The Emancipation of Felicity Smoak
Arrow showrunners gave the Olicity Ship exactly what it needed in last night’s “Uprising.” In an episode that saw citizens of the Glades band together in a street battle reminiscent of Buffy’s “Graduation Day,” Felicity led a personal uprising against the man she has loved, challenged, and supported for the past two and a half years. Felicity Smoak declared her independence from Oliver Queen with one devastating statement, “I don’t want to be a woman that you love.” Amen.
Few people want Oliver and Felicity to enjoy a lifetime of wedded-bliss more than I do, yet I cheered this latest development. The marvelous Emily Bett Rickards drew me to Arrow and the chemistry she shares with Stephen Amell’s Oliver kept me watching. Though to be fair, Rickards has chemistry with everyone at Arrow from Paul Blackthorne to Howard the Key Grip. Season Two marks the height of my obsession when I re-watched every scene between Oliver and Felicity as she continued to wear her heart on her sleeve barely able to conceal her love for him. Oliver’s jealousy over Barry Allen’s visit to Starling City and his admission later that Felicity is his “partner” further cemented the idea that Oliver’s feelings for her are just as real as hers are for him.
Oliver’s behavior toward Felicity, however, has been flawed. Despite recognizing that she is his partner, Oliver infantilizes Felicity. A pattern he repeats with most of the women in his life including his sister Thea. He approaches women as if they are girls in need of his protection and guidance. The problem here is that Oliver is not a font of wisdom despite the Jedi bathrobe he wears while wandering through the woods.
For example, Oliver revealed his love for Felicity – “Don’t ask me to say I don’t love you” – in the Season Three premiere and then in typical superhero fashion told her they could not be together, because that might put her life in jeopardy. In Arrow-speak, this translates to “We can keep hunting bad guys together as long as we don’t have sex.” What is worse, Oliver officially declares his love in a subsequent episode just before leaving Felicity and the rest of Team Arrow behind to duel the insurmountable Ra’s al Ghul. Then, he presumably dies leaving Felicity with a heavy heart and some fierce anger. To no one at home’s surprise, Oliver returns from the dead.
Felicity’s anger stems not from Oliver’s presumed death but from the fact that he made the decision to risk his life without regard for her feelings. When it came to solving Thea’s problem with Ra’s and the League of Assassins, he refused to find “another way.” A problem, by the way, that Thea does not even know she has since her loving father Malcolm memory-swiped her into killing Sara Lance. Oliver continues to keep Thea in the dark about this rather important development in her life. As for Felicity, with Oliver’s reappearance she is left to dwell on the fact that he left her behind without any voice in their relationship. He treated her as a child, not as an equal partner.
In the weeks that Oliver was missing, Rickards kept Felicity’s anger at a low simmer. In “Uprising” she took this anger to a new level, spitting her lines rather than speaking them. In contrast, Diggle and Roy appeared calm and unaffected. Only Felicity continued to carry the emotional burden of Oliver’s death. She directed most of her anger toward Malcolm Merlyn whom she rightfully holds responsible for Oliver’s predicament with Ra’s. Felicity speaks for the audience when she reminds the team that Malcolm is a “monster” responsible for turning Thea into Sara’s killer. Malcolm’s violation of Thea’s mind is akin to rape. By saying that he loves Thea, Malcolm attempts to complicate his actions and generate sympathy. As the team’s moral compass, Felicity does not allow him that power. She draws a hard line when it comes to Merlyn’s actions; they are immoral and unforgivable.
Felicity wields her anger as she leads the team against Merlyn, and make no mistake: in Oliver’s absence, she becomes its leader. If you have any doubts, re-watch as Malcolm shares his plan to take down Brick with the group. When the camera pans in on the foursome, Laurel, Roy and Diggle stand on either side of Felicity who sits on a chair looking like a cross between the Godfather and Elizabeth I. This positioning combined with Felicity’s uncharacteristically long full skirt leaves no doubt that she is the true Queen of the Arrow Cave. She has even surpassed Diggle in this leadership role.
Forgive me as I take a quick detour to comment on the tactical foolishness of planting Diggle behind a computer screen while novice vigilantes take to the streets. Diggle easily outclasses Roy and Canary Light when it comes to training and experience. The writers don’t even pretend to offer an explanation for sidelining him. The audience is then left to conclude that some sort of contractual obligation has led showrunners to put one actor in black leather while Diggle scowls from a distance. Are we also supposed to forget that his bride-to-be is a lethal ARGUS agent with access to a rocket launcher that might have come in handy against the merciless Danny Brickwell? Maybe Diggle and Lyla’s conversation went something like this: “Honey can I borrow that rocket launcher you used to rescue me once from a clock tower?” “Ooh, sorry babe, I’m headed over to Castle this week and might need it get myself out of a sticky situation with the NYPD.”
I should have been paying attention to beautiful, dumb Roy as he delivered one of the most naïve speeches of the season: “Malcolm saved Thea and did not have an agenda.” Good grief. Malcolm Merlyn always has an agenda. Instead, I could not help but wonder how David Ramsey manages to fold those canons he calls arms across his massive chest. In the words of Melissa McCarthy, I would “climb that like a tree.” Incidentally, Roy belongs with the equally dim Thea who suffers from the most pronounced case of Glasses On/Glasses Off Syndrome since Lois and Clark.
Speaking of which, now is the perfect time for Ray Palmer to make his move. And why shouldn’t Felicity pursue a relationship with him? He’s funny, smart, hot, and just damaged enough to be three dimensional. Plus, he owns a helicopter. I don’t want Felicity to marry Ray Palmer or raise children with him. I will not, however, condemn her for sharing some sexy times with Superman. She is a healthy female adult without any romantic entanglements. That’s right. Felicity does not wear Oliver’s class ring around her neck, and one kiss and half a date do not a commitment make.
At the end of “Uprising,” Oliver shares a brief reunion with Felicity, Roy and Diggle before shocking them with the news that he will work with Malcolm Merlyn to take down Ra’s al Ghul. Felicity storms out of the foundry in disgust. Oliver follows her ready to make what likely amounts to him as a noble choice to break her heart, planning to tell her once again that he must sacrifice his feelings for her in a quest to save his sister. “Getting into bed” with Malcolm Merlyn in Thea’s name serves as the final straw for Felicity. Oliver’s path will not be her path. Before he has a chance to break her heart, she slings an arrow of her own, stopping him in his tracks with her admission that she does not want his love. Stephen Amell plays the scene perfectly, wincing as if Felicity’s words hit him like a physical blow. She has upset the balance of power between them. Felicity’s love is no longer something he can count on, a fact that liberates Felicity and deepens her as a character. She has reminded him once again of a simple truth, “My life, my choice.”
Let’s hope Felicity stays out of the Arrow Cave for a few episodes. She can help Ray Palmer on and maybe off with his Atom suit. Oliver’s choice to ignore Felicity’s advice and join forces with Merlyn will lead nowhere good. Everyone knows that when the hero makes unilateral decisions, Xander loses an eye. Felicity is no longer Oliver’s “girl.” She is a woman who deserves Oliver’s love on equal terms. He needs to make her fall in love with him all over again on an even playing field, preferably while groveling . . . and shirtless.