TV Recap: Arrow, ‘The Secret Origin of Felicity Smoak’

Written by Marisa Carpico

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Plot: When a mysterious hacker threatens to shut down Starling City’s financial infrastructure, Felicity (Emily Bett Rickards) is horrified to discover that she created the program responsible. Things get even more complicated when her mother Donna (Charlotte Ross) appears for a surprise visit.

First off, please forgive me if this is slightly incoherent. I was up until 5 a.m. Tuesday night (damn you, American political process!) and I watched this week’s episode in a sleep-deprived, euphoric state. Why was I so happy even though my mental faculties were diminishing with every passing minute? Because this week’s Arrow gave us the backstory of Felicity Smoak and it was maybe the best episode of the season.

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Originally conceived as a one-time guest starring role, Felicity (thanks to viewer enthusiasm and no less than Peter Roth, President of Warner Bros. TV, demanding more after seeing her first scenes in episode three) eventually became the third member of Team Arrow halfway through Season 1 and a series regular starting in Season 2. Since then, while we’ve watched Felicity interact with the people in Oliver’s life and be a key player in the drama surrounding the Arrow, information on her home life and past has been shockingly sparse. This episode remedied that.

It started with a fantastic montage intercutting sparring matches between Thea and Malcolm (John Barrowman), Laurel (Katie Cassidy) and Ted Grant (J.R. Ramirez) and Oliver (Stephen Amell) and Colton Haynes’s stunt double. It was pretty badass—until the whole thing finished with a shot of Felicity struggling to do five sit-ups on her living room floor. Her workout was blessedly interrupted when Ray Palmer (Brandon Routh) appeared at her door to talk business. I know his behavior is supposed to seem charmingly insistent, but this dude’s near-stalking of Felicity is kind of off-putting. At least first season Oliver had the decency to only bother her at the office. Ray’s business plans were once again pushed aside, however, when a very excited Momma Smoak appeared at Felicity’s door and we all learned where the latter gets her affinity for sexy, slightly revealing dresses.

As if the fact that Felicity never mentions her mother wasn’t enough of an indication that their relationship is strained, Felicity’s obvious desire to drop dead immediately as Donna shamelessly flirted with Ray made it pretty clear. Things didn’t improve from there. Felicity spent most of her time trying to avoid her mother and once Felicity’s “hacktivist” (ugh) past came to light, she almost irreparably ruined the relationship by word vomiting a speech in which she basically accused her mother of deliberately dressing like a porn star. It was brutal.

I guess this would be a good time to address that dangerous computer program storyline, but I just don’t want to. The whole presumed-dead ex-boyfriend who turns out to be our villain story wasn’t terribly interesting. While well-executed and showing us that Felicity makes a very attractive Goth, anyone who’s even heard of comic books could have seen that twist coming and it wasn’t half as interesting as any of the scenes that happened between Ross and Rickards anyway. Arrow often takes time to delve into family drama, but it rarely does it well, often slipping into melodrama. Take Laurel and Quentin’s (Paul Blackthorne) interactions in last night’s episode, for example. Maybe it was the actresses or perhaps it was because this kind of mother-daughter misunderstanding is so grounded in reality, but the interactions between Donna and Felicity were really compelling and I was basically on the edge of tears the whole time.

Mother-daughter relationships are weird and tough and wholly unique. It’s rare that a show, especially one that is so focused on man-brooding, takes the time to explore its nuances. Sure Felicity is totally embarrassed by her mother, but she also desperately craves her approval. That’s what that whole “porn star” rant was about. These are two women with fundamentally different priorities and that has clearly caused a lot of hurt in the past. Sure Felicity’s evil ex-boyfriend was there to give us a superhero plot, but the real point of him kidnapping the two Smoaks was to allow them to work out some of their issues. When Donna told Felicity–suspecting it might be her last chance considering a gun was pointed at her head–that all her nagging about being single and working less were rooted in simply wanting her daughter to happy, I pretty much cheered. When she talked about how hard it was to be a single mother working 60-hour weeks as a Vegas cocktail waitress and raising a genius child who didn’t appreciate her anyway, I was almost moved to tears. And when–after Felicity saved the day without any help from Oliver–she said that all her strength came from her mother, I couldn’t hold those tears back anymore. It was some of the best character work the show has ever done even if it was a little more tell than show.

There were a few non-Felicity related events too. Laurel proved to be dangerously incompetent at being an ADA and nearly incited a riot. Thea bought the best apartment ever with Malcolm’s money and Oliver brought over an enormous bag of popcorn so they could watch Joan Crawford in Possessed (what?) and do some sibling bonding. And, shockingly, we got real movement on the mystery of who killed Sara (Caity Lotz) with an episode tag that revealed that Roy (Haynes) just might be our murderer.

Even so, it all pales in comparison to what happened between Donna and Felicity. I was so moved, in fact, that I immediately called my own mom after the episode was over. I suggest you all do the same. Thank your mother for keeping you alive and loving you despite how ungrateful you’ve been—even if it’s only to keep her from showing up on your doorstep unannounced wearing a skimpy dress.

Rating: 8/10

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By day, Marisa Carpico stresses over America’s election system. By night, she becomes a pop culture obsessive. Whether it’s movies, TV or music, she watches and listens to it all so you don’t have to.