In its meandering 2016 return, “Blood Debts,” Arrow misses the mark at a compelling new status quo by opting out of a much-teased potential reinvention for Felicity. After last year’s mid-season finale, many believed that she might become the Arrowverse’ version of Oracle, the wheelchair-confined mistress hacker of the DC universe.
When we last saw Arrow, Felicity had been severely wounded by the mafia hit sent by Damien Darhk. Despite the season’s ominous flash-forwards to an unknown grave, hardcore fans did not believe this to be the end for Felicity. Instead, it was presumed to be her potential ascension into the identity of Oracle.
In the comic mythos, Barbara Gordon (a.k.a. Batgirl) was paralyzed from a gunshot by the Joker and in the aftermath became Oracle, the electronic eyes and ears of Gotham City. Beyond being a hacker that could give the NSA nightmares, she was also the most powerful information broker in Gotham City, using secrets and scandals as leverage to keep Gotham’s worst criminal element in line. Batman is still off limits for DC’s Arrowverse, but the show has done a solid job of occasionally approximating Oliver Queen to Bruce Wayne and it was not out of the realm of possibilities to believe Arrow might nab one of Batman’s strongest allies.
While her fandom reaches far and wide, women and the differently abled particularly responded to Oracle who has since become a symbol of resilience for many. “In the world of superheroes, power often means physical power,” Jessica Sirkin explains in The Mary Sue. “Oracle demonstrated that being a superhero wasn’t about the body and that being in a wheelchair wasn’t an obstacle to being a superhero.”
Plenty has been written about the value of this character. The essay “Re-booting Barbara Gordon: Oracle, Batgirl, and Feminist Disability Theories” by Carolyn Cocca, for instance, collects a slew of DC fan letters that praised Gordon’s then new role in the Batman mythology:
“Barbara Gordon’s transformation from Batgirl to Oracle was, if you’ll pardon the morbidity of the statement, the best thing that ever happened to her. She’s a strong, intelligent woman who happens to be handicapped. She may be the most interesting character in comics today.” (Beau Yarbrough in *Birds of Prey: Black Canary/Batgirl #1, 2/98)
“The truth is that Oracle is way cooler than Batgirl ever was, not to mention an integral part of the entire DCU. I would never want to lose Oracle to regain Batgirl. And it is pretty darn great having a ‘superhero’ who is wheelchair-bound.” (Chuck McKinney in Birds of Prey #6*, 6/99)
“Barbara’s far more complex and interesting than she ever was as Batgirl.” (Dan Harrison in Birds of Prey #7, 7/99)
“I love Barbara! Her strength of will even after she was shot and what she has done with her life afterward is inspiring.” (Erik Hollander, Birds of Prey #42: 6/02)
Oracle was refreshing, empowered, and inspiring. Felicity-as-Oracle could have likewise offered a wealth of fresh new stories to a show like Arrow. Even the otherwise stellar The Flash goofed on this opportunity when Barry was paralyzed after fighting Zoom for the space of a hot minute, presenting the challenge as a mere episodic setback akin to a very dramatic flu. There is a sizable population of differently abled fans still eager to see heroes reflective of their real world challenges.
Whoever ends up lying in that grave might end up being the Earth-shattering shake up Arrow needs, but it will definitely not be Felicity, who was shown to be fine at the end of “Blood Debts.” It might instead be Thea or Captain Lance but both options ultimately still represent one more death in a bucket of death whereas a differently abled Felicity would have been a true game-changer. While still enjoyable, Arrow is a show that has in many ways plateaued, and while Team Arrow deserves recognition for including women and people of color, the rest of the television landscape has caught up to become just as dynamic.
With The Flash dominating The CW’s ratings and Legends of Tomorrow aiming to condense the appeal of superhero blockbusters into a weekly format, Arrow could end up facing obscurity as a result of its own success if it does not take riskier risks.