This post isn’t about my own writing, it’s about the writing on a TV show, and how you can destroy a good character.
I used to be a big fan of Arrow, looking forward to the new episodes more than anything else on TV. Season 2 I actually felt was a bit weak – it did too much of the everyone is connected thing, which I hate. A casual connection sure, and having a big bad with a personal vendetta isn’t always terrible, but I felt they had mined the interpersonal connection angle as much as made sense in season 1, what with having the main characters best friends dad being the big bad. Still, it was good. Thing happened in that season that for the most part made a kind of narrative sense, and the characters grew and changed, had relationships that made sense for the most part.
In season 1 Felicity was a minor character. She didn’t have much depth, but she didn’t need much depth. She was entertaining and funny. Emily Bett Rickards has great comedic timing and delivery.
In season 2 she was still good. Not a lot of depth, but a bit more flushed out. EBR is a decent actress, and she managed to play the longing angle well.
Season 3 Felicity was a bad character. Instead of giving her depth, they gave her a “Dark Side” (watch the linked video – Tim Minchin is a genius). Gothlicity is a stupid idea, and poorly executed. They took away everything that made the character relatable, and made her bipolar. It’s a cheap trick for a writer. Instead of giving them complex emotions give them a tortured past, and make their entire life be about their emotional state, which apparently they have no control over.
Season 4 doubled down on that shit. In an effort to make Felicity interesting they gave her a supervillain father, who isn’t even a good supervillain. You know what would have been interesting? Her father remains unknown, or she finds out he died when she was a kid, or hell, he’s an accountant with three kids by his current wife and a happy stable life. Anything but a supervillain. They also made her emotionally abusive. Not just not a great partner, but an actual abuser. This was done to make her relationship with the main character feel more “organic”. They gave her arcs that just make no sense. Think about it – they took a character that was great because the audience could kind of relate to her sure, her tech skills approached magic, because that’s what TV thinks being a hacker is, however she was socially awkward, always putting her foot in her mouth, etc. She had a fairly normal job, tech support for a large corporation, and she was shocked when the CEO came to see her personally. Now she’s the CEO of a multi-national corporation, a cyborg genius hacker with billions at her disposal, a supervillain father, and she just wants to give up the vigilante life so she can focus on making the company she was give be a beacon of light to the masses. She would fail the Mary Sue test in every way at this point. Fuck, she makes Anastasia Steele look like a complex, well written character.
You want to give first season Felicity Smoake depth? Go into realistic aspects of her life. Clearly she’s good looking, explore how that clashes with her social anxiety, how she is unable to carry on an adult relationship due to her obsessive nature (trust me, twenty years in the tech industry, you don’t develop into the worlds best hacker without being severely obsessive, hacking takes a long time and a huge amount of patience). You want to give season 2 Felicity Smoake depth? You look at the toll being a vigilante is taking on her, since she has no martial training, no combat experience. These are all completely valid takes on the character. No, instead they had to make her the same as the rest of the characters.
Hell, they squandered opportunities with all of them. None quite so badly as with Felicity, but Oliver spent season 1 and 2 dealing with PTSD, and in a fairly realistic way, while still dealing with a world that would give you PTSD. Laurel dealt with addiction in a realistic way. She was a terrible person in season 2, but a good character. Disliking her made sense, she was very realistic as an addict, and it’s damned hard to like a true addict. Diggle never developed much, he stayed steady and reasonable. Even him, they killed his character, made him a poorly drawn cartoon by bringing his brother in as a member of hive who isn’t dead.
There is nothing good left in the show, and it’s all the character development. Same set of characters, same set of events, and you could make it good. There are spoilers coming below – ways to have characters react to events that would have made them acceptable.
Felicity could talk like a person to Oliver, deal with the fact that he has a child in a mature way, deal with the fact that he didn’t include her in the decision to send his child away with a mature conversation. Hell, she could have still ended their relationship, but she could have done so with taking some ownership of her role in things – and she wouldn’t have been a contemptible abuser.
Oliver could be the character he was in earlier seasons. Deal with Felicity as she is, an emotionally manipulative psycho, and call her on it. Talk to her like an actual person, not an ideal that sits on a pedestal.
Diggle – there’s no saving that one actually. Once they brought Andy back it was all over. It made every bit of character arc he had in season 1 and 2 meaningless.
Laurel. Well fuck. I don’t know, don’t kill her off? Maybe don’t have her last words be about how amazing Felicity and Oliver are together? Give her death some gravitas, something. I don’t know.
Thea – they pretty much removed all traces of personality from her, so put her back to where she was and then allow her to develop. Have the party girl still in there.
I don’t get why this show seems to think that removing depth from characters makes them more interesting, or why never letting them deal with normal problems somehow makes things more “organic”. It’s like they have never read anything more complex than a harlequin romance.
If I could I would sentence them to sit down and watch Buffy on a loop until they understood why “The Body” was a great episode… and why people cared that Tara died.
Anyway, that’s my rant.
Edit: The more I think about it, the more I realize that everybody’s connected syndrome is death to good writing. It gives you a cheap and ultimately stupid point of conflict. Better to have people come together as a result of the story, than to make everything in the world about this small group of people who all connect with each other decades and vast distances for some strange reason. Giving Oliver pre-existing connections to the League for example – and then also having Sara be a part of the league. That made zero sense. Andy in Hive is probably the single most egregious example of this…