Spoilers ahead for "Missing," the penultimate episode of Arrow's fifth season!
The short version: Talia al Ghul and Evelyn start kidnapping members of Team Arrow, while Chase is locked up in jail. His ultimatum: Break him out of prison to keep them safe. Oliver refuses until he realizes Chase also took his son, and he breaks him out at the last minute. Chase takes them all to Lian Yu. With his team as hostages, Oliver makes his own version of the Suicide Squad. That finale looks wild, next week.
The good: Oliver and Merlyn, putting the new "team" together, the flashback saga
Malcolm Merlyn was plenty busy over on Legends of Tomorrow, hanging out with the Legion of Doom and generally causing all kinds of trouble. But, with that show wrapped for the year, it seems John Barrowman had a little time in his schedule to come back for Arrow. And boy, was it worth it. Barrowman has a lot of fun with this character, and anytime they can organically pull off a Oliver/Merlyn team-up? I'm all in.
With Thea taken captive, Merlyn comes out of the woodwork to offer Oliver his help in saving her. We get some great dual-archer action, some solid jokes, and even a pep talk from Malcolm Merlyn to make Oliver realize he really does need people in his life. It just, you know, took a sociopath to explain it. Merlyn has been a part of this universe since the beginning, and even though he obviously doesn't fit in everywhere, it's always a treat when they can bring him back.
Speaking of bringing people back: Oliver has to dig deep when assembling some back-up to take on Chase, Talia and their minions. Literally his entire team has been captured (though we still haven't actually seen Rene and Dinah yet), so Oliver rounds up a few of his old enemies and frenemies. Nyssa al Ghul is an obvious choice (love that she still calls Oliver "husband," by the way) and Merlyn.
But … asking Slade Wilson to suit up and fight alongside him? That should generate some legit fireworks in the season finale. Slade Wilson is one of the best villains this show has ever had, and after his lackluster return a reason or two ago, it'd be great if they could pull off something worthy of Deathstroke here. But, umm, why not reach out to Flash? Or the Legends? Oliver knows more heroes than the ones on his direct team, ya know.
We're almost to the end of the five-year flashback saga, and it's certainly going out with a bang. They've set pretty much all the pieces into place, with Oliver back on Lian Yu and preparing for his final face off with Kovar. They've admittedly had a long time to set this up, but the creative team seems to have all the ducks in a row for the end of the flashback story to dovetail right into the series premiere. Bringing Oliver back to Lian Yu in the present is also another piece of that symmetry.
At five seasons, the show looks to come full circle. As for the future of flashbacks, curious to see how they do (or don't) use them next season. It could be, perhaps, a more Lost-like approach?
The bad: How easily Team Arrow went down, Oliver's reactions, Chase's "plan"
Yes, Talia and her acolytes obviously got the drop on Team Arrow. But, c'mon? They did go down a little too easily, right? These are elite heroes, and we've seen them face a whole lot. Yes, sidelining the entire team does put the spotlight on Oliver and force him to think outside the box, but it goes against the theme of pretty much the entire season — that Oliver needs this team with him to move forward to the next evolution of a hero, and to remain human and grounded. He'll get a chance to rescue them, sure, but it'd be more fitting to at least have a few of them fighting by his side.
There's also the way Oliver reacted when faced with the reality that Chase's forces have literally kidnapped everyone he loves. He seemed phased, sure, but he wasn't even remotely considering letting Chase go to buy more time. Then, three seconds of William footage and he's staging an arrow-fueled jailbreak. This has obviously been a season about family and fatherhood, but having his sister, best friend, and the love of his life kidnapped weren't enough?
This season has had a really bad habit of making Chase an unstoppable, evil mastermind — and that frustrating trend continued in this one. Look, Chase has obviously been planning this out for a long time. But, to get yourself captured by surrendering to be beheaded, just so you can try and leverage the Green Arrow into breaking you back out of jail? It gets to a point where there are just a few too many moving pieces to this thing. First, his grand plan is to set off a chemical weapon over the city, but now it's about luring Oliver back to Lian Yu?
Where does it end, seriously?
Oh, next week. That's right.
Line of the night:
"You're worse than a shipper on a soap opera." - Felicity
She didn't get a ton of screen time, but the alternate universe version of Laurel — Black Siren — is officially back in the fold. We already knew Katie Cassidy would be back as a series regular next season playing this alt-universe doppelganger, and we got a glimpse at how they might be rehabilitating her. She seemed conflicted about capturing Quentin, and even said she only did it because Chase bailed her out of prison and promised not to hurt Quentin. This could be the first step at turning her from villain to anti-hero, so I'm curious to see how they handle her in the finale next week.
Manu Bennett's Deathstroke is back in business, and though I'm dying to see the al Ghul daughters finally face off, getting Slade back on the show might be the biggest delight of the finale. But, how will this work? I can't wait to find out.
Next week: The season finale with Oliver's rag-tag crew vs. Chase and Talia.