Saturday, May 6, 2017

Arrow 5x20 Review: "Underneath" (Trust Me)


"Underneath"
Original Airdate: May 3, 2017

I feel like I was lied to by the Arrow producers this season. Our thematic thread is not, in fact, the idea of legacy. Instead, the thread that is tying this entire season together is the concept of trust — or, as "Underneath" proves, a lack thereof. Oliver and Felicity have struggled for the past year or so to really and truly trust one another. But the reality behind this lack of trust is tied to another important factor: communication. Most of our problems, as human beings, can be traced back to a lack of communication. We think and we assume but when we fail to communicate, we construct self-produced realities in our heads that may or may not be actual truth. Oliver has kept this thing buried within him for a while — this secret or half-truth or fear or whatever you'd like to call it — that Adrian Chase extracted, and in keeping some parts of his life hidden, he's built up walls between himself and the people closest to him. That's never more evident than in his recent relationship with Felicity. He gives her half-truths about why he doesn't want her involved in Helix, but this is Felicity Smoak: she deserves the whole truth and nothing but the truth (so help her God).

So what is the actual truth? "Underneath" explores that while also providing us with some Olicity flashbacks (that lead to sexytimes because obviously). Let's dive in!

NOWHERE TO RUN


Are we sure Adrian Chase isn't secretly an Olicity shipper? Because in trapping Oliver and Felicity in the bunker, he actually forced them to stop running away from each other and the difficult conversations they know they need to have. You all know how I've felt about Olicity over the past year or so, right? If we stick with the metaphor of "shipping" here, I would say that I've been in a lifeboat — still tethered to the ship, but also ready to cut free and circle around it. The issues that I have with the ship are primarily issues with the show's writers, who decided to throw us that absurd baby mama drama for the sake of plot and nothing more. In doing so, they made Oliver intensely unlikable and made the Olicity ship — in a lot of ways — toxic. I could not support Felicity running back to Oliver, and I couldn't support Oliver lying to Felicity. So I was left in limbo. Arrow has tried recently to slowly build back up the pairing, but "Underneath" needed to happen before I could make up my mind as to whether or not this ship made sense anymore. The writers needed to hit the pause button on so many of their other storylines in order to give focus to the giant elephant in the room that has not yet been addressed.

And I, for one, am glad that they did.

The only way I was going to get closure on the crap that Oliver and Felicity had been through (and damage that they had done to one another and their romantic relationship) was if I got to watch them work through their issues in-depth. And nothing brings two people together like life or death situations... and being forced to confront issues within a confined space.

Oliver and Felicity are prone to running away, which I think is interesting. Felicity (out of the two) is more prone to fight for her beliefs and dig her heels into the ground. For all of his stubbornness, I would have assumed Oliver would be the same way. But it's easier for Oliver and Felicity to run than to stay and do the difficult work of resolving wounds. Oliver runs in a metaphorical sense because he doesn't stay long enough in conversations to fight for Felicity. He resigns himself in so many situations to just watching her walk away. And yes — that's still a form of running. As for Felicity, she brings up something interesting at the end of the episode: she says that she ran away from Oliver after he lied to her. And she shouldn't have. (I'll probably dissect this later on because I'm pretty sure this is the only weak link in our Olicity resolution.) Oliver and Felicity are both running and it's only because of Adrian Chase that they're forced to stop doing that.

It's also because of Adrian Chase that we're able to see just how... well, off their teamwork is. During the flashbacks, we see that — eleven months ago — Oliver and Felicity affirm they make a good team and always will. But in the present-day, we watch Oliver injure himself pretty severely because he doesn't listen to or seemingly trust what Felicity tells him. She's upset at this, and rightfully so. A huge chunk of the Oliver and Felicity relationship hangs on the fact that these two have always had each others' backs. Even when they've disagreed and even when they've yelled at one another, Felicity has never doubted that Oliver is in her corner, supporting her.

Until now.

And the worst part is, Felicity can only make up reasons as to why that is true. Because Oliver won't communicate his real reasoning to her. So she's left to assume that he doesn't trust her judgement and therefore doesn't trust her anymore. It's a gut punch and it's something that will be resolved at the end of the episode, which I'm glad for. I think a huge part of why I haven't been aboard Team Olicity recently is because there's this valley between them that they keep pretending doesn't exist. In trying to ignore it, the valley has only grown wider and deeper. If not for "Underneath," I can assume they would have never (or at least not as succinctly and honestly) resolved these deep issues between them.

Thank goodness for Adrian Chase, right?

With nowhere to run from their problems, it's time for Oliver and Felicity to do two things: secure their physical well-being, and secure their emotional well-being.

NOWHERE TO HIDE


Felicity's tech is damaged in this episode, making it impossible for her to walk or run without the help of a wheelchair or Oliver. After it's determined that their ways out are impenetrable and the air vents have been shut down (making it so they only have a few hours' worth of air), the pair needs to get creative in how to rescue themselves. As I mentioned above, this means they have to air their grievances with one another, too. Just as there is nowhere to run from one another, there is nowhere to hide from one another either. Felicity tries to remind Oliver of the conversation they had right before the blast, but he does an effective job of ignoring her (and also ignoring her warnings about climbing the elevator shaft which led to a glorious "I told you so" moment). 

But that's kind of the crux of this episode: instead of working through their issues together, Oliver and Felicity have opted to do things apart for so long that it's now in Oliver's nature to do things alone. Rather than plan out a way to rescue themselves with Felicity, he trusts himself over her. It's painful — both literally and metaphorically — and the pair is left at odds with one another because of it. The pain they've inflicted on one another because of this lack of trust and lack of communication has been building slowly and steadily all season, and now it's brought to the forefront. What will the two do, now that they're in a situation that requires teamwork? Will they continue to only trust themselves? Can they still trust each other?

I love that the flashbacks contrast the present-day story in a lot of ways. Even though it was eleven months prior and the two were still not in the best place, Oliver and Felicity functioned fairly well as a team. So much so that Curtis intentionally set them up (with Chinese food and wine) in order to try and get them back together.

Spoiler alert: it worked.

I mean, let's be real here: these are two very attractive people who are very attracted to one another. Add in wine and some good food (as well as the salmon ladder), and something was just bound to happen. I've never doubted the attraction these two have to one another, and the flashbacks just proved that their physical chemistry is — whether they're technically together or not — always going to be sizzling. But for Felicity, their bunker hook-up doesn't change what Oliver did to her (lie about William and keep secrets from her multiple times), and it doesn't change what those lies really mean. 

He doesn't trust her.

In fact, Felicity believes Oliver doesn't trust anyone. "I don't know why," she says. "Maybe if I knew why, things would be different." Hoo-boy, is that an important line. Felicity doesn't need to know every deep, dark secret or thought Oliver has. She doesn't need him to apologize for lying about William. She doesn't need another "I'm sorry" — she needs the reason why he lied in the first place. And until he can tell her that, she can't know whether she's the problem or whether the problem is entirely unrelated to her. And because Oliver doesn't know why he lied either, Felicity is left to conclude that it does have to do with her. She has to conclude that he doesn't trust her.

It's a powerful scene between the two because Felicity essentially admits that until Oliver examines himself and figures out the reasoning behind his actions, she can't be with him. She deserves more than that. And I would tend to agree with her. Oliver hides behind apologies a lot — and apologies, unless founded on something deeply rooted in us, are just words. 

Rather than another apology, Oliver — in the present-day — simply says nothing at all when Felicity tries to confront him about their argument and his lack of trust. Instead, he's focused on the literal mission of getting them to safety. And don't get me wrong, he's right in doing so. But in ignoring their emotional health, Oliver is ignoring a crucial piece of getting them to physical safety. And it's not until he's forced into the prospect of almost dying that Oliver is finally able to be totally honest with Felicity.

"I WILL ALWAYS TRUST YOU. I DON'T TRUST MYSELF."


Oliver, while suffering methane gas inhalation and his intense wound feels like he's on the verge of death. And so, he makes his final confession to Felicity. He was wrong to not have her back, and he apologizes for it. But he also acknowledges that the reason he didn't want her in Helix had nothing to do with his fears that she would turn out like him. It had to do with what Adrian Chase showed him — that he enjoyed killing and that everything that every iteration of Team Arrow ever did was based on a lie that this was a crusade about justice. Chase's argument, that Oliver buys into, is that his crusade was about blood lust, not heroism. It's with that confession that Oliver seemingly fades away.

Pffffft, like our lead character would actually die (again). Oliver wakes up to Felicity beside him, urging a conversation about his confession.

I'm going to be honest for a moment here and tell you that this is where I'm getting a little bit murky and finding our villainous arc to be a bit muddled. Oliver has convinced himself that he began a killing crusade because he enjoyed it — not because he was trying to right wrongs and be a hero. The audience is supposed to believe that isn't true, because the characters keep telling Oliver that it isn't true. But if it's not true, then the whole argument/resolution in this season's villainy is a bit weak, right? Like, Oliver simply has to just believe again — much like a child believing in Santa Claus — and bam! Problem solved. Only the issue I'm running into is that Chase is making compelling arguments here, so the audience is beginning to doubt whether or not Oliver's crusade was really about justice or if there was some part of him that enjoyed killing.

So if our characters are convincing Oliver that there is no truth to Adrian's claims, and if Oliver is wholeheartedly believing them, where does that leave the audience? It leaves us in a really confusing place — we're playing both sides and that's going to make any resolution, for me, feel flat. How will this season be resolved? By Oliver believing he's a decent person and telling Adrian that he's wrong? Wow, what a satisfying end that'll be. And in a lot of ways, if this season had been constructed better, I think the pacing of these issues could have been more satisfying.

But as is customary, Arrow leaves all of the heaviest lifting, writing-wise, to a few episodes before the season's end, making the resolutions feel rushed. The question isn't about whether or not Oliver actually enjoys killing: the question is what kind of man Oliver is and who he will become (hence the legacy part of this season).

I'm trying desperately to explain my issues with this convoluted plot in a way that makes sense. Hopefully you've been able to extract some meaning from these paragraphs. I think that the issue with Prometheus being such a psychologically-driven villain is that with Darhk, there were some clear(er) motives. With Prometheus, since so much of his plans and schemes are tied to what's happening internally, it's more difficult for Arrow to communicate those issues to the audience. (Whereas a show like Jessica Jones managed to accomplish this fairly well, but only because there were physical AND psychological issues tethered together.)

Regardless, Felicity tells Oliver that she knows the kind of man he is. She couldn't have fallen in love with him if she didn't know exactly who he was. Have you seen Moana? There's a really small song in the film (not spoiling anything by telling you this, just so you know) that is called "Know Who You Are." Moana confronts someone that everyone else sees as just a monster. She looks it in the eye, and sings: "I know your name. / This is not who you are. / You know who you are."

So much of Moana is about identity: Moana trying to figure out who she is. But the real twist in the movie is that it's her ability to see someone else's identity that saves her and her people. The same holds true with Arrow. So much of Arrow is about identity: people trying to figure out who they are; Oliver trying to figure out who he is. But the truth is that it's Felicity's ability to look Oliver in the eye and tell him who he is that helps Oliver realize something important.

RESCUE


While Felicity's ability to see Oliver for who he is and confront him about it leads to his emotional rescue, Oliver and Felicity's physical rescue is due to a team effort. And truly, I think that's important. This is a show that reminds us you cannot save yourself — you need other people. And when Oliver and Felicity are dangling in mid-air, they need Diggle to anchor them and hold them up (with his incredibly huge arms, btdubs). They need the team's help to get them out, and it's important for Oliver to realize that he needs the help of others in order to become the man he's destined to be.

In the flashbacks, Felicity apologizes to Oliver for walking away from him all those months ago when she should have stayed and discussed things with him. The truth though is, I don't think Felicity has anything to apologize for. Maybe it's be being a hardcore Felicity Smoak fan, but if you're in a relationship in which you're being lied to and feel disrespected, it's okay to walk — to break things off or to cool down. Better for her to have walked. in my opinion, than stayed and have been swayed by Oliver's promises that things would be different next time. But I can see why Felicity feels bad. She never communicated with Oliver — instead of staying to hash things out, she walked away and not telling him anything more on the matter, and (I assume) refusing to talk about it afterward didn't help the situation.

In the present-day, Felicity apologizes to Oliver for judging him with the whole William thing (again, this resolution is weeeeeeak, but sure, show. I'll bite) because after being willing to do whatever it took to bring down Chase, Felicity somehow got a tiny glimpse into what it must have been like to be Oliver. Again, I really don't buy this whole resolution because I'm still a little salty at the writers for their craptastic storyline in the first place, but Felicity being empathetic and realizing she's capable of darkness is actually a pretty good step, character-wise, for her to take.

Present-day Felicity is also learning from her past and communicating with Oliver. And present-day Oliver is learning to listen and actually learn from what is being communicated. Felicity isn't ready to take a step into a relationship again with Oliver. She knows the kind of man that he is, but they cannot be in a relationship again until HE figures out the kind of man that he is. 

And I love this so much.

It's probably one of my favorite things to happen in the Oliver/Felicity relationship. This time, Felicity is hitting pause not because of mistrust or miscommunication. She's hitting it because she cannot be in a relationship with someone who doesn't know who he is. She can only take him so far — can only preach the truth to him so many times. It's one thing to tell the person you care about what you know to be true about them; it's another to have them believe it.

So who are you, Oliver Queen?

Figure it out.

And then go and get your girl.

And now, bonus points:
  • Oliver made a joke about him being close to death so many times now that people shouldn't be surprised. I giggled, and I cannot lie.
  • "I was starting to become like you, and not in the heroic, honorable, muscular way."
  • There was Diggle/Lyla storyline about trust in this episode too because of course there should be a story that parallels our main one! It actually was good and the two learned to open up to one another (Lyla more so than Diggle), in order to ensure that their relationship doesn't fall apart. 
  • William is approached by Chase at the end of the episode and it literally takes about two seconds for William to admit that he's in the witness protection program. Seriously, this kid.
What did you all think of this episode? Sound off in the comments below! 

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