‘Arrow’: What Went Wrong With the Flashbacks?

While Arrow’s flashbacks have never been my favorite thing, during the show’s early years they were appealing as one could expect. They’ve never really outshone the present story that grappled with Oliver Queen’s heroic journey after his five years of hell. But early on they felt viable.

Seasons one and two made the flashbacks relevant. It was about the appeal of examining this man that we had met in the present and seeing where he started out; seeing how he would grow into the man we met in the pilot. But there was also a personal connection that made the flashbacks resonate, which is accredited to the relationship between Oliver and Slade Wilson.

Arrow executive producer Wendy Mericle recently told TVLine that she loved Stephen Amell’s work in the early flashbacks “because I thought he really inhabited that character. It was less the very stoic superhero and much more dimensional, because he was so flawed.”

But this season’s flashback – year four, as you’ll have it – have been the worst of the four seasons thus far as there’s been an entire disconnect from the present storyline. The closest that the flashbacks have come to being relevant has been the mystical connection. And even that just doesn’t resonate.

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And don’t even get me started on this relationship (?) that the show is trying to sell between Oliver and flashback girl. I honestly don’t know her name that’s how little an effect she’s had on me. But the show is trying to sell her as someone that Oliver cares greatly about, and it’s just not being executed in a way that would one believe that.

The only significant purpose I’m seeing her serving is that the she told Oliver to go to Russia if something were to happen to her. And since we know that Oliver’s Bratva connection has yet to be explored, it feels all but certain at this point that season five will find Oliver in Russia.

“Part of the appeal of the flashbacks – certainly in the first two years, but I think the first three years – is seeing what a big difference it is between Oliver Queen in the present day and Oliver Queen five years ago,” Guggenheim said. “The problem is that we are telling a five-year story in the flashbacks of Oliver becoming the guy you met in the pilot. So the deeper you get into the flashbacks, the closer he becomes to being that guy, and, thus, you lose that element of the flashbacks that was so interesting, which is how different he was…. That’s something we have struggled with this year.”

Arrow was at its best with the flashbacks in season two as we got to witness the relationship between Oliver and Slade Wilson further develop into something complex and intriguing. It was that relationship that also served as the central arc of season two, as later on that season we’d learn that Slade Wilson was the season’s big bad. Those flashbacks really connected the past and the present, and brough. Not to mention Stephen Amell and Manu Bennett really excelled at selling that relationship as it disintegrated in the past and then we saw the impact in the present between the former friends.

While the flashbacks in season three were overtly criticized, as well, there was still more of a connection between the past and present than is prevalent this season. There was a connection with the Omega virus that served to be a central impact in the season finale with Ra’s al Ghul unleashing it on Starling City. There were also present-day appearances by characters from Oliver’s past.

In my opinion, the flashbacks have been a weak point on this show, which is sad to say. It’s always the time when I tell myself – I’m going to the bathroom – or prompts me to roll my eyes as we cut away from an intriguing moment in the present and are brought back to this past disaster that we cannot escape.

It feels like every season that the producers are promising that the flashbacks will get better. Heck, season four was teased as the best flashbacks to date, which we’ve seen couldn’t be further from the truth. While flashbacks aren’t my favorite, I still want them to be appealing because I care greatly about Oliver’s hero journey, and that includes both what we’ve seen in the present and what happened to him during those five years.

But season five already sounds enticing with the promise of Russia-centered flashbacks as we get to explore Oliver’s past with the Bratva.

“I don’t want to tip too much,” Mericle teased, “but it’s a very good possibility that we’ll finally find out how Oliver got that Bratva tattoo and how he learned to speak Russian.”

I think we can all guess that Oliver’s final destination is Russia before he somehow finds his way back to Lian Yu where he’s rescued and returns home to Starling City. Here’s to hoping that in the final year of Oliver’s five-year flashback story that Arrow manages to make us care once again.

Arrow returns next Wednesday at 8/7c on The CW.

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