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.