Oliver Queen has managed to pack a lot of adventure in his five years away from Star City. When Arrow began, it launched season 1 with Oliver returning home a jaded and solitary man. The show spent the first two seasons cutting each episode with flashbacks of what happened to him on the island. The contrast to the man he was versus the man he became was stark, and flashbacks were tense, action packed, and an interesting narrative twist.
After defeating Slade Wilson and moving into season 3, the flashbacks began feel a little diffuse. Oliver left the island for an anticlimactic trip to Hong Kong where he learned more about ARGUS and torture. They've hit their slowest pace yet in season 4 as he returned to Lian Yu to get an education in mysticism and encounter Darhk's magical idol.
Fans and critics have been increasingly vocal in their dislike of the flashbacks, and showrunners Marc Guggenheim Wendy Mericle have taken notice. Speaking at the Writers Guild Festival (via TV Line) Guggenheim addressed the difficulty of keeping the flashbacks interesting, and differentiating the Oliver Queen of the past as he develops more into the man we know in present day.
“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. 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.”
Another big part of the flashbacks are the narrative parallels between past and present, which is apparently a constraint they've considered eliminating. Mericle commented that they have "experimented with having them not speak to what’s going on currently," though it's too soon to say if we'll see that play out on the show. With the show already renewed for it's fifth season they have a firm idea of where the flashbacks are going, according to Mericle.
“We know what we’re working up to. The season will be easier to break because we have an endpoint, and we work backwards from there."
While this could always be a fake out, it sounds like flashback-Oliver will spend next year in Russia with the Bratva, before making his grand return to Star City as Mericle continues:
“I don’t want to tip too much, 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.”
It is possible that when next season ends so will the flashbacks, assuming the show continues to season 6 (and beyond). After the last two seasons of meandering storytelling, that might just be the best thing for them. Regardless of how they end, his time with the Bratva is a highly anticipated story arc and could be the perfect tool to reform the flashback narrative. Hopefully it will prove to be far more compelling than his time infiltrating the military operation on Lian Yu, and his slowly evolving relationship with Taiana.
The Flash returns Tuesday with ‘Back to Normal’ on Tuesday, April 26 at 8pm on The CW. Arrow returns Wednesday, April 27 with 'Canary Cry' at 8pm on The CW. Legends of Tomorrow continues with 'Last Refuge ' on Thursday at 8pm on The CW.
Source: TV Line