Arrow: The Rise and Fall of Felicity Smoak

arrow felicity smoak overwatch series 4 emily bett rickards olicity marc guggenheim wendy mericle anti hate criticism alex moreland

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?

arrow olicity felicity smoak oliver queen sunset series 3 cw dc stephen amell emily bett rickards marc guggenheim

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”.

arrow olicity wedding felicity smoak oliver queen stephen amell emily bett rickards series 4 fake wedding cupid marc guggenheim wendy mericle anti olicity

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.

This article was previously published on the Yahoo TV website.

Related:

Was Arrow Season 3 really that bad?

Vixen Series Review – Arrow’s Animated Adventure

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5 thoughts on “Arrow: The Rise and Fall of Felicity Smoak

  1. Despite the click-baiting title of this article, it does raise a few valid points.

    I have felt in moments with s4 where the writers failed Felicity’s characterisation: that they relied too much on having other characters say how great she is, rather showing how awesome she is; that the set up for her leaving the team was not done well, and made Felicity appear to not care about the work that gave her life such purpose; that the writers are sometimes are too wrapped-up in Felicity’s zingers that they forget that she can appear too glib for some people.

    The last two points though can cancel out Moreland’s claim that Felicity has no flaws as a character. Because the impulsiveness in her decision-making, her inappropriate and insensitve glibness, her attitude of lashing out sarcastically when she’s angry and upset? Those are flaws.

    Felicity is not perfect. Only people who never really delved into her character, or only appreciate her shallowly, would call her that.

    The other thing I agree with in this article is that Arrow would be better if the romance remains a subplot. Where Olicity has failed this season is when it was used to create unnecessary drama, instead of focusing on other aspects of the show to create drama and tension for the characters. And I look forward to Arrow correcting that soon.

    But this article would have been more credible, if it had gotten its facts straight:

    Felicity being “near universally reviled”? Back this claim up with facts. Because from my perspective, based on what I look at on the internet, Felicity is still very much loved. She’s still compelling. The quality of the discussions about her have become more nuanced – as her flaws and questionable decisions are given focus – but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

    Or did Moreland spend too much time in Arrow fandom spaces online teeming with misogynists and comic book fanatics who would run with any excuse to hate on a female character (you know, for not being the witty IT girl that’s crushing on the lead they’ve used as a replacement character for them), and have always seen Felicity as an “interloper” in Arrow who are using any excuse to spew hate on Felicity?

    Also, Felicity appeared in the third episode of the first season. Not the sixth. Any person who was a fan of the show would have known that. Because that appearance has been talked about at length in interviews with Stephen Amell, David Ramsey, and the show’s producers.

    Methinks, the writer did some cursory desktop research on Arrow, observed the most toxic Arrow spaces on the internet, looked at the anti-Felicity tag, and then wrote his piece. Not sure this writer is a true fan, ore really cared about Felicity Smoak as character.

    So, why is he writing about a show and a character he doesn’t care about?

    I have my own theories, but your guess is as good as mine.

    Like

    1. Makes me laugh to hear you refer to me as “Moreland”. I feel so professional, it’s great.

      First of all, and I will concede this is a little shallow of me – was the title that bad? I honestly thought it was decent. “Arrow – The Rise and Fall of Felicity Smoak”. Kind of evocative, you know?

      I’ve got a little excerpt from the article below, and I’ve bolded the part that I think is pertinent to this discussion:

      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”.

      This is following on from the analysis regarding the manner in which Felicity was valorised by the narrative; the operative term here is “ignoring”. What I’m arguing, essentially, is that the narrative never draws attention to or makes a point of the flaws that Felicity does have, such as “the impulsiveness in her decision-making, her inappropriate and insensitve glibness, her attitude of lashing out sarcastically when she’s angry and upset” aren’t ever acknowledged by the narrative.

      I mean, we’ve seen Oliver criticised for his lies. We’ve seen Laurel called out for her behaviour at times – I was always quite fond of this scene in the second season. (I won’t try to venture an episode number in case I mess it up again!) Of course, it doesn’t have to be a character explicitly calling out another, there are ways you can do this with far more subtlety. Thea’s early reckless behaviour is shown to be self destructive; Roy’s early attempts to be a vigilante can’t work because they’re fuelled by anger, and so on and so forth.

      There isn’t, to the best of my knowledge, any such moment for Felicity. I would like one; flaws are part of what makes a character compelling, I find, and I think Felicity deserves to be written in the same nuanced fashion. I always liked her character, and to an extent I still do – I’m just disappointed by the trajectory that her character arc has taken.

      This isn’t the only criticism you’ve brought up, so let’s get to those: I described Felicity as “near universally hated”, without providing citations for that. Fair enough – like I said in my response to your initial ask, I absolutely could have expanded on that. The sort of thing I had in mind was this recent Forbes article, which gained a lot of traction lately, some different pieces of online chatter I’ve seen on tumblr, reddit (more on that shortly) and twitter, as well as a few different reviews I’ve seen around the internet. Naturally, of course, it’s a lot more nuanced a situation than I presented it, but I was being hyperbolic.

      I do spend a lot of time on platforms like reddit, which I assume is what you have in mind; the tendency on the internet to err towards misogyny in situations like this does, in fact, make me deeply uncomfortable. Part of the reason why I wrote this article was an attempt to raise the bar of the criticism of Arrow – misogynistic insults being hurled at a female character are not helping anyone, not now and not ever.

      (I’m working on an article along those lines, incidentally; how does “Felicity and fandom” sound to you? I like the alliteration of the title.)

      I do also, however, try and look through the tumblr tags that are “pro Felicity”, as it were – less often, admittedly, but that’s because it’s more difficult to avoid spoilers on tumblr. (UK viewer, reddit is well categorised, I can never get xKit to work. Woe betide me, right?) There’s a lot of great, thoughtful stuff on tumblr; often I disagree with aspects of the articles, but I have a lot of respect for the people who write them, and I’m really glad that they’re enjoying Arrow and can appreciate Felicity’s character, even if I personally do not.

      As to whether or not I’m a “true fan” of the show – please, don’t resort to gatekeeping. I’m quite a big fan of Arrow; I binged the first two seasons around the time of S3 beginning, because I was just getting into The Flash, and then I waited for the S3 DVD to come out so I could binge that. (You know, making sure I gave the show financial support, etc etc.) I’ve been watching it live weekly during S4 though, and I’m going to stick with the show until it eventually ends.

      I do, however, lack an encyclopaedic knowledge of the show. I’d tried to use Wikipedia summaries to figure out which was Felicity’s first episode; from the way they were written, I incorrectly inferred that it was the sixth episode. As many people have pointed out, that was mistaken; I’ve changed it now, in the hopes that perhaps people will engage with the arguments I’ve made, as opposed to dismissing me because of a minor clerical error. (Though I find it ironic you proceeded to misquote me multiple times, saying I called Felicity “universally reviled”.)

      This does not invalidate any of my arguments. That does not mean I somehow lack the right to have an opinion about a program I watch every week, and have been watching for several years at this point.

      I don’t appreciate the suggestion you’re making – i.e. that I’m just some dodgy hack writer, with no passion or investment in what I write about. You’re going as far as to say you’ve got “theories” about me, and inviting people to speculate as to my professionalism, which I actually find a little rude, and I think undercuts the general tone of the discussion being had. (Though I suppose it may not have been open for me to join in and respond, actually. Ah well.)

      Arrow is a program I quite enjoy. I used to enjoy it a lot more; I feel like it’s gone downhill. If I didn’t care about it, I wouldn’t write about it. My criticisms are borne from that – this show matters to me, and that is why I want it to be better.

      In the early seasons, Felicity was one of my favourite characters; that is why I have been disappointed with the show of late.

      Thank you for taking the time to discuss this with me.

      Like

      1. Thank you for the response. I really appreciate it. More so, because you did not dismiss my feedback on your article at all, and felt like you wanted to continue discussing it. I appreciate your honesty as well.

        Let’s get the nasty business out of the way first. I did deliberately imply that you a “dodgy hack writer, with no passion or investment in what I write about”, and yes that was rude on my part. Deliberately passive-aggressively, as well, I have to admit. There have been a few instances in my fandom experience where posts with reasonable, seemingly rational tones made it to the tags I follow (#Felicity Smoak, #Olicity) to try to convince the Arrow fandom to agreeing with their hatred of the character and the ship. And I admit, I held on to that experience, that paranoia, as I read your post.

        And it was because your hyperbolic intent when you wrote, “Now, she’s near universally hated,” went over my head. It was presented as if it were a fact. As it were undeniable. As if it didn’t just represent a section of the Arrow fandom. That line coloured my reading of your entire post, even as I agreed with the points you were raising in it. Because it made it look like you represented that section of the fandom who hates Felicity but you were trying a different approach (a well-thought out, reasonable-sounding method) in trying to convince the rest of the fandom to join in your hatred of Felicity Smoak.

        The error in your opening sentence only served to strengthen the doubt and the paranoia about your intent in publishing that post about Felicity.

        I do apologise for insulting you that way – and for being deliberately, and passive-aggressively, offending you and your work. I hope you accept my apology.

        —–

        There are two more things I want to address here:

        “This is following on from the analysis regarding the manner in which Felicity was valorised by the narrative; the operative term here is “ignoring”. What I’m arguing, essentially, is that the narrative never draws attention to or makes a point of the flaws that Felicity does have, such as “the impulsiveness in her decision-making, her inappropriate and insensitve glibness, her attitude of lashing out sarcastically when she’s angry and upset” aren’t ever acknowledged by the narrative.”

        This makes some Felicity fans hate me, but I have made the same point quite often as well – especially in Season 4.

        It’s as if the writers have this need to make the main love interest of the lead flawless. They did the same to Laurel in Season 1 (and in Season 4, in preparation for her death). They are now doing it with Felicity, unfortunately.

        On the topic of Felicity’s strength, and having the other characters speak of it so much in this season, I do agree with what you’ve said about it. But at the same time, Felicity’s strength and heroism was never actually acknowledged before this season. Not literally and verbally. Not when she volunteered to stay behind the Arrow lair in Season 1 during an earthquake. Not when she deliberately allowed herself to be Oliver’s Trojan Horse against Slade. Not when she donned on the ATOM suit to save Oliver. Not when she used her skills every night to provide support for the team.

        The subtlety in how the writers have showed Felicity’s strength over the last previous seasons, how they never had anyone verbalise it, seem to have gone over the heads of a lot media people. In the 2015 SDCC everyone kept asking Emily Bett Rickards about when Felicity was going to become a hero and get a mask (a question that looked like it offended the actress, but to which she had the best responses).

        It’s as if Felicity’s strength, heroism and bravery was so easily dismissed because she wasn’t wearing leather and a mask and fighting out in the streets every night. No one was getting it. At least not the media, or many of the fanboy bloggers (Tumblr is another space entirely. Most of the people here got it).

        So what did the writers do? They are now overcompensating for it. They don’t want a doubt in anyone’s mind that Felicity Smoak is a strong, brave and heroic character. Could they have been more subtle about this? Absolutely.

        But in this instance, on the topic of Felicity Smoak’s strength, because she’s never going to get a mask, perhaps the writers felt that they needed to hit everyone’s head with it. Over and over again.

        Lastly, I have a question for you. Do you think that your views on Felicity is affected by you watching Season 4 live every week? You admitted that you binge-watched the first two seasons, after getting into Arrow in the middle of the 3rd (so I assumed you binge-watching included Season 3 as well). Binge-watching an entire season is a different experience than watching it live. Because when you watch a season in its entirety in one go, you see the story and the character arcs as whole. Whereas, watching a show live, every week, a viewer has to react on a weekly basis and make judgments about story and character arcs when they’re incomplete.

        I’m not trying to discount or invalidate your arguments, but perhaps this new experience that you have of watching the show live this season, analysing Felicity piecemeal before her trajectory for this season is even over, might be affecting how you see her.

        Anyway thanks for continuing with the discussion.

        Like

  2. Hello there, I’m really digging at how you tackled this topic. You were very polite and did well to not be dismissive of another person’s view. It’s unfortunate that the ones that respond to you always attack you on the two flaws in your article – the hyperbole and the mistaken listing of Felicity’s first appearance.

    outoftheclosetshipper’s passive aggressive behavior was quite disconcerting to see. Despite asking you to back up your claim on the hyperbole you have made, he/she refused to do so as well. Rather than giving any figures, the closetshipper resorted to throwing a jab at you instead. Furthermore, the closershipper did not proceed to explain why he/she finds Felicity to still be a compelling character. Rather, the closershipper decided that it would be more “wise” to accuse you of messing around in places full of misogynists and comic book fanatics. That was a real low-blow. Really really uncalled for. Also, as a fan of the show myself (though not a hardcore one), I couldn’t remember when did Felicity Smoak first appeared on Arrow. Heck, if you ask me the order of appearance of the Flash’s characters, I wouldn’t be able to tell you at all (even though I love the show so bad)!

    I’ve read both your article and your response here (I’ll continue to read more). You have not resorted to accusing the Felicity fandom of anything. No name calling. No hurling insults. Just that you don’t particularly agree with the direction the show is heading or how Felicity is written. I loved that you remain collected and respectful despite the amount of accusations and insults hurled at you. I hope that the next time someone engages you in a discussion regarding your article again, they would at least have some decency to not include personal attacks. If it’s me, I wouldn’t even bother responding if the other party refuses to stop psychological projecting themselves onto me and being absolutely rude.

    Once again, your article was a great read!

    Like

    1. Hey, thank you very much for the kind words, I appreciate them.

      I admit, I was quite disappointed by the tone of outoftheclosetshipper’s first post, but I’ve since spoken to them some more; we’ve essentially cleared the whole thing up now. (Well, they’ve apologised; I haven’t finished writing up my reply, but at this point I consider it water under the bridge really.)

      Still, for every passive aggressive response, there’s been people complimenting the article in general, and saying some very nice things about my work – yourself included. So, again, thank you!

      Like

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