TV and comic books are both uniquely built to surprise. Sometimes, a character meant to be minor has such a profound affect on the overarching narrative that they end up becoming a bigger part of it than originally planned. So meet Felicity Smoak, a nervous, chatty, but obviously talented IT girl working at Queen Consolidated. Since Oliver Queen and his “something else” secret identity occasionally need advanced technical support, she’s the one he went to, and imbued with charm by Emily Bett Rickards, it didn’t take long for the Arrow producers to realize that they had something, or someone, special. Now, completing Felicity’s rise from day player to central figure of the show, she gets her own origin story, “The Secret Origin of Felicity Smoak.”
Now so far as “secret origins” go, Felicity’s is a story told several times before. Ms. Smoak was a college counterculturist, a hacktivist, and she was in love with a man named Cooper. Cooper had ambition, but he was not as talented as Felicity, which is why he used a virus she designed to attempt to erase the debt of every college student with a loan. The FBI didn’t like that altruism, and arrested Coop, who later committed suicide in prison while awaiting trial. His death prompted Felicity to stop dressing like Kenzi from Lost Girl, and become the fine, upstanding and blonde Ms. Smoak that we know today.
In the present, Starling City is being threatened by “Brother Eye,” a hacktivist that turns out the city’s lights and then threatens to empty its banks. Felicity recognizes her handiwork in the computer attack, and from there it’s a rather simple guess as to who Brother Eye is, and it’s not Maxwell Lord. Of course, the mystery of Brother Eye isn’t the driving force of the episode, and neither is Coop’s underlying motivations which amounts to nothing more than an armored truck robbery. The question of the night is how the buttoned-up genius of Felicity comes from the cocktail dressed and high-heeled Donna Smoak?
Charlotte Ross injects a lot of life in Donna, and immediately comes across as a loving though misguided mother figure, but aside from one stray live about Felicity’s mom being a cocktail waitress, we really knew nothing about Donna coming in to this week’s episode. That’s problematic because there’s a lot of tension between mother and daughter that was never really built up when it explodes about half through the episode. What was it about her mom and her sudden arrival that sets Felicity off, especially since no sooner does she get there, Felicity is called to work? All this talk of disappointment seems oddly placed since in this day and age who wouldn’t want their daughter to grow up and be especially skilled in computers?
Even the episode’s plot seems to recognize that the mother/daughter reunion and past friction isn’t enough to make Donna’s presence in the episode all that substantial, so we learn that Cooper set it up so that he’d have leverage over Felicity to make her do some technobabble to assist in the armored car heist. But this episode is called “The Secret Origin of Felicity Smoak,” and not “Felicity and her mom get into trouble.” Talk of Felicity’s dad, how he and his daughter had so much in common, and how he suddenly ditched the family one day seems pretty poorly thought out, like the writers were playing melodrama Mad Libs. Pick an emotion that causes mother/daughter friction (disappointment). Pick a catalyst for mother/daughter becoming emotionally distant (father leaving).
Basically, it feels like the title “The Secret Origin of Felicity Smoak” isn’t well-earned. I wasn’t expecting to learn that Felicity was lost on an island for five years, or was a prisoner in Hong Kong made to run assassination errands for a secret government agency, but it was still disappointing that the “Secret” in the “Secret Origin” was that in college Felicity was goth and she had a boyfriend that thought he was one of bad boys because he was a couple of rungs on the ladder about slacktivist. It’s also kind of sad that the fast-talking, quick-witted Felicity we all know and love came from her being sad about the death of a boy that kind of betrayed her in the first place, all the more so because he went back and betrayed her all over again.
Disappointment in family was a recurring theme tonight. Oliver was disappointed in Thea for taking on the financial mantle of being a Merlyn and investing that ill-gotten booty in a fabulous new apartment. Thea calls Oliver on being judgy, and she’s right to do so, especially after he chastises her for lying to him about doing the paper work and cashing in on being Malcolm Merlyn’s heir. Oliver, at least, recognized that he was being an ass and decided that being a family means accepting the other person for who they are, and Thea is magnanimous in accepting Oliver’s apology and offering her brother a place to stay. Whether or not this is all according to Merlyn’s plan, as he spies nearby, is another question.
We also catch up Laurel who’s still training with Ted Grant at the Wildcat gym. Laurel’s turning point though is when she finds herself in the extremely unlikely position of acting district attorney for Starling City in the midst of the Brother Eye crisis, and orders a SWAT team to stop a riot at the National Bank, which only provokes a strong reaction from the gathering mob. Quentin calls her reckless and recognizes that his daughter’s in pain, and if she can’t talk to him then she should talk to someone, so Laurel decides to talk to Ted Grant. Weird as it was that a major office in a big city would entrust its operation to someone with only one year of job experience, much of that under the influence of booze and drugs, it was nice to see Laurel so assertive and conflicted. Her character has definitely been the beneficiary of some positive change this season.
Other positive change includes Brandon Routh‘s Ray Palmer, who gets to be relatable and insightful, while still being that guy that shows up at your house first thing in the morning because he had a bright idea about taking all the excess heat of the office building and turning into free energy. I do wonder how long he will keep Felicity around though considering she’s always bailing or looking to get time off from work. And even though one of Palmer’s gadgets saved the day, I would have been fine if the writers had found a way to write around him in order to make more time to explain the Felicity/Donna dynamic better.
None of that’s to say though that the episode didn’t have a secret to reveal. At episode’s end we learn that Roy has the one that killed Sara, and the reason for his sleepless nights is that his subconscious remembers when his conscious does not. Even though the show’s been making hints to Roy’s sleep issues, the reveal seems to come from left field, and for the moment I’ll say that it seems to come from a place to create internal drama in Team Arrow rather than being an organic development. Who could hypnotize Roy, and when and how? Despite the logical leap, I will say that its nice that we’re giving some meat to Roy rather than giving him more standing around and looking slightly confused as Oliver, Diggle and Felicity try and solve the problem.
“The Secret Origin of Felicity Smoak” represented a kind of stumble in what’s been a pretty solid season of Arrow thus far, but there were some compelling crumbs in terms of the ongoing machinations of Merlyn and how much Thea is in on those schemes. In another smooth move, I salute Stephen Amell for taking the back seat with grace this week, letting the other members of the team take the main stage in an episode of Arrow that was kind of Arrow-light. It at least spoke to the strength of the ensemble that the show’s at a place where its main hero doesn’t need the most screen time to at least try and tell an effective story.