NOTE: This post will be discussing emotional abuse at length. If that topic is difficult for you, please be advised before continuing.
I was planning to write an upbeat review of Supergirl’s season 2 premiere (which was fantastic, by the way) tonight. But then, like an abusive boyfriend or girlfriend, Arrow decided to stroll in, revert to its old ways, and punch me straight in the stomach, just as I thought things were starting to get better. So, instead, you get a long-winded rant about two very small pieces of dialogue. Yay!
Fittingly, the episode’s discussion of “emotional abuse” is what’s left me so enraged.
Actual footage of me threatening my TV mid-episode | The CW
First and foremost, it’s imperative to establish that Felicity Smoak was an abusive girlfriend to Oliver last season. To speak in generalities, she blamed him for seemingly everything that ever went wrong in their lives, never admitted fault, frequently belittled him (this was especially apparent while Team Arrow chased Cupid in “Broken Hearts,” and she tore into him over comms) and held him to a different (and unfair) standard than herself and others.
Over the course of the season, you can see Oliver’s personality slowly change as the abuse takes its toll, losing much of his autonomy and self-confidence, as Felicity’s actions have caused him to devalue and view himself as a lesser person deserving of criticism and shame — classic signs of emotional abuse.
To make matters worse, she did all of these things to someone she knew had severe pre-existing mental and emotional damage (primarily from his time on Lian Yu and abroad). Emotional abuse is never OK in a relationship; it’s even worse when the abuser is knowingly exploiting someone with mental health problems. She was, flat out, a horrible human being in season 4.
Holding Oliver’s habit of keeping secrets against him — which she cited as the primary impetus behind their breakup — was her most egregious offense. Flashback to the first episode of season 4. Oliver has done exactly what Felicity wanted: he’s completely given up his vigilante lifestyle and is committed to life as a doting (future) house-husband, aside from throwing in his old catchphrases during breakfast and tragically jogging in a green hoodie. He’s slow-cooking eggs (this was an unforgivable missed opportunity to throw in a Green Arrow’s Chili reference, by the way), waking up early to go buy ingredients for brunch and somehow even learned how to pronounce “soufflé.” The guy completely changed his life for the woman that he loved, just because she asked him to.
If this isn’t a cry for help, I don’t know what is | The CW
But while Oliver is off galavanting through farmers markets, what is Felicity doing? She’s secretly keeping in contact with Team Arrow, and Overwatching behind his back. Felicity explicitly (Felixplicitly?) lied to Ollie on multiple occasions about her extracurricular activities. Eventually, she got bored of their new life, and asked him to rejoin the team. He obliged.
From there, the two’s relationship deteriorated insidiously from Olicity to Olishitty. She constantly ripped into him about his lies and lack of trust, even while simultaneously telling her mother that she should forgive Quentin for his secrets, because he keeps them to protect her; ring any bells (episode 2 pun!)? Even worse, her reaction to finding out about Oliver’s son, William, literally catalyzed the end of the world. She even went as far as to guilt Ollie for not consulting her about putting the kid into makeshift witness protection (or tossing him in a FedEx truck and hoping he ended up somewhere safe; it was sort of unclear), despite her, you know, not being in a position to have any say about how Oliver chose to raise his son.
Whoops! | The CW
Anyway, where am I going with all this? One of the major themes of “The Recruits” was Oliver allegedly being abusive throughout the series, both physically and emotionally — a slap in the face to domestic abuse victims who struggled through the nightmare that was Olicity in season 4. And, unfortunately, the writers chose to present these accusations as fact, with Oliver silently acquiescing to them on-screen.
This parallels the writing of season 4, where Oliver’s friends never once made mention of Olicity being an abusive relationship, instead placing fault on Oliver and encouraging him to try to fix it. All of the abuse that Oliver suffered last year could’ve been made worthwhile from a thematic perspective had someone like Diggle or Thea talked to him about Felicity being abusive — it would’ve brought awareness to an issue that is in dire need of it. Instead, the writers chose to pass Olicity off as a healthy, albeit dramatic/tough, relationship, further romanticizing and normalizing emotional abuse, and perpetuating the problematic belief that this sort of behavior is acceptable in a relationship. Hell, with Olicity being overtly pushed as the show’s endgame, Arrow is going as far as to promote abusive relationships as desirable.
Now THIS is what I call a healthy relationship | The CW
Arrow’s handling of abuse and treatment of abuse victims is flat out deplorable and irresponsible, especially given its target demographic of young adults, whose views on relationships are largely influenced by what they see on television.
Now, all of that was coming from the perspective of Arrow’s external impact on society. But, in this particular instance, the show’s approach to abuse has caused catastrophic damage to the show’s canon as well.
After the team’s run-in with Ragman, Curtis absolutely unleashes on Oliver, spewing vitriol about how his abusive nature caused all of the previous members of Team Arrow to abandon him — “You don’t build people up; you tear them down.” This is, of course, 52 different kinds of false. Let’s go character by character to debunk this:
- Sara: Left to deal with her bloodlust, which had nothing to do with Oliver being abusive.
- Roy: Figuratively sacrificed his life partially to protect Ollie’s secret, and partially to atone for being a cop-killer during his Mirakuru days. Nothing to do with Oliver being abusive.
- Laurel…died. Nothing to do with Oliver being abusive.
- Diggle: Left because of the emotional weight he was carrying in the wake of killing his brother, along with all of the magical shenanigans that season. Nothing to do with Oliver being abusive.
- Thea: Left because she didn’t like the person she was becoming due to Malcolm’s influence, and her bloodlust. Nothing to do with Oliver being abusive.
Oliver was never abusive to the members of his team. Was he tough on them? Of course — the team was essentially fighting a war from its inception, and Oliver treated them like soldiers. Every single field operative of Team Arrow joined knowing exactly what they were getting themselves into (well, ok, they definitely weren’t expecting to have to fight a dude who was literally a wizard, but the rest of it yes). And, even when considering his harsh and abrasive nature, Ollie never manipulated them, broke them down emotionally or lied to them maliciously. When mistakes were made, or harsh words exchanged, they were eventually followed by apologies and admissions of fault. Healthy.
Though forcing Diggle to wear the Blackneto helmet was cruel and unusual punishment | The CW
Team Arrow was certainly a dysfunctional family at times, and Ollie was unquestionably responsible for some of its controversies, but those controversies were never rooted in abuse. Through Curtis’ speech, the writers have effectively retconned the past 4 seasons of the show to fit their new “Ollie destroys everything he touches” narrative. In the past, Ollie had a habit of blaming himself for all of the world’s problems; through the support of Team Arrow, he slowly but surely began to work towards being a less self-destructive person. Now, all of that character development has been chucked out the window like Vandal Savage at an Arrowverse family reunion. It’s bad writing, and it’s disrespectful to the show and its characters.
With that said, “The Recruits” was a second consecutive good episode, aside from my above complaints. But that’s a topic for another day.