Action-packed and a return to form, this felt like a solid improvement over last season and finally the flashbacks are fun (again?).
There's a lot to unpack here, so I'll break it down into two basic piles, Arrow and Oliver. Starting with Oliver, we have moved forward in time a bit, and he has been a less than stellar mayor. The people are calling him do-nothing, and he is more committed to his duties as the Arrow than his day job. There is a new thing called the Anti-Crime Initiative that Oliver is less than thrilled with, because half of the cops in Star City are corrupt and he doesn't know who to trust.
With only Thea for support in his political life, Oliver seems ill suited for a job he actively pursued. Then during a speech commemorating Laurel as the Black Canary, a new player named Tobias Church kidnaps Oliver and several others. Oliver has to play the normal person until he manages to get Tobias to separate him from the other hostages so he can be tortured. That's when he makes a major decision that will have lasting repercussions for the season: he kills his captor.
On the Arrow side of things, Oliver and Felicity seem to have made amends, but are totally hands off. There are no sexual innuendos or double entendres, and there is a bit of professional distance between them. Felicity is using Curtis as tech support and a cheerleader for her goal of bringing more would-be heroes onto the team. Her frequent recommendations include a guy in a mask named 'Wild Dog', and Evelyn Sharp who pretended to be the Black Canary last season.
Then Quentin steps up, and offers Oliver some help in the form of honest police offers, and they raid Church's hideout and manage to free the hostages. Those four good cops become the starting point for the ACU (Anti-Crime Unit) and that one action seems to change the city's goodwill towards Oliver as Mayor. Oliver also eases up on his no support stance as he accepts that Thea doesn't want to be Speedy again, especially now that Oliver is killing again. Also after a conversation with John, he realizes things can never go back to the way they were before.
Through all of that stuff, we got some pretty nice character moments. Especially with Quentin and Curtis, who both realized they had to do more than they were doing. Quentin took in the speech that Oliver gave at Laurel's memorial and internalized it enough to quit drinking again. Curtis managed to survive a mugging, and realized he needed to be more than just a tech expert for a group of vigilantes, he needed to become one himself. Oh, and Felicity has a new boyfriend... booooo.
At first I wasn't sure I was going to like these new flashbacks. They started with Oliver in an underground fight where he kills his opponent. Then he gets attacked and taken by the Bratva, who threatens him. Thankfully Anatoly shows up, and from that point on the entire flashback was better. The chemistry between them was a lot of fun, and there was the thumb moment which made me laugh out loud (which was also relevant to the present plot). I'm not sure if this will continue throughout the season, but for once I actually enjoyed the flashbacks. If this is the final season of them, maybe they will be worth it, and the list is finally back!
Arrow trick of the week: Parachute arrow.
The stinger revealed another new player in town, a potential new villain in a black mask and cowl using arrows (another one?), who kills one of the new ACU cops.
Loved the "Mayor Handsome" headline.
Laurel's statue was laughably bad. I don't know what the production was thinking there.
It was nice to see Anarchy again, since he seems to be one of the best continuing villains on the show.
There were six other new vigilantes pictured on Felicity's list of potential recruits. I wonder if we'll meet any of the others.
Chad Coleman's Tobias Church, aka Charon, did a really great job bringing a new energy and personality to the classic criminal boss. He was a brutal maniac, and I hope they keep him around awhile until he doesn't work as an ongoing villain anymore.
Laurel's secret confession was that she didn't want to be the last Black Canary.
Thea: "You wanted to become and then became the mayor to actually be mayor."
Oliver: "Right, and then reality set in. Even if we weren't dealing with a corrupt police department, and we are. Or an electorate that thinks I got all my political knowledge by binge watching The West Wing, I still wouldn't be able to focus on being mayor, Speedy, because I'm flying solo as the other guy."
Felicity: "How did you ditch your security detail?"
Oliver: "I used to ditch John Diggle."
Tobias: "Do you think I would go to all this trouble without a plan?"
Oliver: "Yeah, but that's because I think you're stupid."
Anatoly: "I just dislocated thumbs, useful if getting tied to chair is to become habit. This is going to hurt a little."
Anatoly: "With a bit of practice you can do yourself anytime."
Oliver: "Anatoly, can't you bring a knife next time?"
Anatoly: "What is fun of that?"
Oliver: "Maybe if I showed a little less restraint, Laurel might still be alive."
Curtis: "This is the craziest superhero scavenger hunt I've ever been on. Not that I've ever been on any, but..."
Felicity: "Wild Dog is not a superhero. He's a vigilante."
Curtis: "You are really going to have to explain the distinction to me. Either way, we'd have better luck with an ad in the paper."
Felicity: "No one reads the classifieds anymore."
Felicity: "I'm jealous. I've been trying to get Oliver to work with a team for weeks now."
Oliver: "We're not a team."
Felicity: "Well, you can look it up. A team is a group of persons associated with a joint action."
This was the return I was waiting for, and it mostly lived up to expectations.
3 1/2 out of 4 New heroes and villains in Star City
J.D. Balthazar is a confirmed nerd who loves most things sci-fi or fantasy-related.