Last night was a pretty action-packed episode of Arrow. Felicity rejoined the team after her horrific accident; she finally got her own superhero name; a major character died; and more. But all I can think about is how “AWOL” finally convinced me that Oliver and Felicity’s relationship works.
See, while I loved Emily Bett Richards’ platonic-ideal-of-adorkable Felicity—as all good folks do—I never really understood why she was with the dark, brooding, emotionally stunted Ollie other than that she was Arrow’s breakout character. It seemed like a relationship born more out of pleasing fans than their characters. I could see how Felicity would fall for the dark and tortured hero (and his abs), and I could get how Oliver, used to so much darkness and torture, would be infatuated by Felicity’s hope and light. But I always considered them too fundamentally different for an actual, long-term relationship to work between them.
Which brings us to last night’s episode, “AWOL,” when Felicity returns from the hospital after being paralyzed from the waist down. She’s not just damaged physically, she’s damaged emotionally, too—and she’s not just scared of losing her ability to help her superhero friends, she’s also scared of never being able to walk again. She’s depressed, she’s angry, she feels guilty—she’s traumatized, and all her fears and self-doubt and self-loathing takes a very physical form, as her former self from her Goth days.
When “Gothlicity” first appeared in her own flashback episode last season, the Felicity of five years ago was a rebellious hacker ready to stir up trouble, but she wasn’t a bad person. In “AWOL,” she’s almost evil. Gothlicity mocks Felicity, berates her, tortures her by telling her she’s lost both Oliver and her skills. She wants Felicity to return to her old ways, her old self, which the episode repositions as an angry, self-loathing loner—someone who connects with no one, so she can’t fail them—someone who can’t be abandoned, because she will have abandoned them first.
It’s on-the-nose. But as a visual metaphor for the emotional fallout Felicity suffers after her accident, it’s damn near perfect. Gothlicity is Felicity’s fear and hopelessness and sadness made manifest, and if you forget that she’s supposedly a hallucination from Felicity’s medication and think of her as the surge of emotions churning through Felicity’s head, you can see what a canny, authentic representation of grief and depression it is.
By personifying it in Gothlicity, her former persona, it becomes evident that Felicity has likely been dealing with depression for quite some time. Suddenly, Arrow’s sunniest character has an element of darkness she’s never had before, and that’s what has made Oliver and Felicity finally click for me. I had thought that they were too fundamentally different to emotionally connect, but if Felicity has been fighting her own demons while Ollie has fought his (and also supervillains) then she can empathize with his struggle like no other Arrow character can. And just as importantly, Oliver’s darkness (and resulting emotional immaturity) can’t bring Felicity down, because she’s not just a ball of endless optimism. They can truly understand each other, and that gives Felicity the power to not succumb to her depression—well, that and Felicity’s own considerable emotional strength.
Well done, Arrow. Ollicity forever.
Oh, and Felicity’s codename? “Overwatch.” Apparently, Oliver was going to name her “Oracle” but “it was taken.”