Felicity’s past puts the future of Starling City at risk when a hacker group targets the city.

“The Secret Origin of Felicity Smoak” gives us a glimpse into Felicity’s past in an episode that is packed to the margins with DC Comics references. When hacker group Brother Eye threatens Starling City, Felicity struggles to fight back against them because the virus they are using is one she created. First, the hackers take out the city’s lights, and then move on to bigger targets: everyone’s bank accounts. While struggling against her own creation, Felicity’s mother Donna drops in for an unexpected visit, complicating her efforts.

Through flashbacks, we learn that Felicity, her college boyfriend Cooper, and his roommate Myron dabbled in borderline illegal hactivism. A virus she wrote then (one that landed her boyfriend Cooper in jail when he used it to delete student loan records from the US Department of Education) is the same virus Brother Eye is using to attack Starling City. The Arrow Team must track down whoever is using the virus, while riots break out in the city over the hacker’s threats.

Felicity gets a well-deserved spotlight in this episode, which also delivers a solid problem-of-the-week plot for Starling City and Team Arrow. It also gives us some perspective on how Felicity feels about vigilantism, showing her in the past as someone unwilling to break the law even to do something ostensibly good (like eliminating student loan debt) but still willing to flirt a bit with civil disobedience. Felicity might not come to blows with villains often, but she’s definitely now a vigilante herself as part of Team Arrow. She has clearly broken the law numerous times over the series, but largely for heroic ends. Now, she must fight something she created that is being used for evil, paralleling Oliver’s own struggles with vigilantes inspired by him. While some have turned out good in the end (like Roy Harper), others (like The Huntress) have shown just how dangerous the idea of taking justice into one’s own hands can be.

The character moments really make this episode. Laurel gets some honest observations about her rage from both her boxing teacher, Ted Grant, and her father. Oliver and Thea begin to mend their fractured relationship, and baby Sara makes a brief appearance with doting father Diggle. The importance of family, particularly of love without judgment, is also underlined in scenes between both Felicity and her mother, and between Oliver and Thea. With all the focus on Felicity, don’t miss the lovely little touches in Felicity’s home: the poster for Errol Flynn’s The Adventures of Robin Hood on the wall, the little robot on her TV stand, a clock with glasses on its face, her 12 cup coffee maker. It’s also nice to see that at no point in the flashbacks does Felicity get any snide remarks about her goth style, nor any cheap shots over her geeky pursuits, like coding a Linux emulator for Zork.

Arrow airs Wednesday nights at 8/7c on The CW. You can also watch the latest episodes on The CW’s website and Hulu. Spoilers, comic book references, and a discussion about Oliver’s flashbacks this season follows.

Ray Palmer returns in this episode, and he continues to walk the line between creepy stalker and socially-awkward genius when he arrives unannounced at Felicity’s home. I understand that Ray is supposed to be an eccentric, brilliant mind whose dump stat is social interaction, like so many television geniuses before him. That doesn’t make a boss that doesn’t respect your boundaries any less menacing. If Ray is meant to become The Atom, like Ray Palmer in the comics, I wish the writers would come up with better ways to communicate that he’s a socially awkward prodigy without the disturbing elements. If Ray is destined to become The Atom, his latest miniature computer smartwatch is nice little nod to The Atom’s miniaturizing technology from the comics. Other DC Comics references include Lyla’s location during the episode (Santa Prisca, a fictional South American nation best known as Bane‘s birthplace), Brother Eye is a self-aware satellite and major villain in the comics, and Felicity’s natural hair color being black is directly out of the comics.

The big twist in “The Secret Origin of Felicity Smoak” is the revelation that Brother Eye is Cooper Seldon, Felicity’s former boyfriend. His suicide in prison was faked when he was recruited by the NSA. Now, having paid his debt to society by working for the NSA, Cooper is behind the attacks on Starling City, and also behind Felicity’s mom’s arrival in the city. He kidnaps the pair of them, and threatens Felicity’s mother to get her to use her hacking skills to help him. Armored trucks filled with cash, ordered by Mayor after the cyber-attack on the bank, are headed into the city following a secure route supplied to them by GPS. Cooper forces Felicity to redirect them to his hideout, where several armed gunmen are waiting for them. While Cooper prepares to take out the armored trucks, Felicity realizes that the smartwatch that Ray Palmer gave her mother supports its own wifi network. She logs on to the network and calls for help. The Arrow, Arsenal, and Diggle arrive (Hurray, Diggle wears a mask! Just a balaclava, but yay!) and take on Cooper’s goons. The Arrow has a spectacular fight involving some turrets that honestly made me wish for the sequence to be recreated in a modern-day adaptation of Thief. It’s not clear how Cooper triggers the turrets. His hands are busy, and “So am I!” doesn’t seem like a great phrase to turn on your security system, but it’s a minor annoyance in an otherwise excellent fight scene.

Felicity and Oliver’s relationship has been strained this season, but we get some nice moments as the two discuss dealing with difficult families. Oliver is dedicated to the idea that we should love our families no matter what, but I’m not sure he’ll be able to maintain that stance when the truth of Thea’s relationship with Malcolm Merlyn comes out.

Let’s talk about Oliver’s flashbacks this season. Oliver’s flashbacks have all been to his time in Hong Kong, where he was working for A.R.G.U.S. and Amanda Waller. Oliver’s flashbacks all ask questions about how far Oliver is willing to go to protect the innocent. Amanda Waller is clearly willing to sacrifice hundreds or thousands of lives if it means protecting thousands more, but Oliver keeps fighting against that. Under Waller’s control, Oliver is forced to undertake assassination missions. When threats to his own health don’t keep him in line, Waller threatens the family of Oliver’s Hong Kong partner/handler Maseo Yamashiro. Those threats force Oliver to comply, but he continues to push the boundaries of his instructions, finding creative solutions when possible. When instructed to kill his best friend Tommy Merlyn, who has come to Hong Kong looking for him, Oliver creates a kidnapping scenario to convince Tommy that Oliver is truly dead. When he takes out another target for Waller, he grabs the man’s USB drive and uses the information on it to gain some leverage on Waller. He learns that Edward Fyres, the major villain on the island in Oliver’s flashbacks in season one, was indirectly working for Waller. Fyres believed his mission was to shoot down a commercial aircraft headed for China in order to destabilize China’s economy, but Oliver discovers that the real motivation was targeting a single person. The aircraft was carrying Chien Na Wei, a.k.a. China White. Waller wanted her dead, and was willing to shoot down the whole plane to do it. China White has been a recurring villain for The Arrow, and in the flashbacks, Waller has tracked her to Hong Kong. When Oliver returned to Starling City, he was much more willing to kill to meet his goals than the Oliver in Hong Kong. I suspect that whatever happened in Hong Kong with China White contributed to that mindset.

The episode closes on Roy’s disturbing dreams of violently killing Sara by throwing arrows at her. As a dream sequence, it looks a bit different from the images of Sara’s death we’ve seen previously, so my bet is that this may be some lingering side effect from being dosed with Mirakuru in the second season rather than Roy being the actual killer. What do you think? Let me know in the comments.

Bottom Line: “The Secret Origin of Felicity Smoak” is a treat for fans of the series and the comics. A challenging threat-of-the-week combined with great character moments and a bullet-flinging fight scene delivers the best episode of the season yet.

Recommendation: If you’ve been skipping episodes, this is the place to jump back in to Arrow.

[rating=4]

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