Yesterday’s episode of Arrow demonstrates that as much as the show is in the superhero genre it is at the same time just another CW program. The CW has a way of speaking to the teenage and young adult audience that the other major markets just don’t seen to grasp or even care about. They understand that by putting good looking people in life or death plot lines while sprinkling in some cliche dialog their viewers and more importantly their advertisers will be happy. Normally Arrow, and to an extend The Flash, have been able to make the network archetypes something of an aside and focus instead on the characters and threats that they encounter. This is what makes them wildly successful not only with the core audience that tunes in to the station consistently but to the superhero fanatics as well. “The Secret Origin of Felicity Smoak” does have the superheroing to go along with it but at its core it is a story about family, perseverance and proving Felicity’s self worth.
“The Secret Origin of Felicity Smoak” begins like any other episode with a collection of vignettes of the main fighting cast sparring. You have Roy and Oliver, Thea and Malcolm and of course don’t forget (I wouldn’t be surprised if you did though) Laurel and that guy that is training her. I guess he is training her? Honestly though, what is Laurel doing other than filling up 5 minutes of screen time an episode and making bad decisions? I digress. Normal cold opening of Arrow, that is until we flash to Felicity trying to finish her 5th sit up of the morning. Emily Bett Rickards has been many things for Arrow and she always delivers a performance that can be counted and leaned upon. She is the safety valve, a hacker plot device and the comedic relief. This scene puts all of those traits on display as she is interrupted by both her new boss (please give us more Ray Palmer, I am begging you) and mother within seconds of each other.
The secret origin of Felicity revolves mainly around her formative college years where she spent time in a hacktivist collective with her then current boyfriend. They would break into government organizations, post their euphoric moments on message boards and try to stir civil disobedience through their efforts. That is until Felicity, with the cliche and yet still working for her black hair, writes a super-virus can give root access to any server that can be hit with the exploit. Basically she wrote a god-virus for any system in the world, that is how good she is. She deploys the virus and is able to hack into some server where student loan accounts are held while her boyfriend, Cooper Seldon, decides it would be a good idea to put a bunch of those accounts to zero. As luck would have it, he gets picked up by the feds and heads off to jail. So when a hacker takes over Starling City you have a pretty solid idea of what is happening. This seems a little on the nose for Arrow, a show that does well with holding their cards close to their chest until the time is just right. The show also stalls a bit on the lack of a show stopping villain. At no point did I ever feel that the eye guy had the full leg up on the Team Arrow and that deluded the stakes a bit.
We are meant to be thrown off the trail when Felicity tells Oliver, who has a relatively light week where his biggest moment is bringing Thea a bag of popcorn, that Seldon committed suicide right before being sentenced. Alas, it is revealed that Felicity’s first love has been working with the NSA for the past five years, faked his death and is in fact the man behind the hacking. This is where the show’s emotional beat takes off in a hurry. It turns out that Seldon had flown Felicity’s mother, played with a spark and twinkle that makes her instantly likable by Charlotte Ross, as a way to force Felicity to reroute an armored truck. This allows the mother daughter tandem to lay down their differences and speak truth to one another in one of the more affecting moments of the episode. It is rife with family drama and over the top cliches that the CW is known for but does so while remaining grounded. This displays the real secret origin of Felicity, a daughter who inherited her mother’s grit and toughness and is harnessing it to do good in the world. It’s when she finally knocks Seldon out that Felicity finally becomes the hero that we always knew she was.
This review could be concluded on that last line but instead I have to mention the final scene in the episode. We finally see why Roy hasn’t been sleeping so well lately. Its because of a dream he keeps having, a dream that shows something that he may or not have done. It is quite a revelation and the main reason why this episode is a B+ instead of a B.