[SPOILERS for those not caught up on Arrow ahead.]
Arrow began with a man running across what looked like a deserted island. His clothes were ripped and disheveled. His long hair was matted, his beard was dirty, but he was strong. The man raced through trees, jumping and climbing over rocks, and hurrying as fast as he could to the shore. He fired a flaming arrow at a pre-set pile of wood, signaling a fishing boat. That man was Oliver Queen, a billionaire who had vanished five years earlier when his father's ship sank. The whole world thought he was dead. Instead, he had apparently washed up on the island of Lian Yu and survived. But there was much more to the story.
Flashbacks were immediately a part of the show's format, showing how Oliver survived and learned to be so skilled with a bow and arrow. The events in the flashbacks often tied into the main plot of any particular Arrow episode, and even introduced season two's main villain, Slade Wilson. Much more happened to Oliver than his family and friends realized when he was first found alive.
Now the fifth season is about halfway over. Since each season has represented one year of Ollie's time away, by the end of the season Ollie will be done in Russia and back on Lian Yu, in time for the fishing boat to find him. The show has been renewed for a sixth season, so the its format will have to change hereon out, as the story of Ollie's time away has been told. Recently actor Stephen Amell spoke to EW about the upcoming change:
"I am open and excited about any possible idea, whether that’s a simple flash-forward narrative that we carry through the season, which I think we did to varying degrees of success in season 4. If that means that simply the flashbacks do not exist anymore and it allows us to expand the universe in terms of focusing more on other people’s backstories, not even necessarily flashbacks of people’s home life, just their life outside of the Arrow cave, I think that’s interesting. We can do that because, quite simply, we have more time, we have more pages, we have more chance for dialogue. I know they’re kicking around some ideas, but truthfully I have no earthly idea if there is any sort of element that we will be bringing into season 6 or if we just simply acknowledge that we pitched the show as a five-year origin story and we got to do it, which I think in and of itself is an accomplishment. There’s not a ton left on television from new shows from 2012. Just the fact that we made it that far is worth patting ourselves on the back for, ever so briefly."
In an hour long drama, generally there is between 40 and 45 minutes of content, the rest is commercials. So if the flashbacks take up ten minutes, that's a good quarter of the episode. Without the flashbacks, the main stories in Arrow and the events in the present might be able to expand further and have more of a focus. Amell is right about having more chances for dialogue if the flashbacks are simply removed.
The flash-forward narrative that Amell mentioned were used sparingly in Arrow season four, the first one indicating that someone was going to die, and a later one revealing that the person who died was not Felicity. If weekly flash-forwards were used to replace the flashbacks, it would have a different feel than it did before when it was an occasional event.
Based on the show's history, there are also a few possibilities that Amell did not suggest. In the past, there have been occasional flashbacks showing other times in Ollie's life besides the five years after he was shipwrecked. The revelation that Ollie fathered a child was revealed in a flashback, as was Ollie and Laurel's immediate responses to Tommy's death. There have also been flashbacks to other character's histories; most recently Rene/Wild Dog got an episode full of flashbacks as to how he became a widower and lost custody of his daughter. So it is possible that there will be more looks into the past of the other people in Ollie's life. Perhaps there will even be a combination of flash-forwards and flashbacks showing other periods of time and other people's lives.
Whatever the writers of Arrow decide to do, Amell was certainly right about the show's success. They've come a long way since 2012, and it sounds like they still have more stories to tell.
Arrow continues with ‘The Sin-Eater’ @ 8 p.m. on The CW.
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