Oh hallelujah, a Felicity Smoak-centered episode!
Perhaps in lieu of her complete absence last week, the Arrow writers have now given us “The Secret Origin of Felicity Smoak,” an entire episode that not only focuses on Felicity and her familial issues, but also offers flashbacks on her college days as a goth-girl “hacktivist.” And while the episode may not represent Arrow at its most inventive, I would be hard pressed to say it wasn’t fun to watch Emily Bett Rickard taking the reigns for once.
The episode starts with three parallel sparring scenes—Oliver and Roy, Laurel and her gym trainer and Thea and Merlyn. When Thea wonders aloud what “normal people” do in the morning, we get a humorous cut to Felicity struggling to finish her basic morning work-out routine (she manages to make it through five sit-ups). Her day becomes infinitely more complicated when her mother, Donna, comes for a visit. While Felicity has made reference to her family on a few occasions, this marks the first time we’ve seen either parent in person. And we quickly see why Felicity might be reluctant to have her mother meet her new colleagues—unlike her bright, yet reserved daughter, Donna displays complete technology illiteracy and continues to dress like a club-hopping twenty-something. What’s more, she’s far from hesitant in acting bubbly and flirtatious around the many handsome men in Felicity’s life, including Ray Palmer and Oliver (“How many millionaires do you know?” she asks at one point).
Ultimately, despite the amusing set-up, this dynamic plays out pretty much exactly how you would expect. Felicity quietly puts up with her mother’s antics until, in a moment of frustration, she lashes out against her for being so immature. The two are then put in grave danger and Donna demonstrates how much she truly cares for her daughter. In the end, they walk away from the experience with a newfound respect and appreciation for each other. No reinventing the wheel here.
The same goes for the flashback scenes, which show our favorite hacker (pulling off the aforementioned goth computer whiz attire quite well) conspiring with her boyfriend Cooper to hack into government databases. They eventually succeed with the help of an elaborate virus that Felicity designs. When Cooper attempts to erase student debt, however, he is promptly arrested and thrown in jail. We later learn from present-day Felicity that he hung himself before sentencing.
This advanced computer virus subsequently plays a part in the present day storyline when a group dubbed “Brother Eye” begins using it to take over the city’s technology, shutting down everything from the electricity to the banks. Reckoning that this takeover is a result of her own work, Felicity and the rest of Team Arrow launch an investigation. Eventually, we learn that the perpetrator is none other than Cooper, who faked his own death so that he could be recruited by the NSA to do hacker work. Now, he appears to have gone rogue. Inevitably, with the help of Felicity’s quick wits (and Oliver’s arrows), the day is saved.
If it sounds as though I’m sidelining the main storyline, it’s mostly because it really is the least interesting part of the episode. Even the reveal of Cooper feels like a given, especially since—as Oliver points out—“death” in this world is not quite an exact science. Per its title, “The Secret Origin of Felicity Smoak” is a character-centric piece, with the central storyline only helping to feed into that notion. It’s all about Felicity’s relationships and interactions that, as clichéd and trope-heavy as they may be, make for a fun, breezy hour of TV. Certainly after the weighty, self-serious tone of “The Magician,” it’s nice to get something a bit lighter.
What’s more impressive is that the writers manage to make a Felicity-heavy installment without it feeling like blatant fan pandering. Sure, there are some great Felicity one-liners (as the situation worsens, she exclaims, “I am running out of expletives!”), but overall the episode does succeed at touching upon multiple layers to the character—both dramatic and comedic. If it weren’t obvious already, this entry makes it clear that Felicity is one of the best characters on TV.
Oh, and, per the episode’s tag, Roy may be the one who killed Sara. Gotta admit, as predictable as the episode could be at times, did not see that one coming…