Arrow: The Secret Origin of Felicity Smoak

Posted on November 06, 2014


Emily Bett Rickards in The CW’s “Arrow”


And now comes the Arrow review that will explain why we never do Arrow reviews and probably forever silence Arrow fans who keep asking us to review the show.

Hey, we’re just warning you now.

Oh, calm yourselves. It won’t be that bad. Walk with us.

There are two reasons, aside from Emily Bett Rickards considerable charm, that Felicity Smoak became such a popular character. The first is that she’s a nerd girl character on a show that enjoys a considerable number of nerdily inclined women comprising its audience, so she makes the perfect audience identification character. And the second is that she’s always been the light spot in a dark room full of brooding people. It’s reductive to call her “comic relief,” because we think she serves a more important function than merely getting a chuckle out of the audience. She actually does most of the work preventing the show from collapsing under the weight of its melodrama.

Arrow is a show that does adventure stories very well, has some of the best action scenes currently on television, and a cast that can be remarkably smooth and easy with each other when the material allows it. But it more often than not gets a bit up its own ass when it comes to the melodrama. It’s not just the insane and sometimes meaningless twists and turns of the plot, it’s the way the cast uniformly stands around heavy-browed, in pools of light, hoarsely whispering about said twists and turns. It’s a hallmark of the show and to be honest, we’ve always considered it fairly painful to watch. When the characters are bantering, we’re okay. When they’re grimly assessing the plot and their own emotional states while sounding like they could use a cough drop and a cup of tea, there aren’t enough eyerolls in the world. Even the best actors wouldn’t be able to make that material sound anything better than what it is: word balloons for cartoons. Stiffly and hoarsely conveyed.

Our point? As fun as it was to get an episode focused on Felicity and a filling-in of her backstory (including the revelation that she looks AMAZING with dark hair), we really didn’t want or need tearful scenes of Felicity dealing with her childhood issues or bad past boyfriends. It wasn’t the worst iteration of that kind of story we’ve ever seen, but it doesn’t play to Rickards’ or Felicity’s strengths to use her that way. It didn’t help that the stuff with her mom was such a cliche, right down to the tight dresses and the job as a waitress. The only thing that elevated the character was Charlotte Ross’s performance, which turned into something tired and knowing halfway through the episode, ditching the wide-eyed jiggling the script was asking of her for a more nuanced delivery that actually made Donna sound like a woman who’s much, much smarter than anyone realizes.

The whole Laurel arc is just so dumb. For one, Katie Cassidy is not a body actor. And by that we mean she doesn’t possess the kind of kinetic skills required to make her seem like a viable threat in a fight. We realize she was meant to look bad in those boxing scenes, but she has no physical presence whatsoever. But that doesn’t bother us nearly as much as the whole thing with her dad and her dead sister, which simply makes no sense to us at all. It’s drama for the sake of drama – and worse, it’s the kind of drama in which none of the participants act like recognizable human beings. We know where this is all going – she’ll try to become the Canary and eventually her father will find out everything – so it just feels like we’re waiting for the inevitable to play out.

We’re not particularly in love with the Thea arc either, because it requires that she act like a tired bitch all the time while Ollie pretends not to notice. And you really have to strain to accept that Ollie would live in an apartment paid for by Malcolm Merlyn’s money. Again, just as in the Laurel arc, we’re merely waiting for the other shoe to drop so we can get on with an actual story. Thea is eventually going to turn on Ollie to his enormous, melodramatic surprise. There’s just not a lot of tension in either of these arcs, which is why the last-second reveal that Roy may have been Sarah’s killer is a pretty good twist. We’re not convinced that Colton and his cheekbones are up to the task of carrying such a storyline, but we really hope it’s not a fakeout.


[Picture credit: Cate Cameron/The CW]

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