Arrow, Season 3: Episode 5- “The Secret Origin of Felicity Smoak”
Written by Ben Sokolowski and Brian Ford Sullivan
Directed by Michael Schultz
Airs Wednesday at 8pm ET on The CW
From the very beginning, “The Secret Origin of Felicity Smoak” announces itself as a special episode of Arrow. The trademark choreography takes us through three scenes of three pairs of characters sparring: Oliver and Roy, Thea and Malcolm, and Laurel and her trainer. What do normal people do in the morning, Thea wonders. Cut to Felicity doing crunches, being stormed in on by Ray Palmer and getting a surprise visit from her mother, who doesn’t know that you have to hit send to send a text message. Come on. The girl hasn’t even looked at a cup of coffee yet.
One would expect, given the title of the series, that Arrow would focus mainly on Oliver Queen as The Arrow (or Green Arrow or The Vigilante or whatever). And that’s true, for the most part. Even in a second season that saw Oliver have to rely more and more on the people around him to succeed both tangibly and emotionally, The Arrow has remained the centerpiece of the series. That makes “The Secret Origin of Felicity Smoak” all the more interesting as a case study, since it’s one of the only Arrow episodes to give another character a flashback and it is the only episode to focus so thoroughly on a single person who isn’t Oliver (“Suicide Squad” strayed from The Arrow but followed a group of characters). Felicity has proven to be the series’ greatest individual asset, but this episode tests how well she can hold up a full-length story; and even though the hour falters here and there, the ultimate takeaway is that this version of Arrow works perfectly fine, which is just as surprising as it is satisfying.
As is always the case with Arrow, the flashbacks in this episode are among the weaker elements. It’s wonderful to see a younger version of Felicity just for the sake of it, because we love her (well…I do, at least), but the details that make up her backstory are more caricature than character and, within the context of the whole episode, they expose some laziness. Cooper and Felicity comprise a hacktivist duo that actually touches on some genuinely relevant things going on today. The exponential rise in power of the Internet has allowed for a new avenue to pursue political ideologies. Of course, in the wrong hands, this becomes an Oppenheimer kind of situation (and the parallel is certainly there when Felicity talks about her creation being used for ill), and Arrow hits very predictable notes while using this type of story. But the content is unique enough in this kind of show that it totally works…until Cooper comes back from the “dead” as a bad guy who wants money. Money….money! Of all the lame directions to take a character with pronounced motivations, this takes the proverbial cake, making the last act of the episode standard fare in terms of action and resolution. There’s nothing morally complicated about taking down Cooper, because he’s just a bad dude with no misguided interest in making the world a better place (if you could take away my student loans, though, that would be greatly appreciated; thanks). In a long line of great one-off villains for this series, Cooper will be forgotten pretty quickly.
However, the other topics and themes that surround that story and Felicity are rather striking. By giving Felicity this history, she is being tied more directly to Oliver. It’s not just that Cooper, like Oliver, is willing to make sacrifices for the people he loves. It’s not just that being a hacktivist shows how Felicity’s role in Team Arrow makes sense, since motivation really matters to her (she wants to be doing good). It’s that Oliver isn’t the only one who has spent five years on an island that has graduated from being physical to metaphorical. Felicity, too, experienced a rough period of change prior to the events of this series shaped by what she thought was the death of her first love–and not just the death but the suicide. That kind of grief defines a person for as long as she lets it, and the bubbly Felicity we first met in Arrow is someone who has probably only recently come out the other side somewhat intact. Or maybe she hasn’t; maybe Felicity’s personality is another way of coping, because she’d rather be that kind of person than one who wallows in her grief and depression. Whatever the case, this episode gives her character several additional shades of color, especially when you look at the relationship she has with her mother (who must return to Arrow at some point or else…). Even if Felicity doesn’t admit to her mom at the episode’s end how similar they are to one another, we can see it in this episode, and it’s a beautiful thing. It’s a little amazing we’ve made it this far before really getting into Felicity’s familial history, but the payoff is wonderful when you consider what she learns about herself simply by having her mother around. She gets her strength from her, and although she’s not always able to fully express how she feels to another person (especially one who can’t relate to her via interests and personality), it doesn’t mean she doesn’t love those around her dearly. The writers on Arrow have never really sold Felicity short as a simple love interest with no compelling features. Yet, this episode really illustrates how integral her role is for the series, because the rest of the crew–Oliver, Diggle and Roy–deal with these kinds of issues as well. In a life where you have to conceal so much about yourself for the benefit of others, it’s hard to have an honest moment with anyone. The final conversation between Felicity and her mother, though, is as honest as it gets and makes the episode noteworthy if just for that aspect.
Spare Arrows from the Quiver:
– Big thanks to Randy for allowing me to fill in this week while he takes a momentary break. He’ll be back next week, so throw all your negative comments at me while you can. I can take it!
– When Oliver and Roy stop by the bank to try to diffuse the mob situation, Oliver shoots a single arrow down at the crowd and says “Get away from the bank!” No one listens or even seems to notice that they’re there. Come on, Oliver. Come on.
– Laurel “Bad Decisions” Lance sends a unit to the bank behind her father’s back while she’s acting DA. Come on, Laurel. Come on.
– Brother Eye is actually the Eye of Sauron from The Lord of the Rings. Who would you bet on in an archery match between Oliver and Legolas?
– It’s probably diminutive to talk about Arrow as a show with attractive people on it, but what do you do if you’re Felicity’s mother and the first two people you meet when you visit her are Brandon Routh and Stephen Amell? Just…wow.
– Felicity had a vision of cronuts before they were a thing. For those of you who don’t know what cronuts are, good. You’re better off than the rest of us.
– And that’s all, folks…
– Wait, WHAT!? Did Roy kill Sara!? Are you friggin’ kidding me!? That’s how we end this week’s episode!? Have fun next week, Randy.