In the third episode of Arrow’s first season, we were introduced to one Felicity Smoak; an IT support girl at Queen Industries, she was initially intended as a one episode character who would provide a little bit of tech-related exposition before never really being seen again.
Despite these initial intentions, however, the character was revisited; the primary reason was that the Arrow cast and crew quite liked Emily Bett Rickards, who played Felicity. They weren’t alone in this, of course, as the character became something of a fan favourite.
Felicity was soon bumped up to a season regular, and had become a key member of the Arrow cast. She remained a fan favourite, of course; the third season saw a Felicity-centric episode, The Secret Origin of Felicity Smoak, which contained flashbacks to Felicity’s college days, and introduced her mother, Donna.
For quite some time, Felicity was everyone’s favourite character. She could do no wrong. The audiences loved her.
Now, she’s near universally hated.
So what changed?
It’s easy, of course, to blame it on “Olicity” – that’s the name used to refer to the relationship between Oliver and Felicity, which developed across the third season, and… was complicated, we’ll say, during the fourth.
Easy, but not entirely accurate, that is.
In theory, there’s little wrong with developing a relationship between Oliver and Felicity; certainly, in the early seasons, the pair had chemistry together, and that’s part of why the character of Felicity was so popular. Certainly, had it been written well, you likely could have convincingly depicted a relationship between Oliver and nearly anyone on his team – how different things would have been had we got “Oliggle”!
But the operative term of the sentence – “had it been written well” – is essentially the embodiment of the issue. Olicity is not well written. Felicity, of late, has not been very well written. Frankly, Arrow of late has not been very well written.
The problems here are twofold: one is a matter of emphasis, the other of contrivance.
The first problem, and arguably the greater of the pair, is the manner in which Felicity is treated by the narrative. Felicity is valorised by the narrative; constantly, we are told that she is great and strong and powerful, with nearly every other character having some dialogue about how wonderful she is. (Diggle in particular has fallen foul to this of late.) Obviously, on a surface level, this is just particularly unsubtle writing; the old maxim of “show don’t tell” is one which springs to mind in this instance.
More than that, though, is the fact that this narrative lacks any form of balance – given how insistent Arrow has become in beating the audience over the head with constant references to how great she is, there is rarely any acknowledgement of her character flaws. A good example of this is 4×16 Broken Hearts, in which Felicity is constantly sniping and making cruel digs at Oliver – but rather than her being criticised for this, Oliver is told simply to give her time.
Through not allowing Felicity to have character flaws (or, at least, ignoring the ones she does have) Arrow has fallen into the pitfall of a giving us a very superficial and shallow “strong female character” – as opposed to “strong” meaning well rounded, three dimensional and nuanced, a more literal interpretation of “strong” has been pursued, hence Felicity being shown as infallible and literally described as “strong”.
The other problem (albeit one linked to the former) is that much of the drama surrounding Olicity is extremely contrived and very poorly written. A recent example of this was Felicity regaining the ability to walk, so that she could then walk out on Oliver, due to the fact he’d been lying about her – entirely ignoring the fact that, of course, she’d spent the episode prior trying to convince her mother that people in relationships can lie to each other if they love one another enough. It’s astonishing, really, how much Arrow is reliant on the use of lies and deception to further their plot; it’s as if the writers know of no other form of communication.
(Incidentally, on the matter of Felicity’s paralysis; it would take an entire post to properly break down the failings within this arc, as opposed to a single aside within a larger post, so I likely shall return to this subject in the future. For now, though, I think it’s important to note that this six episode paralysis arc was not only poorly written, but was so poorly handled as to be bad representation and quite disrespectful as well.)
You end up getting the indication that those involved with the show perhaps just aren’t very good at writing romantic arcs – except, then, how does that explain Diggle and Lyla, or Roy and Thea? Both of those stories were reasonably successful, and have added a lot to the respective characters.
The answer, then, is that the writers aren’t very good at writing a romance when they feel it needs to be the focus of the story; Diggle & Lyla and Roy & Thea were always subplots, forming part of something larger. Here, with ‘Olicity’, it takes centre stage – largely at the expense of other characters, who recieve limited screentime as a result of this.
Laughably, though, this brings up back around to the beginning – not just of this article, but of Arrow. We established earlier that Felicity became a fan favourite character – part of that was because fans were responding so poorly to the character of Laurel, and her romantic plotline with Oliver. That, in part, is why Felicity was written as the main love interest, with Laurel being simply a close friend of Oliver’s – and when “reduced” to this role, the character began to thrive.
At a remove from the program, it’s actually quite interesting to watch this all unfold; I don’t think I’ve ever really seen a character plummet from such heights to such depths before. Certainly, I can’t think of any fan favourite character who became quite so reviled so quickly – can anyone?
But, ultimately, within the program itself, it’s very disappointing. Arrow is far from its glory days, and it’s questionable as to whether it’ll ever really emerge from the shadow of its former self. The blame can’t be placed on Felicity, not really, nor Emily Bett Rickards; she’s a competent actress, and a very nice person as well. She deserves better material to work with than what she’s getting.
No, the real problem lies with the writers, who are struggling to bring any sort of coherent emotional or thematic arc to Arrow, or to their lead characters.
The writers of Arrow… have failed Felicity Smoak.