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The Burden of Canon: Can We Talk About Arrow’s Oliver, Laurel & Felicity Problem?

Posted on the 15 May 2013 by Weminoredinfilm.com @WeMinoredInFilm

So, it finally happened: on last week’s episode of CW’s Green Arrow origins show Arrow, Oliver Queen (Stephen Arnell) and Laurel Lance (Katie Cassidy) sliced through their tepid sexual tension and went full-on to the bone zone. This was a moment 21 episodes in the making.  So, why did it feel so blah?

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To a certain portion of the viewing audience, any scene which involves a shirtless Stephen Arnell could in no way be described as “blah.”

There is an unavoidable blandness and sense of inevitably with this pairing.  Why?  Because Oliver Queen is Green Arrow, even if the show simply calls him “The Hood,” and Laurel Lance is Black Canary, a super heroine identity the show might someday get to. Since the late 1960s, Green Arrow and Black Canary have been a couple, regardless of which version of Oliver Queen or which Lance (the original Dinah Drake or the current Laurel, Dinah’s daughter) we’re talking about.  Granted, they have frequently broken up, but in terms of comic book super heroes who are thought of as being a romantic couple (such as Cyclops and Jean Grey) these two are among the most notable.  So, their television counterparts were always headed toward some lying down together fun time.

However, one need not to have known anything about the comic books to have seen what the show was doing with Oliver and Laurel.  This is pretty standard CW – heck, TV in general – romantic brooding.  They want to be together, but until the right part of the season comes (either during sweeps or at the very end) the show will keep putting barriers between them.  There was emotional trauma to get past (her dad’s hatred for Oliver and Oliver’s own indirect responsibility for the death of her younger sister being two significant barriers).  There were new spouses to get past, Tommy Merlyn (Colin Donnell) for her, and Huntress (Jessica Du Gouw) and Detective McKenna Hall (Janina Gavankar) for him.  There were abs to try to ignore:

Olliver as he appeared in the show's pilot episode.

Olliver as he appeared in the show’s pilot episode.

Plus, there’s tradition.  Oliver’s a crime fighting vigilante.  By the rules laws of superhero storytelling that means there must be a girl he loves so much he pushes her away to protect her.  Sorry, Laurel.  However, entering the home stretch of the season the show finally put Oliver and Laurel together, reintroducing the two as a potential romantic couple in “Home Invasion” (EP. 20) before going there in the season’s penultimate episode.  Of course, this is all likely a prelude to ripping them apart once Oliver realizes he can never leave his life as the vigilante behind him.

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Team Arrow – Oliver, Felicity, and John. Felicity is an almost completely new version of a character from the lesser known DC comic book Firestorm, and John is a creation of the show.

Is it kind of boring, though?  Increasingly, Arrow is at its best when it focuses upon Oliver’s crime-fighting unit/new nuclear family Felicity Smoak (the fantastic Emily Bett-Rickards) and John Diggle (David Ramsey).  These are the three who know the truth about Oliver’s life as a vigilante, and are the conduit through which the details of the show’s overarching conspiracy plot are discussed.  Plus, John and Felicity are so far the only ones capable of calling Oliver on his crap, with Felicity often attempting to curb Oliver’s homicidal impulses much as Cordelia would grow to do during the middle era of the Angel, another show with a brooding hero at its center.  To paraphrase that show about a vampire with a soul, Oliver and Felicity have real kyrumption.

The funny thing is the show is clearly very aware of just how little some fans care for Oliver/Laurel and how hard they want him to be paired romantically with Felicity.  In the same episode (“Darkness on the Edge of Town”) in which Oliver finally beds Laurel he spends the majority of his time doing a heist with Felicity and John and striking poses like this with the former:

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Shots like these are no doubt sprinkled generously in many a fan-made YouTube video dedicated to Oliver and Felicity.

In many ways, Felicity is an audience surrogate character.  She is the slightly nerdy one – well, TV nerd meaning she wears glasses and knows computer stuff while looking as gorgeous as Emily Bett-Rickards – who consistently stumbles over her own words around Oliver because he is just so darn handsome.  The show had been robbing Arnell of his shirt for quite some time, but rarely did anyone on the show stop and admire due to TV’s unwritten rule of never acknowledging in-show how freakishly attractive everyone is.  Then Felicity became a full-time character halfway through the season, and she gets to watch Oliver work out out while they talk about bad guys and such.  She is not above staring:

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It’s like she’s looking right back at the audience and smirking, “His body really is something else, huh?  You should see it from this angle!”

The show has probably gone a little overboard with their new running gag of Felicity’s accidental sexual innuendos around Oliver.  The “too far” moment probably happened in “The Undertaking” (EP. 21) when she admitted to feeling better having Oliver inside of her in reference to the earpiece she was wearing to allow him to communicate with her while she embarks on a solo undercover mission.  However, Arnell’s continued deadpan “I have no idea how to respond to that…so I’ll stay silent” facial reactions to her every innuendo never fail to amuse.

The point being the show is giving the Oliver/Felicity shippers all the fuel they need even if the show’s ultimate goal appears to be establishing a brother/sister bond between the two.  I’m sure a recent episode conclusion in which Oliver assured Felicity, after a very tough day, she could talk to him about stuff like that anytime and his recent introduction of her as “a friend” to his family warmed many a yearning heart.

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Even when the two are fighting I’m sure the imagery delights those who want the two together.

There are those who would strongly argue against the show putting Oliver and Felicity together as a romantic couple (such as io9.com).  I think Rickards gives Arnell a far different, more enjoyable energy to bounce off of than Katie Cassidy’s more standard anguished romance, and the two share an undeniable sexual chemistry.  That doesn’t necessarily mean the show would be well served by putting the two together.  I highly predict she’ll be getting her own equally geeky love interest next season (a Duckette for her Duckie, for you Pretty in Pink fans).

The larger concern is not Felicity but of the sense of obligation the show might forever feel to the Oliver/Laurel relationship because they are Green Arrow and Black Canary.  Does this limit the show’s flexibility to respond to what is working and what is not?  TV shows are fluid, living entities which reveal unexpected truths to its creators, such as when the popularity of Spike during season 2 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer convinced Joss Whedon to abandon his original plans to kill off the character.  Even shows tied to canon can break away in interesting ways, such as when the DC animated series Justice League/Justice League Unlimited explored Hawkwoman and Green Lantern as a couple.

Arrow has reacted to what’s working, promoting Felicity from her original part-time role to full-time status.  However, even with the Felicitys, Huntreseses, and Shados (Celina Jane) of the world is the show destined for Oliver to ultimately have eyes for Laurel?  There is a practical reason for something like this, such as Katie Cassidy being a full-time cast member and Huntress’ Jessica Du Gouw having bolted for Fox’s Sleepy Hollow.  Regardless of practicality and whether or not it is a good idea to do so dramatically, is the show forbidden from going there with anyone else because Oliver is destined to be with Laurel?

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Shado, should she survive the flashbacks to the island and show up in Starling City, of course.

It’s Smallville all over again.  Somewhat famously, during the initial season of the long-running Superboy-but-not-Superboy show the non-canonical character of Chloe Sullivan (Allison Mack) sparked with viewers far more than anticipated.  She was merely a character specifically created for the show to provide a Lois Lane-type who could fire off expository dialog like all the best Gal Fridays and unknowingly come closer and closer to discovering Clark Kent’s (Tom Welling) big secret.  However, she was arguably the early breakout character of the show, and the interest in her eventual crush on Clark outweighed the far more rote, by-the-numbers will-they, won’t they of Clark and Lana Lang (Kristin Kreuk), both canonical characters who have to get together to satisfy canon.  This culminated at the end of the first season when Clark asks Chloe, not Lana, to the prom, but was almost entirely done away with at the beginning of the following season when the two awkwardly agreed to remain friends thus putting him back on path with Lana.

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Savor this, Clark & Chloe fans. This is probably the height of their romance.

Would Smallville have been better served pursuing Chloe and Clark as a romantic couple?  In the long term, probably not, largely because where would that leave Lana.   However, in retrospect I would argue the show did the fans a huge disservice by brushing off the relationship in one conversation an episode after their first date and stringing it along from that point forward as a flame Chloe still bore for Clark in secret until it eventually extinguished when she met Jimmy Olsen.  Funny thing, though, is that Smallville eventually introduced its own version of Black Canary during the latter era of the show when Justin Hartley’s version of Oliver Queen was a co-star.  She only showed up for a handful of episodes, but she was there.  Oliver’s love interest, though?  Chloe Sullivan.

For Arrow, sticking with the Oliver/Laurel dynamic is the obvious, safe route and anything different risks angering the Comic-Con-attending fans who have formed a relationship with Green Arrow and Black Canary through other media.  Plus, to be fair Laurel and Oliver have been somewhat ill-served by having their romance foregrounded at the same time the evil villain’s plot has been revealed and the entire city is in danger.  As a result, Oliver finding time to talk about his feelings with Laurel feels like a far less pressing matter.  Also, as someone who has never been a fan of Katie Cassidy’s acting stretching back to her turn as Ruby in season 3 of Supernatural I am a bit biased.  However, in the long run will the show be forever indebted to the Oliver and Laurel dynamic just because in another medium they are a legendary couple?  We probably won’t known that for quite a while, but we’ll definitely find out more when the show airs its season finale tonight.

What say you?  Am I crazy?  Well, not in general – we don’t even know each other.  But specifically about this?  Use our comments to render a diagnosis.


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By Fran DeLaura Smith
posted on 09 October at 14:02

once they take apart felicty and oliver the arrow is off my list of a good show! Sorry love these 2 together and do not see a inch of chemistry with Laural and Oliver no matter what!

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