The use of flashbacks has be a pivotal storytelling device since the very first season of the CW series, Arrow, but has recently began to fail the show. It started out showing audiences how spoiled, billionaire playboy Oliver Queen survived the crash of the Queen Anne (the ship he was on), washes up on the mysterious island of Lian Yu, and began his journey to become to vigilante hero known as Green Arrow.
Many critics site Season 3’s meandering trip to Hong Kong as the point where these flashbacks first began to go downhill, and has continued that path with the return to Lian Yu and the long-winded path to figuring out how to defeat Damian Darhk, which was seemingly done just to show us a one-episode Constantine tie-in and that Oliver had encountered Darhk’s mystical idol once before. 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.”
According to EP Wendy Mericle, “the flashbacks endeavor to be emotionally or thematically connected to the current storyline, though the writers have also experimented with having them not speak to what’s going on currently”
So, is it time to put an end to these flashbacks and let Arrow simply and exclusively unfold in the present?
Mericle went on to say 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,” Mericle conto use, “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.”
Catch Arrow on Wednesday’s at 8:00pm EST on The CW.