It all started off so promising, this “Secret Origin of Felicity Smoak.” It opened with a beautifully conceived overhead shot linking together separate early morning training sessions between Roy and Oliver in the Arrow cave, Laurel and Wildcat in the gym, and Thea and Malcolm in, I dunno, their den of evil. We quickly established our current pairs of heroes and quasi-villains, showed them behaving exactly how normal people don’t, before cutting on Thea’s line (“What do normal people do in the morning?”) to an adorable moment of Felicity struggling to pull off 5 sit-ups along with her exercise tape. Holy crap, they’d actually just dropped us into Felicity’s apartment for the first time! Sure, I took one look at Emily Bett Rickards physique and second-guessed whether or not she really struggles to pull off 5 sit-ups (maybe she’s just naturally that fit), and, sure, her apartment was far more colorful than I had imagined with very few of the standard, Big Bang Theory-esque nerd signifies you might have expected. But, hey, this was actually a genuinely funny moment, a nice bit of comedic juxtaposition in a show which has been looking especially grim this year in comparison to its easier-on-the-eyes spin-off, The Flash.
That’s the last time I remember enjoying “Secret Origin of Felicity Smoak” without reservation. That’s not to say the rest of the episode lacked even a single moment of entertainment. It just means that the bad greatly outweighed the good from that point forward, and in my own viewing experience I was keenly aware of that dynamic.
One reader commented last week that we learned nearly as much about Felicity in her one Flash episode as we have in 2 full seasons of Arrow. They weren’t wrong. So, Felicity was long overdue for a showcase episode, even if it risked eliminating some of the tantalizing mystery of her or robbing her of that every-woman, audience surrogate status she initially occupied.
The Bad –
Felicity was a hacktivisit in college who wore a crappy black wig (okay, Felicity wasn’t wearing that wig; Emily Bett Rickards was) and dressed like someone who wanted to replicate Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’s Lisbeth Salander on a CW budget? Really, that’s her big background, a poorly conceived and executed attempt on the show’s part to somehow tie this all into real life events, Felicity basically being a part of Anonymous and her boyfriend a pathetic Bond-villain version of Edward Snowden?
Why They Did It –
There has to be some reason why these people have converged on Oliver’s cause. Diggle is an ex-soldier forever attempting to make up for his brother’s death, Roy is a street kid who’s life had no purpose until the Arrow came around, and Felicity is a girl with daddy issues who wanted her surrogate father figure, Walter, rescued. Why did she stay beyond that, though? That’s what “Secret Origin of Felicity Smoak” tried to answer, roughly drawing a parallel between college Felicity and season 1 Oliver as people with heroic ideals who instead became noble failures. We’re supposed to see that she briefly flirted with using her hacking for good, and it ended so poorly it took Oliver coming along down the road to inspire her to try again in a far more focused manner. However, to go along with it you had to not laugh at Felicity’s goth phase (it’s all so very TV’s version of a female hacker cliche), and you had to completely buy that her boyfriend’s imprisonment would really inspire her to so radically alter herself. That last part failed to work for me, though. Felicity emerging from her dorm room bathroom as the Felicity we knew when she showed up on Arrow and not the goth girl we’d seen to that point in the flashbacks felt like the show trying to tie too neat a bow on something as opposed to the believable end of an emotional arc.
The Good –
Felicity and Oliver essentially switched roles this week, with the central conflict emerging from Felicity’s past and Oliver mostly acting as a passive cheerleader, ultimately steering Felicity in the right moral direction much as Felicity just did for Barry Allen in her Flash episode. The flashbacks gave us our first real look at a sexually active Felicity (look at her, making out with her boyfriend in public), and the conclusion featured her saving herself, physically subduing the bad guy while Oliver simply watched, likely relieved he no longer had to ponder violating his pesky moral code. Remember that when Felicity was held at gunpoint by The Count last season she couldn’t defend herself whereas here she could. That’s progress.
The Bad –
That boyfriend’s name (Cooper Sheldon) was a silly inversion of Big Bang Theory’s Sheldon Cooper. More importantly, there was no real mystery as to who’s behind everything, despite the episode’s efforts to throw us off the trail. Once Felicity’s ex-boyfriend did make his bad guy reveal (btw, he’s a new version of a comic book villain known as Brother Eye), his back story was just too ridiculous. The NSA comes off as some kind of criminal factory, and what, they just let him go after a couple of years? His sudden hatred for Felicity also seemed completely out of proportion, painting too simplistic a “she’s a corporate sell-out!” for the girl he took the proverbial bullet for in prison. If the idea is that he actually resents and blames Felicity for his prison term and soul-crushing job with the NSA that was not communicated effectively. Plus, Felicity’s use of WiFi via her mom’s convenient smart watch as prelude to Oliver easily neutralizing some truly ineffective motion-detecting machine guns was a pile of narrative shortcuts on top of some laughably bad action.
Glee’s Charlotte Ross gives it her all as Felicity’s mom Donna, and she wasn’t quite the slutty mom she could have been. It would have been so easy to have her brazenly flirt with Ray and Oliver. There was a considerable amount of exposition to be parsed from her dialogue with Felicity, but Ross and Rickards did a good job of coming off as a mother and daughter with a long history of in-fighting. Plus, her realization that Felicity knew not one but two billionaires was genuinely funny, and her entire scene meeting Oliver and Diggle was oddly delightful.
The Bad –
Why did it take so long for Felicity’s mom to mention the mystery e-mail which gave her the free ticket to Starling City? Also, didn’t it seem kind of like they lost track of who exactly was taking care of Sara when? Actually, it was supposed to be funny but came off as just odd that Oliver wouldn’t allow a baby in the Arrow Cave in the first place, but after that point when Felicity’s mom confronted her at Queen Consolidated I kept wondering, “Wait, where’s Sara?” Plus, as much as Rickards and Ross acted their asses off weren’t those emotional speeches they shared fairly cheesy?
Laurel, Not a Good District Attorney | They did so try to make this more than just the Felicity hour, but months from now you’re not likely to remember that this is the episode where Oliver and Thea decided to move in together and Laurel finally told Wildcat the true reason she wants to train. In fact, the more you can do to actively forget anything about the following Laurel story points the better: a) Somehow having no idea she was the acting district attorney in the event of the D.A.’s absence; b) Sending in a riot squad without even trying to contact her dad, the Captain of the police; c) Causing Oliver and Roy to show up and solve everything with trick arrows which emit tear gas. The best you can say about any of that is that it was mercifully short. Of course, if they didn’t have any of that you could criticize the episode for failing to illustrate the effect Brother Eye was having on the town, but, eh, they could have done a lot better than this. It was also nice to again seeing Paul Blackthorne being the patient, loving father, but wasn’t there a huge conflict of interest there for Captain Lance? Didn’t Laurel the acting D.A. just royally screw up, not just Laurel the grieving daughter?
Look At Those Abs, Thea – First of all, how has it been this long before Thea finally noticed and tried to open the door that leads to the Arrow Cave? That was an incredibly fun scene to have, although was she really buying Oliver’s excuse? Otherwise, it was interesting seeing Thea stand up to Oliver as well as superficially impressive to yet again see Willa Holland seriously rocking another belly shirt. Oliver tends to try to exert his will on others, and that Thea wasn’t going to hear it this time was cool. This was also another case where if you forget anything about prior episodes what happened made sense and was maybe effective, Oliver logically arguing any money she received from Malcolm was blood money. However, it’s a bit much seeing Oliver throw out stats about the number of people Malcolm’s killed when just last week he told the League of Assassins that Malcolm was under his protection. The intent was clearly to connect Thea/Oliver’s conflict to Felicity/Donna’s, and while I respect the effort I don’t know that it landed as much as they thought. Honestly, everything outside of Felicity, her mom, and the flashbacks just seemed to exist in that “I watched it, I’ll soon forget it” territory this week.
So much about this episode just seemed off, as if challenging you not to laugh at it. Here’s a big, spooky Eye thing, but don’t laugh when you realize it looks just like the Eye of Sauron. Here’s the big, spooky Eye thing addressing a crowded city street, but don’t laugh when you realize that as soon as it’s message is over everyone on the street other than Oliver seems to go right back to their normal business. Isn’t it cute of Oliver to tell Thea he showed up at Verdant to look after her since there was just a city-wide blackout, but don’t question why she doesn’t ask him where the hell he went to when that city-wide blackout first started, leaving her completely alone in her ridiculously spacious loft apartment. Isn’t it sweet of Oliver to counsel Felicity to see to her mother before worrying about the virus, but don’t laugh when we repeatedly cut back to show Oliver, Roy, and Diggle standing around Felicity’s computer, possibly having been standing there in silence for hours, examining Felicity’s computer screen like caveman first discovering fire. Yell “Girl power!” when our beloved Felicity kicks some ass, but don’t laugh when you realize how really stupid her villain was. And so on and so on.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Any time a show does a showcase episode for one its supporting characters your enjoyment is going to depend on whether or not you like that character or think that person is a good actor. Laurel had a big showcase episode last year, and if my comments section was any indication so many people hated it because in order to elevate Laurel the show made all the other characters take complete leave of their senses. Plus, some people just don’t think that Katie Cassidy can act. Now, the same is likely going to happen with “Secret Origin of Felicity Smoak.” Some will gleefully embrace it because, seriously, who can resist the joy of more Felicity Smoak? Others will admit they cringed (in a bad way) a little bit every time the episode called upon Emily Bett Rickards to cry. Personally, I am glad that they finally did get around to giving Felicity her big showcase, and that for now they’ve yet to go too comic book-y with her background (I’m still nervous about what they’ll do with her father). I just…I just couldn’t completely connect with this episode, though. Some of my criticisms are admittedly nitpicky in nature, but I would simply joke about those things if the episode had done enough to earn leniency. For example, maybe I’d forgive a predictable, weak villain and embrace Felicity’s mom if I didn’t also have to remember that dreadful sequence involving Roy and Oliver acting as crowd control. Maybe I’d be touched by the emotional connection between Oliver/Thea and Felicity/Donna if Oliver hadn’t been behaving like such a hypocrite about Malcolm. There was some good here, genuine enjoyment to be had. There just wasn’t enough of it.
1. Oliver’s mantra used to be “You have failed this city,” then it became something along the lines of, “So….about that one time on the island I never told you about, but now directly affects our lives,” and now it’s somehow become, “Are you okay?”
2. Next week: The Secret Reason Felicity Smoak Still Has Her Job After Taking So Many Personal Days In Her First 2 Weeks
3. I’m totally weird, right? – I don’t think Felicity has ever looked cuter than when she was just in her PJs and had her hair all curly while attempting to work out and completely wake up in the morning.
4. Felicity: “I don’t dress like a porn star.” – Holy crap, thank you Felicity. I couldn’t quite put my finger on how to best describe Charlotte Ross’ little-to-the-imagination blue dress
5. Did you think Felicity’s goth wig was terrible? Or not that bad? Or at least definitely better than Oliver’s during the season 1 flashbacks?
6. This is not my own joke, but Ray Palmer is officially becoming the human version of Hank Serpico (Albert Brooks), Homer Simpson’s ultra friendly one-time boss who turned out to be a Bond villain. Also, apparently his attempt to re-name Starling City Star City is dead now.
7. I’ve joked before about whether or not anyone gets tired of talking to Oliver’s back considering how often he turns his back to them while delivering his sad monologues. Well, now he got a taste of his own medicine as Felicity used that same exact trick on him at one point this episode.
8. “Do we even know a fraction of what happened to you on the island?” – Touché, Felicity.
9. Is anyone ditzy enough to be able to compose a text message without knowing how to actually send it? Either way, I did actually laugh at that.
10. Oh, btw, screw that “Roy dreams he killed Sara” ending. Seriously. Just screw it right in the ear. We’ll have time to discuss that more next episode.
AVClub.com – They gave it an B+, concluding, “The Secret Origin Of Felicity Smoak” is another strong entry for the season, mostly because it remains so difficult to resist the charms of a Felicity-centric episode. Indeed, as the show subtly adjusts her character to better function as the protagonist of a larger-than-life Arrow story, so too does the show shift a little in response to its heightened emphasis on Felicity.”
ScreenCrush.com – “Overall, “The Secret Origin of Felicity Smoak” won’t win any awards for upending the series, or drastically altering our perception of the title character, but still made for a strong episode in its own right, one we should feel lucky a 22-episode order allowed the time to explore. Apart from tight plotting and some resonant family emotions all around, Felicity just flat-out deserved the spotlight, and made a strong case for more stand-alone episodes down the line.”
TV.com – “It’s a testament to Rickards’ talent and the writers’ obvious glee in crafting Felicity’s dialogue that the character has been so successful as something other than a computer-related plot widget and romantic interest. That it took so long for Arrow to get around to fleshing her out should be troubling—Either way, while I wish it’d happened sooner, and in a more interesting episode, at least it finally happened.”
I’m done with my ramble. What about you?