Arrow TV Reviews

Arrow Gets Under Its Relationship Problems in, Um, “Underneath”…Oh, I See What They Did There

How has it taken Arrow this long to finally have a scene where Oliver tries to teach Felicity how to use the salmon ladder? It’s the kind of scene that, in retrospect, has always been there waiting to happen; the writers just needed the perfect scenario to bring it forth. Turns out, that perfect scenario was Adrian trapping Oliver and Felicity in the Arrowcave, forcing them to hash out their problems while also flashing back to that one time 11 months ago when they engaged in some much-delayed break-up sex. That scene alone doesn’t make “Underneath” great, but it sure helps and will likely be the one scene people remember from the episodes months from now (at the very least, it will live on in GIF form).

Either way, “Underneath” is a surprisingly fantastic episode, a claustrophobic thriller in bottle episode form with mature character developments and competent support from the new recruits. Moreover, it addresses all of the issues I objected to in last week’s episode. Annoyed at Diggle’s hypocracy? So is Lyla! And this week she confidently argues her viewpoint and forces him to admit how full of shit he’s been. Desperate for Oliver and Felicity to finally have an actual adult, non-contrived conversation about not just their break-up but also their lingering tension and recent hostilities, or for Felicity to at least remember the name of her dead ex-boyfriend whose death so directly informed her descend into vengeance-seeking against Chase? “Underneath” has all of that in spades.

Since “Underneath” is Arrow’s attempt to make up for its epic mishandling of Oliver and Felicity’s break-up last season I thought it prudent to look back on how fans reacted to those episodes, specifically “Taken” and “Broken Hearts.” I mean, I remember how I reacted to them, but if Arrow is taking an entire episode to finally have the “truly, why did we break up?” Olicity conversation it’s likely because the writers experienced a bout of critical self-reflection in response to resoundingly negative fan response. So, what exactly were fans saying back when Felicity walked out on Oliver literally the second she regained her ability to walk?

Well, not much because everyone was so busy belly laughing at the utter absurdity and soapiness of it all. Beyond that, the response was mostly one of extreme frustration, at least based on the sprawling comments sections of the pertinent AVClub episode reviews. I found endless exchanges debating who was right – Oliver or Felicity? – but a consensus opinion that the writers were the real ones to blame for having put the characters in such an asinine situation to begin with. As one commenter hilariously summarized:

Because what’s more CW than a paralyzed person using her newly healed / mobile legs to walk out on the fiance she literally just dumped for lying to her about an illegitimate child he had while cheating on his current physically capable crimefighting partner, back when he was just a billionaire douchebag?

Many were quick to pile on Felicity for seeming unreasonable or overly harsh or for simply being far too present in the show’s storylines, but others rose to her defense, toeing the “this characters deserves better than this” line, as argued in the following comment in response to the “Broken Hearts” (aka, when Cupid forced Oliver and Felicity into having their wedding despite the break-up) review:

I hated this episode. With a fiery passion. Like the great Ms. White once said in ‘Clue’: “flames, flames, on the side of face … burning …” It was an assault on Felicity. She wasn’t given one scene outside of Oliver, or anyone’s support, her POV went straight to the Comic Mary Sue trope of you “we can’t be together because you’re a complicated superhero,” and they wrote her as just as jaded and shrill as Cupid. No wonder she’s becoming a target for the fans. It just sucks. She doesn’t deserve this.

Well, here’s Felicity in “Underneath” clearly and confidently explaining her POV: Oliver doesn’t trust her. In fact, because of who he is and the experiences he’s had he doesn’t truly trust anyone, and while she can stomach that as his partner-in-vigilantism she retains the right to demand more from a spouse (not that she has a clean record of that herself considering the secrets she kept from Billy). The episode even amusingly has Oliver proving her point by failing to listen to her advice, heading into a clearly booby-trapped elevator, nearly falling to his death and having to eat crow when Felicity serves up a well-earned “toldyaso” followed by a “but I supported your decision because I trust you, a courtesy you refuse to return.” Ouch.

This is still Arrow, though. It’s still Oliver’s show meaning everything inevitably comes back to him, and in this case Felicity’s airing of grievances forces him to admit she’s more right than she realizes. His predictably hypocritical “don’t be like me” objections are given a new dimension post-Chase in that he now no longer even trusts himself or his own instincts. Chase is clearly in his head, and Felicity begins the process of pulling him out of it since she’s the first person he’s told about what Chase led him to believe.

That’s perhaps what I liked most about “Underneath.” It’s not just that Oliver and Felicity finally had a mature conversation about their break-up, or that it was so fun watching Felicity try and fail on the salmon ladder. It wasn’t even the beautiful bits of small comedy from Stephen Amell, such as his joy in saying “it’s like a chin-up with a flourish at the end” or confused, but accepting reaction to Felicity’s explanation of the sudden shot of adrenaline in his chest. No, it’s that in “Underneath” the women called the men on their shit, Lyla showing how little time she has for Diggle’s stubbornness and Felicity refusing to let Oliver submit to self-doubt.

But, yeah, that salmon ladder scene certainly didn’t hurt.


  1. As one very excited Arrow fan reminded me at PlanetComicon in Kansas City this weekend, Stephen Amell will be on American Ninja Warrior later this month. Do you think they will make him carry Emily Rickards around Yoda-style like he does in this episode? Because that would certainly make his American Ninja-ing more impressive.
  2. I’m with Quentin – I’ve had just about enough of Rene calling people “Hoz.”
  3. How many episodes have ended with Oliver being the one in the hospital bed discussing the emotional fallout of everything that just went down? It seems like everyone else in the cast save maybe Diggle have been in that position multiple times, but not so much for Oliver.
  4. I like Curtis, really I do, but his diarrhea of the mouth shtick has been wearing thin lately. The writers have been employing it far too aggressively to lighten the mood. It was more bearable this episode, though, mostly because his jokes were funnier.
  5. Random thought – there was once a character named Rory Regan on this show. We didn’t just make that up. He was friends with everyone. Feels like so long ago.
  6. Felicity used a Star Wars reference to describe the Terrific device. I shouldn’t object, what with this being May the 4th and all, but come on – it clearly looks more like a Phantasm sphere.
  7. In the larger scale of things, “Underneath” is either the perfect end to Olicity, or a door-opening to a potential reunion. Time will tell.

What did you think of “Underneath”? Was it bloody stupid, and I’m so wrong – so wrong that you have to say “so wrong” like Noomi Rapace in Prometheus? Or was all that and a bag of chips? Let me know in the comments.


    1. Phantasm immediately came to my mind. I’m surprised it didn’t for Felicity, but she doesn’t really make as many pop culture references as we might think. That’s more Cisco’s thing, and then he brings it out of her during crossovers. Otherwise, it’s mildly surprisingly at this point for her to make as direct a pop culture reference as “That looks like the interrogation droid from Star Wars,” at least it was for me. Maybe she can be forgiven then for not getting that Phantasm is the better reference because although she’s a hacker extraordinaire she’s not necessarily a hardcore nerd.

      Imagine the nerddom if she’d made the obvious Phantasm reference and Curtis joked back “Boy!” That would have been hilarious…for the 12 of us who would have gotten it.

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