I've had a few days to stew over this episode, and it's still kind of hard to talk about. Because my emotions are wayyyyy up here, and my rational thoughts are way down here, and I can't make them reconcile. If the episode were completely devoid of context, or even if I just paid no attention to interviews or comments from the cast and EPs, I would probably feel more satisfied by it on the non-emotional level. But as it is, the episode had, say, five agenda items I expected it to accomplish, and here's how I would grade it on each:
1) Explain the, in Stephen's Amell's words, "very deliberate almost robotic feeling or temperature to their relationship this year." Grade: D
Their "robotic" behavior with each other and dating other people actually makes even less sense now. I would be very interested to hear what Stephen thinks the explanation was. Where they left off in the flashbacks, it seemed very much like they were just in a holding pattern until Felicity felt ready to talk, so her relationship with Billy (and its retconned importance) and Oliver's non-reaction to it don't follow, and their "regimented" attitudes with each other before and after that reveal don't either. The only glimmer of an explanation I can see is that they stayed far away from each other physically and emotionally because they can't control their feelings and they'd just end up screwing on all surfaces. Like...was that actually it, though???
2) Reveal more about the reasons for their breakup, on which MG basically admitted they dropped the ball in S4. Grade: C
I didn't feel like we really got much that was new about their breakup, except for Felicity apologizing for just walking away without talking. Which I didn't personally hate, but would have much preferred it be balanced by more insight and remorse on Oliver's side. Marc suggested in his response to a Tumblr ask that Oliver would address "his train of thought about the son situation or talk about the circumstances around it like the Barry telling him what happened in the other time line thing." That did not happen. The one other useful piece of information we got was when Felicity homed in on the trust thing, and said that Oliver couldn't trust anyone and she didn't understand why, but maybe if she did...
3) Show Felicity and Oliver coming to understand something about each other, which would resolve certain things re: their breakup and Helix. Grade C-
So, presumably, Felicity's new understanding of Oliver is about why he can't trust people, then? And that's related to the way that he actually can't trust himself? And her understanding somehow has something to do with Billy's death? And Helix? And her being willing to do whatever it takes no matter what to get payback? I...yeah, I don't follow. But, more importantly, even if that connection was clear, trust really had nothing to do with why he didn't tell her about William. If the show wanted to complicate that now by having Oliver reveal that actually what Barry told him did make him of terrified of losing her, and that he feels like everyone who is really a part of his life gets hurt and he kind of subconsciously agreed with Samantha that keeping William separate from his life was a good idea, then okay, I would still think it was a retcon, but I would have accepted it. But they didn't bother doing that, they just sort of had Felicity say "I understand, I get it now" and neither the Thing She Got nor the Reason She Got It hang together under any scrutiny. Also, I'm left to guess at what new understanding Oliver reached about Felicity.
4) Leave Oliver with some sort of question that relates to his relationship with Felicity but also drives his journey toward the finale. Grade: B+
I thought this was pretty good. The question that Oliver needs to answer for himself, and what he needs to do, was pretty clearly stated--figure out what kind of person you are. It's a little late in the season and it's repetitive as hell, but it's an action item for Oliver, w/r/t his relationship with Felicity and his fight against Chase and in general. He needs to believe once and for all that he's a good man who deserves good things, and that he can trust himself so that he will trust others too, and then Felicity will be willing to be in a relationship with him again. Which is great, because, see #5.
5) Remind the audience why we should bother to root for O/F by focusing on them in flashbacks and isolating them in present day, and letting the SA/EBR chemistry do its work. Grade: A+++++++++++++++++
The thing about #5 is...it makes everything else just seem sort of unimportant. Like, oh, are these writers still hacks who can't seem to follow their own narrative threads? Must be Wednesday. It just does not matter in the face of this:
What will it take to get more of that??? If the answer is to accept the vague motivations and nonsensical explanations for their behavior, then fine! I accept! Just end this nonsense and let these precious people interact again. I need those hearteyes in my life every week. (Also the dimples and the abs and the butts, pls.)