Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Character Appreciation Post: Felicity Smoak ("Arrow")


At LeakyCon, I had a discussion with the cast of Emma Approved about the term “strong female character.” It’s a word that was thrown around in a panel earlier that afternoon, but it’s also a term that not many people understand. As we discussed the characters in the series, Joanna Sotomura and Dayeanne Hutton talked about Harriet Smith as a character. When I noted that so many people dismiss Harriet because she’s quiet and shy, they both astutely said: “She’s meek. But meek doesn’t mean weak.” I think too many people associate the term “strong female character” with Black Widow or Wonder Woman or Black Canary or Lara Croft. And that’s totally understandable: those women ARE strong women. But being a strong woman in literature or television or a movie doesn’t mean that you have to wield a gun. It doesn’t mean that you are a woman who takes over the jobs of a man. A strong woman simply means a layered and flawed woman. You can be a strong woman without ever taking a kickboxing class or knocking someone out. You can be a strong woman without having to wear spandex or jumping out of a plane or enlisting in the military. You can be a strong woman and be blonde and work with computers. The fact of the matter is that Felicity Meghan Smoak is a strong woman. Truthfully, not many people SEE that because of characters like Nyssa or Sara or Shado. And I applaud Arrow for portraying such a vast array of kick-butt female characters and giving equal weight to them all (Laurel and Thea and Mama Queen included). Beautifully, this is a show that celebrates the complexity and diversity of women and doesn’t fall into the same stereotypes and tropes that other shows do (more on that later on) in regards to women and women in romance, especially.

I knew that I would really like Felicity as a character based on the tweets and Tumblr posts that I had seen regarding her and her relationship with Oliver. I wasn’t entirely prepared, however, for how MUCH I would love her. Felicity is the perfect television example of a well-rounded and well-written “strong female character.” She’s vulnerable but determined; she cries and gets scared but also is fearless in moments of need. She’s – in a lot of ways – smarter than Diggle or Oliver. She’s from a broken family and still harbors pain but doesn’t let it cloud her optimism and bubbly attitude. She’s amazing and that is why I have decided to dedicate a post to my appreciation of her (and for Emily Bett Rickards who is absolutely and positively astounding, nuanced, and all of the other lovely adjectives).


First, let me detail some of the superficial things that I love about Felicity Smoak:

  • I love that she stress eats.
  • I love that she babbles.
  • I love her Freudian slips.
  • I love that she’s blonde and an IT girl.
  • I love that she wears really cute clothes and I love that I want to steal her dresses.
Superficially, I have every reason to love Felicity Smoak, I truly and honestly do. She’s quite an endearing and lovely character. Oliver approaches her in the IT department to help him solve crimes and hunt down people as the vigilante. And though Felicity doesn’t question his terrible (really really terrible) lies and cover stories, she has her suspicions. So when Oliver is shot by his mother at Queen Consolidated, who else within the company could he trust with his life than Felicity? That brings us to the first major reason that I appreciate Felicity: Oliver trusts her and since Oliver’s circle of trust is so small, especially in the first season, it means that she isn’t just important – she’s revered.

I think one of the most inspirational things about Felicity is that she never abuses that trust. She’s a trusting character – to an extent – but she’s never portrayed as someone who would turn her back on the people who believe in her or desert them. She is fiercely loyal, but that also doesn’t mean she can’t stand up for herself or stand up to other people. What happens often in television when you have characters who are genuinely pure-hearted like Felicity is that they’re often made out to be weak, to be pushovers, and to take the crap that is piled on them by other characters in the series. And it’s interesting because a vast majority of the times that happens on other shows, we accept it. We feel bad for the character who is getting the worst side of someone’s anger or frustration, but we often justify it a little bit. Arrow – what I love so immensely – doesn’t ask us to excuse Oliver’s behavior and they don’t allow Felicity to sit back, meek and silent, without demanding respect.

Felicity is an unassuming character and what I love about her so much can be summed up in this GIF:


As I noted above, there are times in which Oliver Queen becomes angry or frustrated. And he often takes that anger out, irrationally, on the people around him. In a normal television series, the woman – presumed to be the weaker sex and below Oliver or a character like him in both importance and power – would sit and listen to a character like Oliver, absorbing all of his frustration and anger. But Felicity… does not. Felicity doesn’t SIT while Oliver is talking to her. No, she STANDS. She forces him to look her in the eye and refuses to be belittled. She is his equal in that moment; his partner. (And that’s why I was so impressed that in a second season episode, Felicity presumed she was Oliver’s “employee,” but he corrected her and named her his “partner.”) Felicity Meghan Smoak, y’all. She is something else.

And it’s more than just her ability to command respect from Oliver – it’s her conscious decision to stand up to him when the situation calls for it. Felicity is a strong female character not because she wields guns or can shoot an arrow. She is strong because she has morals and values and refuses to compromise on them, even when it seems that she could lose everything (she confronts Oliver about Moira’s secret, even though it could destroy her relationship with him). Felicity went to MIT and she doesn’t let Oliver forget that. She’s not going to get him coffee or become his secretary. She’s not going to let him yell at her about Barry and she’s not going to sit around and pine for Oliver. She’s not going to tolerate his tantrums. She’s not going to demean herself for a man, even a man she very much loves.

Here is yet another reason to love Felicity Smoak (and actually, this is a huge credit to the writers): even her “jealousy” regarding Oliver and his romantic relationships isn’t about pettiness. (And really, I put jealousy in quotation marks because it’s less of that and more of hurt, I suppose. But for our purposes in order to compare to other series, I’ll call it jealousy.) It’s so easy for writers to play to the trope of making one woman jealous of another simply to make one or both women appear catty. It’s something most writers of women believe to be true about the gender in general: if you like a man and someone else does, you’re immediately jealous, resentful, and turn into a toddler. And while we have seen Felicity act jealous and feel left out, it is a major compliment to the writers that they’ve managed to use those feelings within her as character PROGRESSION and not REGRESSION.

Let’s take, for example, the character of Isabel Rochev. Isabel is a cold, calculating woman but she also essentially looks like a model and manages to connect with and have a one-night stand with Oliver while the entire Team Arrow is in Russia. Isabel dismisses Felicity as unimportant and unessential. The episode depicts Felicity as clearly hurt but not spiteful; she’s stung but that doesn’t mean she acts petty or childish toward either Isabel or Oliver. No, instead she merely asks a question: “Why her?” There’s no sense of judgment and no tone of condescension. In fact, Felicity actually notes that it sort of makes sense because of how physically attractive Isabel is but… there’s a part of it that doesn’t make sense to her and so she inquires. There is palpable tension in this moment and it’s not out of jealousy but from a place of concern – a place of love. Felicity loves Oliver and believes that he deserves the best that life has to offer, even if HE doesn’t believe that. And so her question is just that – a question. When Oliver gives her an answer, when his explanation thinly veils that he is not with Felicity because he could really care about (see: love) her and he can’t risk her life for that to happen, Felicity seems to barely accept his excuse and leaves, but not before turning around to make her peace.

Because see, that’s the thing about Felicity Smoak: you can try to demean her and dismiss her; you can give her a plethora of excuses for your behavior; you can yell at her and blame her for things that are not her fault… but she will never accept things just as they are. That’s what is so brilliant about her: she is resilient and determined in the most optimistic of senses. Her conversation ends not with her condemning Oliver for his choice of Isabel, but for placing her belief in him and his happiness above everything else. Just because Oliver gave her an excuse (a rather viable if not clich├ęd one by superhero standards), doesn’t mean Felicity has to ACCEPT the excuse as the period on the sentence. She believes in hope and optimism and in Oliver. She believes in good things and happy things and she’s willing to fight for them.


Perhaps one of my favorite Felicity moments occurs in her relationship with Sara, another woman Oliver is sleeping with. (There aren’t many women on the series he isn’t sleeping with, to be honest.) In the episode “Time of Death,” Felicity begins to feel left out of Team Arrow – they’re all kick-butt action heroes and Felicity is the girl in the background with a scar only in her mouth. That’s how other television series would see and dismiss her, right? They’d metaphorically pat her on the head and send her off to look at her computer screen. And when Diggle tells Felicity that she is important, he makes a well-presumed error: he believes that she’s jealous of Sara because she’s with Oliver. Felicity brilliantly dismisses that notion because, shocker: women can be jealous of women for a lot of other reasons apart from men! And women can be jealous of men, too. The common trope would have been for Felicity to be jealous of Sara and sulk in the lair, but that’s not who Felicity Smoak is and the writers know it.

Though, yes, Felicity DOES probably care a bit that Sara is with Oliver, that is not her major concern. Her major concern is that Sara is more valuable as an asset to the team than she is. When it was Team Arrow – sans Sara – Felicity was the go-to girl for everything. Oliver and Diggle trusted her. But with Sara back, being able to fight and to run blood samples and use a computer… why would anyone need Felicity? Here’s where the other moment of beauty in this episode comes in: Sara is not portrayed as the valiant “other woman.” No, when Sara sees Felicity punching a dummy, she doesn’t choose to metaphorically pat her on the head or demean her in any way. In fact, Sara gives Felicity tips: she shows her how to be a better fighter. And then, perceptive and wonderful, Sara asks: “Are you okay?”

Now, remember, in any other series this would be the part where Sara keeps her distance and flaunts her relationship and Felicity sulks in the corner. Instead, Felicity does something a bit reckless in the episode: she goes on a mission by herself. And when Team Arrow comes to the rescue, Sara and Felicity are paired to try and take out the bad guy. In the process, Sara’s life is endangered – The Clock King aims a gun at the Black Canary – and all of the sudden, without any second thoughts, Felicity tackles Sara out of harm’s way, earning her a bullet to the shoulder in the process. Think about this for a moment: Felicity – the woman who is feeling left out and abandoned – decides to take action and saves our action hero. How brilliant is THAT? And what a beautiful example of character progression and female relationships, right? In that moment and the moments that follow, Sara and Felicity truly see each other as equals. There’s no attempt made in “Time of Death” to depict either woman at odds with the other over Oliver. There’s no reason to make Felicity and Sara’s relationship all about a man because – again – it doesn’t HAVE to be. Women can bond over things apart from romance and it was utterly refreshing to see Sara not painted as a villain for being with Oliver or as a rival of Felicity’s, but as a true and genuine equal. The episode ends with a truly sweet moment of vulnerability for Felicity with Oliver (that’s partially due to the painkillers she has in her system) where she admits that she was so used to being the go-to woman in Team Arrow that it’s difficult now that she is not. Oliver then adorably tells her that she will always be his girl and how amazing is it that this episode was never about romance and relationships but of just pure and utter respect for each other and feelings of equality among the team?

As the season draws toward an intense close and conclusion, we see Felicity’s bravery and her vulnerability and all of the amazing elements that make her unique and strong converge: we see Oliver trust her so entirely and completely with injecting the cure into Slade; we see her pain as she cries for Moira Queen, not because of Moira but because of how it would affect Oliver. And then, toward the very end of the season, we see her in this moment:




God bless Emily Bett Rickards because that scene drove me to tears: you can just hear the utter determination and passion in Felicity’s voice as she yells – yes, YELLS – at Oliver that he is “not done fighting.” Remember how I said earlier that Felicity believes in hope and in goodness? This is the culmination of her belief; this is the moment Felicity should – by all other television standards – be cowering in a corner, giving up the fight. But Felicity Meghan Smoak is a strong female character and sometimes being a strong female doesn’t mean having all of the answers and it doesn’t mean putting on armor and marching into battle. Sometimes being a strong female is just BELIEVING. Felicity is strong in this moment not because she can do anything physically to save the city but because the one thing she can do – tell Oliver to not stop fighting – is the one thing that will save it. She is the epitome of encouragement and of support in this moment and it is just so tear-inducingly beautiful.

Oliver Queen needs a person like Felicity Smoak in his life because she is resilent and hopeful and believes in him when he cannot bear to believe in himself. He may be the person who is carrying the weight of the city and thousands of life on his shoulders but she is there at his elbow, holding him up. You see, the Arrow writers understand that Sara is a strong female character because she has lost and survived; because she fights and has nightmares and is broken and vulnerable. They understand that Felicity is a strong female character because she is hopeful and supportive; because she tells people the truth and does whatever she can to help. That is a different kind of strength but it is just as powerful as physically fighting a villain.


Strong women need each other and they need men, too. Strong women are not islands, because they are PEOPLE. Human beings need each other for comfort and support and community. And it’s also important to note that strong women can fall in love and that love doesn’t denote weakness. I don’t question for a moment that Oliver truly loves Felicity or that she loves him. They are both very strong characters who have their flaws and hang-ups. Love doesn’t fix a weak character, nor does it demean a strong one: love, within the context of a television series, can be utilized as a tool for character development. At the end of the sophomore year of Arrow, it was just that. We watched as Oliver entrusted the cure and the task of injecting it into Slade with Felicity. (Let me just pause for a moment because how much do you think that scared Oliver? To know that Felicity could be in harm’s way but that he was going to have to put her in that position not just because he had no choice in the matter. He was going to put her into that position because he BELIEVED in her. Funny, isn’t it, how Felicity echoed those words to him earlier? It is Felicity’s belief in Oliver that allowed him to put his entire belief in her. I call that beauty, I don’t know about you.) Felicity is unknowingly part of a ruse at the Queen mansion where Oliver is aware that there are bugs. He tells her that he’s placing her there to keep her safe because he loves her. That scene, by the way, is so gut-wrenching and perfectly acted by Stephen Amell and Emily Bett Rickards. Every nuance of emotion – fear and trepidation and hope and joy and sadness – flickers across their faces in quick succession. And then, Felicity realizes that Oliver is not confessing but tasking as he hands over the syringe to her. The little gasp that she makes as she exhales at the end of the scene is just so heart-wrenching and painful.

The truth is that Felicity may be strong but she also cares about the people around her and she falls in love; those two things are not mutually exclusive, as I said earlier. You can be strong and be vulnerable in love. Felicity Meghan Smoak is an optimist and she’s hopeful and she cares deeply, personally, and passionately. She’s never let her love of Oliver come before her love of herself or her moral compass or her desire to help the world around her (hello, she told Oliver that she wasn’t worth breaking his vow to Tommy’s memory, though I presume she very much would have liked to be saved). And people – Oliver included – admire and respect her for that. It’s no wonder Oliver is crazy about this seemingly unsuspecting blonde IT girl, right?

The reason that Oliver loves her and the reason that Diggle and Sara and Detecive Lance and Barry and WE love her is quite simple: Felicity Meghan Smoak is worth it.

29 comments:

  1. I love this post. So brilliantly written and explains why Felicity might be one of the best characters on tv. (She is.)

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    1. Thank you so much, Charles! I'm not even going to lie -- this is probably the proudest I've ever been of a post. :)

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    2. You should be!! It was perfect.

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  2. Starting comments about halfway through because you're hitting a bunch of nails on the head, but the "jealousy" thing. YES, what you said YES. I love that this show has love triangles but the people in those triangles don't always fight and hate each other needlessly. It was evident with the Tommy-Oliver-Laurel triangle, where it was awkward, but that didn't stop any of the three of them from talking like civilized human beings and getting over it when something important happened. Tommy's frustrations with Oliver came a lot from the vigilante thing, not the Laurel thing (even when it was about Laurel it was about Tommy recognizing Oliver's hero potential and fearing not being able to live up to it in Laurel's eyes, even when he considered Oliver a killer)---ANYWAY BACK TO FELICITY. Yes, her moments of "jealousy" are usually clouded in something else. I love the episode with the Clock King (in general yes, but specifically) bc she's not jealous of Sara due to her relationship with Oliver; it's not about that. The tension in that episode comes from feeling inadequate in other ways. If it were just about Sara being with Oliver, she would have handled it, she wouldn't have felt the way she did--Oliver is already tied to Laurel and at that point it's not clear to her necessarily that that's ending and after Isabelle, etc--she's figured out her feelings for Oliver and other women. It was about something else. And I really applaud the show for that.
    Wow, ok, that was a lot, and I'm only halfway through this post. I've fallen into the Arrow cave and can't get out... @ConStar24

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    1. "Felicity brilliantly dismisses that notion because, shocker: women can be jealous of women for a lot of other reasons apart from men! And women can be jealous of men, too. The common trope would have been for Felicity to be jealous of Sara and sulk in the lair, but that’s not who Felicity Smoak is and the writers know it." mmm yes this.

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    2. Awwww thank you SO much for the comment. I love that Arrow can write love triangles without placing so much of the emphasis on jealousy, you know? There are less petty reasons that people can be jealous of others and it's more integral to character development if they focus on THOSE issues rather than catty behavior. I really admire them for that, especially how they really delved into the Sara/Felicity relationship. It was beautiful.

      Thank you again so much for your comments! <3

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  3. I adore this post so much! You've described all of the reasons why Felicity Smoak is such a strong and endearing character that has captured the hearts of a large portion of the Arrow fandom. Thank you for this. It was truly a pleasure to read.

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    1. Thank you so much for taking the time to comment. I am so glad that I was able to do this beautiful character some justice throughout the post. :)

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  4. Felicity Smoak has quickly entered my list of favorite TV ladies!! She has some crazy competition and amazing company between ladies like Dana Scully and Leslie Knope on tv too! I can't tell if the writers just accidently wrote such an amazing character, EBR just brought too much life to her to be contained or if it's a combination of the both. I don't mean this as a dig at Laurel's character but if she was really supposed to be the female hero of the show...the writers failed to display that. I hope she comes into her own this season and that we get to see more about Felicity this season!

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    1. I completely and totally agree with you about Felicity, anon! My favorite television female has always been Annie Edison but she's getting some competition from Felicity. And Leslie Knope, Jess Day, etc. are such great examples of strong female characters who are flawed and varied -- television has such an array of great female characters these days but we could always use more. ;) And I agree in regards to Laurel: I actually really loved her the first season, and the second season I think her arc just caused her character to suffer a bit, honestly.

      I'm hopeful that season three will be the year of Felicity Smoak and we'll get to see her excel even more. Thanks for reading and the comment! :)

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  5. Oh the tumblr dialogues that have been flying around about shows on the CW that write woman who sadly lack agency, and are promoted as 'strong woman' using the troupe of physical violence denoting strength- need to make a 'strong female' character, then have all the male characters fall in love with her, have her acting scornful to other woman, and have her use physical violence against unlikely odds, to show how strong she is. And god the backlash..............its everywhere, shows that were once popular and their spin-offs are getting meta-ed the crap out of with woman sick of misogynistic writing.
    And Arrow is often cited in these metas as one show that is getting it right, for all the reasons that you listed above.
    I really do think the boom in social media has provided a platform for fans to gather and talk about what they want to see in a show- and well written woman is one thing that is very important to female viewers.

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    1. I think the trope of physical violence denoting strength has definitely been more prevalent in the recent years both in television and the other media. I mean, you look at actresses like ScarJo who play really amazing and dynamic female characters and... what does she get asked in interviews? About her workout routine, her costumes, etc. I think that Arrow is definitely one of those shows that is helping to change the way we look at female characterization and Felicity Smoak is such a huge part of that.

      I'm in agreement regarding social media as well. I've always said that it's a double-edged sword because creators have instant access to fans and vice versa. It's a slippery slope because you don't want creators to listen to every whim of their audience but it's so brilliant that the people who make the show can now know, instantly, what their audience thinks and that it can shape how they create in the future.

      Thanks so much for your comments about this piece and about Arrow/strong women. :)

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  6. I agree with ever single line that you wrote! Awesome job, i loved your post :)

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    1. Thank you so much for taking the time to read! I'm glad you enjoyed. :)

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  7. Fantastic post. Thank you so much for your insightful comments! Beautifully written :o)

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    1. You're welcome so much for the post! And thank YOU for reading and taking the time to comment. :)

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  8. Your view is really interesting, and I totally agree with it!

    I think the epitome of strength is Fiona Gallagher (Shamelss). Strength is often related to what men think that means: a physical issue. And it's not. Strength is to be able to face your fears and to go on, and usually, in life, that comes from emotional moments rather than physical ones. Felicity and Fiona are characters able to make the best of their situations, and that is a great way of face life!
    Excuse my english if there is any mistake, it's not my first language.
    Thank you for your bright post!

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    1. Thank you so much for your comment! You gave such an accurate and beautiful example of what strength means, especially since English isn't even your first language. Again, thank you for the comment. I truly appreciate it. :)

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  9. I love this post. Felicity is definitely one of my all-time favorite female characters and you've captured her beautifully here. I especially love that Felicity is so steady as a character, and her steadiness centers Oliver and the rest of Team Arrow. Nicely done!

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  10. Thank you so much for your comment, Lisa! I knew I would like Felicity based on friends who told me she was amazing, but it was only after fully marathoning the series that I appreciated her depth and strength. :) Thanks again for taking the time to comment and I'm glad you enjoyed the post!

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  11. love it. Perfectly describes Felicity as I see her

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  12. Thank you so much for reading and commenting! :) :) :)

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  13. I know I'm really late to this party but I just discovered your blog :)
    I absolutely love this post and I love how brilliant, beautiful and layered Felicity is.
    The Arrow writers got SO MUCH right with Felicity Smoak. Also, EBR has talent in spades. Stephen Amell & she crackle everytime they're on screen together but she has chemistry with literally everybody on the show that she has interacted with (Im sure she would even have chemistry with a wall). Emily Bett is amazing and her portrayal of Felicity Smoak is one my fav things about Arrow!

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    1. Awwww, being late to the party is totally acceptable! :)

      Thank you so much for reading the post and for saying such nice things about it. EBR is seriously so underrated as an actress. She's got impeccable comedic timing but she's also so genuinely earnest and heartfelt in her portrayal of Felicity that if you don't find her endearing and strong, I find something wrong with you. And she literally does have chemistry with EVERYONE (*insert Community reference here*) which is just so great.

      Thank you again for reading! Welcome to the party. :D

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  15. I know I'm late to the party, but thanks to you, I just binge-watched all of Arrow (it seriously took my 3 days). I am now a Felicity Smoak devotee. If you love Felicity and her non-coffee-fetching fierceness, then you should meet Donna Moss of The West Wing. I think you'll love her too.

    (P.S. I'm convinced Donna Moss is the namesake of Donna Paulsen from Suits, another fierce Girl Friday type. I have no evidence of this, just a gut feeling.)

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  16. I loved this post so much! (I'm a little late to the game I know) I just started watching Arrow at the beginning of the summer (thanks Netflix!) and I immediately loved Felicity as an addition..This is probably due solely to EBR and how she plays her because she comes across that screen so genuine and relatable and helps everyone to see the best in themselves...my favorite part? that she doesn't need to wear a mask or go into battle to kick ass and be strong!

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  18. Beautifully written and you've put into words everything I feel about this character. I hope EBR sees this, because her gifted acting is what brought this character to life. And I hope the Arrow writers see it also, because they've created one of the best characters on TV and their writing has always stayed true to who Felicity is. As much as I love watching Oliver and Diggle, this show really came to life for me in episode 1x03, that moment Oliver met Felicity. I don't know if I would care half as much about the show without Felicity in it. What a gem of a character. Thanks for such an outstanding post about her!

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