‘Arrow’ 5×20 Review: ‘Underneath’

Arrow can be smart. Don’t let them fool you otherwise.

While Arrow has acted the opposite of smart for the majority of its fifth season, it’s shown that it is capable of delivering on the aspects that work. This season has been an example of trying and failing when trying to incorporate new elements into a show where the pre-existing elements – the ones that work – still work and don’t need to be changed.

But this was an episode that our two lead characters needed. This was an episode that was far overdue and took 20 episodes to pay off. It shouldn’t have taken that long. But let’s focus on the present. The present managed to not only address the lingering issue of trust between Oliver and Felicity but do it in a way that was mesmerizing to watch.

I know this is an episode that I’m going to re-watch a few times to get a better understanding and just because this was Arrow’s most brilliant hour this season, which isn’t saying much as a whole. But even if Arrow had been more of what I was expecting this season, this was one of those episodes where the hype was more than deserved.

What is about episode 20 in an Arrow season that brings with it a hype and significance that more than delivers?

“Underneath” managed to encapsulate the most talked about and arguably most important relationship on Arrow in an hour wrought with intensity, thrill, romance, insane chemistry that still has me tripping, and even humor that was so seamlessly blended together to form the perfect vision of what Arrow could and should look like moving forward.

That was the most thrilling hour of Arrow I’ve watched this season. Not so much because of the typical action thrill – although there was some of that, as well. This was an emotional thrill that brought us the most honest and faithful versions of these characters this season.

Arrow’s fifth season has resembled a potential world where the Dominators had actually succeeded in taking over. Where the characters we’ve grown to know and love didn’t resemble themselves, where storylines didn’t connect, and where “back to basics” was mistaken for “back to new,” as in bringing in elements that made Arrow look like a new show. And not a better one. Silly me for tuning into Arrow this season and expect to find the characters that I recognize.

They say, stick to what works.

That’s something that Arrow got away from this season, and it’s shown both in the product and the fan response. Don’t take for granted the elements of the show that elevate it to another level and also bring with it a dedicated and passionate group of fans that help make this show be heard on a daily basis.

What has made Arrow work over the years? A focus on character. A focus on Oliver & Felicity. A focus on Oliver, Felicity, & Diggle. A focus on a personal villain. A focus on the elements that made this show brilliant at the peak of this show’s success back in season 2.

“Underneath” had Olicity, Dyla, Original Team Arrow, and great stories to tell. While this was an important and intriguing episode for Diggle and Lyla, there’s no doubt this episode was all about Oliver and Felicity – their past, their present, and their promising future.

Obviously Olicity is a controversial subject in the Arrow fandom. You either love it or you hate it. But there’s no denying that when there’s a focus on them that people are always talking. But then again, it’s episodes like “Underneath” that prove where the strength of Arrow lies. It’s not about the stunts. It’s not about forced relationships. It’s about the organic connections that these characters and these actors have formed throughout the existence of this show.

An episode focused on Olicity? This was the breath of life that Arrow so desperately needed. A breath of life that should’ve come way earlier in the season. A breath of life that you know the writers had planned but waited far too long to carry out.

I forgot how much I loved these two when they’re allowed to just breathe. Where Oliver and Felicity can do so much with so little. Where they flourish in the little moments. Where the little moments become big moments. How they can spend basically the entire episode in an enclosed space and make it feel like we’re traveling at lightning speed.

So much of that is a testament to Stephen Amell and Emily Bett Rickards, who so flawlessly and effortlessly breathe life into this relationship that has such a tremendous impact in so many ways. Things are just different when these two are sharing a scene. It’s like the camera finally focuses and we’re witnesses to magic. Stephen and Emily’s dynamic has been magic since the beginning. It’s why Oliver and Felicity have had this amazing journey in the first place. And it’s the reason why their journey will continue.

Arrow is at its best when it’s focusing on these characters as individuals rather than part of a grander scheme. Sure, action-packed episodes can be exciting. But it’s the emotional episodes that elevate a television show into something so much more than an element of fiction.

Arrow is capable of this. We’ve seen it in the past. We’ve seen it with “Underneath.” And hopefully we’ll continue to see it in the future on a more consistent basis.

Let’s break this down, shall we?

The Past: Not Ready Yet

While the flashbacks we witnessed in this episode coincided perfectly with the present day, they didn’t in fact align with the beginning of Arrow’s fifth season. It’s like the producers want to pretend that 5A didn’t happen, like we do.

While I’m beyond furious that it took this long for Arrow to finally address Oliver and Felicity’s breakup, I have to admit that I loved the way that this episode was conceived. Though this is something that could’ve worked earlier in the season, as well.

“Underneath” presented Olicity at two different crossroads in their relationship – how to deal with the lingering issues of trust despite the love that continues to exist between the two. We saw in the flashbacks how it boiled down to time while in the present it boiled down to a matter of understanding. And I thought it was brilliant.

This week’s flashbacks were hands down my favorite flashbacks ever on this show. I was interested, I was on the edge of my seat, and I was beyond satisfied. So, this is what it feels like to enjoy flashbacks.

The flashbacks didn’t show us anything we didn’t already know about Oliver and Felicity. The pair still make googly eyes at each other. Felicity remains the only one that can make Oliver smile like that. And they still love each other more than anyone can fathom.

And that was certainly undeniable in that sizzling sex scene that left our jaws on the floor. Magic. The gifs speak for themselves:

But the flashbacks did show us that the main issue in Oliver and Felicity’s relationship has been that trust that Felicity found lacking. It stems back to the William situation. People seem to believe that Felicity broke up with Oliver because he lied to her about William. But that isn’t the case. She broke up with him because he didn’t trust her enough to tell her when people like Malcolm Merlyn and Barry Allen knew.

Perhaps the most important part of the flashbacks – minus that sex scene because damn – was the conversation that followed after Felicity walked away after their “bunker sex.” Felicity told Oliver even then that their issue was trust, or lack thereof. And until that matter was resolved in a way that she was comfortable, things couldn’t move forward. Oliver and Felicity’s breakup was never about a lack of love – love is beyond flourishing even leading up to the present in this episode. Their breakup was about that trust.

“I’m not saying never. I’m not ready yet.” -Felicity

“I’m not going anywhere.” -Oliver

This was Felicity closing the door but leaving it open just a speck. Telling Oliver her conditions when it comes to their relationship. That trust needed to be mended if she was going to be able to be with him in that sense.

Despite what early season 5 told us – ahem – Felicity hadn’t closed the door on her relationship with Oliver moving forward. She had merely taken a step back to give it some time before revisiting things.

And much like we expected, Oliver told her that he wasn’t going anywhere. That’s the one part that actually aligns with early season 5 – although this is a constant throughout the series, so I’m not surprised.

The flashbacks showed us the root of Olicity’s problems. It showed us an eventual solution. But it also showed us that the timing wasn’t right. Sometimes, you have to wait for the right time.

Which leads us to…

The Present: The Door Is Open

While the past was all about the door being almost closed, the present served the opposite purpose of showing us that the door is finally open for Oliver and Felicity’s reunion.

I found the entire setup to be impressive in regards to the storyline and the emotional undertone that drove the episode. Oliver and Felicity had to learn to trust each other in order to escape from the bunker. But they also had to learn to trust each other when it comes to the more personal aspect of their relationship.

It hasn’t been a matter of love between Oliver and Felicity. That’s always been a constant. It’s been about the matter of trust that they need in order to have a healthy and successful relationship. And they had that in season 4 – until Arrow forced baby mama drama upon them and took that sacred trust that had been a cornerstone in their relationship away. There’s no taking that back.

Oliver and Felicity had been avoiding having this conversation dating back to the flashbacks between the end of season 4 and the beginning of season 5. All it took was Prometheus attacking the bunker and trapping them inside that ultimately forced the conversation – a conversation that was due over a year ago.

I enjoyed their dynamic in this episode in the scenes leading up to Oliver’s confession of trust in regards to Felicity. We had Felicity openly and repeatedly calling Oliver out for him not trusting her or just listening to her suggestions. It brought a level of honesty and humor to the situation that once again makes an organic relationship feel even more natural.

When it came to Oliver’s admission about trust, he took the blame and put it on himself. He said it wasn’t about trusting Felicity – he does trust her and always will – that it was about not trusting himself. To be honest, I’m still a tad confused about it. Perhaps it had to do with his drunken haze due to excessive blood loss. But this trust thing extends beyond the surface. Oliver can say he trusts Felicity all he wants, but he needs to start showing that. And now that Felicity appears to be giving him a chance to do so, this is when he needs to start showing her instead of telling her.

Let’s talk about that final scene. Because if there was any issue with “Underneath” and how it handled this understanding between Oliver and Felicity, it was this one. While that final talk was far from perfect, it was exactly what needed to happen for Felicity to open the door for Oliver moving forward.

Heading into this moment – the moment when Oliver and Felicity talked about their breakup – there was a fear that Felicity would be forced to apologize while Oliver went forth believing that he did no wrong. Thankfully the latter didn’t happen. But the apology did. And ugh. While, yes, Oliver was half out of it when he took his share of the responsibility and apologized to Felicity, he did open the door for Felicity to do the same.

Let’s be honest, Felicity should not have apologized. Felicity shouldn’t have to apologize for her reaction to Oliver keeping William a secret. She also didn’t mean that Oliver should have lied about William in the first place. But I feel like she apologized more because she felt like she had to, which is still bad.

But I liked that she was the mature adult that we all know and love her to be, and that she took her share of the responsibility even when she probably still believes she wasn’t in the wrong. Sometimes you just have to suck it up and accept things in order to move forward. Though I could’ve done without it. We should’ve done without it. Coming to an understanding doesn’t mean you have to apologize for something that you don’t even need to apologize for.

Even if Felicity doesn’t like that Oliver lied about William, she now has an understanding of why he did it. After her dabble in a tad of darkness, she can see where he’s coming from just like Oliver can see where she was coming from. That’s what understanding is. It’s not about agreeing about every single thing. It’s about acknowledging the other person’s perspective and respecting it. Now they understand each other, which is huge.

Speaking for myself, I feel like it was about the right and wrong — who messed up and who was justified in her actions. But this isn’t about me or the Olicity fandom. This is about Oliver and Felicity. For them, it was all about coming to a place of understanding where they can call themselves equals. Where they understand each other. Where they accept each other. Where they know what it means to walk in the other’s shoes. For Oliver and Felicity, it’s not about who was wrong and who was right. Well, not anymore. It was about finally getting to this point. A point of understanding, trust, and equality.

 

And Felicity has made it clear that the ball is now in Oliver’s court. While in the flashbacks Felicity wasn’t ready, the present shows that she’s finally ready if he is. And we know he is.

When Oliver figures out who he is, Felicity will be there waiting. There was an interesting parallel that the writers threw in this episode relating to Felicity regaining her ability to walk. In 4×15, Felicity was walking away from Oliver and their relationship. In 5×20, Felicity was walking toward Oliver and the potential of repairing their relationship.

Arrow is all about symbolism, folks. And that was a big one right there.

This was a huge moment for Oliver and Felicity. This mutual recognition that they’ve both made mistakes in their breakup – some more than others (*cough* Oliver *cough*), as well as this understanding that trust runs deeper than the surface.

As we head into the final three episodes of the season, I’d expect us to see Oliver finding who he is and finding his way back to Felicity. Maybe then we can finally be done with this overused and contrived “will-they-won’t-they” drama.

Dyla: Trust & Understanding

Elsewhere, another one of our favorite couples faced a crossroads of their own that also happened to deal with the all-too important issue of trust.

Last week, Diggle and Lyla were at odds over Lyla’s actions as head of ARGUS. Diggle felt like his wife had become unrecognizable due to her job, and he had a real problem with that. But at the root of this issue was hypocrisy.

Look, I love Diggle, but he was a Grade A hypocrite in regards to this situation. And Lyla laid it all out in front of him. They disagreed about methods of justice in regards to Team Arrow and ARGUS. But Lyla spilled all of the truth tea when she pointed out the obvious:

How is what Lyla is doing with ARGUS any different than what Diggle does for Oliver in the name of Team Arrow?

Simply put, it’s not. They’re one in the same. But when you’re looking at it from a single perspective you can’t see that you’re standing atop a mountain of hypocrisy. Diggle was so focused about the methods Lyla was going to that he failed to recognize the things that he’s done in the name of justice. Lyla didn’t do those things because she wanted to hurt people. She wanted to save them. Sometimes that required her to go to extremes. Diggle knows that well enough.

The reason that Diggle and Lyla didn’t make it last time is that they didn’t move forward and attempt to right the mistrust that had taken over. This time they did. This time, they both took responsibility for their share of the blame. And they also vowed to be more honest about their dealings, as Lyla proved when she provided Diggle with a list of her operations.

This episode, while it didn’t entirely fix this issue, was a step in the right direction. Issues aren’t solved in a single scene. This trust is something that’s going to strengthen over time as Diggle and Lyla do what they didn’t do the last time: fight for each other.

Six Things

  1. This was hands down the best episode of Arrow this season. Not just because of Olicity, though I won’t lie it was a big reason why. But this episode managed to do so much within a small space. It had action, suspense, romance, chemistry, and even humor. Seriously, when’s the last time Arrow successfully managed humor on this show?
  2. Olicity is rising! I have to laugh because the haters were convinced this was the episode that was the official end of Oliver and Felicity. But in fact, it’s the official rebirth as Felicity has opened the door and Oliver will fight to walk through that door as we wind down the season. Also, that flashback sex scene…DEAR LORD.
  3. That scene where Felicity jabbed Oliver with a shot of adrenaline – I’m still laughing. Like I didn’t think that would be one of the moments that I remembered after in an episode with flashback sex, doors opening, and one-armed rescues. But I’m still laughing. We need more of that on Arrow. The humor. The last time we had that? Season 4A when Oliver and Felicity were dating. Just saying.
  4. Oliver pulled Felicity up with one freaking arm. That is how you OTP. These two self-sacrificing puppies. They’re both willing to give their lives for each other. But there was no way in hell that Oliver was going to let Felicity die – even if it was her asking. Just like Felicity would never let Oliver die. Watching Oliver, who was bleeding out and who’s lungs where filled with methane, pull Felicity up with one arm was the stuff of epicness.
  5. Lyla was serving some truth tea for Diggle. While Diggle felt like he didn’t recognize his wife, Lyla could’ve said the same about her husband. But she didn’t. Diggle has trusted Oliver even despite the drastic measures he’s gone to before. So why didn’t he do the same for his wife? Hypocrisy, my friends, front and center. Luckily, Diggle listened to his wife and realized he was in the wrong. They both were. And they both admitted it. See, understanding. It’s a beautiful thing.
  6. That cliffhanger would’ve been awesome if I actually liked William. Poor kid. It’s not him, it’s Arrow. We could’ve had it all, but Arrow messed up William when they introduced the Baby Mama Drama that spelled a temporary break for Olicity and the show that we’d grown to love. I did love one thing about that scene though: Adrian Chase. God, I’ve missed you.

Arrow airs Wednesdays at 8/7c on The CW.

 

Alyssa Barbieri

Senior Managing Editor

Teacher by day, writer by every other free moment. Obsessed with sports, TV, books, movies, and superheroes. Proud shipper and supporter of strong female characters. TV Editor and Sports Editor. I write about DCTV, This Is Us and so much more. Contact: alyssa@fangirlish.com.

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