Never quite reaching the pinnacle of its first two years, Arrow has nonetheless bounced back from Season 3 criticism in all but the series’ flashbacks, increasingly seen as a burden on the show. Now, producers acknowledge the difficulty of keeping Oliver’s past adventures relevant, promising the fifth season to have a more decisive plan in place, and potentially tipping to their location as well.

You’re warned of current Arrow spoilers from here on out, but where fans have scarcely recovered from that big death teased all season, Season 4 flashbacks haven’t offered much improvement on Season 3, this time following Oliver’s return to Lian Yu, and some rote magical hijinks with Baron Reiter (Jimmy Akingbola). It’s been a tricky format to follow over the past few years, turning Past Oliver more toward the stone-faced killer of Season 1, while Season 4 pivots toward a lighter, less-brooding hero, something producer Marc Guggenheim acknowledged at Saturday’s Writers Guild Festival:

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. 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.

That said, co-executive producer Wendy Mericle spoke to TVLine of Season 5 having a more specific plan to focus those final flashbacks, without necessarily altering how Arrow utilizes them:

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 … We know what we’re working up to. The season will be easier to break because we have an endpoint, and we work backwards from there.

The most recent episode’s flashback seemingly tipped to Russia serving as locale in Season 5, given Taiana (Elysia Rotaru)’s request that Oliver inform her family, should she not survive, as well as a few unexplained elements of Oliver’s ties to the Russian mafia. Mericle wouldn’t explicitly confirm as much, but at least noted “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.”

It would seem unlikely of The CW to end Arrow after its initial five-year plan (Supernatural similarly planned as much, now renewed for Season 12), but could Season 5 finally bring the flashbacks out of stagnation? Will Season 4 offer any more memorable links in its final episodes?

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