The Burden of Canon: Can We Talk About Arrow’s Oliver, Laurel & Felicity Problem?
So, it finally happened: in the penultimate episode of the first season of CW’s Green Arrow origins show Arrow, Oliver Queen (Stephen Amell) and Laurel Lance (Katie Cassidy) sliced through their tepid sexual tension and went full-on to the bone zone (you can view the clip here). This was a moment 21 episodes in the making. So, why did it feel so blah?
There is an unavoidable blandness and sense of inevitably with this pairing. Why? Because Oliver Queen is Green Arrow, even if the show simply calls him “The Hood,” and Laurel Lance is Black Canary, a super heroine identity the show might someday get to. Since the late 1960s, Green Arrow and Black Canary have been a couple, regardless of which version of Oliver Queen or which Lance (the original Dinah Drake or the current Laurel, Dinah’s daughter) we’re talking about. Granted, they have frequently broken up, but in terms of comic book super heroes who are thought of as being a romantic couple (such as Cyclops and Jean Grey) these two are among the most notable. So, their television counterparts were always headed toward some lying down together fun time.
However, one need not to have known anything about the comic books to have seen what the show was doing with Oliver and Laurel. This is pretty standard CW – heck, TV in general – romantic brooding. They want to be together, but until the right part of the season comes (either during sweeps or at the very end) the show will keep putting barriers between them. There was emotional trauma to get past (her dad’s hatred for Oliver and Oliver’s own indirect responsibility for the death of her younger sister being two significant barriers). There were new spouses to get past, Tommy Merlyn (Colin Donnell) for her, and Huntress (Jessica Du Gouw) and Detective McKenna Hall (Janina Gavankar) for him. There were abs to try to ignore:
Plus, there’s tradition. Oliver’s a crime fighting vigilante. By the rules of superhero storytelling that means there must be a girl he loves so much he pushes her away to protect her. Sorry, Laurel. However, entering the home stretch of the season the show finally put Oliver and Laurel together, reintroducing the two as a potential romantic couple in “Home Invasion” (EP. 20) before going there in the season’s penultimate episode. Of course, this is all likely a prelude to ripping them apart once Oliver realizes he can never leave his life as the vigilante behind him.
Is it kind of boring, though? Increasingly, Arrow is at its best when it focuses upon Oliver’s crime-fighting unit/new nuclear family Felicity Smoak (the fantastic Emily Bett Rickards) and John Diggle (David Ramsey). These are the three who know the truth about Oliver’s life as a vigilante, and are the conduit through which the details of the show’s overarching conspiracy plot are discussed. Plus, John and Felicity are so far the only ones capable of calling Oliver on his crap, with Felicity often attempting to curb Oliver’s homicidal impulses much as Cordelia would grow to do for Angel during the middle era of the show Angel, which also featured a brooding hero at its center. To quote that show about a vampire with a soul, Oliver and Felicity have real” kyrumption.”
The funny thing is the show is clearly very aware of just how little some fans care for Oliver/Laurel and how hard they want him to be paired romantically with Felicity. In the same episode (“Darkness on the Edge of Town”) in which Oliver finally beds Laurel he spends the majority of his time doing a heist with Felicity and John and striking poses like this with the former:
In many ways, Felicity is an audience surrogate character. She is the slightly nerdy one – well, TV nerd meaning she wears glasses and knows computer stuff while looking as gorgeous as Emily Bett Rickards – who consistently stumbles over her own words around Oliver because he is just so darn handsome. The show had been robbing Amell of his shirt for quite some time, but rarely did anyone on the show stop and admire due to TV’s unwritten rule of never acknowledging in-show how freakishly attractive everyone is. Then Felicity became a full-time character halfway through the season, and she gets to watch Oliver work out out while they talk about bad guys and such. She is not above staring:
The show has probably gone a little overboard with their new running gag of Felicity’s accidental sexual innuendos around Oliver. The “too far” moment probably happened in “The Undertaking” (EP. 21) when she admitted to feeling better having Oliver inside of her in reference to the earpiece she was wearing to allow him to communicate with her while she embarks on a solo undercover mission. However, Amell’s continued deadpan “I have no idea how to respond to that…so I’ll stay silent” facial reactions to her every innuendo never fail to amuse.
See the moment I’m talking about and judge for yourself:
The point being the show is giving the Oliver/Felicity shippers all the fuel they need even if the show’s ultimate goal appears to be establishing a brother/sister bond between the two. I’m sure a recent episode conclusion in which Oliver assured Felicity, after a very tough day, she could talk to him about stuff like that anytime and his recent introduction of her as “a friend” to his family warmed many a yearning heart.
There are those who would strongly argue against the show putting Oliver and Felicity together as a romantic couple (such as io9.com). I think Rickards gives Amell a far different, more enjoyable energy to bounce off of than Katie Cassidy’s more standard anguished romance, and the two share an undeniable sexual chemistry. That doesn’t necessarily mean the show would be well served by putting the two together. I highly predict she’ll be getting her own equally geeky love interest next season (a Duckette for her Duckie, for you Pretty in Pink fans).
The larger concern is not Felicity but of the sense of obligation the show might forever feel to the Oliver/Laurel relationship because they are Green Arrow and Black Canary. Does this limit the show’s flexibility to respond to what is working and what is not? TV shows are fluid, living entities which reveal unexpected truths to its creators, such as when the popularity of Spike during season 2 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer convinced Joss Whedon to abandon his original plans to kill off the character. Even shows tied to canon can break away in interesting ways, such as when the DC animated series Justice League/Justice League Unlimited explored Hawkwoman and Green Lantern as a couple.
Arrow has reacted to what’s working, promoting Felicity from her original part-time role to full-time status. However, even with the Felicitys, Huntreseses, and Shados (Celina Jane) of the world is the show destined for Oliver to ultimately have eyes for Laurel? There is a practical reason for something like this, such as Katie Cassidy being a full-time cast member and part-timer Huntress’ Jessica Du Gouw having bolted for a full time gig on NBC’s Dracula. Regardless of practicality and whether or not it is a good idea to do so dramatically, is the show forbidden from going there with anyone else because Oliver is destined to be with Laurel?
It’s Smallville all over again. During the initial season of the long-running Superboy-without-the-cape show the non-canonical character of Chloe Sullivan (Allison Mack) really sparked with viewers. She was created for the show to be a teenage version of Lois Lane, rapid-fire dialogue and all, without actually being the real Lois Lane, and turned into one of the early breakout characters. The ensuing interest in her crush on Clark Kent (Tom Welling) outweighed the rote, by-the-numbers will-they/won’t they of Clark and Lana Lang (Kristin Kreuk), with Lana being a love interest of Clark’s from the comics. The producers surprisingly chose to have Clark asks Chloe, not Lana, to the prom at the end of the first season, but only as a temporary romance before putting Clark back on path to romance with Lana in the second season premiere. Chloe’s crush on Clark went unreciprocated from that point forward, a flame she held mostly in secret until she met Jimmy Olsen a season or two later (technically the real Jimmy Olsen’s older brother).
So, the people at Smallville found themselves with a similar problem currently facing Arrow, and their solution was to ultimately stick to their guns with Clark and Lana. Beyond loyalty to canon, there is another factor to consider. From a storytelling perspective, Lana functioned to provide romantic anguish for Clark as well be an unconscious damsel in distress every other week. While also sometimes an unconscious damsel, Chloe served to advance plot via rapid-fire exposition, provide levity through one-liners/pop-culture references, and eventually keep Clark’s secret and allow him an outlet to whom he could talk openly about his crazy life. If you give both functions to Chloe then where does that leave Lana? The same is potentially true of Felicity and Laurel on Arrow.
Basically, when a show goes all in on a couple as being the loves of each other’s lives (as Arrow currently is with Oliver/Laurel) it’s difficult to ever completely back away from that for practical reasons, and this is made especially more difficult when the characters in question are based on an outside source. You can pair the respective characters off with other partners, but there will always be the sense that the two are destined to end up together. Before I completely move on from Smallville, I should point out that it did resist canon in its later years when Justin Hartley’s version of Oliver Queen was a major character romantically attached to Chloe, and when they introduced their version of Black Canary Oliver was never put together with her.
For Arrow, sticking with the Oliver/Laurel dynamic is their path of least resistance. It allows them to continue on with their current storytelling framework and holds true to the canon thus pleasing Comic-Con-attending fans who have formed a relationship with Green Arrow and Black Canary through other media. To be fair, the Oliver/Laurel coupling has been ill-served by having their romance suddenly foregrounded at the end of the season at the same time that Starling City is facing destruction, making Oliver discussing his feelings with Laurel feel like a far less pressing matter. However, even if they do break Oliver and Laurel apart next season and try something with a Felicity pairing won’t it all seem like bumps on the road to Oliver and Laurel ending up together because they are, after all, Green Arrow and Black Canary? Only time will tell.
For now, enjoy the only scene Laurel, Felicity, and Oliver have shared together to date and allow yourself to wonder how little Laurel possibly cares for Felicity on sight, as if sensing a potential rival:
What say you? Am I crazy? Well, not in general – we don’t even know each other. But specifically about this? Use our comments to render a diagnosis.
Check out this fun article from TVGuide in which two of their writers argue about the character of Felicity Smoak, one in favor and one against.
Also, take a moment to check out some of our other Arrow-related content on the site:
- Arrow Star Stephen Amell on the Potential Laurel, Felicity & Oliver Triangle
- I LOVE That Episode: Arrow’s “Vendetta”
- Arrow’s Producer Clarify Flash Spin-Off Confusion: Yes, “Powers” Are Being Introduced Into the Show
- Back in a Flash: Barry Allen to Be Introduced on Arrow to Set-Up a Flash Spin-Off Show
- Arrow Casts New Actress as Black Canary. Confused? The Exec. Producer Explains
- Comic-Con: Arrow Reveals Two 2 D.C. Characters, Confirms Black Canary & Shows Footage from the Season 2 Premiere
- Arrow EP: Season 2 to be Oliver’s Transition from “The Hood” to Green Arrow