would consider him a complete bastard for talking to his own daughter like that, but, on the other hand, it's Laurel.
Maseo pulls Oliver away from the party. They know where the sale is going to be, but Oliver is done. He's seen what his death has done to the people around him, and he is going to put a stop to it. His family has money and resources, they will find a way to protect him. Maseo assures him that they cannot, but that if Oliver wants to help they can start by getting the bioweapon out of the hands of criminals. Oliver doesn't care, he is going to help his friends and family.
Island Oliver gets hurt saving Thea from a booby trap, so Thea figures it would be the perfect time again to press him about Sara's death. He tells her. Yeah, not the best time or place for this revelation. Couldn't he have just promised to tell her after they caught Slade? She does not take it well. Too bad she can't talk to Roy, he is all too familiar with how to deal with being involuntarily drugged and killing someone. Anyway, Thea feels like an idiot for trusting Merlyn, and asks Oliver "What the hell are we even doing here?" At that point, Slade Wilson walks up behind her, puts a gun to her head and says "I ask myself the very same question." Thea isn't merely a victim anymore, however, and she knocks the gun out of Wilson's hand as Oliver tackles him. They begin to fight, and when it seems Slade has the upper hand, Thea comes to the rescue. She knocks him away with the gun that he had dropped, points it right at his face, and…flashback.
Oliver walks into his house to find it empty. He sits in a chair, finds a tablet, and puts in the thumb drive with the files from his father. It's a video message, and it's a confession. He is telling Oliver that he failed the city, that he did something terrible. "I always told myself that everything I did, I did for my family. That's a lie. Because what good is a family without a soul. You can right my wrongs. You can be better than I was. You can save this city." And so the Arrow was born.
China White shows up at the place of the sale. Maseo is there, taking pictures. There are snipers all over the place. There is a noise, and China White's people take out everyone but Maseo. Hey, remember what I said about ARGUS agents being inept? Why exactly are Maseo and Oliver so afraid of Waller? ARGUS can't seem to do anything right. China White orders her man to kill Maseo, but the henchman is shot instead. It's Oliver to the rescue, still in his green hoodie, and the two of them do what the rest of the ARGUS team couldn't in stopping China White and recovering the weapon.
Back to the present, Oliver tells Thea not to kill Slade. He doesn't want her to be a killer like Merlyn. She shoots, a grazing shot. Slade goes back to jail. After Thea walks away, Slade tells Oliver that she's lost, he can see the darkness in her eyes. "So now you've lost your father, your mother, and now your little sister. How's the girl with the glasses? What's her name? Felicity. How many people can Oliver Queen lose before there is no more Oliver Queen?" Oh hell no. You can threaten Thea all you like, but you do not mess with Felicity.
Flashback Oliver and Maseo meet with Waller, who tells Oliver that it isn't up to her whether he can stay in Starling City. In walks her boss, General Matthew Shrieve (Marc Singer). He tells Oliver that he is going to be disappointed. "We have to debrief you. Back in China. But once that's accomplished, and the Omega secured, I'll make sure you can go anyplace you want to go."
Laurel runs into Tommy. He finds out that she took a job with a local not-for-profit firm and asks her out. Meanwhile, Thea puts flowers on Oliver's grave.
Present day Quentin Lance puts flowers on Sara's grave. He has a drink with him. He's still pissed that she didn't tell him, and that she is running around as the Canary. She reminds him that he told her that she was supposed to help people and that's what she was doing. He tells her that isn't why he's going to drink, and it isn't because of Sara. "We had a trust, we had a bond and you broke it and I don't know how you could do this to us." Laurel suggests they go to a meeting, he agrees, but separate meetings. He hands Laurel the bottle and she spills it out.
Oliver and Thea arrive at home. He asks her not to tell Laurel about Sara. He tells her that, despite everything he had done, they still need Malcolm Merlyn, who of course walks in at that moment. She asks how he could have done that, how he could have made her kill Sara. Merlyn tells Oliver "You should not have told her that" and then tells Thea that he did it because he cares about her. She tells him that she will work with him to fight Ra's al Ghul. "Because that's what my brother says we need to do. So, I will be your student. I'll be your partner. Even if I have to, I will be your soldier. But never again will I be your daughter."
I am really starting to like Thea. She is a badass who is, for the most part, both tough and smart. She is becoming the anti-Laurel. She continues to train, not because she is trying to be something she's not, but because she wants to be able to protect herself. Unlike Laurel, who seems to have stopped training but insists on putting herself in danger. And Thea is able to do what needs to be done. If Oliver tells her that working with Merlyn is the way to go, she will do it, even if it pains her. She's taking everything that has happened to her and actually learning from it. Not only that, but I am really curious to see what happens from here. Is Slade right? Is Thea going evil? I know that Oliver keeps calling her "Speedy", but that doesn't mean she will end up as his sidekick. Or does it?
The episode was pretty good overall. A couple of small complaints, mostly about the scenes of Felicity and Diggle. The one person I would have loved to have seen was Moira Queen. She was an interesting character that we haven't seen for awhile.
The flashback heavy episodes are always interesting. This time, we saw the beginning of Oliver becoming the Arrow. Not just him learning how to fight, but the mindset to become the vigilante. It's also always good to see Manu Bennett. I'm sure that we will see him again next season if not sooner.
I expect things will begin moving pretty quickly now. I'm guessing that Ra's al Ghul will have some plan for Starling City that will begin to be revealed in the next episode or two.
Rich Epstein writes for Bleeding Cool. He can be found on twitter at @kaspe_r11.