In a little more than two seasons now, Arrow has evolved Felicity Smoak from a throwaway lackey into one of the most beloved and versatile characters in the game. Her “Secret Origin” deserves to mean more to the show’s overall lore than just be the centerpiece of a monster of the week filler episode.
“The Secret Origin of Felicity Smoak” felt more like “We’ve Run Out of People Who Were Doing Stuff Five Years Ago.” Therefore it was Felicity’s turn to have her past unearthed through the ancient art of flashback.
She looked like such a badass in the preview pictures: the black hair, Goth look and skin … oh the bare skin. Past Felicity looked equally likely to kiss you or stab you in the neck - just to keep you guessing.
However this character, who has become the team’s heart and brains and the audience’s avatar in this world of hooded archers (kudos to Emily Bett Rickards there), has a “dark” past the boils down to this: She was a genius programmer in college who aspired do nothing more than hack the unhackable servers for no other reason than to take a screenshot and post it in a forum to tell the noobs and posers there to suck it. Her boyfriend had more aggressive (and poorly thought out) ideas and he got busted for being sloppy. Felicity got scared straight into a bottle of peroxide, a sweater and celibacy. She dumped her Goth persona into a garbage bag and went corporate in Starling City. The End.
That’s it. No real danger, no neck stabbing, no connection to the story the show has been telling for two years. Felicity is the kind of character worthy of her own spin-off (who wouldn’t want to see her traveling from city to city improving B’wana Beast’s Wi-Fi speed or teaching team dynamics to Doom Patrol?) so if you’re going to give her literally a dark past try to give it an edge and significance.
Meanwhile in Gotham City …
Gotham took a detour from its procedural bent to continue the fallout of Penguin’s return from the dead and crafted its most entertaining episode since the pilot.
This show has spent a lot of time in its early run establishing the world, dropping villain references and introducing James Gordon around town to the point that it felt like Gotham was just pushing stuff around the sandbox instead of building something. This week, the show sprang the trap it’s been quietly building and the show was much better for it.
In general, the cops on the show are terminally dull, save for Donal Logue’s Bullock. The focus on the first border skirmish in the mob war we all know is coming was refreshing to watch. There’s way more conflict with the various factions of the mob in Gotham. Now with Penguin playing all ends against the middle, there’s a good foundation to build on from here. Robin Lord Taylor and Jada Pinkett Smith are so fun in every scene they’re in, which is another reason to play to the show’s strengths and stay mob focused.
If Gotham falls into a groove where cops and criminals alike are trying to keep pace with the Penguin’s strategies, it will be worth keeping in your weekly TV rotation.
He’s got pizazz: The introduction of another future member of Batman’s rogues gallery, Victor Zsasz, was handled less ham-handedly than the norm established with Nygma and Selena Kyle. Zsasz was intense and intimidating without being comically creepy. He’s also early enough into his body scarring routine that it wasn’t obvious at first sight.
Need to see other people: There are some bad characters on this show and Barbara Keene won the championship belt this week. Who wasn’t secretly hoping that something worse happen to her than be subjected to torture by freshly baked muffin and Victor’s ringtone. Here’s a tip: after no-necked goons are forced out of your swanky loft at gunpoint, it’s never a good idea to go back to town. Never ever never.
What are the odds: How much you want to bet Fish Mooney one day loses her nightclub to Penguin via hug-filled negotiation?
Meanwhile back in Starling City …
Let’s talk about Red Ranger Roy’s fever dreams. If they turn out to be true, then this show has made a major stumble.
If Roy ends up being the one who really killed Sara, then it further cheapens an already controversial exit for an important, well-liked character and exposes the Arrow team as a bunch of terrible investigators.
Roy threw the arrows that killed Sara with his bare hands. Are we to believe they just left those arrows in Sara when they buried her? That they haven’t checked the arrows for fingerprints?
If they did check the arrows for prints the hunt for Sara’s killer would have gone like this:
“Scan scan scan.”
“Beep beep boop.”
“TING!! The prints belong to the oft-arrested Roy Harper. Somebody call Nyssa and Laurel they are going to want to hear this.”
It won’t matter if it’s explained away as League of Assassins mind control or a Mirakuru hangover, getting Roy to take the fall for Sara’s death is a bad idea, especially if its sole purpose is to clear the way for Laurel to be Ollie’s lone sidekick.
She’s still one of us: While Ollie and Roy were banging their sticks (love that Roy even falls down with a parkour flourish), Thea and Merlin were clashing swords and Laurel was flailing way on her trainer, Felicity made that fifth sit-up without injuring herself. Gotta keep in shape in case you need to punch out an ex-lover you thought was dead but really returned to rob and terrorize the city.
New villain alert: We got our first taste of a villain from the Superman universe in the guise of ex-boyfriend Cooper’s Starro the Conqueror T-Shirt. At that point you knew he was going to be the big bad of the episode. No one in a Starro shirt is ever up to any good.
They mostly bitch about taxes, mom: Oh yeah, Felicity’s oft talked about mom, Donna, shows up unexpectedly as part of Cooper’s plot. Her star-struck reaction to meeting Ray Palmer and Oille was cute: “How many millionaires do you know?” It would have been nicer to have Donna or the flashbacks. Having both shortchanged each idea.
Home, sweet abandoned warehouse: It seems fitting since Oliver spends so much time in large spaces littered with cardboard boxes that he’s chosen to live in a place that looks like that too. It’s got a bitchin’ TV to watch his 1940s psychodramas, however.
Meanwhile in Chicago …
For its third episode out, Constantine heads up north to put its own spin on the legend of Mississippi bluesman Robert Johnson, who is said to have sold his soul to the devil for talent and success, but paid a heavy price.
This version has a Depression-era Memphis blues musician cutting a record at the moment Satan shows to collect his prize. The resulting cursed acetate will keep your beer ice cold but it compels you to want to listen and perform unspeakable horrors.
The situation gets on Constantine’s radar when an old record producer buddy kills himself via icepick after being asked analyze the disc but he listens to it instead. Thanks to a post-mortem interrogation in the morgue and Zed’s bedside manner, they trace the disc back to a rival from Constantine’s punk rock days.
The twist wasn’t that the musician sold his soul for success, it was that his wife Jasmine sold hers to cure his cancer - and her time is running out. She was sent after the disc by her scummy soul broker to use as a bargaining chip
From there Constantine is on a two-fold mission save Jasmine’s soul and get the record of doom off the streets.
Can you hook me up with free pizza?: We’re introduced to the Belloq to Constantine’s Indiana Jones - Papa Midnight, a voodoo priest and collector of mystic artifacts.
He wants the acetate as a get out of Hell free card and sends his thugs after it. Why Papa wasted his time doing his best impersonation of a Bond villain with Johnny-boy instead of waiting outside the mansion to take immediate delivery of the disc is beyond me.
Midnight’s minions succumb to the record’s temptation first playing it at a nightclub then taking it to a 10-watt campus radio station that probably has fewer listeners than were in the club the night before.
Constantine (rocking his iPod) and Midnight both show up at the station to stop the minions and claim the record. When it becomes clear that the record was going to fall into the wrong hands, Constantine sends the disc back hell and makes a powerful enemy at the same time.
Mystery fluid of the week: Blood of some kind covering Constantine’s upper torso as he learned a new spell.
All they need is a catchy nickname: I kind of like the vibe between Zed and Chas. It might be fun to have them couple up if only to later reveal all the times/places they were secretly boning while Constantine is tied up, knocked out or on another plane of existence.
One last question: I’m ok with tidy endings, but after the contact with the devil was broken, wouldn’t Jasmine’s husband get 20 years’ worth of cancer all at once?
Meanwhile in the real world …
The Flash and Agents of SHIELD both took this week off. ABC ran another Marvel Comics special but that included behind the scenes clips of Age of Ultron and Ant-Man. The highlight was a sneak preview of January’s Agent Carter miniseries.
It looks like the fun of the Agent Carter short has carried over to the miniseries. It will be interesting to see if it draws bigger ratings than SHIELD.
Craig Wack is a veteran journalist. Please follow his Twitter.