Bye, Felicity

I’ve been preparing myself for Felicity’s “exit”—we don’t know she’s dying yet, nothing’s been confirmed, let me have this—since last fall. It shouldn’t be hitting me this hard. But that didn’t stop me from spending a good thirty minutes last night putting together an outline for the essay I’ve been meaning to write on the character of Felicity Smoak.

Felicity means a lot to me. Felicity and I have been through a lot together. I wanted to write something, anything, but at the same time, I couldn’t shake the feeling that my rambly, love-saturated thoughts probably wouldn’t make the best essay. There was no theme to it, no connective thread, just me talking about how much I adore the character. And then I remembered: I have a blog now! I have a platform for this kind of stuff!! Like Tumblr, but for public consumption!!!

So this is my unedited, stream-of-consciousness, Arrow-is-actually-a-really-good-show “essay.” I love Felicity Smoak and will miss her with all my weepy lil heart. Let’s do this.

*

The story starts with my ex (who is technically not my ex, but I call him that for simplicity’s sake and also narrative cohesion). I’ve written many, many essays about it, so I won’t rehash the past and also years worth of therapy. What you need to know: it was some weird love triangle, with him and his ex and me somewhere in the middle.

If you’re in any way familiar with Arrow, you’ll see that pattern reflected in the narrative. The show is one of love triangles. First Oliver sleeps with his ex-girlfriend, Laurel; then he sleeps with Laurel’s sister, Sara, who is also his ex; and somewhere in the middle, Felicity, who got roped into vigilantism against her will and spends the first two seasons trying not to fall in love with an archer in green leathers.

My parents watched the show before I did. I remember, vaguely, watching them watch Arrow. I didn’t care all that much. Laurel was great, but Oliver/Laurel felt… forced. Obvious. They finished season one, started season two, and over time I found myself getting invested. Something was different. I didn’t know what, exactly, but something about season two was hitting all the right places for me as a consumer.

I was depressed, stuck in an unhealthy relationship, unhappy as hell. And then—Felicity. Specifically, the episode where Felicity’s comparing herself to Sara, who isn’t just Oliver’s ex but an assassin as well. The show suggests that Felicity is jealous of Sara, maybe because she has feelings for Oliver, but ultimately it’s more than that. Sara is talented. Sara can protect herself, hold her own in a fight. Felicity is the sole noncombatant, and when the villain of the week strips her of the one thing she can do well—hack—she is overwhelmed by a sense of inadequacy.

I don’t remember much of 2015. But I do remember watching that episode. Diggle, Oliver’s bodyguard/partner-in-crime, realizes that Felicity is struggling.

It must be difficult for you, he says, seeing them together.

It isn’t about them being together, replies Felicity. It’s about me.

Arrow could’ve gone the easy, misogynistic route, but instead, the writers show Felicity as a multidimensional person, someone capable of experiencing jealousy—a primal emotion, instinctual in many cases—but equally as capable of feeling deficient. It’s not that Oliver and Sara are together. It’s that Felicity has forgotten her own worth. She can pine after Oliver (let’s be real, who WOULDN’T pine after Oliver Queen) and simultaneously wrestle with identity confusion.

Arrow never pits Felicity and Sara against each other. For that matter, Arrow doesn’t pit Felicity and Laurel against each other either. (The fandom does, but that’s a story for another essay.) Felicity acknowledges her feelings for Oliver but is emotionally intelligent enough to step back from the situation and go, there’s something else at work here. And I love her for that. I love that Felicity feels her feelings without getting overwhelmed by them.

Diggle listens to Felicity, realizing there’s nothing he can say. Felicity has to figure it on her own. But he does take a moment to affirm her. You’re irreplaceable, Felicity.

I cried at that. Silently, because my parents were watching, and also because I was stubborn—I didn’t want to acknowledge what that scene did to me, what it evoked in me. I wanted to believe that things were fine. My relationship wasn’t abusive! I was blowing things out of proportion!! But Felicity’s vulnerability forced me to realize that I, too, felt inadequate. I, too, was stuck in a love triangle, and as a result, had forgotten my worth.

The episode ends on a high note. Felicity takes a bullet for the team, proving to herself that she’s just as much of a vigilante as everyone else. Oliver confronts her about the risk she took: Diggle had mentioned that maybe you were feeling a little left out.

Felicity waffles, but is ultimately too doped up on pain meds to deny it. I was just… used to being your girl.

Cue romantic piano music. (People claim that Oliver/Felicity came out of nowhere in season three but, like, are we even watching the same show? This is swoon-worthy, thank you very much.)

Oliver cups her cheek, holds her gaze, and says, You will always be my girl, Felicity.

Over the next few seasons, Felicity gets her “comeuppance”: the show affirms her value, not just as a hacker and IT person but as a crucial part of Team Arrow. I, on the other hand, did not. Again, many, many essays, so I won’t go into detail here, but—in a way, Felicity gets my happy ending. The love triangle is resolved. Marriage is proposed, babies are made, and so I live through her, the small part of me that wonders on occasion how things might have turned out if I’d been his girl.

*

We finish season two. I’m all aboard the Olicity train, so I insist on watching season three when it airs. Olicity becomes a thing! There’s a lot of angst!! My parents lose interest halfway through the season, but I stick it out, going so far as to enter “OLICITY SEX” (yes, in all caps) as an event in my calendar, commemorating the day that 3x20 aired.

It was my way of coping. I’d cut ties with my Oliver, so Olicity was… voyeuristic, I guess, in the sense that I was envisioning a parallel life, an alternate version of our story. But it quickly became more than that. I cared about Oliver, Felicity, Oliver and Felicity, Olicity as a couple. I wanted them to be happy. I’d finally chosen a canon ship. It was, as they say, a miracle.

Season three finished. Oliver and Felicity go on a months-long road trip, celebrating their love and also the precarious sensation of being alive. The first half of season four is, in short, every shipper’s dream, with kisses and hugs and a ridiculous amount of physical contact. In the midseason finale, Oliver proposes, and ONE of these days I’ll write an essay about Olicity as a couple and how frickin great they are, but for now, right now—

The episode ends with Oliver and Felicity getting into a car crash. The last thing we see is Oliver cradling Felicity’s body in the middle of the road, a look of panic on his face.

*

Felicity is paralyzed from the waist down. And that, on top of everything else, is why I love her as much as I do.

*

The comic version of Felicity, Overwatch, is in a wheelchair. I could write a whole essay on why Felicity wasn’t disabled from the beginning, but that’s not what this is, I’m focusing on the positives here. Still, the negatives are important to acknowledge, so—

Negative: Felicity is magically cured.

Negative: The show spends a few episodes on disability issues, only to abandon them when Felicity is cured.

Negative: Disability doesn’t become a lasting part of Felicity’s self-concept.

Arrow isn’t perfect. I’m not arguing that Arrow did things right. But I loved Felicity before the crash, so when wheelchairs and ableism came into play? It was over for me. I was doomed, head-over-heels, in it for the long run.

*

Felicity expects Oliver to break up with her.

She’s disabled now. She can’t walk, she can’t fight, she’s not the woman he met all those years ago. She’s broken. And Oliver, her Oliver, the Oliver she loves—he didn’t sign up for wheelchairs, for ramps and physical therapy.

It’s literally a Nicholas Sparks novel. Will he do the right thing and stick it out? Will he ever see past the disability? Will their love conquer all obstacles?!

It’s a Nicholas Sparks novel, and it’s everything I wanted as a teenager with her head in the clouds. I wanted someone to look me in the eyes—preferably not in a hospital room, but when you’re as desperate as I was, you’ll take what you can get—and make some sort of sweeping love confession. Unrealistic? Of course. But that’s what fantasies are for. They’re real in ways real life isn’t.

Felicity looks Oliver in the eye. We didn’t really exchange any vows, so the whole ‘for better or for worse’ thing doesn’t really apply here.

What are you talking about? Oliver says. Seriously?

Cue piano music.

Oliver slips the ring on her finger. Holds her gaze. For better or for worse.

The next episode opens with Oliver carrying Felicity down the stairs, setting her in a wheelchair. It’s a scene I’ve lived countless times, so to see Felicity in my position, squawking to Oliver about being careful—

He kneels in front of her. That, too, a scene I’ve lived, this one in my head. Countless hours spent fantasizing: sweeping love confessions, hands on my knees, piano music in the background. It’s everything I wanted as a teenager, with the sappiness, the romanticism, but it also appeals to the adult in me. Oliver drapes a blanket over Felicity’s lap (swoon-worthy, yes, but practical as well, gold stars all around). He gets her a glass of water so she can take her meds. It’s equal parts domestic and realistic.

Sometimes while writing my book, I struggle to envision a scene. My protagonist is disabled, in a wheelchair, and oftentimes her love interest will kneel in front of her—not a romantic gesture so much as it is a symbol, a way of ensuring equality. They’re on the same level. They can look each other in the eye.

It’s happened to me countless times over the years, but for some reason, my rendition comes out awkward. Clunky. It doesn’t ring true, maybe because my book is one of few stories with a disabled lead. I don’t have anything to base it off of—just me and my life, the fantasies in my head, visions of an interabled relationship. There are no precedents, and the socialized part of me, the part that feels disabled, cringes at the abnormality of it all.

But then Felicity: I was at home, feeling more self-pity than I have in my entire life, when it hit me. This is who I am.

Felicity in her chair, fidgeting with the wheels. Felicity at the bottom of a staircase, looking up at Oliver: We’re gonna need to get some ramps. Felicity at her computers, doing everything she used to do as an abled woman, her wheelchair in plain view of the camera.

Felicity practicing a presentation for the shareholders of her company. She’s flustered, unsure of herself, her body, her chair. She runs into a prop, drops the mic.

Perhaps it would be better to let someone else do this presentation, someone says.

And by someone else, you mean someone not in a wheelchair?

There’s two Felicitys, Felicity, says Curtis, her best friend, later in the episode. The one in that board room whose wheelchair makes her doubt herself, and this Felicity, brilliant force of nature.

Felicity in the apartment she shares with Oliver. He kneels in front of her, asks her to marry him again. Whenever I watch this scene, my eyes are drawn to his hands, curled against the frame of her chair when he leans in to kiss her. It’s a simple thing. Unimportant, an innocuous detail. But out of everything, the ramps and ableism, their height difference (Felicity in her chair, Oliver standing next to her), it’s somehow his hands on her—a brief, grounding touch.

It’s real. Realer than most things. And when Felicity is cured an episode later, it’s all I want to think about. His hands, the space between them—fictional, but somehow true, somehow a reflection of a life I’d like to live.

*

It’s technology that cures her, not magic, which is supposed to make me feel better (?). But I still miss that Felicity, harping at Oliver when he carries her down the stairs, zipping between aisles in her manual chair. She lives in me, just like she lives in Felicity, a path that was lucky enough to diverge from my own.

*

Oliver and Felicity break up. It’s mostly to generate drama, but in another essay, I’ll talk about Oliver’s trust issues (this is, after all, a CW show, there are trust issues aplenty), how they needed time apart.

Arrow doesn’t pull punches. Arrow doesn’t pretend that Oliver isn’t traumatized, that he struggles with mental illness (I might be reaching here, I don’t care, to me it’s canon), that people in darkness fight their way to the light. And I love Arrow for that, just like I love Arrow for its portrayal of Felicity: she finds out that Oliver has been keeping a secret from her, so she breaks up with him—not because she doesn’t love him, but because she loves herself, too much to marry a man who doesn’t trust her.

Not too long ago, I saw a post on Tumblr that characterized Felicity as vindictive. It wasn’t a slam—it was an honest portrayal of her character, weaknesses and all. I think about that post a lot, and I don’t know why. Maybe because it saw Felicity for who she is, a well-rounded character, flawed but earnest and brimming with love.

Felicity is the heart of the show. The actress, Emily Bett Rickards, was only supposed to be in a few episodes of season one, but she had such chemistry with Oliver’s actor, Stephen Amell, that she was hired as the lead actress. In the comics, Oliver ends up with Laurel, but in the show—

Felicity drives his character arc. The show begins with a hardened Oliver, cut off from his family and friends, unwilling to open his heart. He kills people to save lives, but he is constantly flirting with darkness—this idea that to eradicate evil, he needs to become evil, needs to use evil’s tactics and wield evil’s weapons. And then Felicity, the first to see Oliver as something other than a vigilante. She anoints him as a hero. She calls him to the light.

She sees his darkness. He hurts her, and she doesn’t once pretend that his hands are clean. When Oliver’s secret comes to light, she is strong enough to say no. She admits that Oliver was in an impossible situation, but she also makes room for her own emotions. She embraces the tension of a messy truth: she loves him, more than anything, but love is not a savior. Oliver needs to work on himself, and Felicity—Felicity needs to heal.

So she does. She puts boundaries in place and ruthlessly enforces them. She continues her work with Team Arrow, and it’s painful, it’s awkward, season five is full of angst. But still she shows up. Still she does what needs to be done. And when she and Oliver finally hash things out (they’re married, y’all, my ship is CANON), she’s the first to admit she didn’t handle things the way she probably should’ve.

I love her humility. I love her strength. I love her resolve, her stubbornness, her unrelenting desire to do the right thing. Most of all, I love her heart, how sometimes it drives her to silly, foolish, vindictive things.

*

Even season seven. Oliver’s in prison, Felicity’s in witness protection with his son. The first time we see her, she’s wearing a flannel button-down. She has a nose ring, pink streaks in her hair. She’s working at a coffee shop, and when someone flirts with her, she snaps at him, she misses her husband, she wants her life back.

She does whatever it takes to get Oliver out of prison. We see another side to Felicity, new and unfamiliar—recklessness. Moral ambiguity. She threatens people, she breaks the law, she flirts with darkness. It’s startling. Uncomfortable. A vision of Oliver in season one. But, at the same time, it makes sense. Of course Felicity is capable of this. Of course she’s tempted by the thought of revenge. Who wouldn’t be?

Felicity isn’t perfect. She’s the heart of the show, the light to Oliver’s darkness, but she is also human. She has her own darkness, and it shows in her love for Oliver, her messy and untamable grief. I don’t want a heroine who never struggles or falls to temptation. I want a heroine who is scared of losing the life she’s built for herself—and build a life she has.

Felicity has saved the city a thousand times over. She’s the CEO of a tech giant. She graduated from MIT and is an actual, literal genius. She married the love of her life, and spends her days with her favorite people in the world, kicking ass and taking names and, most importantly, righting wrongs.

She doesn’t want to lose that. So she fights for it. And Felicity Smoak?

She wins. She gets Oliver back, she has a kid, and through it all, she finds her way to the light—like she always has, and always will.

*

I thought about posting this after her last episode. Poetic and all. But I want to remember Felicity as she is, which is to say alive, which is to say human and whole.

I want Felicity to have a happy ending. But this is, after all, a superhero show. Arrow doesn’t pull punches. So I let myself have this, this messy lil essay that will never leave the confines of my blog. Felicity deserves a happy ending. So does Oliver, for that matter. And maybe neither of them will get one, maybe Felicity will die in the saddest way possible, maybe I’ll cry my eyes out at the season finale. But—

This is who I am, Felicity says, hair in a ponytail, glasses perched on her nose. I wanted to come along on your awesome superhero adventure because I wanted to help people. And the old me was so angry at the world. That anger never accomplished anything, it just created more anger… and some seriously bad personal style choices. But I wanted to do some good in the world.

Felicity in her wheelchair. Oliver sits across from her, meeting her gaze. A piano plays in the background.

We’re going to stop him, she continues, speaking of Damien Darhk, the man responsible for her paralysis. Not out of guilt or vengeance or regret. We are going to stop him because that’s what we do. That’s who we are.

I don’t know how her story is going to end. But I know she accomplished what she set out to do. She did some good in this world. And I will carry her heart for the rest of my life.