When Arrow first premiered in 2012, the series introduced a secondary timeline set in the recent past of protagonist Oliver Queen. The function of that timeline was to answer the question of how the five years Oliver spent on Lian Yu led to him shedding the irresponsible billionaire playboy persona in favor of a vigilante tasked by his now-dead father to save the city he called home. It was a device that initially allowed the show a chance to compare two versions of the same man simultaneously, and to show almost immediately how challenges and events in the past led to him becoming the man that he is in the present.
Some questionable wig work aside, for the first two seasons of the Arrow flashbacks worked as a necessary supplement to the main storyline, providing vital information about Oliver’s mission and motivations in season 1, and in season 2 they furthered the exploration of Slade Wilson (or Deathstroke) in a manner that mirrored how the character of Oliver Queen was explored in season 1. Those positives were harder to find as the series progressed into seasons 3 and 4, however. A trip to Hong Kong, working for Amanda Waller, did little to add to the then present-day story of Ra’s al Ghul and the League of Assassins, while a return visit to explore the mystical side of Lian Yu lacked storytelling magic.
As the season 5 premiere nears, it has been established that Oliver make a trip to Russia, where his connection with the Bratva will likely be explored along with whatever else was going on in the image Stephen Amell distributed not long ago. While Oliver’s ties to Russia have been a dangling plot thread since season 1, it would seem the decision to snip that particular thread wasn’t just because Oliver’s association with Taiana led him there; according to Amell, season 5 will likely be the last season of Arrow to feature flashback sequences at all.
Speaking in a roundtable press interview at San Diego Comic-Con 2016, Amell said:
“This is probably the last year of the flashbacks, which means that we have a lot to accomplish. Which means that the impetus and the through line of the flashbacks will, I think, have a lot more urgency to them.”
The timing seems about right. If each season of Arrow is roughly a year in the life of Oliver Queen, then it stands to reason that the flashbacks, with some exceptions, constitute a similar amount of time. There is probably some wiggle room in terms of just how long Ollie was in Hong Kong or back on Lian Yu dealing with Baron Reiter, but it would make sense that, after five seasons, the question of what Oliver was up to while “stranded on a deserted island” would come to an end. Unless Wendy Mericle and Marc Guggenheim desperately wanted to stretch that timeline out, Ollie’s five years as a castaway are up.
This announcement is good news for the series, as it begins a shift back to a more grounded style of storytelling. Should Arrow see season 6, it will be the first to not include the flashbacks, and it will be the first season dedicated solely to future-first thinking as far as the main narrative is concerned. Essentially, it could be said that after season 5, the past will be firmly in the past. This coincides with another of Amell’s comments during the interview, when he said, “I don’t think that this will be the last year of the show, but at the same time, this is the end of a chapter.”
“The end of a chapter” could certainly be made more dominant by the show coming to the aforementioned conclusion that the past is the past and the future is what’s important for its characters, especially Oliver Queen. But before Arrow can say goodbye to a storytelling device that’s been there from the beginning, there are a few questions Amell said must be answered in season 5.
“I made a list and I sent it to the producers. Like: When does he make his bow? Why does he have a beard? Why is he dressed as a castaway? Why is he dressed as though it’s been him and a volleyball for the past five years? Let’s answer these questions. We made a big list and we’re going to answer them.”
All joking about Oliver’s island beard and attire aside, the season 5 flashbacks will have their work cut out for them if they are going to take Oliver into the depths of the Russian mafia and get him back to Lian Yu so that he can be “rescued”. That may shed some light on Amell’s comments about the season 5 flashbacks having more “urgency” to them, but hopefully that comment is also true of the strength of the storytelling. It’s a lot to pack into a secondary storyline for sure, but if it means Arrow can send off the sometimes-troublesome flashbacks off with style, then it may be worth the risk.
Arrow season 5 is scheduled to premiere on Wednesday, October 5, 2016 at 8PM ET; The Flash season 3 is slated to air on Tuesday, October 4, 2016 at 8PM ET; DC’s Legends of Tomorrow will return on Thursday, October 13, 2016 at 8PM ET, Supergirl will make its season 2 debut on The CW on Monday, October 10, 2016 also at 8PM ET.