Almost no show in recent times has struggled under the weight of romantic plotlines more than Arrow – and almost no couple on television has proven more divisive and controversial than Oliver Queen and Felicity Smoak. In the first two seasons of the show, fan love for the pairing was strong, as Felicity was lauded as one of the breakout characters of television. But that changed going into Season 3, and even more significantly in Season 4, where focus on the relationship ultimately caused the show to lose sight of its goals. The writers' need to create drama between Oliver and Felicity damaged the series – not only in its methods, but also in the audience perception of it as well.
Picking up from where things left off in Season 5, it has been hinted that Felicity and Ollie will soon get back together again. With Laurel out of the picture – except as a villainous, Earth-2 doppelganger – it’s pretty clear that the pairing of Oliver and Felicity is endgame for the show and the characters.
Yet it would be a mistake to do it too soon — arguably even before the end of the series — because their pairing damaged the show in the past. Season 4 was a massive disappointment, and it's unfortunate the degree to which Ollie and Felicity's romance played a role in that — in a sense, their romantic relationship became the face of some deeply rooted problems.
Arrow Is Driven By Oliver's Emotional Growth
Arrow is a series that is lead-driven, which is to say, it’s structured around its central protagonist, Oliver Queen. Whatever his personal dilemmas and emotional struggles, they form the framework of the show. This only works if the character is being challenged and pushed into crisis by a villain. These factors are intimately tied together, and if you remove one, you destabilize the series.
In Season 1, this meant a season arc of survival and killing for Oliver, even as he strove not only to make up for past crimes done to the people of Starling City, but to win out against an old friend of his father. In Season 2, the backbone of the show was built upon the notion of Oliver overcoming his tendency to kill, and brought together in his history and complex relationship with Slade Wilson. In Season 3, the question was identity, with Oliver failing more on the “Oliver Queen” side of his life, and the dilemma brought fully to the fore in Ra’s al Ghul’s desire to have Oliver succeed him as leader of the League of Assassins.
One of the biggest problems from the get-go in Season 4 was that the show seemingly lost interest in exploring Oliver as a character — a byproduct of putting him a relationship with Felicity. He reached a state that indicated he was done, that he had reached his emotional endpoint in terms of character growth. What's more, he became largely defined by the Felicity relationship.
Therefore, Oliver in a relationship with Felicity should come at the end of the series, representing a measure of happiness, self-acceptance, and maturity that Oliver has achieved over the course of his televised story. You don’t tell stories about happy people, especially when that person is the series lead. The show's structure is built upon Oliver's internal conflict; its meatiest climaxes come from his emotional crises. When you take all of this away, Arrow practically falls apart, with this stagnation rippling out into other facets of the show.
Season 4 Lost Its Way Because It Lost Sight Of Oliver
These issues are why Season 4 was such a disappointment, and why so little else worked for the show. Damien Darhk proved an entertaining, but impersonal, villain. The flashbacks were uninspired and forgettable. There was little to no build-up for the climax, and the season just sort of ended. These problems were all because there was no emotional journey for Oliver, and no centralized theme to provide a guiding point for critical elements of the series. And this is likely also why the show created excessive drama in the Oliver-Felicity relationship — because the writers had stopped prioritizing Oliver’s journey as a character, and instead were defining him solely in the context of that relationship.
This is why Season 3, though flawed, didn't measure the same level of problems as Season 4 — because it had a centralized theme of identity that guided the usage of the flashbacks, villain, and individual character arcs. It's also why the show bounced back in its fifth year, once again examining Oliver's growth in a specific context (that of legacy) and used this as the primary grounding factor for all other aspects of the show to build upon.
Much as we may love the ensemble, Arrow is ultimately still Oliver's show. And while that remains the case, Oliver needs to be in flux both as a character and as a human being for the story to continue. His relationship with Felicity in the past has proven antithetical to that, and so it would likely be best for all involved if their pairing came at the very end of the day. As a means of closing out the series, when Oliver has reached a definitive endpoint and can have that kind of happiness in his life.
Are you happy with the Oliver-Felicity relationship? Shout out in the comments below!