Arrow‘s Season 7 premiere, “Inmate 458,” felt in many ways like a new beginning for the show. This was largely driven by the change that everyone in Star City now knows Oliver Queen is the Green Arrow, and the show no longer needs to devote screentime to keeping that a secret. Furthermore, Oliver’s imprisonment has necessarily shifted Arrow’s focus in new directions. Its lead is now stuck in a single location for the foreseeable future, and since no one expects this show to become a comic book version of Prison Break, it naturally follows that Oliver’s absence will offer other characters the opportunity to step into larger stories of their own.
For the most part, that seems to be happening. Dinah’s busy running the Star City Police Department. Diggle is working with his wife at ARGUS. Black Siren has somehow taught herself to be an Earth-1 district attorney in less than five months. And Rene appears to have stopped calling people “Hoss” all the time. (Thank goodness.) Everyone is off on new and distinct paths as the season gets under way.
Even and most especially, Felicity.
Oliver’s wife is, naturally, the person most affected by his absence. She’s been sent into witness protection and is left parenting his son William on her own. Her life remains under threat from the villainous Ricardo Diaz, and she’s stuck making Starbucks instead of saving the world. On paper, this isn’t exactly an upgrade for her, as a character.
Except it kind of turns out to be.
By sending Oliver to prison, Arrow manages not only to reimagine the series’ lead character in a whole new way, but Felicity as well. And this shift offers the most exciting growth opportunity for her since the series began.
Much of Felicity’s time on Arrow has been spent in a supportive role. Sure, she largely directed the behind-the-scenes aspect of the group’s missions as Overwatch, but it’s a job that’s generally kept her confined to wearing a headset and spouting technobabble at critical plot moments. In Season 6, we saw Felicity branch out a bit in her own right, partnering with Helix, using her ample intelligence and hacking skills to bring down bad guys on her own (not to mention founding a company in her spare time). She even went out into the field on missions a few times as well. But despite all of that, Felicity’s story remained largely defined by her relationship – romantic, platonic or otherwise – to Oliver. And it’s time for that to change for good.
If the premiere is anything to go by, Season 7 certainly seems ready to do that – and then some.
“Inmate 4587” clearly showed us a Felicity who is actively working to reclaim some agency over her own life. In the past few seasons, she often found herself forced to react to the choices made by others rather than making informed decisions about her own future. The most recent example of this is Oliver’s current stint in prison – a course of action he decided upon without consulting or telling her about until he was literally being dragged off in handcuffs. It makes perfect sense that Felicity might – and likely should – have a bit of unresolved resentment over this decision and the fallout from it, which forced her and William to abandon their lives in Star City. However, Felicity’s exile ultimately shows us that she’s done letting others choose her fate for her.
Instead, we see a Felicity determined to take the fight to Diaz on her own terms. What that will ultimately look like is up for debate. Despite her brief moment of hand-to-hand combat in the premiere, she’s not exactly what anyone might call a physical threat, but she’s more than earned the right to stand up for herself in any way she can.
“I’m done hiding, Oliver,” Felicity tells her husband during her visit to him in prison. “I’m done being a person who doesn’t fight back.”
Seeing Felicity seize control of so much of her own destiny is refreshing in a small screen universe that often struggles to figure out how to write its women or give them anything approaching real agency. It’s Felicity who chooses to send William to safety so that she can hunt down Diaz. She’s the one who refuses to go back into Witness Protection. She chooses to stand up, to fight back, to stop running. It’s a Felicity who doesn’t wait for Oliver to save her, who fights just as hard as he does – both physically and otherwise – for the things she cares about. That’s a Felicity worth watching.
Furthermore, Arrow has never drawn such clear parallels between Oliver and Felicity as it did with the dual sequences that intercut scenes of him fighting a gang of prison thugs in the shower with her battle against Diaz in her kitchen. Obviously this moment was primarily intended for dramatic effect, but it also provides a clear visual reminder that Felicity is Oliver’s equal. Maybe not in terms of physical strength. (Thank goodness for dumb villains who monologue, right?) But in terms of heart, absolutely. Felicity is every inch the hero that Oliver is, and it feels as though this is the moment that Arrow fully acknowledges that fact.
Yes, Oliver and Felicity’s separation is certainly an emotional one. (Who among us didn’t get a little choked up at their jailhouse reunion?) But it also has the potential to be the best thing that’s ever happened to Felicity’s character. To be sure, the “Olicity” relationship remains deeply compelling and romantic, and the premiere took pains to remind us how deeply these two love one another. But it’s past time for Felicity to step out of the shadow of her romance with Oliver, at least to some degree. She deserves the chance to grow and develop as a character on her own terms, separate and apart from the man she married. If Oliver had to go to prison for Felicity to get a chance to shine in her own right, the twist will have been well worth it in the end.
Arrow airs Monday nights on The CW.