After twenty-three episodes that ranged from very high highs to some very low lows, the third season of The CW’s Arrow came to a very definitive close with “My Name Is Oliver Queen” on May 13. Now, with months of hiatus until the premiere of Season 4, fans are left trying to make sense of nearly two dozen episodes that changed the foundation of the show forever.
For better or worse, there’s plenty of material to consider; therefore, in the name of ongoing examination, rumination, and extrapolation, weeks over hiatus will feature in-depth looks back at certain elements of Season 3. This installment will be the first in a series of roundups considering the developments of character relationships. In honor of a certain happily-ever-after that closed out the finale, we’ll start with a look at what worked, what didn’t, and what needs to happen next with Oliver and Felicity in Season 3.
What Worked: Arrow is not a show known for its happily-ever-afters. After three seasons of varying levels of doom and gloom, most characters should be too busy counting their blessings that they haven’t been shuffled into that great dark alley in the sky to wish that they could have had a happy ending. With Season 3 turning out to be the doomiest and gloomiest of them all, breaking even was just about the best that anybody could hope for.
The happily-ever-after that saw Oliver smile and declare himself happy was a huge relief. Oliver driving off into the sunset in the finale to discover who he is without the Arrow identity or the Ollie stigma with lady love Felicity at his side satisfied a plot of frustrated romance begun in the premiere. The main reason why the romance is retrospectively palatable is because of the happy ending. The melodrama was exhausted to the point that the characters would be rendered unrealistic and unhealthy as a potential couple if they hadn’t at least come to an understanding, and sending them off into the sunset after carrying them miles past the point of no return was a smart move for the show.
Even the most devout worshippers at the altar of Olicity must admit that Season 3 didn’t allot much time to establishing Oliver and Felicity’s identity as a couple before they embarked on an indefinite honeymoon tour. They hadn’t even slept through a night together, and there was no saying if they would clash over sides of the bed or how to squeeze a tube of toothpaste or the type of music for a road trip. The show ran out of time to sell Oliver and Felicity as a romantic unit.
Fortunately, the show did a heck of a job selling the romance from the perspective of both individual characters.
The task of rewriting the main love story of the show with an entirely different leading lady was one that never would have worked on screen without the lead actor rising to the occasion. Stephen Amell as Oliver Queen proved more than up to the challenge. His complete lack of a poker face about his enthusiasm for the Oliver/Felicity dynamic has been hilarious and endearing from the very beginning, and it’s no surprise that Amell turns in some of his best performances opposite Emily Bett Rickards as Felicity Smoak.
Gifted with an incredibly expressive pair of hypnotic baby blues that have allowed Oliver to remain a highly emotional being even at his most impassive, Amell was able to infuse in his character a sense of longing even when the writing did not provide. It was that gaze of his that often saved Oliver from seeming entirely awful in his treatment of Felicity. As written, the cold shoulder after the season premiere was cruel and punitive to a woman who had done nothing wrong; as performed, the cold shoulder was Oliver trying to recover from their disastrous attempt at normalcy together.
From a storytelling standpoint, Oliver’s side of the love story of Season 3 was immensely helped by the reality that those baby blues of his never wandered. Sure, he was first living like the most handsome hermit ever to occupy a lair and then as a freeloader in his sister’s loft, but the reckless edge of sexual availability was absent. Oliver’s self-imposed celibacy with his heart set on Felicity in Season 3 is a stark contrast to his willingness to hop from bed to bed while focused on Laurel in Season 1. He may have regressed on certain fronts in the third season, but his feelings for Felicity were strong enough that he did not need to be conditioned into behaving himself. Oliver’s instinctive monogamy was an encouraging sign of growth for the Oliver of the previous 29 years of his life, and it gave a romantic appeal to him that has been lacking ever since he took his girlfriend’s sister on a sex cruise in the North China Sea.
It’s worth noting that the show went out of its way to prevent viewers’ eyes from wandering as well. For the first time, Oliver didn’t make any flashback love connections. Before her death, ex-girlfriend Sara nudged Oliver toward Felicity, and the narrative was almost blatant in its determination to push Oliver and Laurel out of the realm of possibility. Not once did he gaze longingly in Laurel’s direction during his flashback stint in Starling City, and the only references to their relationship in the present were unquestionably negative. Throw in the superiority of the post-island Felicity-era Oliver to the pre-island Laurel-era Ollie, and there can be little doubt that Arrow is pretty firmly Team Olicity nowadays.
Oliver’s side of the romance was helped by the fact that he just…loved her. He wasn’t turned into a green-eyed monster when faced with the reality of Ray and Felicity, and his small rebellions against their relationship were almost always harmless or humorous. Oliver oh-so-innocently theorizing to Felicity that she and Ray might be related was one of his funniest moments of the series, and it never ceased to entertain that Ray immediately became “Palmer” as soon as he would exit a room. Loving Felicity was enough for him without prompting him to posture as an alpha male.
Season 3 was the first time that the audience saw Oliver Queen selflessly love a woman to whom he is not related. He may still have been stuck in a rut of taking steps backward for every step forward, but loving Felicity in this manner did wonders for maturing him as a character when the plot seemed determined to keep him stunted.
As reliable as Stephen Amell was in carrying Oliver’s half of the love story, Emily Bett Rickards as Felicity certainly pulled her weight.
Rickards was in a tough spot in Season 3, and Felicity’s character is perhaps the one of the entire cast most adversely affected by the prioritization of plot over character. With Felicity lacking a point-of-view for much of the season and audience sympathies therefore naturally aligning with Oliver as Felicity began to list in the general direction of Ray Palmer, Rickards was called upon to further new storylines while remaining secondary to them.
Rickards took her small moments of callbacks to Felicity’s feelings for Oliver and made the most of them. Her scenes of mourning following Oliver’s “death” in particular were incredibly effective as she moved through the stages of grief, and Rickards consistently portrayed Felicity as a character struggling to find her footing as her world is turned upside down time and time again throughout the season.
The chemistry between Stephen Amell and Emily Bett Rickards certainly didn’t hurt the dynamic. Oliver and Felicity spent an awful lot of time apart in Season 3, but the performers so engagingly sparked off of one another that they could transform even minor scenes and make them memorable. The romance was born out of the actors’ chemistry, and that it failed to fizzle out despite all of the obstacles thrown in their path promises great things for the future.
As skilled as Amell and Rickards have become at elevating minor scenes, much of what maintained the relationship through the filler doldrums of non-sweeps months is the way that Arrow managed to nail each and every one of their big moments.
First kisses are monumentally important for allowing audiences a taste of what a couple could be together without shoving them into bed immediately. Surprisingly, the Flarrow-verse does not have a great track record with first kisses for the protagonist. On Arrow, the first kisses with Laurel, Sara, and even McKenna were off-screen and retroactively colored by the poorly-coiffed awfulness that was pre-island Ollie. Over on The Flash, Barry’s first kiss with Iris was erased from her memory so that it creepily exists as some sort of totem for him, and the first kiss with Caitlin actually involved a metahuman imposter.
Arrow nailed the first kiss for Oliver and Felicity. The smooch was respectful to the two years of friendship as well as to the events that had led them both to end up kissing and crying in a hospital corridor. The desperation lent a passion to an otherwise chaste buss, and neither swooned or fell to their knees weeping for a second chance. There was a balance of dignity and indignity in the vulnerability, and it worked.
The first real “I love you” in the midseason finale was slightly underwhelming for viewers who expected more fanfare surrounding Oliver departing to his probable death, but it was appropriately simplistic and direct compared to the not-so-fake “I love you” from the Season 2 finale and the backwards declaration of the Season 3 premiere. What really sold the confession was the fact that the episode ended with the final vision of Oliver’s life flashing before his eyes featuring his one and only kiss with Felicity. Any lingering ambiguity was gone.
Perhaps the biggest episode for Oliver and Felicity was “The Fallen.” The twentieth episode of the third season, “The Fallen” saw the consummation – physical and emotional – of their relationship. The long-rising action of their slow burn finally began to peak as Felicity entered Oliver’s room in Nanda Parbat, soon reaching climax as Oliver and Felicity came together as a couple for the first time.
The season finale brought closure to the romantic conflict of Season 3 and saw the beginning of a brand new dynamic for Season 4. Despite its failings, Season 3 did a fantastic job of nailing the big epic moments to perfection to establish Felicity as The One for Oliver and other men as pale comparisons to Oliver for Felicity.
What Didn’t Work: Sadly, Arrow fell short on filling in the blanks between those big epic moments. Outside of the premieres and finales and special sex spectaculars, the writers often seemed to only remember that Oliver and Felicity were meant to be in love whenever they needed to inject an extra dose of angst into the plot. The in-between moments that were so endearing in the first two seasons were mostly absent in the third, and a good deal of the fun of watching the characters together was lost in the melodrama.
As Arrow unabashedly embraces soap operatic elements from time to time, melodrama is bound to infect every dynamic on the series sooner or later. It’s rather unfortunate that Season 3 followed up on Season 1’s cringeworthy Tommy/Laurel/Oliver and Season 2’s disastrous Slade/Shado/Oliver with a brand new love triangle for the hero.
To the show’s slight credit, the Oliver/Felicity/Ray of Season 3 wasn’t quite a traditional love triangle. Two parties were not competing for the affections of a third. There was never any question that Oliver was Felicity’s first choice, and Felicity was certainly Oliver’s only choice if he ever decided to dip his toe back into the romantic pool. Poor Ray was never going to emerge a victor. The tragedy is that the far more compelling and organic triangle of Oliver/Arrow/Felicity was sacrificed for the facsimile of a triangle with Oliver/Felicity/Ray. Both Felicity and Ray were seriously hindered by the constraints of their romance, and the triangle did no favors to the show overall.
Quite aside from forming an angle of an entirely unnecessary love triangle, the relationship between Ray and Felicity presented such an unrecognizable Felicity that the appeal of seeing her with Oliver was not quite as enticing as it might have been. Watching the audience surrogate attach herself like a remora to this new person who had not earned any affection rendered her point-of-view unfamiliar and untrustworthy. Rather than her status as love interest working to legitimize Ray, subordinating her plot in order to play girlfriend to the latest guy with an origin story detracted from her authority as a character.
Felicity with Ray in Season 3 was the first glimpse of a Relationship Felicity, and Relationship Felicity wasn’t the same heroine whom audiences had come to know in Seasons 1 and 2. It was a bad precedent to set when expanding upon the character of the woman presented by the narrative as The One for the hero. Thankfully, the end of the season did prove that Relationship Felicity is a far fiercer breed of character when working with Oliver than when she was draping herself over Ray.
Felicity should at least be glad that she’ll be able to stand up straight again in her new relationship with Oliver. Bending herself in half so that Ray Palmer in his tin suit could use her back as a springboard for most of a season had to be exhausting.
That’s not to say that she wouldn’t have been exhausted by her separation from the main action of Team Arrow. Oliver keeping his distance after their failed attempt at a relationship upset the wildly popular status quo within the foundry as Felicity was ousted from her previous prominence within the unit. By bouncing her around between the Arrow cave and Palmer Tech with an occasional detour to Central City, Felicity was peripheral to too many stories instead of a proactive participant in one of her own.
What Needs To Happen Next: The producers of Arrow hit the jackpot when they cast Emily Bett Rickards in a bit role in Season 1. The relationship between Felicity and Oliver that blossomed in spite of the best laid plans for an entirely different lady love has become the juggernaut that it is today thanks to natural chemistry so engaging that problems with the dynamic arose only when the writing began to work against them. Now that the show has satisfied its thirst for melodrama in the establishment of the two as a couple, Oliver and Felicity need to be allowed to exist quietly in the background. They certainly shouldn’t be erased from the narrative in Villain of the Week episodes, but they shouldn’t be making epic declarations or throwing each other up against walls or naming their future babies in every single episode either. Felicity as a stabilizing force for Oliver and Oliver as a rock to rely upon for Felicity working together, quietly in love in the background will keep them enjoyable without changing the tone of the show into something cloying or cheap.
That’s not to say that Oliver and Felicity can’t throw each other up against a wall from time to time. They’re healthy, attractive, and crazy in love. There’s certainly no reason why they can’t multitask physically expressing their feelings for one another with wild abandon and testing the structural integrity of wherever they happen to be when the mood strikes them. They are heroes, after all.
There needs to be no cheating by either character at any point. Infidelity is lazy, overdone, and unrecoverable. Felicity has been built up as The One for Oliver, and tarnishing their dynamic with something as permanent as cheating would be positively ruinous.
Felicity needs to not die. There’s no telling how long Arrow will remain on the airwaves or for how long the various performers will want to stay on board, but Oliver has fallen too hard for Felicity for the producers to get another do-over.
Oliver and Felicity need to fight. They can be happy and content with each other for most of the time, but they lead stressful lives and both bring enough baggage to the relationship to weigh down a small plane. Some of their biggest conflicts in Season 3 occurred outside of their feelings for one another, and it’s essential that they maintain their independency of opinion. Felicity and Oliver need to remain well-rounded characters of their own rather than existing just as halves of Olicity.
There needs to be no cheating by either character at any point.
Oliver and Felicity need to not regress in their fights. Few people are at their best while arguing, but rehashing past conflicts as ammunition or falling back into old habits out of reflex would unpleasantly stall the series and the characters when the time has come for an upward swing. It was bad enough that the show forced Oliver to unlearn a lesson in order to justify breaking things off with Felicity in the Season 3 premiere; doing so again in Season 4 would be disastrous.
Oh, and there needs to be no cheating by either character at any point.