Okay, let’s face it. There are a lot of problems with Arrow lately. And this season, the flashbacks might not be its biggest issue but it’s the one that stands out to me right now.
When the show first started, Oliver “Ollie” Queen’s flashbacks to his time on the island of Lian Yu were absolutely pivotal to the series. After all, Ollie pre-boating mishap and Ollie post-return were a completely different people. The flashbacks here were a very effective way for us to learn many of the details about his time on Lian YU. Because this was so well done, it didn’t feel forced down our throats and was something I enjoyed watching every episode.
With the start of season two, the flashbacks continued to be great by showing Ollie’s changing friendship with Slade Wilson. The island showed the two as close allies but the present day had Slade going after Ollie’s family and wanting revenge. Again, flashbacks here were crucial to the storytelling and having them in every episode made sense. Over the course of the season, it slowly revealed why their relationship changed and why Slade was now his enemy.
Now after season two, this is where the flashbacks started to become mostly useless. To recall, season three flashbacks took place mostly in Hong Kong and Ollie spent much of his time with Maseo and Tatsu Yamashiro. While the couple were important because they helped heal him after his fight with Ra’s al Ghul (or rather, bring him back to life because no one should have survived that stabbing and fall), it didn’t require devoting an entire season of flashbacks for that one moment. Now I concede it’s possible the flashbacks contributed a little more to the story than what I remember. Even if that’s true, the fact that it’s hardly memorable adds to how poorly it was done.
This now brings us to this season. Even after just finishing the show last week, I’m already having trouble remembering and understanding what the purpose for all the flashbacks were about. Was it to show that Damien Darhk’s idol feeds on death to grant the user greater power? If so, I’m sure the show could’ve found some other way for Ollie to discover that. Now I will admit that seeing John Constantine in one of the episodes this season was great. However, it’s a sad testament to the flashbacks when the best part of it this season was when Constantine made a guest appearance from a cancelled show on another network. And since the show has to have flashbacks in every episode, it’s even more obvious to the viewer just how useless they have been to the main story.
Am I saying Arrow should do away with flashbacks altogether? No, absolutely not. As previously noted, I greatly enjoyed them in seasons one and two. But I also understand that flashbacks aren’t as important now as it was then when the show first started. Ollie is pretty much the same person he is now compared to how he was at this point in the flashbacks. Because of this, we really don’t need them in every episode like we used to. At the end of the day, I just want them to matter again and if that means less flashbacks overall, then so be it. For Arrow, this might be a case of addition through subtraction.