The truth is becoming a rare commodity on Arrow, and even when it does show up, there’s no guarantee the characters actually recognize it. Oliver’s double life relies on an increasingly tangled web of deceptions and half-truths, and while he ends the episode in an existential crisis, he isn’t the one who suffers the worst for his mistakes. His girlfriend, McKenna Hall, gets her femur shattered by the Huntress’ gun, meaning she has at least a year’s rehab ahead of her before she can be a cop again. Tommy gets tortured by the Huntress and has to lie to Laurel when she needs him most. Even Felicity gets assaulted and tied up by the Huntress. And, lest we forget, a whole lot of cops and U.S. marshals get killed by the Huntress in her final, failed attempt to kill her mobster father.
You might notice a pattern developing here; by and large, it’s Helena, not Oliver, who is directly responsible for these characters’ suffering. But all of this can be traced back to Oliver, who allows Helena to extort him into helping her kill her father because he can’t live with any of the alternatives. He could turn her in to the police, but she knows about Oliver and Diggle, so he would be risking his own arrest. He could kill her, but his views on cold-blooded murder have evolved to the point that he refuses to do that, at least not until he’s out of all other options. And for all his billions, he can’t buy Helena off, because she’s the one person in this episode who knows exactly what she wants. She may be a homicidal maniac, but she always tells people the truth about who she is and what she knows. Sometimes, her own rage makes her true statements sound like self-serving lies, as when she straight-up tells Detective Lance and McKenna that Oliver is the Hood but decides to use this information to inflict maximum psychological damage on her captors. The Huntress deals in absolutes, and her blunt approach leaves precious little room for Oliver’s obfuscations.
“The Huntress Returns” tries to show the consequences of Oliver’s actions, but the big twists don’t always land the way they should. In theory, McKenna Hall’s fate should be a brutal reminder of what happens when Oliver compromises with the likes of the Huntress, and the fact that Oliver had finally tried to kill Helena moments before she shot McKenna should serve as an ironic coda. But for all this to have dramatic heft, Arrow has to actually show us that McKenna’s dreams are broken, not simply have her tell us this from a hospital bed. But that’s the sort of idea that would take at least a couple subsequent episodes to convey properly, and McKenna has already decided to go live with her sister in Coast City because that city has the best physical therapy. This plays as a cheap attempt to evoke some pathos while Arrow is busy achieving its main task, which is simply to get rid of McKenna.
The character has been a nice temporary addition to the show—helped along considerably by Janina Gavankar’s winning performance in the role—but in the larger narrative, she’s superfluous. Detective Lance already fills the role of police officer who wants to bring down the Hood, and Oliver’s romantic life isn’t terribly interesting unless he’s dating an unhinged vigilante like Helena. Her quick departure is a grating moment, one that makes the Huntress feel less like a force of chaos and more like a convenient plot device to clear away Arrow’s clutter in time for the season’s endgame. And while the sudden loss of McKenna is potentially a blow to Oliver—as she suggests just before their valedictory sex scene, they work as a couple because they don’t need to apologize to the other for all their flaws—this too doesn’t quite come across, as “The Huntress Returns” keeps raising the question of whether Oliver is actually still in love with the Huntress. The script and Stephen Amell’s performance don’t really suggest this, but both Helena and the rather more rational Diggle bring this point up often enough that Oliver’s romantic story just ends up feeling muddled.
While Helena doesn’t always work, she does allow for some great bits of breakneck pacing. In particular, her decision to torture Tommy in order to gain control over Oliver is a wonderfully fast progression of the last episode’s big plot development, in which Tommy learned Oliver’s big secret. Tommy is understandably unnerved by the knowledge that his friend is effectively a murderer and a pathological liar, and this episode does well to throw Tommy into harm’s way (although, if we’re nitpicking, Helena likely doesn’t know that Tommy knows Oliver’s secret, so it’s not as though Tommy’s knowledge is the direct cause of his trouble). Arrow has generally sidelined Tommy and Laurel in subplots that keep them comfortably removed from Oliver’s latest peril, but now that Tommy knows the truth, that plot-mandated safety is gone. The fact that Helena says a single, seemingly innocuous line about whether Tommy remembers her before she proceeds to assault him is an especially emphatic way to make that point. That scene also sets up one of the episode’s best insights into its two vigilantes, as Helena cuttingly explains that her intent isn’t to harm Tommy but rather to use him as leverage over Oliver—a strategy that he once taught her as a valid alternative to indiscriminate killing.
Elsewhere, Alex Kingston is back as Dinah Lance, Laurel’s estranged mother. Right now, it’s still hard to judge whether she’s onto something with her claims that Sara is still alive; the story is farfetched, and Dinah comes across a little unbalanced, though that may just be because it’s so strange to hear River Song speak with an American accent. Detective Lance’s initial refusal to even contemplate Sara’s possible survival is a predictable reaction, though it does loosely tie back in with Oliver’s own complex relationship with the truth; both Oliver and Lance need to believe certain things in order to stave off despair, although it’s harder to fault Lance for not wanting to relive his grief. While the question of Sara’s fate could make for some decent character moments—and if anyone in the main cast could use some good character-building scenes, it’s Sara’s sister Laurel—it’s more difficult to see how this could fit into the show’s plot, at least in this season’s final handful of episodes. Like a lot of “The Huntress Returns,” the Lance subplot is a potentially intriguing idea, and the show executes it solidly enough, but it lacks the sharpness of focus that distinguishes the show at its best. This episode works through some good, if familiar ideas about Oliver and his vigilantism, but the episode doesn’t elevate this material like it did in the Huntress’ original two-parter.
- One subplot that’s crystal clear about its long-term narrative intentions is Thea’s budding romance with Roy Harper. The guy uses some impressive moves to rescue Thea from a pair of hoodlums, and he does it all while wearing a bright red hood. Oliver even starts calling Thea “Speedy” once again, just to hammer home the connection.
- The island flashback ends on a good cliffhanger, as young Oliver and Slade Wilson finally have a vital bargaining chip they can use against Fyers to get off the island. More importantly, Manu Bennett has reportedly been upgraded to series regular status for season two, which is just excellent.