In the four years that Arrow has been on the air, we have seen some incredible storylines, epic fight scenes and heartbreaking deaths. But we have also seen a lot of flashbacks. Since the beginning, the show has chronicled Oliver’s “five years in hell” through the island narrative, flashing back to Lian Yu many times throughout an episode.
Well, during the CW’s panel at the TCAs, it was confirmed that the fifth season of Arrow would indeed mark the end of the flashbacks. The decision split people: Some were glad that the fifth season would mark the natural conclusion of Oliver’s five years away, while others were sad that the format would change.
However, in a recent interview with IGN, Marc Guggenheim elaborated, claiming that while the fifth season will indeed mark the end of the island narrative, they will still utilize the flashbacks as a storytelling device, perhaps even for other characters. So while they may not be fully retired, it will still mark the end of an era. With that in mind, let’s take a moment to look back at the past four years and discuss the best and worst of Arrow‘s flashbacks.
Oliver’s First Year On The Island — Season 1
They couldn’t have done this any better. Oliver’s first year on the island highlighted exactly how unequipped he was for this life. There was no way this arrogant pretty boy rich kid was going to survive on this barbaric island, right? Wrong. Over the course of the first year, we got to see Oliver grow into a survivor as he met the likes of Yao Fei and Slade Wilson, who taught him how to fight and kept him alive.
From the grim tone to the compelling storyline, the flashbacks were a much welcome accompaniment to the main story and proved just how far this young man had come. In that first year, Oliver went from spoiled brat to vigilante survivor.
Lance Family Drama — Season 2
Throughout Season 2, we would get a break from Oliver’s island escapades and instead witness what life was like in the Lance household before Oliver Queen. It was nice to see how truly close Laurel and Sara were, and it was equally as nice to see a genuinely happy Quentin Lance not struggling with any demons. It not only highlighted how far Laurel and Sara had come as characters, but it showed us just how thoughtless the young Oliver Queen was.
The Lance family flashbacks gave us a chance to see Laurel and Quentin react to the news of Sara’s supposed death and how they dealt with the fact that Oliver was cheating on Laurel with her sister. They gave us an insight into just how much of an impact Queen’s selfish actions had on the entire narrative.
Year Two On Lian Yu — Season 2
Season 2’s flashbacks built upon the groundwork that Season 1 had laid. Oliver had grown as a person, but then we got to see him grow as a fighter. He learned from Slade and Shado how to survive and also discovered that Sara Lance didn’t die on the Queen’s Gambit. Together, the gang would learn about Mirakuru which eventually drove Slade mad and led to a collision between student and teacher as Slade took on Oliver.
Once again, a compelling story with a grim tone, Season 2’s flashbacks were like the sequel we all wanted. Relevant to the main storyline, it was a nice touch to flash back and forth between Oliver’s battles with Slade in the past and present. They exceeded the flashbacks from Season 1 and will likely never be beaten.
Oliver Spends Year Three Off The Island — Season 3
In a completely unexpected twist, Oliver Queen left Lian Yu and traveled to Hong Kong where he began working with Amanda Waller. Reluctantly doing her bidding, Oliver learned how to survive on the streets, albeit with help from Maseo Tatsu and would ultimately try to stop a deadly virus from spreading across the city.
Despite having some really entertaining moments, the move from Lian Yu was criticized in a big way, mainly because in the comics — and the show — Oliver Queen is supposed to have spent five years on the island. The fact that the “five years on a hellish island” intro was dropped and conveniently replaced with “five years in hell” just highlights how unplanned this decision was.
The Secret Origin Of Felicity Smoak — Season 3
Lovable hacker Felicity Smoak had made a name for herself in the first two seasons of Arrow as an incredible hub of information who could track down any criminal she set her sights on. However, we really didn’t know that much about her. It was in Season 3 that she began to come to the forefront of Arrow. And although her newfound prominence didn’t sit too well with many, that time we actually got to see how different she was when she was younger, was actually very well executed.
Dark black hair and heavy eyeliner, Felicity was less the adorable nerd we loved and more a rebellious goth. Seeing how anti-establishment she and her boyfriend Cooper (played brilliantly by Nolan Funk) were was actually shocking and it showed us just how far Felicity had come as a character and the lengths she went to in order to erase that part of her life.
Oliver Returns Home To Starling City — “The Return”
During Season 3’s flashbacks, Oliver and Maseo are sent back to Starling City to track down a Queen Consolidated employee working with China White. However, while there Oliver walks among his family unrecognized, checking in on Thea and even seeing Felicity for the very first time.
This one really had me divided. Like many, I hated the fact that Oliver was actually home during those five years, because it made the pilot episode seem less important, especially when he created quite the scene at the Queen Mansion. However, it was nice to see him check in on Thea and the undeniably cute moment between Oliver and Felicity made me smile. This particular flashback had its ups and downs.
VERDICT: Good and Bad.
Laurel Is The Hero Of Story — “Canary Cry”
. There was a lot of discontent with the way certain issues were handled and than the decision to kill off the Black Canary Laurel Lance. Arrow would further anger fans when in the followup episode “Canary Cry,” a fraudulent Black Canary tried to desecrate her memory. However, the one positive thing to take away from “Canary Cry” was the flashbacks to post-Season 1 after Tommy died. They allowed us to see more of the Oliver and Laurel bond that really should have been explored in Season 2. Furthermore, they not only highlighted Laurel’s strength in a tragic situation, these flashbacks allowed us to remember her for the hero she was.
Even in the face of her friend’s death, she got back up and was willing to do whatever it took to rebuild Starling City. Just like Oliver told her as they embraced, “Laurel Lance… always trying to save the world.” The Green Arrow may be our favorite vigilante, but it was Laurel Lance who was the true hero of the Arrow story.
Oliver Returns To Lian Yu — Season 4
When we heard that Oliver would be returning to Lian Yu in the Season 4 flashbacks, we were relieved because the show was back on the right track. However, things didn’t quite turn out that way. Instead of being in “hell” like the intro told us, our favorite survivor cut his trademark blonde locks and looked identical to the Oliver of modern day as he became an infiltrator for Amanda Waller. Furthermore, despite these flashbacks taking place before Arrow, they introduced magic and mysticism, something that never reared its head on the main show until Season 3. Moreover, bar Reiter’s totem and Constantine’s appearance, these flashbacks had very little relevance to what was actually happening in the specific episodes.
So while I think I enjoyed them slightly more than Season 3’s flashbacks, they still were . Oh also, now that he had his Arrow haircut, we’re expected to believe that he’s somehow going to grow even longer blonde hair and an incredibly long beard to look like this by the end of the year:
With Arrow officially waving goodbye to the island narrative this year, let’s hope the creative team can come up with some of the best flashbacks yet. After two amazing years were followed up by two ambiguous years, it’s no surprise that Arrow‘s flashbacks have divided people. However, with the end in sight, it will be interesting to see exactly how Oliver’s journey on Lian Yu will come to an end.
What was your favorite flashback narrative on Arrow? Would you like to see into the pasts of any other characters in Season 6? Let us know in the comments!