If you’re enjoying Arrow‘s Season 4 flashback storyline, you’re on an island.
The storytelling device, which since the CW series’ launch has revealed how a mop-topped billionaire brat was honed into the hero known as Arrow, offered compelling correlations during Seasons 1 and 2, as Oliver Queen (played by Stephen Amell) first washed up on Lian Yu and learned some hard lessons at the hands of Yao Fei, Slade Wilson and the Amazo captain.
The flashbacks began failing this series, however, with Season 3’s meandering trip to Hong Kong, while this season’s return to Lian Yu seemingly exists solely to tell us that Oliver encountered Damien Darhk’s mystical idol once before. TVLine recaps regularly sum up the island events in a single sentence, while The CW’s own press site hosts exactly one photo from the glacially paced arc.
Arrow‘s showrunners are not unaware of viewers’ escalating indifference to the flashbacks, and in fact addressed the topic head on at the Writers Guild Festival on Saturday.
“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,” EP Marc Guggenheim shared. “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.”
In addition to highlighting any disparity between Oliver then and now, the flashbacks endeavor to be “emotionally or thematically connected” to the current storyline, said EP Wendy Mericle, though the writers have also “experimented with having them not speak to what’s going on currently” — which is probably when the flashbacks are most met with ennui by the audience.
So, might it be time to put an arrow in the flashback device and let Arrow simply and exclusively unfold in the present?
Speaking with TVLine after the panel discussion, Mericle said that she “loved” Stephen Amell’s work in the earlier flashbacks, “because I thought he really inhabited that character. It was less the very stoic superhero and much more dimensional, because he was so flawed.” And though Oliver has evolved in the flashbacks to a point where, as aforementioned, he’s not a far cry from the man who set out to save his city, Mericle said, “The way we write the story is still very much married to that backstory, and trying to change it up at this point would feel weird.”
But looking ahead to next season, “We know what we’re working up to,” she shared, as the past timeline inches ever closer to where the series began. Thus, the flashbacks are poised to be more engrossing and focused. “The season will be easier to break because we have an endpoint, and we work backwards from there.”
And where might Season 5’s flashbacks take us? Mericle would not confirm the destination, but a recent reference to Russia by Taiana (that’s the name of Oliver’s island gal pal, by the way), would seem to offer a clue. “I don’t want to tip too much,” the EP allowed with a coy smile, “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.” (With reporting by Vlada Gelman)