“I have learned that I am a lot tougher than I thought.”

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**This post contains spoilers for episode 3.05 of Arrow, “The Secret Origin of Felicity Smoak.”**

I hate that this episode has been dubbed a “filler episode.” Technically, it is. It didn’t forward the Who Killed Sara Lance arc at all (it seemed, for one breathless moment, that Laurel was going to tell Quentin, but alas) and there was barely any mention of Sara at all. Instead, the whole thing was contained to Felicity’s origin story, which ended up being tightly written, well-acted, and perfectly paced. I hesitate to call this a filler episode because it’s about a crucial member of Team Arrow, one of the Original Three, and the entire team was actively involved in the main plot.

It was also messy in a good way — in the way that life is messy and it gets in the way. Sometimes your little sister is really close to breaking into your lair. Sometimes your mother comes in town unexpectedly. Sometimes you have to bring your baby to a basement full of arrows and weapons because your wife is out on assignment and the nanny called in sick. These were neat little details that we’ve been dying for (seriously, how long have we been begging for them to address Thea being completely unaware of a lair underneath her nightclub?) and I’m glad they got addressed.

 

The episode opened with a fight sequence, switching between Oliver and Roy in a stick fight, Laurel and Ted mixed martial fighting, and Thea and Malcolm swordfighting. Thea’s the only one that get’s an A+ from her teacher — Laurel is “just lashing out” and Roy seems distracted. Roy’s really distracted, y’all. I’ll talk about that later.

 

Normal people named Felicity Smoak wake up at a normal hour, do some crunches, then brush their teeth before drinking their coffee. But hey, it’s not too early to be creepy-stalked by your boss! Ray Palmer shows up at Felicity’s apartment like it’s a totally normal thing to do. And Felicity is just irritated and surprised by this, she’s not downright alarmed! That’s stalker behavior, Felicity! Stranger danger! Do you really know anything about this guy?

Luckily Mama Smoak appears in the nick of time, in an amazing blue dress that embarrasses Felicity, but at least she’s not a stalker! She’s just here to see her daughter! She’s charmed by Ray Palmer (who I guess does Watches, like he’s the Steve Jobs of Watches, or maybe the Steve Martin of Watches) who gives her the new prototype for the Not Google Watch like it’s nothing. This guy is playing a long con! I don’t trust him!

“Mom, to send a text, you actually have to press ‘send’ on the text.”

Things escalate later while Oliver’s visiting Thea at her amazing new apartment bought with actual blood money from Malcolm’s estate. Thea doesn’t see the issue with using the money to set herself up, but Oliver doesn’t know that she’s in contact with Malcolm. The power goes out thanks to the Eye of Sauron, and Oliver disappears off of Thea’s balcony right before he picks up a stranger and uses his body to keep her from getting hit by a car. It’s pretty great.

The gist of the Crime of the Week is that Felicity’s ex-boyfriend, who went to prison for wiping out student loans (where were you when I needed you, bro?) is now back to… stick it to the man? Be evil? Steal money, but with a purpose? It’s never very clear, but it’s Felicity’s virus he’s using to manipulate the city, and he needs Felicity to re-route the armored trucks so that he can steal the money. Basically what I gathered from this is that five years at the NSA still didn’t make him any better than Felicity Smoak.

That’s all secondary compared to the wrecking ball that is Donna Smoak. She brought a new dimension to the entire team just by meeting them. Diggle, the great man that he is, Diggles the scene by glancing at Felicity first before shaking Donna’s hand. Oliver is beside himself with delight.

Seeing Oliver’s thrilled smile as he looks over Donna’s head at Felicity is bittersweet to watch. Only four episodes ago, he was telling Diggle that the family life is a life he can’t have, but here he is, beaming at the sight of Felicity’s mother. He’s instantly charmed by her, as much as he’s charmed by Felicity’s obvious mortification. It’s a relationship he’ll never understand, both because he’s a son and because Moira wasn’t that sort of mother. He learned control, secrets, facades, and restraint from Moira. Now, he sees where Felicity gets her exuberance, her slight flakiness, her warmth.

But Felicity is too distracted and overwhelmed to notice the way Oliver lights up like the sun. And he learns a lot about her — like the fact that she was a hacker activist (“hacktivists, for lack of a better word”) in college, and that her first boyfriend hanged himself in prison before his sentence came down. He has the nerve to ask why she didn’t tell him any of this — like goth-college hacking days just come up organically in conversation — and Felicity volleys back, “Do we even know a fraction of what happened to you the five years you were away?”

That’s what’s so interesting about this episode: Oliver and the audience are learning so much about Felicity, but while we have the benefit of the black-haired sobbing backflashes, Oliver only has the breadcrumbs Felicity is feeding him. The shoe is on the other foot, where she has the secrets and he has to do his strategic retreats and accept that he may never know the full story of her history. She routinely pushes him away for the entire episode, from the moment she tells her mother they aren’t friends until the very end, where he comes close to re-confessing how he feels about her and she says she needs to leave. She still has that ability, which is so so important at this stage, because otherwise Oliver would just walk all over her. He’d give her the smallest hint of a future and she’d jump on it, just to be heartbroken again.

It turns out Mama Smoak didn’t just randomly turn up in Starling at the right time. She was lured there with a free round-trip first class ticket. Felicity figures out that her mother was brought there for a reason mere seconds before she and Mama Smoak get abducted by Cooper (played by Nolan Funk, who is still the one murderer I actively detest from Castle, which means he’s really good at playing that role).

He talks at length about the NSA… MIT… prison… I don’t know, none of it really makes sense because he calls Felicity a sellout then says he’s after money, and he never says why. He also keeps grabbing Felicity by the chin which makes me wish Oliver was still killing people. She does the hack for Cooper in less than thirty seconds, and then surprise! Mama Smoak’s watch has wifi, so Felicity is able to use it to (presumably — it’s never explained) send a signal to Oliver, who arrives just in time to save her from getting a bullet to the brain.

 

But this is Felicity Smoak. It’s cute that Oliver took out all of those motion-detecting guns (machine guns?) but Felicity did the actual ass-kicking with an elbow to the gut and then a pistol-whip. We never find out why Cooper went so dark, or what turned him evil — maybe everyone at the NSA slowly turns evil? But he’s still alive so maybe we’ll revisit that in the future.

At the end of the day, Oliver and Felicity go through another role-reversal where he tries to be the light in Felicity’s life for once. He had to be on the sidelines through this whole ordeal — he didn’t even get to save her — and he watched her get torn down by her past mistakes. He knows she’s low, he asks if she’s okay, and he watches her sort of lie to him. She’ll be okay soon, but she’s not okay right now. So in a very “You’re not alone and I believe in you” way, Oliver says he’s glad for her past mistakes because they shaped the person she is today. “And you know how I feel about her.”

It’s that little morsel that I mentioned before, it’s a compliment and an attempt to cheer her up wrapped in a selfish little “I still love you!” sort of comment, and you can see where he’s coming from, but it’s still unfair to her. It’s a great scene, they both played it beautifully, and it ends the episode with Felicity and Oliver returning to the status quo.

Best scene of the night, though, has to be the fight between Felicity and Mama Smoak. Felicity is already emotionally compromised by the weight of her past, and she can’t believe Donna doesn’t understand that she has responsibilities — “It is so much more than work!” That’s where Oliver’s secret is still pervasive, because Donna will never be able to understand what her daughter’s really been through unless Felicity tells her the secret, and Felicity will never do that.

And then Felicity presumably projects a lot of her own insecurities on her mother, and let’s face it, we all do that. “I’m sorry that I’m terminally single, I’m sorry that I have a job, I’m sorry that I don’t dress like a porn star!” Ouch. The single thing is weighted now that we know she sorta blames herself for her first love’s death. And the job is something she’s been grappling with since 3.02, when she told Oliver she wants so much more than this. The porn star comment is awful and barbed and probably comes from a lifetime of being embarrassed by her mother.

 

And then Charlotte Ross delivers this beautiful monologue, punched up with tears and humility and just enough vulnerability that even if you’re not a mother, you feel how she must feel.

“I’m not as smart as you, Felicity, or your father. I know that. Even when you were six years old, I could barely keep up with you two. And maybe I wasn’t always the mother you wanted, but I was always there. I stayed, and I tried. He… He left me. He left us. But when I look at you, all I see is what he gave you. There’s nothing of me in you. You know, it’s so funny, I was always so afraid that one day, you were going to leave me, too. And now I finally realize… you already did.”

I won’t lie, that brought me to tears. It was hard to watch because it was raw, because you could easily identify with both sides of the fight. And Emily really held her own, they were both so impressive that I just wanted that scene to last forever. But no worries! After their abduction, mother and daughter are able to make up. Turns out Felicity got her brains and skills from her dad, but her toughness? She got from Mama.

There are other things happening in Starling, though. Laurel realizes she needs to talk to someone about her grief and anger, and she chooses Ted. He’s happy now — he can teach her how to fight now that he knows where her anger is directed.

Thea makes a point to Oliver that they’re family and they should stick together, but he needs to meet her halfway. He does! He shows up at the end of the episode with a big bag of popcorn for move-in day, and Thea offers to let him move in with her. I LOVE THIS. I’m so happy they’ll be cohabitating again, and I’m also glad to see Oliver being an actual adult for an entire episode! Old Oliver would’ve refused in order to keep Thea at a distance, but now he’s welcoming the possibility of being close to her, of having roots. He’s really trying to grow!

Malcolm Merlyn watches them from a nearby balcony, unhappy with this development.

At the very end of the episode, Roy struggles to sleep. He’s been saying for weeks now that he’s having trouble sleeping, even Thea noticed he looked tired in Corto Maltese. But now we see why he’s been having trouble: He has nightmares of himself killing Sara on that rooftop. It’s horrible, he throws arrows and watches her fall and it’s all misty and red.

I’ll be mad if he did it. I don’t care if he was tricked or drugged into it, it’ll be terrible either way. But there’s a strong possibility that he’s still dealing with the after-effects of the Mirakuru, and that maybe his deep-seated guilt over killing that cop (remember when his RuRage made him kill a cop?) is manifesting itself in him halluci-dreaming himself up on that roof and killing Sara. Maybe this is just the show’s way of unlocking that backstory while also eliminating another suspect? And maybe it’ll mean Oliver takes another trip to Lian Yu to talk to Slade about after-effects of Mirakuru! I’m always down for more Slade Wilson on my TV screen.

Next week: Roy week! Probably.

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