‘Arrow’ Review: “The Secret Origin of Felicity Smoak”
‘Arrow’ season 3 lets loose its fifth installment of the year with "The Secret Origin of Felicity Smoak,” as the arrival of her mother and a virus threatening the city hearken back to Felicity's past as an MIT graduate hacker, while Laurel continues her training with boxer Ted "Wildcat" Grant (J.R. Ramirez), and Oliver clashes with Thea over Malcolm Merlyn.
Last week's installment “The Magician” saw Oliver learning of Malcolm Merlyn's survival from Nyssa al Ghul (Katrina Law), threatening to break his "no killing" rule in the process, as well as bringing him into conflict with the deadly Ra's al Ghul (Matt Nable), so what does the fifth episode of ‘Arrow’ season 3 bring? Can Oliver be both himself and the 'Arrow' vigilante?
Read on for your in-depth review of everything you need to know about ‘Arrow’ season 3, episode 5, “The Secret Origin of Felicity Smoak!”
Felicity Smoak is a fascinating case study in writers discovering unanticipated character strengths, yet occasionally remaining noncommittal about their inclusion. Originally slotted as a one-off guest role, Emily Bett Rickards quickly became a favorite of the writers and fans alike, and was smartly elevated to the core cast in season 2. Chemistry between she and Stephen Amell’s Oliver grew undeniable, to the point their bond drastically shaped the storytelling of the season 2 finale, and season 3 even picked up with a brief exploration of their romantic potential.
And yet, because *destiny* ascribes that Oliver Queen must end up with a Canary, the show has largely pivoted around Felicity and Oliver’s relationship whenever possible, even keeping Felicity out of the action as one of the few characters not to gain a strong physical power by virtue of the time spent in the so-called lair. That’s certainly okay at least, as we like the bubbly, awkward Felicity more-so than we’d probably like a stoic warrior Felicity, but all the same, it was about damn time Oliver Queen’s IT gal got the spotlight for being so, so much more than that.
“The Secret Origin of Felicity Smoak” by its design operates among the more standalone ‘Arrow’ episodes, and won’t bring the attention of Ra’s al Ghul or identify Sara’s killer (more on that later) any time soon, but still deftly maneuvers around the problems of previous one-off episodes with a stronger focus on character. Take for instance the introduction of Charlotte Ross as Felicity’s cartoonishly attractive mother, or Felicity’s stock “goth hacker” past at MIT, two fairly broad strokes in principle that end up much better in their execution than they might look on paper. Charlotte Ross managed to add a surprising amount of depth to the hard-worn mother, given the character’s somewhat ditzy demeanor, and certainly helped shade in some of the similarities and differences between she and Felicity that go far beyond appearance. We still don’t know much about Felicity’s father, and the MIT flashbacks proved largely functional in setting up the “supervirus” plot, but Rickards gave just the right amount of vulnerability and determination in having both family and past sins pulling from either direction.
The nice thing about getting to explore Felicity’s origins beyond what we’ve heard in exposition, was to see that the character always had something of a heroically badass streak, even if the show itself tends to keep her behind a desk, or use as someone for villains to threaten as plot demands. I especially liked that Felicity more or less saved herself, despite Oliver’s presence, and later steered the moment away from romantic sentiment once Oliver assured her of her value, past and present. Season 3 hasn’t quite picked up the “Olicity” ball after Sara’s death, but here it was nice to see that she isn’t waiting around for the next time Oliver offers a heart-to-heart in the lair, nor necessarily falling for any of Ray Palmer’s charmingly bizarre behavior.
Oliver meanwhile had his hands full with Thea accepting money from Malcolm’s estate in her new apartment, an especially grey compromise, given that Queen wealth is no longer what it once was. The B-stories of Oliver and Thea’s strained relationship have still proven nonetheless effective this year, as while it’s clear that Malcolm and his daughter are plotting some nefarious ends around Oliver, Willa Holland brings just enough genuine warmth to the brother-sister interactions that the thread occupies its own intriguingly ambiguous web. Thea’s duplicity also nicely ties into the season’s overall exploration of identity, as she assures Oliver that she knows who she is, Queen or Merlyn be damned, and that he too should find the right places to compromise between dualities.
Even the C-story came out pretty ahead this week, as while I’m continually saddened by the sidelining of Paul Blackthorne’s Quentin, Laurel’s grief feels far less perfunctory this year, and not solely by her inclusion on Team Arrow or knowledge of Sara’s death. Laurel doesn’t have the same outlets to vent or share her grief the way Oliver and company have, and her impulsiveness with the bank riot leads to an effective, if simplistic turn toward bringing Ted Grant in on her pain. We haven’t quite spent enough time with Laurel’s boxing guru to get any kind of effective read on the character, though clearly Ted values teaching in way that Laurel’s admission demonstrably affects their ability to train together.
Of course, as tends to be the case with ‘Arrow’’s standalone hours, the actual villainy fell somewhat short with the predictable reveal that Felicity’s ex Cooper Seldon (‘Glee’’s Nolan Funk) had faked his suicide in prison, and gone to work undercover with the NSA for the last five years. The flashbacks’ inclusion of Cooper’s roommate Myron seemed largely to set up a red herring of the “Brother Eye” virus’ ultimate reveal, but in spite of Myron’s weak reference of having shared the code with friends years earlier, there weren’t many other alternatives beside a still-living Cooper that would dramatically fit.
It also didn’t quite resonate that Cooper would have become so “disgusted” by Felicity’s new corporate job that he’d plan an elaborate revenge heist upon gaining his freedom from the NSA, though we’re mainly meant to handwave it way by the usual stock craziness, and talk of his own five-year “crucible” destroying his perception of humanity. At the very least, the inclusion of Ray Palmer’s smart watch, as well the reveal that Cooper had arranged Felicity’s mother’s visit as collateral well-utilized the lingering pieces of the hour, displaying an intelligence that Oliver dancing around some motion-sensor machine guns in the climax just couldn’t quite live up to.
Obviously, we’ve avoided talk of the episode’s majorly revealing coda, in which Roy seemingly remembers being the one to kill Sara on the rooftop, though we have to imagine the series has a larger plan in mind for the mystery than a simple repressed memory, so we’ll avoid putting any stock in that just yet. 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.
AND ANOTHER THING...
- Wonderful training montage that kicked off the hour tonight, not only to remind everyone of the different dynamics, but strike a comedic note with Felicity's own morning routine, and all its subsequent invasions.
- Of course, we hit a new high for TV techno-wizardry tonight, but it's all Greek to me!
- I'm not going to say that the "Brother Eye" symbol looked like a...uh...eye. It looked like an eye.
- I caught Cooper's Starro shirt, what other DC easter eggs did everyone else find?
- Also, Cooper and flashback Felicity apparently hang out at the 'Fringe' alternate universe headquarters.
- Sooner or later, someone needs to bring up Thea's recent obsession with belly shirts.
- We know how much Ray likes Felicity on his own, but she's very much pushing it with the work absences, no?
- Alright, so assuming there's any chance Roy really did kill Sara, what are we thinking? League brainwashing? Lingering Mirakuru effects?
Well, what say you? Did ‘Arrow’ hit the mark with its fifth season 3 installment? How did you feel about the revelations of Felicity's past? Give us your thoughts in the comments, and check back next week for our review of ‘Arrow’ season 3's latest, “Guilty” on The CW!