Arrow’s fourth season has presented a tale of very two different approaches to sidekicks. One, has been a textbook example of how supporting characters add to the mythos. The other has been an anchor throughout the season with meaningless subplots that have helped the series lose its ways. Let’s break down which is John Diggle and which is Felicity Smoak.
Diggle first appeared in Arrow’s debut episode as the stern, no-nonsense bodyguard meant to keep an eye on Oliver. Diggle could have easily become an obstacle nuisance character included in every episode simply to provide Oliver a pest to deal with before handling crime in Starling City. Instead, by the fifth episode, Diggle agrees to join Oliver’s mission to clean up the city.
In the third episode, Oliver meets IT whiz Felicity Smoak. Her talents with the computer quickly prove invaluable to the less than tech savvy Oliver. Eventually, Felicity joins Oliver and Diggle in their efforts.
More than providing aid to Oliver, Diggle and Felicity helped the fledgling show. Oliver was too Batman-lite to be a likable character, but Felicity and Diggle helped humanize him in a way the flashbacks and superheroics hadn’t while keeping Oliver this brooding vigilante.
Diggle and Felicity were an ideal support system as they were only tangentially involved in Oliver’s life while he dealt with issues with Laurel, Tommy, Moira, Thea, Quentin Lance and Sara.
Yet the shared crime fighting experience bonded the trio that they were less partners and more a team. The support staff formula became so well received it became a staple of other Greg Berlanti shows from Team Flash to Team Supergirl.
Even when the team expanded to include Sara and Roy, Diggle and Felicity’s roles were never diminished since they stayed behind at mission control while Oliver and his pals battled numerous threats to Starling City.
The first chink in the armor ironically came in Unthinkable, the final episode of season 2, what’s consistently been hailed as Arrow’s signature season. There, Oliver faked Slade out by proclaiming his love not to Laurel, but to Felicity. That proved enough to make the Oliver/Felicity ship contingent squeal with glee so much that the showrunners rushed into an Oliver/Felicity romance in Season 3.
While Oliver already had several flames, it was too early in the show’s run to turn Felicity from faithful gal Friday to love interest. Think Sam and Diane on Cheers, Maddie and David on Moonlighting, Ross and Rachel on Friends and even Clark and Lana on Smallville. There’s only so long the couples can be happy before they have to go through romantic strife and inevitable breakups to work in some drama. At their core, most CW shows reflect the soap opera mentality that characters can’t stay happy. All that angst goes to waste if everyone is smiling and goofily giddy.
With Felicity as Oliver’s new love interest, her role expanded. The small, but great doses of Felicity now had to be supersized seemingly to validate her new status on the show. Felicity’s major Season 3 arc was a cliché ‘Who will she choose?’ snoozer that was a severe disservice to the character as struggled with her feelings between Ray and Oliver. The introduction of Felicity’s ditzy mother, Donna, didn’t help either.
And since Arrow couldn’t fridge an important female character, Felicity quickly became untouchable. She’d already proven capable of conquering most major countries with her hacking skills, but now she could get up in Ra’s al Ghul or Malcolm Merlyn’s face with no fear of retribution.
Random characters like Helena Bertinelli or Joanna De La Vega or even Sara Lance could cause Oliver sporadic relationship grief, but in the end he’d regain his edge. The important connection for all those characters is they could quickly be written off the show. Felicity is a mainstay so the writers had to come up with ridiculous reasons to work in romantic drama and tension without getting rid of their favorite character.
It was absurd Oliver’s baby mama requested he not tell anyone about his son, that Oliver went along with it and that Felicity was so upset with that lie that she overcame her paralysis to walk off in disgust and end their engagement. That’s ‘I don’t ever want to see you again/forget you ever had my number’ territory yet Felicity was right back as part of Team Arrow weeks later.
The scenario was pretty terrible, but it was insulting to the audience to suggest Arrow couldn’t function without Felicity in some capacity in his life. Batman has had more than four Robins, but it was a telling shift of the hero/sidekick dynamic that the writers could replace Arrow for half a season, but Felicity couldn’t be away for more than a few episodes. That was even more telling this season as Felicity got her own sidekick. Like Arsenal or Speedy, Curtis Holt doesn’t do anything different than Felicity and is just a redundant addition to an already bloated cast.
Diggle, meanwhile, evolved into a more fleshed-out character. He reconnected with his ex-wife, Lyla, and the two became parents before remarrying. They even had time to lead a few missions of the Suicide Squad. Since aiding Oliver often led him to the field, Diggle adopted an identity — Spartan — complete with an admittedly underwhelming costume. When Oliver was presumed dead, Diggle led Team Arrow’s efforts to preserve his memory and keep Star City safe.
Diggle had legitimate beef with Oliver after he endangered his family to stop Ra’s, but the writers knew that even though Diggle was in the right, he was going to look bad griping about the main character. Felicity, however, became immune due to her love interest status even though her issues with Oliver were far less significant.
Most importantly, Diggle’s subplots only took center stage to drive the main narrative like his traitorous brother Andy. Felicity’s time in the spotlight didn’t seem to warrant the attention by comparison. Ultimately, wouldn’t it have been more beneficial to delve into why Andy was so fanatical about following Damien Darhk and turning his back on his wife, son and brother as opposed to why Donna left Noah over her trust issues?
Felicity’s overly complicated family drama never stopped with the biggest offense being the penultimate episode where half of it was devoted to Felicity’s parents bickering while Team Felicity is working to prevent a nuclear missile strike. Diggle, meanwhile was by Oliver’s side in a sweet action sequence taking on H.I.V.E.’s Ghosts and rescuing him when a brainwashed Thea nearly killed him.
Without going too far in detail, the writers handled the other Team Arrow sidekicks in a similar less is more fashion. Roy’s season 2 and season 3 subplots directly impacted the larger story arc. Laurel’s arc in season 3 helped made her a valued team member through a season and a half all without diverting the focus of Arrow away from Arrow.
If the Arrow showrunners have any hope of not making Felicity such a despised member of the cast, the first step has to be removing her from a center spotlight position to taking her back to a strong sidekick. After all, the show is called Arrow, not The Adventures of Felicity Smoak.
Photo Credit: The CW