FULL EPISODE SPOILERS
Would you believe me if I told you Thea was officially hardcore? Probably not back in Seasons 1 or 2. Maybe 3.
This episode kinda solidifies that, though. This was as much her episode as it was Oliver's, where Thea seemed to dominate in the present and Oliver in the flashbacks. Both worked very well and had great dramatic moments.
Executive Producer Marc Gunggheim said that this episode would serve as something of a love letter to the fans, and I couldn't agree more. There were so many touche throughout the episode that hearkened back to moments or characterizations from Season 1 ("I had the hood up to conceal my eyes!" "That wouldn't even work even if you put grease over your face!"/ Lance's drinking or Thea's drug problems/ Slade Wilson's "promise"/ the notebook of names).
The episode served as something of a hardening for both Oliver in the flashback and Thea as they seemed to gain some sort of focus. In the past, Oliver learned that in order to clean the city and bring justice to it, he has to be willingly to do more than just protect his family. In the present, Thea learned the harsh realities of her life but has realized that Merlyn is a truly evil man. She also seemed to learn pretty quick what is means to survive.
There were many, many guest stars this episode, but best by far was the return of Slade Wilson. He was slightly less menacing than before--because he wasn't hyped up on Mirakuru and just seemed tired from being in the cell all that time--but seeing him run around Lian Yu again was a real treat. Not to mention that he straight up tells Oliver that if he had just told Slade the truth about how Shado died, things might've ended up differently.
Good thing the Flash is dealing with time-travel. Oliver, wanna hop on that, or...?
If you haven't already pieced it together, this was the flashback episode of the season, much like how Season 1 had "The Odyssey"--an amazing episode, by the way--and Season 2 had "The Promise." This one is probably the best of the three in how it details the transformation of our two main characters (wow, saying Thea is a main character is kinda weird, not gonna lie), and it also helps that we are in the third season and can learn from past errors of the flashback episode.
It was a well balanced on in that regard, able to bounce back and forth to tell both stories in a meaningful way. There was great similarities and juxtaposition, but the main theme seemed to be building toward Thea and Oliver finding their new path, as the episode built up their aggression toward their situation.
The acting in this episode was also very well done. Regarding the present, I thought that the chemistry and interaction between Willa Holland and Stephen Amell was excellent, as you could really feel the desperation and struggle in Oliver's voice as well as the terror and growing rage behind Thea. She's not a little girl, and Oliver is realizing that she is becoming a part of this world, growing up around very dangerous men and women. She isn't like Roy where Roy was susceptible to Oliver's teachings, because Thea was initially taught by Merlyn, thus she has inherit thoughts and attitudes while in battle-mode. It's on display here.
Thea was never really a character I cared for, as her subplots usually amounted to nothing or just gallivanting with Roy. Even in this season, there wasn't too much to care for about her besides the fact that she could fight decently now. After this, though, Thea's character is in the spotlight. She's probably going to be wavering a bit since the promo for next week makes it appear like she's gonna do some rather hasty things, but at least she has a character now rather than some bratty rich girl.
I think it's more important that Thea not have the training but more have this battle-hardened heart and it's one thing this episode seemed to stress. Yes, she is a good fighter. Heck, she seemed to be doing a little better than Oliver in their battle against Slade (though perhaps that's because Slade didn't regard her very highly and was caught off-guard, meanwhile he trained Oliver how to fight). But more importantly was the moment where she had the gun to him and had the option to put him down. I knew she wasn't going to kill him because you just don't do that to Slade Wilson, but there was a real morality struggle in play as Oliver begged her, much like he begged Slade last season, not to kill her. Really, he was fighting an uphill battle. Last season, Slade kidnapped her, destroyed much of the season, and killed their mother right before their eyes.
Now, because of this moral struggle that's going to be brewing in her, she's going to (hopefully) evolve into a more complex character. The dream? Mia Dearden will rise! The probability? Not this season. Much like how Roy did become Oliver's sidekick at around this time last season, I think we're going to have to wait for the rest of the season to play out, and then at the beginning of next season, perhaps, we'll see her in her golden outfit. Or she just won't and I'll be disappointed either way.
Merlyn was also put back in his place as the season's main villain. I feel that Ra's is less the villain because really he was honoring a code, I don't think he really wanted to kill Oliver. Heck, he respects him and the way he fights. Nyssa not so much (jealous ex-girlfriend?) but there has to be some aura of respect around the League for what Oliver has been able to do: save a city twice, save the world once with the Omega drug, and go toe-to-toe with the Demon's Head.
Thus, it's Merlyn's cold-heartedness that is put on the spot, and makes me feel he will be the endgame...and that he more than likely won't survive the season. I hate to compare the show like this, but it feels like Oliver has become the Anakin to Merlyn's Palpatine. He was so caught up in his goal (killing Ra's/ saving Padme) that he was completely unawares of the people and structure he was destroying (his family or Team Arrow/ the Republic). Unlike Anakin, though, I expect something (perhaps Felicity?) to snap him out of it and eventually either put Merlyn away or put him down. I mean, it's obvious Merlyn doesn't really give a crap about either of them other than to use them to fight Ra's. Though...makes you wonder: if Oliver becomes strong enough to kill Ra's, couldn't he just turn it back around and kill Merlyn before then and not have to deal with Ra's? I know it's against his code and everything, but, like I said, he could probably put him down and lock him up somewhere. Maybe the League can imprison him?
Outside of that, though, there wasn't much else in the present outside of a few well done brother-sister moments for Oliver and Thea. I just really like the direction this episode took in focusing on them and how alike Thea is becoming to old Oliver. It almost seems like Oliver is looking into a mirror of the past and seeing what path Thea is taking. At least he has others around him to help her out eventually. Like Roy. He's a good kid.
The greatest strengths of the episode were the flashbacks, duh, but that was where most of the in-jokes and little nods were made that I really liked. The story of the flashbacks also aided the show as a whole.
I began to wonder recently why Oliver wanted to get home so badly when he only learned about his father's notebook back in Season 1 and never really did anything with it afterward? Now we know what invigorates his need to return as a vigilante. It gives reason for him to return home. Not that he didn't have one before, but, at least now he has the knowledge to know what's good and what's bad and can come up with a plan to rectify it. I suspect we'll take a break from that until we return to the island where he probably goes looking for the notebook.
Seeing all of our characters in their younger versions was also pretty cool, as we got a glimpse into what life was like while Oliver was away. We always heard about it, but never really saw it. Like Thea getting into drugs, Laurel falling for Tommy, Lance starting his drinking. It was all interesting to see unfold and it all began to click for people who've watched the show since Season 1. And for those who haven't, hopefully it makes them want to watch it.
It felt very much like a prelude to Season 1 while not at all sacrificing the story it was telling. Every time Oliver was in the same area as his friends, it felt like we were in some kind of limbo. I don't know if this is particularly true, but, I think the music's changed up since Season 1, and they seemed to go back to it for the dramatic scenes, which helped add to the atmosphere of it all.
The Season 3 material was good, just not as interesting for me as a viewer because I wanted to see more of these characters that have now either transformed or died. Plus: we got to see Felicity act as the cute, charming girl we met back in Season 1! It was great! Where is that now?!
Still, Oliver jumping around shooting at people leading A.R.G.U.S. into busting the deal was fun to watch. He's not too bad of a shot, either. I'm a little disappointed to learn that China White doesn't put up too good of a fight in the past, but whatever. I guess the episode was just running low on time so a quick punch to the face was all they needed.
We also met Matthew Shrieve, a minor character from the comic books. He doesn't really do much this episode other than tell Oliver he's going back to China, but I'm just going out on a limb and thinking he's going to have a much bigger role. Upon further research, I've found that the team he's associated with, the Creature Commandos, has been upgraded in the New 52 (which this show heavily takes inspiration from) as S.H.A.D.E., who has Dr. Ray Palmer as an agent. Connection? Probably not, I just like to connect the dots hoping I'm right.
I'm usually not.
Overall, a really fun episode of Arrow. Thea's becoming slowly into what Oliver used to be, and it'll be interesting to watch Oliver try and prevent that. Merlyn's back to being a total punk about everything but based off the promos he's gonna get it pretty hard. The flashbacks were effective at dropping major nostalgia bombs as well as advancing the ever interesting question of "how the heck does Oliver wind up back on Lian Yu?" Getting to see Slade, Tommy, Robert, and OH totally forgot to mention: Diggle's brother Andy was in the episode!
That was legit.