Arrow’s Problem is Not Felicity

(Author’s Note: Some minor spoilers for Season Four and Season One of Arrow)

So, Valentine’s Day was a recent thing. In honour of the day that’s ostensibly all about love, I thought I’d talk about fictional character’s relationships. With that said, Arrow.

So, Arrow is a show on the CW following the exploits of Oliver Queen who moonlights as the Green Arrow. The show is in its fifth season this year and has spawned a whole mini TV universe. It is perhaps the most successful screen adaptation of the DC Universe in the current age. It’s good. TV is in some ways the perfect medium for comics. Movies can only periodically check up on heroes so they can have a habit of rapidly developing relationships between movies (see: Bruce and Natasha in Age of Ultron) or characters can stagnate (see: nearly every Batman movie ever).

On TV, you can use a full Rogues’ gallery(though Arrow does borrow Batman’s lesser known Rogues’ more often than one would like) and develop characters over time. Oliver’s change as a character feels much better than anything the DCCU has attempted because he changes subtly over the course of each year. It’s easier to do well-rounded characters on TV. Nowhere is this clearer than Arrow.

If you talk to anyone who watches Arrow there’s a generally established consensus on the quality of the seasons (From best to worst: 2, 3, 5, 4, 1). Some might switch seasons Four and One around in that ordering. I’d personally swap Two and Three, but that’s just me. Generally, though Season One of Arrow is regarded as the sort of red headed step child of Arrow as a series. Some fans might even suggest skipping it entirely if you’re entering the series for the first time. Season One suffers from Early Installment Weirdness, with the show very much Growing the Beard in Season Two. I think Season One has some redeeming elements (the flashbacks, Tommy Merlyn, establishing Oliver as a killer, Quentin Lance as a semi-antagonist). All those elements make Season One an odd, but stable foundation upon which the rest of Arrow is built.

However, there is one thing that Season One rather dropped the ball on. Season One tried to establish Laurel Lance as Oliver’s love interest going forward. For some context, in the comics, Dinah Lance is the Black Canary (and Laurel’s full name in this series is Dinah Laurel Lance so it’s very much the same character), and she and the Green Arrow are often romantically paired. They were also romantically paired in the DC Animated Universe which was many people of my age’s jumping-on point for the DC Universe as a whole (Myself, somewhat included). Anyway, the dynamic in Season One was that Laurel and Oliver were ex-lovers before he was stranded on an island for five years and returned as the sole survivor. Also, during the tragic boat accident that stranded him, he snuck aboard Laurel’s sister and was having an affair with her. So, there’s some animosity there. On top of that, when Oliver returns Laurel is dating his best friend Tommy. It’s a pretty typical CW love triangle, and indeed Season One of Arrow was very much a very CW show.

Anyway, at the end of Season One, Oliver and Laurel sleep together, seeming to rekindle their lost love. However, it’s worth noting that all the above stuff still happened. If I was Laurel, I’d run far away. If I were Oliver, I’d burn that romantic bridge. The show sort of gives Oliver a free pass for all the wrong he did in this relationship. Fortunately, Season Two took a steady turn and decided to abandon the Laurel/Oliver romance (This will be important later, this relationship was declared DOA near the dawn of Season Two). (For an alternate take on this, the Mary Sue has this wonderful article, full of spoilers I should warn).

Throughout all of this, however, there was Oliver’s burgeoning relationship with another supporting character, Felicity Smoak. As far as I’m aware, Felicity was created solely for the show. As was ongoing character, John Diggle. Over the course of Season One, Oliver, John, and Felicity form a pretty stable crime fighting team that has remained the bedrock of Oliver’s crime-fighting ever since. John Diggle, from what I’ve seen, is a pretty well liked original character amongst the fans. Felicity? She gets a bit of hate. Felicity is tech support for the team and as the series has gone her tech powers only grow in reputation. I’m speculating here but I think people tend to label Felicity as a Mary Sue for her tech powers because they know computers, and her powers are far easier to debunk than Oliver or John’s combat prowess. There’s a lot in this. Female characters have to tread a finer line to seem realistic than male characters by a fan base I’ve found. (Those familiar with Arrow predecessor Smallville may remember Chloe Sullivan who similarly was an original character created as tech support who had an ongoing romantic dynamic with the main hero, she was however eventually superseded in the romantic leagues by Clark’s comic book love interest Lois Lane).

Anyway, as Season Two ramped up there seemed to be a romantic relationship building between Oliver and Felicity. It seemed to supersede the previous attempt to make Laurel Oliver’s love interest. Now if you were watching Felicity this relationship seemed obvious. Oliver as a character tends to be a bit too self-involved in his own brooding to notice stuff like this but he did eventually and their relationship began to build. The vitriol for that relationship and Felicity herself is palpable in certain comment sections across the web. I, personally, am in favour of the relationship. Arrow as a show is largely about Oliver resisting the darkness of the things he’s done. John and Felicity serve an ongoing to pull him out of the darkness. That is when Arrow is at its best. Some people, however, don’t agree with me. They don’t care about well-rounded characters or interesting thematic concerns. They bemoan the loss of Laurel/Oliver’s Season One relationship and wish death upon the character of Felicity.

This discourse is strongest when it comes to Season Four of Arrow. Season 4 is generally considered the most lacking season following the show’s Growing of the Beard. I agree, but it’s a far margin better than Season One. Many point to the centralising of Felicity in the narrative as the reason for Season Four’s decline, or the use of magical villain Damian Darhk. I disagree on both counts. I’ll explain my actual issue in a second, but first, context.

Arrow since its inception has used ‘flashbacks’ to cut between two periods of Oliver’s life. There’s the modern plot and then there are the sojourns to the past. Season One chronicles Oliver’s first year on the island, Season Two his second, and so on. These flashbacks are the glue that holds Arrow together and allows Oliver to have encountered characters before without retconning anything. The flashbacks generally elevate the series. In Season Four, they do not. Towards the end of Season Four, it is revealed that the villain has a mystical artefact that gives him powers. It is then revealed that Oliver confronted this artefact in his time on the island and it had disastrous consequences. This subplot in the past stretches believability a bit. It makes you realise you’re watching a show. Instead of functioning as a thematic mirror for the current crisis it serves as backstory for this artefact. It doesn’t gel and then that shoots the structure of Season Four in the foot. It’s kind of the inverse of Season One. Season One’s modern plot was lacklustre while its flashback story was on point. This is what I think Arrow Season Four’s problem is. Not Felicity, and if I’m honest, it’s kind of shitty that people put so much shit on the shoulders of female characters. Can you think of other examples where a female character was blamed for the downfall of a series? Let me know.

 

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