Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Arrow 3x05 "The Secret Origin of Felicity Smoak" (You Are A Light In The Darkness)

"The Secret Origin of Felicity Smoak"
Original Airdate: November 5, 2014

Have you ever met someone who -- because of their circumstances, their pasts, or their limitations -- has really and genuinely surprised you with their optimism? I'm usually a pretty optimistic person. I see the good in people, even to a fault sometimes. I see the potential. I think about happy things. And though I have a lot of personal anxiety that I deal with that very few people actually see, I try to approach people and situations with good intentions and a positive attitude. Felicity Meghan Smoak is the light of Arrow and that's really no surprise to anyone who has watched even a few moments of any episode she's been in. Felicity, as a character, brings something to the show that no one else does: she brings hope. She brings goodness. She brings optimism. And we'd presume that since she is this kind of character -- the one who can joke and smile, who sees the best in people and always fights for a happy ending -- that her life has been good. (I wonder why we always assume that about people, honestly, as if somehow their attitude toward life is directly proportional to the good things that have happened to them.)

As we've seen glimpses of in past episodes and grow to see more in-depth in "The Secret Origin of Felicity Smoak," the blonde's life has not, in fact, been easy at all. It hasn't been pretty. Her family is wildly dysfunctional. She was rebellious in her youth. She has every right -- this IT girl who works with a vigilante, whose friends have died and who has been pushed aside by the man she loves -- to be bitter. She has every right to be angry. She has every right to look at the world through a cynical lens and pinpoint all the ways she has been hurt and all of the ways that life isn't fair.

But she doesn't. Felicity Smoak, instead of looking at the world -- HER world -- and seeing all of the darkness, is able to extract the little bits of light and happiness and joy and magnify them in order to spread them to others. That's amazing. That's not just amazing, though: that's strong. It takes the strongest kind of person to wade through the darkness in their life and emerge on the other side of it not with a smile, but with a purpose. With a fight. It was in my character appreciation post of Felicity that I said this:
[Felicity] believes in good things and happy things and she’s willing to fight for them.
That is who Felicity Smoak is, in essence. She's a young woman whose life has been difficult, but who has not allowed those dark circumstances or rough patches to color her view of herself or the world. She's, instead, taken everything that has happened to her -- good and bad -- and saved it in her arsenal. She uses her resilience and her hopefulness and her goodness and her optimism and her joy to affect every single person who enters her life. People fall in love with Felicity Smoak when they meet her and there's a reason for that. And it's not because she's perfect. And it's not because she's exactly what they want. It's because Felicity is always what people need. And boy, is she desperately needed by everyone in her life.

"The Secret Origin of Felicity Smoak" introduced us to some amazing backstory about our favorite blonde (who, as it turns out, used to not be blonde -- remember, she dyes it). In addition to learning about Felicity's past, we see some of it begin to resurface in the forms of her college boyfriend and her mother, Charlotte Ross. Additionally in this episode, we get the opportunity to witness some Ray/Felicity action, some Oliver/Felicity, some Ted/Laurel, and even a nice little housewarming Oliver/Thea story. So, if you're ready, grab your nearest (giant) bag of popcorn and let's discuss the episode!

Felicity (+ Donna Smoak, Oliver, Team Arrow)

I love Felicity Meghan Smoak with every fiber of my little blogging being, but you probably already knew that. So let's talk about how "The Secret Origin of Felicity Smoak" endeared her even more to me, shall we? Felicity is such a dynamic and compelling character. And she's such a layered character that sometimes I think other people forget that because she masks her pain and her past behind glasses and cute dresses and a bubbly personality. People who are optimists aren't that way because their lives have been easy. People who are optimists have to choose, every day, to filter the world and their circumstances through a positive lens. I love that in Arrow's third season, it is exploring this idea of identity -- of what makes a person who they are, at their core. Thematically, this was the perfect way to introduce us to Felicity's backstory because it reminded us that everyone has a choice. In college, Cooper proposed that to our lovable little hacker. He asked her, point blank, whether she wanted to be a hacker or a hero. And that's a pretty significant moment in Felicity's life, really, and something that continues to define her life: the choice.

Felicity, as we know, constantly tells Oliver this. She constantly reminds him that there is always another choice and always another way. And it's beautiful in its parallelism because we see that choice proposed to her when she's younger: does she want to remain a hacker forever or does she want to save the world? But as we've learned in Arrow and... well, practically every other television show, every choice has a consequence, be it good or bad. Even stupid, seemingly insignificant ones that we make in our youths. "The Secret Origin of Felicity Smoak" finds my favorite blonde hacker feeling immense guilt that, five years prior, she and her college boyfriend Cooper developed a super-virus that is currently terrorizing Starling City. In an episode that featured so many layers to Felicity and her character, let me try to explain every piece of those layers that I valued.

I valued the entrance of Donna Smoak into this episode. When Felicity mentioned her last year, I pictured a self-centered, reckless, careless woman. What I was met with was a beautiful blonde who is flawed and seems self-absorbed and shallow but who is actually strong and fierce and loves her daughter with all her heart. Donna Smoak enters this episode and every room she decides to enter with a bang -- she has a wild and dynamic personality, probably from her days as a Vegas cocktail waitress. And throughout the majority of the episode, Felicity brushes her mother aside as a distraction and an intrusion. It's understandable, at least from my perspective, because it would appear that Felicity and her mother have a strained relationship -- Felicity seems to be the adult figure, the one with the job and the responsibilities. Donna is all about having fun and making jokes and flirting. So when Donna and Felicity have an emotional confrontation at Queen Consolidated, I wasn't expecting to feel my heart break for Donna, as well as Felicity.

Under stress, Felicity blew up at her mother, berating her for coming to town and interrupting her life, expecting her daughter to blow off responsibilities. But then, Donna reveals what Felicity has already known but has forgotten in her anger and bitterness and frustration: her mother has always been there for her. Donna may not have always understood Felicity's intellect, and she may not understand her daughter in the way that her husband did but... Donna has always loved her daughter. And she has ALWAYS been there for her. Felicity's father has not -- he left them. Moreover, the most painful part of this conversation was the revelation that Donna has always been afraid that there is no part of Felicity that is HERS -- that the young woman is all her father, all science and technology. "I was so afraid that one day, you were going to leave me too. And now," the woman told Felicity, "I realize you already did."

That moment was gut-wrenching to me, honestly, because we've seen how vulnerable Felicity can be (recall her telling Oliver that the thought of losing him was painful) and in that moment, I saw shades of the same fear in Donna -- that fear that one day, the people she loved most would just leave and never come back. A good episode would have stopped there. A great episode would have included another character (Oliver) telling Felicity that family is precious and reconciling with the people we love is more precious than anything else. A great episode would have Donna and Felicity come to an immediate, Full House-style reconciliation. But reconciliation isn't easy when you don't understand the person you're supposed to be reconciled to. Arrow took this episode one step further when Donna and Felicity were abducted by Cooper. It was then that we had the opportunity to see who Felicity and Donna were, at their cores: strong women. Donna put her life on the line for her daughter not because she understood hacking or technology or everything that Cooper was saying. She put her life on the line because all she wants for Felicity is HAPPINESS. And in those moments during their abduction, you could sense that both women were fearful, but both were determined and both were protective of the other. It was amazing, quite honestly, to see Felicity in that moment. We all have issues with our family members. Everyone is flawed and everyone is dysfunctional. But the fact that Felicity was able to see how strong her mother is -- to see this protective, loving, self-sacrificial side to her -- made Felicity appreciate her mother. Appreciation and love don't have to equal understanding. Felicity will probably always find her mother embarrassing and a tad juvenile. But I think when she looks at or talks about Donna now, instead of saying "my mother is... well, my mother" she will say "my mother is... the strongest woman I know."

(As a rather important aside, Oliver obviously comes to Donna and Felicity's rescue and fully intends to shoot Cooper -- who has a gun to Felicity's head -- but before he decides to shoot, Felicity rescues herself. SHE is the one who determines her own destiny in that moment and there is this strength and fierceness in her that Oliver is able to see. And he's always been able to see her as valuable and important, but I think that is the first moment he has ever had the opportunity to see how powerful and strong she is. You can see it in his eyes the moment she knocks Cooper to the ground: that pride and amazement there. Because that is Felicity Meghan Smoak. She constantly amazes him and awes him. I know that Oliver loved Felicity prior to this episode but I can't help but think that hearing about and seeing all she has endured and watching her still be... HER made him fall a little bit more in love.)

Let's backtrack a little bit further and discuss another layer of Felicity's that I found to be compelling in this episode: her burdening guilt over the virus. Felicity breaks down a few times in "The Secret Origin of Felicity Smoak" because she blames herself for everything that is happening. There are a few great moments where Oliver calms Felicity down and tells her that she cannot blame herself for her decisions in the past. But Felicity DOES blame herself and it is both painful and also understandable as we watch her break down over her inability to be the person Team Arrow needs -- to be the one that OLIVER needs -- and fix a problem. That is how Felicity has identified herself in the past two years, right? She is the woman who fixes the broken things and who hacks and who saves the day. And when that sense of identity is stripped from her, she feels powerless. And when she feels powerless, she breaks down.

Why "The Secret Origin of Felicity Smoak" was so powerful to me and so integral to Arrow is because it gave us not just a sense of Felicity's past, but because it developed her character in the present. Felicity has been through immense pain -- the abandonment by her father, the strained relationship with her mother, the detainment and supposed death of her first love -- in her past and immense pain in her present and it would be logical to expect her to shut down entirely. It would be understandable if Felicity never left her apartment again or if she looked at the world as simply one bad day after another. But... she doesn't. Oliver tells Felicity at the end of the episode that all the pain she went through in her past made her the strong person she is in the present... and he loves that woman. This moment, friends, was amazing as was the subtle Oliver/Felicity throughout the episode. Oliver doesn't want to erase the pain in Felicity's life. He encourages her to grieve and to hurt, but he also encourages her to mend her relationship with her mother because family is one of the most important things in life.

And Oliver doesn't want to erase Felicity's past. When he looks at her, he doesn't see a woman who created a super-virus that nearly destroyed the city. He doesn't see a mistake or a screw-up. When he looks at her, he sees determination. He sees strength and courage. He sees a woman who has endured a lot more than he ever thought she did. He sees a fighter. And he never wants to erase the parts of Felicity's past that made her that way. Because anyone less than that is not the woman he fell in love with.

Felicity, I think, accepts the broken parts of herself at the end of this episode. I think that throughout the majority of "The Secret Origin of Felicity Smoak" though we see regret and pain and fear and anger and sadness manifest itself pretty clearly. And while it was painful to watch this spiral, as someone who completely and utterly loves Felicity, I understood why she was breaking down. Her pain was palpable and powerful and I think that this episode allowed me as a viewer to understand not just more about Felicity's past, but more about why I love her and why other characters love her and need her, too. Not every character can handle devastation the way that Felicity Smoak does. Laurel gets angry when she is grieving. Oliver shuts down. Diggle and Roy distract themselves. Felicity pushes and pushes through the pain and we see the bit of her in the episode that doubts her goodness. We see the parts of her that are messy and we see the parts of her that are in pain. We see the pieces of her that are dark and the bits of her past that are tinged with darkness, both literal and metaphorical. But when Oliver looks at Felicity and when Donna looks at Felicity, they see what I see: they see the light. They see happiness. They see a good woman with hope, who loves deeply and cares passionately.

When they look at Felicity, they see the same thing that I do: they see a person who has had bad things happen to her, but is not a bad person. They see strength. They see resilience. They see hope. That is who Felicity is and "The Secret Origin of Felicity Smoak" was so brilliant because it reminded us that good characters aren't good because their lives have been perfect; hopeful characters aren't hopeful because they've never been let down; strong characters aren't strong because they've never been hurt or challenged or felt pain. Felicity Meghan Smoak is the character that she is because she made a choice five years ago to embrace and harness the light inside of her in spite of everything she had done and everything she thought she deserved because of it.

And for that -- and many other reasons -- Felicity continues to be the light that guides Arrow home.

Observations & favorite moments:
  • MVP of this episode obviously goes to Emily Bett Rickards without question. I've always loved how she's played Felicity, as a character: a woman with a wealth of compassion, with hilariously socially awkward tics, and with a strong sense of identity and passion. This episode was obviously one of the best episodes to showcase Emily's talents as an actress in regards to this character and she utterly nailed everything about every scene. The most powerful moment of the episode was probably the one at Queen Consolidated between Donna and Felicity, but every single scene was on point. Brava, EBR. You're the greatest. Runner-up MVP is Charlotte Ross who did absolutely stunning work with Donna Smoak. The miniature monologue about being a cocktail waitress while she was abducted was so great.
  • Laurel Lance was in this episode and was as reckless as ever with the city and her power as acting district attorney. I am trying to defend her each week but it is becoming a bit difficult when literally every week the story is "Laurel wants vengeance for Sara's death and is being reckless about it." Oh, and NO ONE HAS TOLD QUENTIN ABOUT SARA YET.
  • There was a minor Oliver/Thea story this episode that featured Thea moving into an apartment with Malcolm's estate money and Oliver disapproving. It was great to see them bond and bicker, I must say. And Oliver's decision to love and try to support Thea played pretty heavily into Felicity's storyline with her mother. I love that family is such an important sub-theme this season, too. Also, Oliver brought popcorn to Thea's new place and apparently they are going to live there together. QUEEN SIBLING BONDING, FOR THE WIN.
  • The opening triple fight sequence was amazing and I absolutely loved it.
  • "What's the one thing that Queen Consolidated has that we don't use to its maximum potential?" "A doorbell?" Eh, Ray was in this episode and I still don't really like him. He kept interrupting at the most inopportune times and either he has some social disorders or is the worst person ever because his "comfort" to Felicity at Queen Consolidated fell flat to me. But Brandon Routh is still pretty, so there's that.
  • "... Why not, Oliver? Who's she gonna tell?"
  • "I actually have a very vivid imagination. Like cronuts. I had a vision of them --"
  • "You did it behind my back!" "You were... busy."
  • "Secrets hurt, baby. Sometimes more than the truth."
  • "I am running out of expletives."
  • "I have blonde hair." "You dye it." CALLBACK.
  • "It chimes on the hour... and when we're about to be killed."
  • Can I reiterate how happy I am that Felicity Meghan Smoak got to save herself? BECAUSE I AM.
  • "And you know how I feel about her." (I am still not over it.)
  • The ending of the episode threw me for a loop. I think my jaw actually dropped.
Wow, thank you all for enduring this rather long Arrow review. I hope I was able to do the episode justice. Hit up the comments below and let me know your thoughts about the Felicity-centric story. Until then, folks! :)


  1. "Donna Smoak enters this episode and every room she decides to enter with a bang" Literally every character who meets her gives the BEST facial expressions...! Diggle's... Oliver..'s even annoying Ray... priceless expressions from all of them.

    "Moreover, the most painful part of this conversation was the revelation that Donna has always been afraid that there is no part of Felicity that is HERS -- that the young woman is all her father, all science and technology. "I was so afraid that one day, you were going to leave me too. And now," the woman told Felicity, "I realize you already did."" Hmm yes this. Poor Donna. To have her husband leave her but her daughter also emotionally leave her for the same reason. I wonder what Donna wanted to be originally, I presume she waitressed to get Felicity through school, then it was all that was left for her. I wonder how she met Felicity's dad. Doesn't sound one night stand-y, really. Sounds like they were together and he had to go do something else (something probably mysterious and supervillain-y tbh) and had to leave his daughter behind. So how did they meet and fall in love and what ripped him away from his child who was already proving to be his intellectual equal? SO MANY QUESTIONS!

    "in that moment, I saw shades of the same fear in Donna" Yeah there's def more likeness between them than I think even the episode acknowledges, this certainly. Felicity has had people leave her, but she never realized that she was doing the same thing to her own mother. Maybe she felt like her mother didn't need her because she didn't understand her. Another thing they clearly share, not explicitly stated in the episode is clearly the ability to bring the light out of a situation. Donna Smoak brings bubbles and joy to any room she enters, even a hacker cave with a gun pointed at her. This is the same light that Felicity brought to the Arrow Cave when it was so dark and dank (before the high-tec remodel). They immediately bring laughter and joy to everyone they meet, even against their will (Oliver, both with Donna and later with Felicity) seems like he doesn't want to smile/laugh, but he does, because that's what the Smoak women do, they bring that light out in dark places.

    I loved the moment of Felicity saving herself as well, because it showed character development and a character who goes through things and then learns from them. Notice that her position with Cooper is the same as with the Count and with Slade. They have her by the neck with Oliver's arrow pointed at them. She needed to be saved the first time, it was a ruse the second time, and by the third, she's learned how to disarm and wack her opponent. She's been through the same situation all three times and evolved based on past experience. I now write recaps for and one thing I said there is this is how she differentiates from Laurel, and why we're so frustrated with Laurel. L doesn't learn from her past mistakes, Felicity clearly has. This moment is the prime example.

    Ughhh such a great episode. So many great moments! Ughhh the ending too... WHO DID THIS TO ROY?!

    1. YAY CONNIE! I love seeing your comments.

      Wasn't it just great how everyone reacted to Mama Smoak who met her? I absolutely LOVED Charlotte Ross as Felicity's mom and I sincerely hope Donna makes a reappearance in the near future, please and thank you. And man, I DO want to know the backstory of her father -- why did he leave them? How old was she? What WAS Donna's story before he left? And you're right -- I don't think Felicity realized until her conversation with her mother that she's been pushing her away for a long time. So much so, that she might as well have already left her too.

      Honestly, I expected for Donna to be a caricature or unsympathetic but I honestly am so proud of the writers. She was amazing. And you're also right: Donna and Felicity both bring light into every situation and exude so much strength.

      I was so down for Oliver saving Felicity that I fist-pumped when he showed up (as I knew he would because DUH no one messes with his Felicity) but then I WAS SO MUCH HAPPIER THAT SHE KNOCKED OUT COOPER. I think people have been saying this on Tumblr but I love that she fought the way we would expect her to -- just a simple self-defense maneuver that Dig probably taught her back when he trained with her. And I absolutely loved Oliver's face after that moment too, like "... oh. Okay. Uh, I guess you've got this." Because as you said, the first time she needed saving, the second was a ruse, and the third time she saved herself.

      Thank you for mentioning that about Laurel. She's beginning to frustrate me (and really, I don't hate Laurel -- I can play devil's advocate for her behavior most times) because IT IS THE EXACT SAME STORY EVERY EPISODE. She screws up because she's reckless and then Quentin confronts her and she doesn't change. I'm interested to see if and when a change occurs for her.

      This was a phenomenal episode and I'm so glad we got to see so much of Felicity. BUT YES, MY JAW DROPPED AT THE END. Whaaaaaat even is happening?

      As always, thank you for your comments because they are stellar. :)

    2. I love leaving comments here, I don't feel right until I do! LOL

      Yeah, I'm pretty apathetic about Laurel. I don't think I hate her, but I guess I don't care (which can be worse?) and I see what they're trying to do, but you said it: it's the same story every episode. And she told Ted that she couldn't tell her father, but THAT'S HER OWN RULE. NO ONE TOLD HER NOT TO TELL, not even Nyssa/The League! And the fallout from him not telling her is just going to sink her further, because while he will hate to lose both of his daughters, it could cause him to distance himself from her for all the pain she caused. If he survives the heat attack she's giving him by literally breaking his already going-to-be-broken heart. Ugh.

      From a lot of Mama Smoak fics I've read, she's often very unsympathetic or rundown (one of those gritty voice, heavy smoaker, dingy clothing types) and is dismissive of Felicity. In actuality she's so bright and bubble and it's the biggest trait she passes on to her daughter, who unconsciously embraced it after she rinsed out (literally) her goth phase. And I love how Oliver told her to go spend time with her mother the way he did without explicitly mentioning all that he went through with Moira. Because other shows would have pointed it out like we didn't remember, but they knew we remembered and didn't dumb down the moment for us. I really appreciated that writing wise. Between that and the way Felicity broke out of Cooper's grip, it was a really good episode for callbacks (and the hair dying line!) without thinking the viewers don't remember anything. Yay smart writing!

    3. I feel weird until I've seen your comments on my reviews, not gonna lie! ;)

      I have to agree with you -- apathy is always worse than feeling hatred or disappointment in a character. In the first season, I really actually liked her. I think the writing just doesn't serve her sometimes and Laurel is a pretty polarizing character to begin with so when that happens, it makes her even more unbearable. But it is going to be so so so bad when Quentin finds out the truth. :(

      I really did love the parallel between Oliver trying to recover a relationship with Thea (because they're the only Queens that are left) and Felicity pushing her mother away. Family is going to play an important part this season, I think, since it is part of how we identify ourselves so I'm excited.

      Also, that hair coloring callback was so welcome! I love when shows remember that their audience is perceptive. :)

    4. This is a very late comment but this seemed the best place to throw it out there, even if no one will see.
      I've been reading some fic and thinking about what this episode gave us about Felicity's past and something occurred to me.

      The character of Felicity's first love, Cooper, is oddly reminiscent of Oliver in some ways. (Nothing alike at first glance but)
      -For roughly five years he has been presumed dead
      -At the same time that Oliver is in Hong Kong, getting pretty dark because of working for covert organisation, Cooper is brought into the NSA and twisted by that experience
      -Oliver is forced to work for Waller and Cooper is forced to work for the NSA
      -While Oliver somehow maintains some of his humanity in spite of everything he's been through (as Barry points out in ep 8) Cooper's time with the NSA convinces him that humanity is irredeemable and he should just be out for himself.

      In my mind now they are kind of opposite images now. It's vague but an interesting contrast and I wonder if any of it was on purpose.