It’s a curious thing, that show Arrow. How it can manage to deliver an infuriating episode where it doesn’t know its own characters and then manage to deliver a satisfying and compelling episode where it shows just how well it knows its central hero.
Finally, it felt like I was watching Arrow again. You know, the Arrow where the focus is Oliver Queen. The Arrow where this show and the writing reflect an understanding of the man that is Oliver Queen and the hero that is the Green Arrow. It was something that’s been sorely lacking, but something that I’m clinging to in its return, however brief it might be.
It really makes me wonder how things would shake out if Arrow had a shorter episode order. Sixteen episodes is more than enough to execute a season-long arc without dealing with the struggles of stretching a story into a 23-episode season. Arrow, and other DCTV shows, have fell victim to that over the years. Is it really worth it if it jeopardizes the overall story?
But I guess what I’m trying to say is that I’m really glad that “Fundamentals” didn’t suck. Because it could have. If not executed in the right way. But instead of being another letdown, this episode managed to be one of the smarter episodes of the season. I entered the hour feeling uneasy and left feeling shockingly satisfied.
Now, that’s not to say it was perfect, because it was far from so. We’ve seen the whole “Oliver Queen wanting to work alone” storyline before. We’ve seen the whole “Oliver doubts himself as a hero” storyline already. But somehow this episode managed to repackage those storylines in a way that felt updated. Like turning in your 2016 Ford Fusion for a 2018 model. It’s similar, but there are new features that come with it that serves to add to it.
On top of the focus on Oliver and the fears that’ll never go away, two of the components of “Fundamentals” that really added to the quality of this episode were Felicity and Adrian Chase. Just as they’ve managed to do since they’ve been on this show, Felicity and Chase represented two different sides of Oliver: the good and the bad. Here you had Chase, a man that tried to convince Oliver that he was just like him. Evil. Monster. Killer. But the one thing that Oliver has that Chase never did is a Felicity Smoak. A woman that is there to remind him that despite the darkness and the hopelessness that he can overcome anything. That he’s not alone.
Felicity played a significant role even when she wasn’t on screen. Felicity is, and has been for six seasons, the light leading Oliver home. She’s the one person that knows him better than anyone. She knows the best of him and the worst of him. And she accepts him for all of his strengths and all of his faults. If there’s ever been one person that can talk Oliver down, center him and bring him back to Earth, it’s Felicity Smoak. Her presence in this episode was significant and helped remind us that the hero under the costume is just a man when you pull back the hood.
Arrow can be smart when it wants to be. And in choosing to bring Josh Segarra back as an Adrian Chase hallucination was one of the smartest decisions they’ve made in a long time. This show is no stranger from bringing back people from the dead, but it hasn’t always had luck in bringing them back in the right way. Chase’s return was simply brilliant. What better person to serve as Oliver’s evil spirit guide than the man that spent most of last season trying to get Oliver to admit that he was a monster. As Chase guided Oliver through his dark thoughts and hallucinations, it brought a sense of nostalgia with it as it reminded us of the magic that was the end of season 5. Seriously, I’ll accept anything Arrow wants to throw my way to convince me that Josh Segarra is back in a full-time capacity.
Perhaps it’s too much to hope that Arrow can manage to find consistency moving forward. It certainly doesn’t help that we’ve got a villain-centric episode next week. But the thing for Arrow — a show heading into its seventh season — is that it needs to remember its roots. And not just the back to basics mentality Oliver is in at present. I’m talking about the reason the fans fell in love in the first place. Oliver. Felicity. Diggle. These relationships. The reminders that mistakes don’t equate to failure or abandonment. The reminder that underneath that hood there’s a man that is trying to be the best version of himself. And hopefully Arrow can remember to be the best version of itself.
Oliver’s Worst Fear
The beauty of “Fundamentals” was that it was a self-examination of Oliver Queen through the mind of Oliver Queen. The Vertigo-induced state of hallucinations allowed Oliver to examine his innermost thoughts and feelings. Thoughts and feelings that he hadn’t resolved or had kept suppressed.
Having Adrian Chase as the evil spirit guide hallucination really added another layer to Oliver’s self-examination. Here you had the man that spent most of last season trying to convince Oliver that he was a monster like he is. That no matter how hard he tried to fight that monster or push him away, that he’d always be a monster at heart. It was the very thing that broke him last season. He got to that breaking point where he gave into Chase’s words because a part of him had not necessarily believed it but always feared it.
In a way, Oliver hallucinated Chase as the side of himself that he’s always feared. The dark side of himself that was molded because of experience in hell over the course of those five years.
Just as Shado once said, there is the yin and the yang; the light and the dark; the good and the bad. It’s inside all of us. But Oliver is someone that has always struggled in believing that he possesses the light, the good. It’s easy to forget those five years that he spent in hell. The horrific things he had to endure, how his entire psychology was altered in a significant way.
“You’re the one enemy you can’t defeat,” Chase tells Oliver.
In a way, that statement is true for all of us. We can get so lost in our heads, in our fears, and our insecurities that it can feel suffocating. It sometimes feels as if we can never win that battle. Oliver has been fighting his enemies for 11 years now. But he’s never been able to overcome that darkness that always lurks within him, in the back of his mind. The darkness that, even when it doesn’t seem like it’s there, will always be there in the background just waiting for Oliver to begin doubting himself.
Yes, we’ve been there, done that with Oliver feeling like he needs to do this alone. But the thing is, it makes sense now because Oliver will always revert back to that paralyzing fear of being alone when he feels like he’s losing those he loves around him. These issues and fears seem to rear their ugly head when Oliver feels alone. He’s lost everyone and thinks he’s lost Felicity and William, too. That’s one of his biggest fears is losing everyone he loves and reverting back to that monster.
This is a reminder that no matter how much Oliver has changed he’s still someone that carries the world on his shoulders. He feels guilty for the things that happen to those around him that he cares about. Like he’s putting them in that position when it’s actually their free will. Oliver will always have that voice in the back of his mind whispering that he’s not the man he thinks he is; that he’s a monster disguised as a hero. You don’t go through hell and not come out permanently scarred.
It’d be easy to argue that this is more of the same. Oliver reverting back to doubting himself. But honestly that’s Oliver Queen. He’ll always take the blame. He’ll always hold himself to impossible standards. He’ll always love with every part of his being. He’ll always feel like he can be a better man, a better hero.
Felicity is Oliver’s Salvation (and Glue, Baby)
At times when Arrow feels so very unlike Arrow, there’s one thing that always seems to ring true in a way that not even the producers or writers can affect it. Oliver and Felicity. This entire series has shown us the power of love, specifically the power of the love between Oliver and Felicity. In terms of Oliver, our hero, it’s shown us that Felicity is his salvation. She’s the light that guides his way. She’s the voice of reason that calls him home. She’s the one person in the entire world that has affected positive change in his life in such a significant way.
As Arrow decides to take everyone and everything away from Oliver at this point of the season, the focus shifted towards Felicity and William. While Oliver has lost a lot this season, most recently his brother, if Oliver were to lose Felicity his entire world would crumble. He cannot lose her. He can’t even fathom it. Just the mere thought is enough to kill him. And yet, this episode tests that.
As Oliver is riding a Vertigo-induced wave of hallucinations throughout this episode, the first hallucination he experiences is the worst: Felicity saying that they need some “space” or “separation” because of his actions. Now, I knew immediately it was a hallucination because anyone with a brain that’s been watching this show knows that Felicity would never leave Oliver in that kind of situation. She’d never leave him, period. Even though Oliver knows that deep down, the Vertigo and the sheer fear and panic of that thought is enough to send him into a state of shock and hopelessness. It was the first sign in this episode that Oliver was going to spiral. If he thought he’d lost Felicity, what did he have left?
But this all came to a head in such a beautiful and emotionally charged scene that proves why, even despite Arrow’s shakiness and inconsistency, why I, and others, keep coming back. We’re here for what we love, and for me that is Oliver and Felicity. That relationship, that bond, that love is something that has changed my life. Not in some weird, obsessive way. I am sensible. But it’s opened the doors to amazing opportunities and amazing friends that I cannot imagine my life without. So when we get scenes like the one in the police station, that wave of nostalgia comes crashing back at full force.
Wedding aside, I can’t recall the last time I’ve been overcome with the kind of emotion that came with Felicity being the one to break through a powerful drug like Vertigo to bring Oliver back from the ledge. If you ever doubted that Felicity was Oliver’s salvation (and glue, baby, as she so beautifully put it), this scene was God’s proof that she is. Even if you don’t like the ship, how could you possible deny that Felicity is the person that is able to get through to Oliver in his darkest moments?
I’m just going to leave this here:
“Do not open that door. There are a bunch of trigger happy cops…it’s me. It’s really me. Do not go through that door. But not like this…not tonight! You go through that door, what happens to William? What happens to me? That was not me Oliver. The real me, is standing right here. I’m glue, baby. Please. Just listen…listen to my voice…I know it feels like you lost everything…listen to your heart.” – Felicity to Oliver
Perhaps my favorite thing about Arrow is how it’s preached the power and beauty of love in a world that is overrun by the importance of masks and costumes. When “love” is something that feels like a bad word sometimes, these shows keep coming back to it because it’s the cornerstone of our entire existence. Fiction, reality. It doesn’t matter. Love makes the world go round. It’s the reason we fight to live another day. It’s why we keep moving. Felicity Smoak is the love of Oliver Queen’s life. Oliver Queen is the love of Felicity Smoak’s life. And the beautiful thing is that we’ve gotten to see that over the years. And the beautiful thing is that we got to see that in this episode — because lately it’s been pushed to the side in favor of other less important characters. Look what happens, Arrow, when you stick to your bread and butter. Just saying.
If there is one thing that is certain in this universe it’s that Felicity Smoak saved Oliver Queen. She’s saved his life physically but also in a personal way. She’s given him something that he hadn’t been able to envision for himself: a family. She’s helped him become a better hero, but most importantly, a better man.
Back to Basics
Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but Oliver Queen is going back to basics. And no, I’m not talking about the mess that was season 5 back to basics. I’m talking about the kind of back to basics I think we all expected back then when they told us that was the theme of season 5.
Oliver’s hallucinations provided him some clarity in this episode. He’s come to an understanding and acceptance that he is spreading himself too thin in his life. He’s taking on too much. At this point it’s not about what we believe is best, it’s about what Oliver thinks is best for himself. Whether that’s good or bad, he’ll learn from it either way.
Here’s the thing, I might not necessarily agree with Oliver going back to a one-man team. (A one-man team that doesn’t include Felicity as his eyes. Although you can’t convince she won’t be helping him in an unofficial capacity.) But the thing is, I’m not angry because it makes sense. It makes sense for Oliver at this point. It makes sense for the man that Oliver is. Just because a characters does something you don’t agree with doesn’t mean it’s not the right thing for the story. Usually Arrow fails to find that balance, but I think in this instance they have.
I feel like Oliver is at a crossroads. He’s dealing with this internal crisis where he’s unsure of himself, be that a combination of what others have told him and what he believes himself. But Oliver is at the point where he realizes he needs to handle this conflict before it becomes out of control and hurts someone he cares about. This one-man team might feel like a repackaged storyline, but the thing that makes it different is that there’s a new motivation behind it. This isn’t about . This is about Oliver rediscovering what it takes to be the hero that he needs to be in order to defeat Diaz. Somewhere along the way of being mayor and temporarily stepping away from his Green Arrow duties, Oliver lost his direction. Now, he’s starting back at square one to rediscover that direction.
Again, I don’t agree with that. I’m with Felicity in that Oliver’s to the point where he needs to utilize those he loves around him as a strength instead of protecting them the dangers this world holds. But again, this isn’t about me. This is about Oliver. And whether this turns out to be a success or turns out to be a huge colossal mistake, Oliver needs to learn that himself. When you’re looking within yourself you have to do what you believe is right, not what others tell you is right. Oliver is going back to basics to discover himself again; to discover a way to defeat another villain in his life.
- This episode could’ve been terrible. But the execution and understanding of Oliver Queen not only saved it, but propelled it.
- I forgot just how much I love and miss Josh Segarra on this show. Tell me how — I’ll do anything — to get him back on this show in a full-time capacity. I honestly don’t care if it’s far fetched or makes no sense whatsoever. That’s how much I love him.
- Adrian Chase as Oliver’s evil spirit guide was just amazing.
- “My wife.” Dead.
- “I have to go save my husband.” GASP.
- “Listen to your heart.” DEAD.
- “I’m not going anywhere. I’m glue, baby.” KILL ME NOW.
- “My man was in there.” DEAD DEAD DEAD
- Seriously, there was so many beautiful Olicity moments in this episode.
- You want to know why? Because Felicity is integral in the life of Oliver Queen. She’s the reason he’s the man he is today. This episode proved that. Her actions proved that. His actions proved that.
- “Why does everyone keep leaving me?” Not gonna lie, I got some serious Peyton Sawyer/One Tree Hill flashbacks.
- “You’re the one enemy you can’t defeat.” Wow. Powerful. Scary. But true.
- Yes, it’s not new that Oliver is reluctant to believe he’s changed. But that has always been and will always be a part of him. This just served as a reminder.
- When Josh Segarra walked onto my television screen I started hacking (half because I’m getting over a cold and the other half because JOSH SEGARRA.)
- Tell me why we can’t have the Queen Mansion back? I MISSED YOU.
- “I’m not here. I’m here (Chase points to Oliver’s head.)” DAAAAAAAAMN.
- “THEY DID THE THING!” I scream, as Oliver and Felicity (FINALLY) do another zipline stunt out of danger.
- “FINALLY!” I scream, as Oliver is impeached as mayor. Haven’t been a fan of that storyline for some time now.
- “SERIOUSLY?” I scream, as Quentin is announced as the new mayor.
- Oliver thinks he needs to separate his two worlds? Been there, done that. But this episode has me on a high that even that doesn’t bother me so much right now.
Arrow airs Thursdays at 9/8c on The CW.