On the D/L – Arrow
Season 3 Episode 5 – “The Secret Origin of Felicity Smoak”
The episode that many fans have been asking for is finally here. After several half references and hints to Felicity’s past we get a long overdue episode that directly deals with the person she used to be and how that informs the person she is now.
One thing that the last episode proved is that when Felicity isn’t in the episode something is lost. I said in a recent review that Felicity has now been firmly established in the role of heart of the show so when she isn’t around there’s an overbearing intensity that is never really defused by a warmer presence. For me this was really felt in the previous episode so to celebrate her return with an episode focused on her makes a lot of sense.
I really liked the opening of this episode and how it showed a typical morning routine for the characters at this stage of their development. Oliver is sparring with Roy, Laurel is being trained by Ted Grant and Thea is being trained by Malcolm while Felicity does some situps in her apartment. It comes back to my comment about Felicity defusing tension by contrasting her morning routine with the others and it works brilliantly.
Things quickly get frantic for Felicity when Ray visits with some some revolutionary idea to give Starling City free energy. Every scene that Ray appears in convinces me that Ray is too generous to be a billionaire. How is he able to be so rich when he’s so generous with his money? I wonder if we’ll see some flashbacks where he’ll be portrayed as a ruthless corporate tycoon. I have to say that I’d really love to see that and give us a different side to Ray Palmer.
Felicity’s mother, Donna (Charlotte Ross) also picks this time to visit and establishes herself as being the complete opposite to Felicity within seconds. This scene was good enough but there was absolutely nothing remotely new going on here. Donna assumes that Ray is Felicity’s boyfriend and immediately says something that embarrasses everyone in the situation before it’s explained to her. Thankfully the talented cast elevates this pedestrian material into something that feels slightly less typical but it’s less clever than this show usually is.
The rest of the present day story doesn’t do anything remarkably exciting either. A virus that Felicity wrote 5 years ago is used to rob Starling City of power and generally throw the city into chaos. Turns out Felicity is so brilliant that she designed a virus so unstoppable that even she can’t take it down. She is a little distracted by the uncomfortable memories that recognising this virus dredges up coupled with the arrival of her mother.
These uncomfortable memories become the focus of the flashbacks this week and lets us see a college age Felicity who is very gothic in style. It’s kind of an obvious thing to do in showing how she has changed but it was a fun image to play with and Emily Bett Rickards plays Felicity differently enough to make it believable that she’s younger even if Felicity didn’t come across as being the radically different person that the plot tries to suggest she was.
It turns out that in college she was part of a group of Hacktivists who were rebelling against the system by hacking various things but it get out of hand when her boyfriend Cooper (Nolan Gerard Funk) goes too far and decides to wipe out student loans in the interest of helping people climb out of debt. This naturally brings him to the attention of the government and he is arrested before supposedly hanging himself prior to sentencing.
If they were trying to set up a scenario where I would be surprised that Cooper turns up in the climax of the story alive and well then they failed. His inevitable return was obvious from the minute he was revealed to be something of a maverick in his Hacktivist methods so the payoff isn’t quite as dramatic as the writer probably hoped. A lack of chemistry between the actors -Apparently Emily Bett Rickards doesn’t have great chemistry with everyone- doesn’t help in establishing the deep emotional connection implied here. This might have gotten better with more flashback scenes showing them as a couple or perhaps a scene showing Felicity’s reaction to his “death” to add some sort of emotional heft to what was going on. Side note but was that the eye of Sauron he used as his symbol? Sure looked like it.
Despite all this, Emily Bett Rickards gives what is is probably her finest performance on the series to date. Felicity goes through a lot in this episode, chief of them being her guilt over creating this thing in the first place. She is fiercely determined to stop it and put things right but is unable to keep herself focused because her mind is everywhere at once. I liked how she persists in trying to put a brave face on everything but fails miserably with everyone she talks to.
Felicity’s discussions with her mother revealed a pretty severe flaw in her character. It appears that since the “death” of her ex boyfriend she has been running from her problems and probably felt like she had escaped them but this episode brought all of them back at once. She is clearly ashamed of her mother and is blind to all of the sacrifices that have been made to raise her over the years. At times she does come across as a little ungrateful and I liked that the episode didn’t paint Donna as being an unlikeable presence. I was surprised that in many of the scenes they shared I was actually on Donna’s side because Felicity wasn’t being fair to her.
Naturally by the end of the episode Felicity and her mother start to see eye to eye and the relationship begins to repair. None of this is especially well written but the characters and acting is good enough to carry it for the most part. I liked the scene where Donna told Felicity that she sees so much of her father in her but none of herself. I can see how that might be upsetting as Donna was there throughout her life when her father wasn’t. Who is Felicity’s father? I wonder if we’ll see him appear at some stage.
As with the other episodes this season I continue to be fascinated by Laurel’s development. She is beginning to crack under the burden of the secret she is keeping regarding Sara’s death and really needs to open up to someone but has no apparent outlet for that. The scene she shared with Quentin was great and I loved the moment she revealed that there were things going on with her that couldn’t be shared with her father. Blackthorne’s played the reaction with wonderful subtlety giving just a hint of him being heartbroken by Laurel’s admission. His strength of character wins out by advising her to find someone she can talk to which causes Ted to figure out the best way to train her.
Thea and Oliver’s relationship is really interesting me so far. I like how Thea is happily spending Malcolm’s money by buying a hugely expensive apartment but Oliver is against her spending that blood money. Thea doesn’t care what Oliver thinks and encourages him to suck it up and meet her halfway which he reluctantly does. Thea is in control of the relationship at this point and that is fascinating to watch. There’s a general undercurrent of Oliver losing control of things in his life but this is the most obvious example.
Something tells me the cliffhanger ending is something of a red herring but I am really interested to see what is done with it. It’s not something I expected to see and it all comes from a line in a previous episode that hadn’t even registered with me. Although the “previously on” segment draws attention to it where it could have been left.
I really wish I could rate this episode higher but the material as written just wasn’t all that interesting. The story was predictable and the insights into Felicity’s past didn’t add anything worthwhile to her character. Her more gothic style in the flashbacks was a nice visual gag but she wasn’t written differently enough to make this work in the way that it should have.
Emily Bett Rickards performance is outstanding in this episode and seeing her interact with her mother was good to finally see. I like that they weren’t shy about giving Felicity a character flaw in being ashamed of her mother but the arc that these characters follow isn’t anything we haven’t seen done infinite times in infinite places. If the story hadn’t been on the rails of typical tropes then it might have been something more memorable but as it sits it feels like something of a wasted opportunity.
Thea being in control of her relationship with Oliver by making him think she’s meeting him halfway when she’s actually calling the shots is being handled really well and developing nicely.
Likewise Laurel’s story continues to progress nicely with a particularly effective scene between her and Quentin really helping her move along with things.