Arrow came to the end of its fifth season this week, with a finale that brought back some surprising old favorites and ended with a shocking cliffhanger that could mean a much smaller Team Arrow in season 6. The finale marked the end of the Arrowverse for the summer, but it also marked the end of something much bigger for Arrow fans: the island flashbacks.
Since season 1, Arrow has been telling two stories simultaneously. One timeline begins with Oliver's (Stephen Amell) rescue from Lian Yu in the pilot, and charts his growth into the Green Arrow. The second starts five years earlier, when Oliver was first shipwrecked on Lian Yu, and covers his convoluted adventures on the island, in Hong Kong, Russia, and even occasionally back to Star City before his final return to Lian Yu. Each season of the show has covered one of the five years that Oliver was missing, so this season covered the fifth and final year, ending the finale with the moment that Oliver was rescued, and the main timeline began.
No More Island Flashbacks
Because the flashbacks covered one year per season, and Oliver was only missing for five years, it was no surprise to fans when they learned that the island narrative would be wrapped up after season 5. The story has come full circle now, and that means that the show going forward will cover only a single timeline - which is a relief to many viewers. While the flashbacks were often interesting, and usually tied in to the events of the main timeline, they were also divisive. Many fans hated the constant skipping back and forth, and felt that the flashbacks were unnecessary and frustrating. While not universally loathed, the flashbacks did hold the show back in many ways, and meant more complicated storytelling.
With these done, Arrow will become a more simplified show, with more space to really expand on current events, and most fans are thrilled about that change.
A New Kind Of Flashback
Although the island narrative is finished, the show won't be entirely flashback-free. Executive producer Marc Guggenheim confirmed that there will still be flashbacks in the upcoming seasons - they just won't tell the chronological story of Oliver's missing five years, nor will they appear in every episode:
Next year, in Season 6, what we’ll end up doing is we’ll do some episodes without any sort of flashbacks. We’ve [also] established over the first four seasons of proof of concept that we can do flashback stories that don’t involve what I call the island narrative, even when he’s not on the island.
We still want to make that part of our storytelling, because we do like them. We like when those non-island flashbacks sort of illuminate what’s going on in the present day. That’ll always be a part of the show and a part of the show’s storytelling structure.
This makes sense, as most scripted shows use flashbacks from time to time - for big reveals, for exposition, to develop characters, etc. Fewer, more specific flashbacks just make sense for Arrow's future.
The Rest Of Oliver's History
So what could fans see in future flashbacks? There's still a lot of Oliver's history that hasn't been covered, including the time before he left for the island. His playboy days have been seen a little, but seeing more of Oliver's life pre-Arrow would definitely be interesting - especially how he met William's (Jack Moore) mother. William is likely to become a much bigger part of future seasons, especially if William's mother died in the season finale, so seeing more of that chapter of Oliver's life would be incredibly relevant.
Flashbacks would also be useful to expand on the current timeline, and explore more of Oliver's relationships with the other team members. If he and Felicity (Emily Bett Rickards) are able to finally make things work, seeing some flashbacks of their relationship would be a very sweet and touching move. Flashbacks would also be useful when re-introducing minor characters in future - freak-of-the-week villains, characters from the 'island narrative', etc etc. Constantine (Matt Ryan) could also return in flashback form, as could Laurel Lance (Katie Cassidy), keeping these fan-favorite characters a part of the show.
Flashbacks For Other Characters?
Another possibility is that the show could include more flashbacks for other characters, developing the rest of Team Arrow and giving backstory on the other vigilantes of Star City. Felicity's past has already been given the flashback treatment, when fans learned that she was a goth hacker in her college days, but many of the other character's pasts are relatively unexplored.
Curtis Holt (Echo Kellum) certainly has a past to explore (seeing his college days would be fascinating), as does Dinah Drake (Juliana Harkavy) and Rene Ramirez (Rick Gonzalez). After Malcom Merlyn's (John Barrowman) apparent death in the finale, it would be interesting to see Thea (Willa Holland) work through her feelings about his loss with some more flashbacks to her time training with him, and there are certainly plenty of other dead characters that could return in flashback form to keep the fans happy.
Farewell To Lian Yu
However flashbacks return in the new seasons of Arrow, it's going to feel like a very different show going forward. Season 6 will be far more streamlined, with more space to explore a single story at a time, and to give the minor characters more room to grow and develop - with their own flashbacks helping out from time to time. Fans who hated the island narrative will be thrilled with the new focus on a single timeline, and fans who loved them have already had their closure on that particular story - and still have the possibility of diving back in when it makes sense.
Season 6 is going to make some big changes - and it looks like they are going to be just what the show needs. Get ready for a big season premiere this fall... and a lot of speculation over the summer.
Arrow will return in Fall 2017.