We gave it a B
Last week’s episode ended with something we’d been waiting for since the season 6 premiere — Slade calling on Oliver to help him find his son — and tonight’s “Deathstroke Returns” follows through on that promise. Not everything in the episode works necessarily, but it’s still a fairly compelling hour that sees the return of one of the show’s best assets: Manu Bennett’s Slade.
One of the worst things to happen to Arrow was having to sideline Slade Wilson. Given his history with Oliver and the Mirakuru, he’s an immediately compelling antagonist whose motives and state of mind remain intriguing. In the fifth season finale, Slade told Oliver that the Mirakuru’s effects had worn off and that he’s finally back in his right mind, but even up to this episode, it’s still not clear how much we should trust him.
It’s clear Oliver certainly doesn’t completely trust him. Oliver keeps his distance from his old Lian Yu buddy throughout their entire conversation as Slade shares what he’s learned about his son Joe. Short story shorter, Joe followed in his father’s footsteps and joined the Australian secret intelligence; however, his recent mission landed him in trouble in Kasnia and now he’s in prison. But it’s a fairly tense affair, and both men convey that they haven’t simply forgotten everything that went down in season 2. That painful history hangs over all of their conversations throughout the episode.
Obviously, Oliver doesn’t jump at the idea of helping Slade, especially since Slade was the one who told him he couldn’t operate in two worlds anymore. However, Slade assures him that he needs Oliver Queen, not the Green Arrow, because he has a diplomatic solution in mind. Oliver’s other main concern is that he promised William he was out of this life, but Felicity suggests he simply tell William a version of the truth, that he’s helping a friend find his son. Oliver does just that and then jumps on a plane to Kasnia with his old buddy.
Over the course of the episode, we’re shown flashbacks to Slade and Joe going camping together 15 years ago. Joe doubts they’ll make it the entire weekend because Slade usually gets called off to work, but Slade assures him that won’t happen. Actually, he knows it won’t because this camping trip is a cover for a mission, which involves Slade trying to get information on Yao Fei’s whereabouts from a Chinese foreign official. In all honesty, you wouldn’t lose much if the flashbacks were removed from the episode, because Bennett does a good job of conveying the guilt he feels over the terrible job he’s done as a father in the present. The flashbacks feel gratuitous and redundant and stop this episode in its tracks.
When Oliver and Slade arrive in Kasnia, they meet with one of Slade’s old buddies, who gives them necessary intel to find his son. The moment this friend, whose name I didn’t catch, enters the scene and starts talking about Slade and the Mirakuru, it’s clear there’s something more going on. Anyway, Oliver and Slade head to a hotel room, where Slade tells Oliver his plan to free his son: Oliver must go into the prison under the pretense of being an American mayor on a humanitarian mission to free Joe, who goes by the name Kane, and then once that happens, Oliver is to take Joe to the airport and hop on a flight to London without revealing Slade’s involvement. Oliver doesn’t want to lie to Joe, but Slade insists. (Next: Vigilante’s identity is finally revealed )