Fans of DC Comics have taken issue with Arrow treading on Barbara Gordon’s identity in the past, but the ‘playful’ hints that Felicity Smoak will become The CW’s ‘Oracle’ just keep coming. The mention of a controversial, divisive story beat involving Arrow‘s leading tech-lady is hardly a surprise at this point, as the character’s superhero trajectory (and romantic entanglement with Oliver Queen) have sparked debate among fans from the beginning… well, not long after the beginning. But if DC fans were confident that Arrow was done suggesting Felicity would completely co-opt Barbara Gordon’s role, the latest episode shows it’s still on the table.
That is, it’s ‘on the table’ in mainly a playful, amusing way… sort of. We think. Honestly, it’s impossible to tell anymore. While the grand “Olicity” debate is one best held among those interested in participating, the question of Felicity’s trajectory towards Oracle is something different. Especially now that there’s a possibility Bruce Wayne joins the Arrowverse in the flesh. And despite the wink and nod to the similarities having long since run its course from ‘inside joke’ to ‘on the nose,’ Arrow can’t help itself.
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We’ll get to some larger context momentarily, but first, allow us to break down the new Barbara Gordon/Batgirl/Oracle Easter Egg (is it still an Easter Egg if it’s explicit and meant to be seen?). In the most recent episode of Arrow, Oliver Queen breaks from tradition by seeking Felicity’s help with parenting advice, not technical support. While Oliver has given up Green Arrow to be a father, Felicity is also looking to make a new identity – and a new name – for herself.
The latest name up for consideration for her endeavor is “Bit by Bit,” but a look at her brainstorming shows another identity she’s been tossing around:
Yes, the name ‘Oracle’ has entered the fray as a new name for her future tech/information enterprise. Which becomes an instant problem for those who aren’t too invested in the ‘sanctity’ of Barbara Gordon’s moniker, but still value their continuity. When Oliver Queen revealed that Felicity had taken the codename ‘Overwatch’ in Season 4, he did so by dealing with the fan speculation and uncertainty head on: explaining that “Oracle was taken.” A well crafted bit of meta-humor, since the line worked as a wink to the fans that the Batman mythology was being respected, and made sense fictionally since Oracle is a massive information company.
As a result, the somewhat-understandable inability for the Arrow makers to resist the urge to repeat the joke falls flat. It’s not the end of the world, but it falters in both places where the previous joke flew: it doesn’t make sense for Felicity to forget about Oracle the company, and the implied reverence and wink to the fans from Oliver is largely undercut by bringing it all back up. None of this is meant to overstate the significance of the gag, Easter Egg, joke, whatever viewers wish to call it. Many DC Comics fans who enjoy Arrow casually likely spotted the name crossed out on Felicity’s board, gave a chuckle of recognition, and moved on.
Yet it’s still indicative of the critical quagmires that Arrow has found its way into, where shows like The Flash and Legends of Tomorrow mainly avoid them. When Arrow took the form of a smaller-scale Batman, fans let it slide (and enjoyed the fun). When Batman characters were adapted, the substitutions became obvious. When Oliver took Bruce Wayne’s place as Ra’s al Ghul’s heir, fans started to split. When Felicity began to take on the role of Oracle, tensions strained. When she was paralyzed from the waist down – just as Barbara Gordon had been – it shifted the conversation into places the showrunners surely never intended.
In the end, Felicity got her legs back, got a new name, and even an alternate future where she was a Batgirl-esque vigilante. Hopefully, that momentum continues on a fresh, original path. In which case, more Oracle references will act as a reminder, to many, of Arrow‘s most misguided plotlines. Taken at face value, it’s a plotline that may still be in Felicity Smoak’s future.
We’ll just have to wait and see.
Arrow airs Thursdays @9pm on The CW.