In Defense of Felicity

Badass Digest recently wrote a piece explaining how Arrow has “failed” Felicity Smoak in its third season. It brings up a lot of great points about the ways in which her character has changed, but I think it unfairly places the blame on the Oliver/Felicity relationship, when I think things are a bit more complicated than that. Sara’s death, pieces of Felicity’s (of the admittedly little) backstory that we know, and the overall darkness of the season all help push Felicity to a darker place this season. And I think that’s okay for the show overall.

The piece, which you should click through to read, explains that once Felicity and Oliver had their failed date and Oliver pumped the breaks on any relationship between them going forward, Felicity became a “woman scorned.”

“…because Oliver doesn’t feel like he can be in a relationship with Felicity and secure her safety, she’s now a woman scorned. And boy, is she acting like it. […] the dynamic is conserved by turning Felicity into something of a stern den mother. She cries and/or yells in nearly every episode. She jumped from rejoicing that Oliver returned from the dead to telling him she didn’t want to be his girlfriend in one minute, flat. She’s mad, she’s sad – she’s not Felicity. Gone are the messy ponytail and dorky work clothes, and gone are the inadvertent double entendres and goofy grins, and we’re left with a sleeker, sexier, more sullen Felicity who is missing the singular coolness-meets-nerdiness we fell in love with.”

Felicity’s emotions are rooted in more than just Oliver’s refusal to be with her. Felicity was upset about it, yes, but before she could process her feelings and move on, Sara died. Felicity admired Sara and was close to her from their time as the only ladies in the Arrow Cave. And Sara’s death marked a darkness to the season that we haven’t seen in previous seasons. Tommy’s death affected mostly just Oliver and Laurel, so other characters could soldier on and be their same selves, but Sara’s death affected the entire team. They were all shaken and with the fact that Ra’s al Ghul was now after them, it affected their dynamics. It would be strange if Felicity were her same quirky, innuendo filled self in the lair with everything going on. There isn’t really room. I would love some of that (I really need full Team bonding with Big Belly take out in the lair), but with the way they’ve structured the season as a whole, it’s hard to fit in Classic Felicity.

From what we know about Felicity as a whole, she’s a woman with very little real family who found her own vigilante family in Starling City. With Sara and Oliver’s deaths, she is forced to deal with a family that is changing and growing and evolving. Back in season two, when she told Oliver about Malcolm being Thea’s father, she expressed fears that the news would make Oliver leave her, like her father did when she was younger. I don’t think this is strictly rooted in her romantic love for him, it’s because he and Diggle are her family now. She has abandonment issues and Sara’s death triggered that, as did Oliver’s. Simplifying her darkness this season to being scorned over Oliver feels unfair to her character. Her feelings are about more than being “scorned,” but hey, that happened too and she’s allowed to feel angry and upset about it. Yes, in 3.10 she leaves the group because they aren’t “them” without Oliver, but she quickly rallies back. For Oliver? No, for a larger purpose. Her anger with him when he returns is because he is working with Malcolm, not because of their relationship — Oliver working with Malcolm and not speaking with the team about it angered her so much she didn’t even give him a chance to bring up their relationship. Her angst at the moment is driven by her disappointment in him as a hero. Her belief in him as the Arrow existed before season one ended, before they were fully on this will-they/won’t they path.

“So here’s how you fix it, Arrow writers: drop all of this messy romance stuff. “

If there was no Olicity at all this season, I think Felicity would be just about in the same place. She’d be sad about Sara’s death and concerned for the decisions Oliver is making without the team for support. Even if they hadn’t gone on that date, she would have told him not to go after Ra’s and he wouldn’t have listened (he would have had even less desire to stay since it was his affection for her that gave him any hesitance about going) and when he returned, she would have been pissed that he wants to work with Malcolm. Little of that is purely drawn from her romantic interest in him, but rather her interest in him as a person, as a hero, as their leader. Sure, the feelings are enhanced, but I feel she’d be pretty much in the same place. I don’t think Felicity is just a woman scorned, though I can see how her emotions might appear to stem from her romantic failings rather than trying to whip Oliver into the hero she’s always believed he could be.

Her scenes with Ray are, yes, dampened by her feelings for Oliver, so she’s less her quirky self when away from the Foundry. And I agree that the writing for their relationship is off and I hope it doesn’t go any further; less because I want her with Oliver and more because he stalks her and has very little understanding of boundaries. (if you’ve read my Arrow recaps, you know how I feel about Ray). I also agree that Felicity has been shining in the scenes with Laurel, where she helps yet another future hero find their way. Now that Thea knows the truth, I want Felicity and Thea to have some awesome scenes together as well.

Overall, I think that Felicity’s shift in character is not just about the romantic component. The entire show took a darker turn and Felicity’s lighter nature would feel out of place with the weight of Sara’s death, Ra’s coming for Thea, and Oliver’s “death” and disappearance. And with more characters getting more plotlines this season, it’s hard to squeeze in lighter Felicity down time. Season three has been a season of development and change for all of the characters. Oliver has many lessons to learn and getting yelled at by Felicity is one of the only ways he listens. I am giving the show space to take our characters to dark places so that we can love them and appreciate them all the more when the storm passes. I don’t want stagnant characters that do the same things for five seasons, people in real life change and go through periods of adjustment and sometimes darkness. This change doesn’t mean the writers are failing her character; it means they are taking her on a journey. I think Felicity will return to her spunky, enthusiastic self, but she’s going through a storm right now and it’s darkest before the dawn and all those other sayings about hope and looking towards the Felicity at the end of the tunnel — I mean the light.

Felicity’s name literally means “happiness,” so I remain hopeful that she’ll return to the joyous character we all love.

12 thoughts on “In Defense of Felicity

  1. Great post!

    This is so in line with my thoughts on Felicity’s story arc this season, it’s like I wrote it myself, lol. I’ve been sensing some online backlash towards Felicity since Arrow came back from break this season( and what’s a genre show without backlash towards a female character *rolls eyes *, and I really think it’s due to too many fans interpreting Felicity’s character development in a way that ironically constrains the possibility OF any development. These fans want Felicity to remain quirky, light and dropping cute one-liners at all times while her seemingly world falls all apart–which isn’t really how most people react to things.

    And I get the impulse for not wanting to lose “spunky Felicity” — plenty of fans seem her as the light on a “dark and broody” (I can’t stand how this phrase it’s overused, BTW), and that’s what attracted them go her character. But it’s not fair to keep her character in that box and insist that she say there while everyone else on the show gets to evolve.

    And reducing her Felicity to a “woman scorned” right now when there’s so much more going on with her character feels more regressive than anything her character had or hasn’t done on the show this season.

    1. Oh yes! The article seems much more ready to reduce her than the writing of the series has. The article seems to like her “truculent spirit” from previous seasons but detest it this season??

    2. Thanks for commenting Irene!
      “But it’s not fair to keep her character in that box and insist that she say there while everyone else on the show gets to evolve.” YES THIS! She and Diggle are the most stable characters — they’ve remained mostly the same while Oliver and everyone else changes around them and with their help. They know who they are so they are most able to support everyone around them, but that doesn’t mean they still dont have things to learn and dark times to go through. It would be strange if you went through all of what the team is going through right now and didn’t change and adapt. Fans would then be upset that she’s not getting any development like everyone else! I guess you just can’t please some people.

      “But it’s not fair to keep her character in that box and insist that she say there while everyone else on the show gets to evolve.” EXACTLY.

      “feels more regressive than anything” Yes yes yes. Especially because the comments seems to call her out as this beacon of feminism (she’s quirky but smart and emotionally tough let’s get back to that!) while making her storyline one dimensional like she doesn’t have a part in so many other aspects of the show besides her one liners and clothes and her relationship with Oliver. The clothes thing drives me crazy bc 1. it’s possible for her to just like cute short dresses, but 2. it’s because she got a raise and a promotion which required her to wear nicer attire than she did before. she got to combine her love of clothes (obtained from her mother) with better pay. she’s actually a really well rounded character (even if I’d still like to know more about her home life, backstory etc), but somehow fans still reduce her while praising how well rounded she is. it kind of baffles me.

      Thanks so much for reading and sharing your thoughts!

  2. Hmm, thank you for all of your points. I wholeheartedly agree with them. I think it’s worrisome that the critiques of the development of the character of Felicity Smoak center around her appearance (the messy ponytail and dorky work clothes were gone by the first ep of 2×01 and had more to do with seeing her primarily in a corporate EA position than any relationship with Oliver) and her expressions of unpleasant emotions (She’s mad, she’s sad- she’s not Felicity). I find that worrying because Felicity has generally shown her emotion during tragedy more readily than Oliver or Diggle but she will get raked over the coals for it more often in the comments I’ve been seeing this season.

    Why? It seems entirely justified from what has been going on this season (entirely apart from any romantic considerations). When does she yell or cry? Do you mind if I break it down:
    ep 1- Sunny episode that quickly goes downhill. She is angry with Ray and takes hacker revenge on him but she neither cries or yells at Oliver when he breaks things off.
    ep 2- heavy episode dealing with Sara’s death. She is crying and grieving and upset and that would seem perfectly in character.
    ep 3- Not a lot of Felicity but when she is on screen she is full of banter and the normal brilliant help she would generally give.
    ep 4- she is in Central City being lighter because the general environment is lighter and also helping Barry as she does with most heroes apparently
    ep 5- her backstory. I agree it wasn’t the strongest backstory ever told. She was upset with her mother which we haven’t seen before but family relationships often bring out a different side and we’ve never seen her around her relatives because she has very few. She was certainly off her game for most of the episode but that had more to do with her personal past than any Team Arrow relationships. Going back to some very painful memories can throw anybody off. And when Oliver made a tiny mention of their relationship status she calmly left with a polite phrase and neither tears or yelling.
    ep 6- heavy ep again since they suspect Roy might have killed Sara. She still banters with Roy and is quietly supportive of everyone and calmly thinks through everything.
    ep 7- certainly the first relationship heavy ep since the premiere. She asks for a night off and Oliver gets all tense. She did get a little teary listening to Oliver over the comms saying he had to be alone but she never showed any of that to Oliver himself.
    ep 8- crossover. Flash ep was full of light as usual and she was very funny. Even Oliver was lighter. Arrow ep was more violent as usual but she did not cry or yell during that episode either.
    ep 9- Intense episode full of threats. Felicity did not yell or cry at all. She did have an intense discussion about killing R’as and she said she was terrified. Her voice shook a bit but fear seems a good reason for that.
    ep 10- They think Oliver is dead. Of course they are all upset. It’s funny, the character gets stick from some about not being upset enough during that episode.
    eps 11 and 12- dealing with loss and with major threat to Glades. I totally agree her anger at Oliver at the end had to do with her disgust of working with Malcolm. Those who find Oliver’s choice to work with Malcolm less objectionable will of course have less of an outraged reaction to that choice.
    ep 13- pretty calm until the whole team gets into a disgreement about how Oliver is running things. Felicity has been fairly calm until Roy and Oliver start the shouting and then she sticks up for Roy and calls Oliver on his crap. Nothing she hasn’t done in previous seasons.

    So where exactly is this “sullen” person who is not reacting in character? This is the darkest season we have gotten. It seems consistent for Felicity to react, by and large, as she has done.

    Sorry, rant over. I could go into all the times that we’ve seen Felicity express anger or sadness but for some reason people think the season 3 stuff is unusual. I think that is unfair. (Not to mention the “messy romance stuff” has been intrinsic to this show since the pilot when we find that our hero cheated on his girlfriend with her sister and then said girlfriend starts dating our hero’s best friend. I think season 3 has been tame in comparison.)

    1. Brilliant breakdown! And yes, Felicity is always the one to show more emotion than the guys and very little of her emotion is in regards to their relationship. And hahah you’re so right about the messy romantic stuff calling back to the tragic Oliver/Sara/Laurel/Tommy square that began the series. This season has been tame since even with the Ray/Felicity/Oliver triangle, it can hardly be a full triangle (maybe each side has dotted lines) since so much of the focus of these relationships is about the mission (and Ray’s desire to be a hero) first, THEN the romantic components. I read that article and just HAD to show that the writers deserve more credit for the way they’ve written Felicity this season. Because it’s not as simple as it may seem to those not looking past the Olicity drama with regard to Felicity’s actions.

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