When a still gestating show not only recognizes a problem that needs fixing, but also finds the solution from within its already established toolkit, the results can be a thing of beauty. When Felicity Smoak was first introduced to Arrow in episode three, the show was still figuring itself out, and a crime procedural that frequently deals with extremely mobile super villains is going to have to do some heavy lifting to make sure the hero is always getting from point A to point B in time. As is expected of most fictional computer whizzes, Felicity has been filling the role of “plot mover,” effortlessly deciphering clues designed to stall Oliver’s current objective long enough to let the other tracks in the story creep forward.
While there’s been an understandable fandom building around the character, Smoak’s utilitarian presence as a problem solver (and outlet for Microsoft product placement), always irked me. Her side duty as a source of comic relief is what’s actually made her popular, but it’s never been an addition that fits neatly with the rest of your average Arrow episode. I never dreaded Emily Bett Rickard’s name in the credits the way I do some of the other cast members, but when she did show up in an episode, it was always a sign that a few minutes would be devoted to watching her help another character over a roadblock, quirkily babbling embarrassing (-ly forced) sexual innuendo all the while. It was no fault of Rickard’s performance, but like so much of Arrow, Felicity always seemed like a not-quite-there element that stuck out of the show’s foundation, instead of supporting it.
That being said, I’m happy to report that this week’s episode, “Dodger,” was the one where Smoak not only blew past my curmudgeonly reservations, but made a case for her being the most vital missing piece in Arrow’s puzzle. Her invitation to join Team Arrow last week was the capper to a character arc that was refreshingly aware of its own inevitably. It was no secret that Felicity would eventually join Oliver’s inner circle, and last week used that fact to dial back the usual exposition needed when explaining to an IT drone that their boss is a wanted vigilante. Presumably taking place after Oliver has healed from last week’s gunshot wound, “Dodger” is Felicity’s proper initiation into Case of the Week Arrow, adding an extra layer to the usual business, and making for a lively transition out of last week’s atypical flashback episode.
And that’s the important thing I realized watching the way Felicity’s greater presence affected things, now that she was a part of the main stew, instead of just a side dish: she’s not the one that hasn’t jibed with Arrow thus far, the rest of Arrow just hasn’t jibed with her. It’s been too much of me to ask that the show bring a lot, or really, any, depth to its attempts at exploring economic inequality, and societal injustice, which is certainly not the program the CW thought they were picking up in the first place. All Arrow really has to be each week is an entertaining superhero show, with some overarching conspiracy stuff thrown in as an added hook.
While the show has more or less figured most of that combo by now, the all-important “fun” factor has been known to go absent for weeks at a time. Sure, Oliver’s nightly adventures are usually exciting, and the villains can be a nice diversion, but the grimness of the lead, and the sweeping dread of the conspiracy plot don’t make Arrow a show that puts an honest smile on your face. This week’s first scene in the more crowded Arrow-cave makes this apparent, as Felicity’s attempts to get Oliver thinking about the personal life of his next target (something I’ve been demanding for weeks), just cause him to go into brood-overdrive.