With a healthy dose of shipper bait, some kick-ass stunts, and some of the best use of the flashback device in recent memory, Arrow delivered a rock-solid stand-alone episode right in the middle of the madness of May's run-up to the finale.
The last three seasons, there have been two feuding camps among the Arrow fandom, debating whether more or less of Oliver's love life -- and particularly his relationship with Felicity Smoak -- is key to making the series better and more addictive. Tonight's episode used "Olicity" (and a lot of the show's other strengths) to great effect and delivered one of the best episodes of the season.
First off, a disclaimer: The "Olicity" phenomenon and its impact on the show is an ongoing and evolving argument. Our take is that it's hard not to love Felicity, and it's easy to root for the couple...but as with many dramas, there's often an inclination to create conflict for artificial drama, and
It's the same reason writers and editors believed that a married Superman or Spider-Man was "boring," and it's often wrongheaded, and leads to mopey or irrational characters that can annoy audiences who will then blame "the relationship," something that happened a lot on Arrow last season.
Tonight's episode gave the characters an opportunity to speak (likely on behalf of the writers and producers) about their issues and their breakup, including some meta-moments that addressed the fact that they haven't had the opportunity to talk about it.
The flashbacks were actually where Olicity was at its best: fun, sexy, and not at all awkward around one another, even though they weren't actually a couple.
In the current day, they were less charming, but the parallels drawn between what was going on in the present and what had gone on in the past informed the narrative in a way that Arrow does at its best, but has rarely done in the last couple of seasons, as the flashbacks have had their own ongoing storylines going on and don't touch on the present-day stuff as much as they had in seasons 2 and 3.
It also gave us back a version of Curtis that you could really get behind: this season, everything has been so dark that his role as comic relief has stuck out like a sore thumb, and with Felicity spending less time with Oliver, his role as "backup Overwatch" has been less useful since we've had the A-list Overwatch on the front lines most of the time.
That reminds us...
Everyone seemed to have found their best selves this episode.
Curtis and Team Arrow were working together as a well-oiled machine to save Felicity and Oliver; Dinah was providing a necessary sounding board to all involved (hey, not everyone gets to do something exciting in an episode that centered largely around Team Arrow huddled around a laptop); ARGUS stepped in for the save, using Team Arrow tech (Curtis's T-Spheres).
Oliver refused to give up on Felicity, who refused to give up on Oliver, and all the while, it felt like even the frustrating and despiriting feud between Dig and Lyla was something that was providing fuel for the plot.
Everyone who appeared onscreen had something to do, and while this episode may have focused primarily on Oliver and Felicity, it did move the larger plot along in a couple of big ways, it provided some solid character development for both of the two big "couples," and teased progression for the City Hall subplot.
We got some great stunts from the team behind Oliver and Felicity, a tantalizing cliffhanger, and a lot of great character development.
Arrow is at its best when the plot is driven by the characters instead of the other way around, when the flashbacks play into the A plot in a meaningful way, and when Oliver and Felicity are their best selves, bringing out the best in the team they inspire, rather than creating unnecessary conflict within the ranks.
All of that came out in spades in "Underneath," and whether or not you ship Olicity, this episode was one of the stronger ones we've had this season...even without spending much time on the Prometheus plot.