It's completely ordinary for television shows, or any serialized form of storytelling, really, to take a little breather after a big episode. Breather episodes typically involve some sort of emotional fallout, or perhaps a reevaluation of goals and relationships. They give the show time to reflect on recent events, and they normally afford an opportunity for some measure of character growth. Essentially, they're narrative way stations between major plot developments.
"The Huntress Returns" was such an episode. And it was ridiculously dull.
If you've been watching (and reading) along with me for the past 16 episodes, you know I'm generally more interested in the melodrama portion of Arrow's action + melodrama set-up, and as a result, I was rather eagerly looking forward to seeing the aftershocks of "Dead to Rights" playing out a bit. And those aftershocks did happen, but to nowhere near the extent that maybe they should have. I say this knowing full well that they're something that will continue to weigh heavily over the rest of the season, but I just wanted more.
Instead, "The Huntress Returns" brought Helena back to Starling City. It turns out that Daddy Bertinelli cut a deal with the feds and was going to get himself a little witness protection in exchange for blabbing about some of the regional crime families, and Helena was none too pleased that he was going to get a second chance at a life. She wanted Oliver's help bringing Bertinelli down, permanently, and was willing to hurt anyone Oliver cared about to get him to cooperate.
Helena's emotional instability brought something of a chaotic element to the episode, and it forced Oliver into all sorts of corners he would've rather not been in. Like agreeing to take down prisoner transport vans. Or freeing Helena from the SCPD headquarters. Or stopping Helena from killing her father at a safe house. He was constantly having to react to Helena's actions, and the episode didn't afford him an opportunity to neutralize her in a way that protected both himself and everyone around him. It could've been an interesting race against the "psycho ex-girlfriend," and an opportunity to see Oliver deal with someone he couldn't plan for, but instead it was just a series of threats from Helena, followed by Oliver protesting but still going along with the harebrained schemes. There were also plenty of reheated conversations about their different methodologies for implementing their goals, but the whole situation remained about as convincing as the last time Helena was around.
Helena's machinations did result in McKenna taking a shotgun round to the torso that got through/squeezed in underneath her vest, and as a result McKenna is off to Coast City for a year's worth of physical therapy. She broke up with Oliver, refusing to even entertain the idea of him coming to visit her, let alone move to Coast City, as she recuperated from both her injury and the fact that she's likely not going to be a cop again. I don't feel very strongly one way or the other about this development, as I was never particularly invested in the McKenna/Oliver relationship, but it does add to the burden that Oliver is carrying as he tries to balance his two lives.
And that's really what I would've liked to have seen more of him grappling with, instead of just watching him run around with Helena. Her presence showed how Oliver's two lives can threaten each other, but it becomes a redundant variation on that theme when we see that conflict already playing out in his relationship with Tommy. Tommy not being upset that Oliver kept his identity a secret from him—or not being very upset anyway—and instead taking issue with Oliver being a murderer was a nice shift on this particular plot since most instances of people learning about a secret identity are normally about an issue of trust. Here it becomes one of morals.
But Tommy's pain was sort of brushed away as he decided to be sort of understanding about the whole thing after he realized that all of this weighs very heavily on Oliver. "I was wrong to think I could have it both ways. That I could do what I do and still have a normal life. With anyone," Oliver told Tommy. They've both been affected by Oliver's actions, obviously, and perhaps their shared pain can salvage their relationship. But probably not, as I'm sure things will get complicated if (when) Malcolm's Dark Archer persona becomes common knowledge, and Oliver is forced to make a very unpleasant choice.
Meanwhile, in news to file under "things I never thought I would write," I sort of totally didn't completely feel indifferent to what was going on with Laurel this week. Part of this was due to the fact that Paul Blackthorne was probably the best he's been all season in that first scene at the diner, stumbling over himself to apologize to Laurel so as not to lose another woman from his life and then turning on a dime to anger and sadness as Dinah walked onto the scene—and with evidence about Sarah being alive, no less. Quentin's a guy who wears his emotions on a sleeve, but I don't know that there's much of a sleeve left at this point, and while I still think that Quentin's a very shaggy character, I liked him more here than I have practically all season.
I think the whole "Sarah is alive" plot could give Laurel and Quentin something to do, but I wonder how much she can do, exactly, from Starling City, even with her mother's envelope of evidence. But there's still enough time to flesh this out, and give the Lances their own troubled family plot.
– I apologize for the lack of decent photos, but The CW decided that the only things you would really want to see would be the club and Steve Aoki. Speaking of the club: It's done! And it's called Verdant. So of course there's hardly any green in the place. And it has gears and cogs hanging from the ceiling, I suppose as a callback to the club's origins as a steel mill. They could've at least made it look like that pastoral-meets-industrialization vibe from the London Olympics opening ceremony.
– Nothing too big on the island this week. Oliver and Slade stole the circuit board from the missile platform that Fyers had recently acquired. They hid it away and are using its location to make Fyers get them off the island.
– There were some Thea and Roy shenanigans as well, including Roy beating up some would-be muggers of Thea's, and then some smooching as Thea distracted him while he got a shot at the hospital. So that's progressing, I guess.
– During the break, a Season 1 guest-star received an upgrade to a series regular for Season 2. And then it happened again today for another guest star. I'm indifferent for the first one (right now, anyway), but excited about the prospects for the second one.
– Helena and Oliver should be thankful that the U.S. Marshals service in Starling City is nowhere near as awesome as the Marshals service in Kentucky, because that was the weakest safe house ever. Starling City police may want to update the security at their headquarters.
– To celebrate Supernatural's return, MaryAnn decided to tweet a fun SPN GIF. I countered to show my enthusiasm for Arrow's return. This devolved into a .GIF war. I may've lost due to the sheer lack of sexytimes .GIFs available for the show (it was 16 episodes against 165!), but I think it was a fight where, really, everybody won. I collected the tweets and .GIFs in this Storify if you're interested.