This Arrow review contains spoilers.
Arrow Season 4, Episode 18
Let it never be said that Arrowdoesn’t know how to pull off the Main Character Dies, Motivating The Rest of the Characters Into Action plot. They do it every season around this time. It was most effective in season 2 with Moira Queen’s death when we hadn’t yet had time to figure out the pattern. Things were rawer then, the stakes less predictable. The Arrowverse was still one little show, with no commitment to anything outside of the confines of its narrative. Two seasons later, the strings on the puppet that it is this plot device — the strings on the puppets that are most Arrowplot devices — are much more visible, but damn if Laurel Lance’s death at the end of “Eleven-Fifty-Nine” didn’t hurt something fierce.
Laurel Lance has been with Arrowfrom the beginning. As a romantic prospect for our guy Oliver, she never really worked. Whether it was chemistry or writing or a combination of both, Laurel and Oliver never made sense together — at least not as a couple. But, at least to me, they have always made sense as old friends, as one of those messy, yet deep relationships you have in your life that don’t always fit into an easily defined category and don’t often get depicted on TV.
Once Laurel was freed from the impossible confines of her role as Romantic Interest, Arrowreally didn’t know what to do with her for an entire season. She was a guilty, drug-addled alcoholic trying to come to grips with Tommy’s death. It wasn’t a good look on her, but it actually made for some pretty great television, at least in my book — and, given all of the stuff this woman had been through, was pretty understandable. It also led to one of the best scenes in season 2: Oliver, standing in Laurel’s hallway, telling her that he has loved her for years, but he was done chasing after her. This is what character development looks like, people, and season 2 was rife with it.
In season 3, Laurel was one of the few consistent brights spots. While other main characters suffered from uneven writing and unclear character motivation, Laurel was on a clear path of vengeance straight from her sister’s death to becoming the Black Canary. She was taking no prisoners and, when not training to become a badass vigilante, she was speaking the truth to Oliver in the way only old friends who mostly love you, but also kind of hate you a tiny little bit can: “If there is anyone who is using adrenaline to hide the pain of real feelings and real life, it’s you.”
Throughout seasons 3 and 4, Laurel would continue to be a source of pragmatic wisdom on an often emotionally-chaotic Team Arrow. She was Thea’s friend, confidante, and protector through that bloodlust business. She was Diggle’s touchstone when he struggled to get past his frustrations with and distrust of Oliver. And she was Oliver’s oldest friend, one of the few people left in his life who knew who he was before the island, and who has loved every version of him in some way.
“I am not the love of your life,” Laurel tells Oliver. “But you will always be the love of mine.” She carries that photo that Oliver dragged to and back from Lian Yu around with her because it reminds her of simpler times: when Oliver loved her, even when he didn’t respect her, and when Star City was called Starling City and people actually wanted to live there, and before her sister died and came back to life and died and came back to life again. Laurel has been through so, so much — second only to Oliver and maybe Thea, she has probably had to deal with the most crap on this show — and she (eventually) chose love and justice in all aspects of her life. She may have turned to anger and grief and bitterness following Tommy’s death, but she ultimately chose to be a forgiving, empathetic, strong person — and there’s something incredibly inspiring about that. About someone struggling to find the right path, even when it isn’t easy. Oliver is recognized as a hero for it. Why shouldn’t Laurel be?
It sucks that we had to wait until Laurel’s death episode to see Laurel really get her due and for Laurel and Oliver to have an honest, raw conversation about their past relationship, but that’s what happened. If I’ve learned anything from this episode and the last, it’s that Arrowneeds more episodes that focus on the other characters of this ensemble — the Not Olivers. Feel free to throw the flashbacks behind those supporting character-centric episodes, too. Because, as much as I didn’t hate the flashbacks in this episode for the first time in while, the present-day plotline might have been better served by a flashback storyline that focused even more on Laurel.
Still, by using that tattered old photo Oliver somehow managed to hold onto during his five years of shenanigans on Lian Yu and beyond as a through-line, Arrowmanaged to do something it hasn’t managed to do in a long time: imbue the flashbacks with emotional weight. No, I don’t care about Oliver and Taiana’s murder spree. I don’t care about Reiter and his stupid idol. All I care about is Oliver clutching onto that photograph of Laurel and calling her home. Heartstrings effectively pulled, show. You didn’t even need to give me Detective Lance, falling to his knees upon the realization that his “baby girl” has died. I can’t even begin to start discussing what this means for his character because it is too cruel a fate to consider.
Much like the flashback details of this episode, I was pretty under-invested in Darhk’s escape from Iron Heights. As amazing as Neal McDonough has been in the role of Damien Darhk, I still can’t manage to care about this villain. Because Arrowhas done so little to contextualize his actions, nothing he does has meaning because I can’t understand the motivation behind it. Sure, he killed Laurel to prove to Lance that he follows through on his terrible threats, but we already knew he was a major jerk who has absolutely no qualms killing, so this doesn’t really give us any new information.
No, the real meat on the villain plottage this week came in the form of the Oliver v. Diggle face-off that Andy Diggle’s character incited. As I mentioned in last week’s episode review, I really wish that Arrowhad put a bit more effort into selling us on this Andy Diggle subplot. Dude pretty just popped up this season when Team Arrow needed him to sell a drastic narrative turn. Would it have killed the show to throw in a few scenes of him eating Big Belly Burger with the rest of the gang?
Though the Andy As Potential Traitor storyline doesn’t have the emotional context it needs to really work, the confrontation between Diggle and Oliver certainly does. Though Oliver and Diggle are best buds again, I totally believe that Diggle would point a gun at Oliver to prove his point. (Pull the trigger? That’s another question…) Not only has John always had a serious big brother complex, we can’t forget where Oliver and Diggle’s relationship was at at the beginning of this season…
“You don’t trust. You don’t love. You were able to fool The League because, inside, you are every bit as dark as they are.” Diggle said this to Oliver in the season 4 premiere, still pissed that Oliver kidnapped his wife and threatened to kill her during his League of Assassins phase in season 3. Though Diggle and Oliver has rebuilt much of their trust over the course of this past season, the fracture that formed because of Oliver’s actions in season 3 may never fully heal. So, when Diggle goes off on Oliver, it totally works with his character: “Not all men are like you, Oliver. Some of us change. Some of us grow. Some of us evolve.”
Diggle actually has some pretty great points re: Oliver. He may be a bit harsh on the not changing at all thing (he’s talking to the guy who used to communicate to the viewer mainly in voiceover because he never actually voiced any of his true feelings out loud to another character…), but when he tells Oliver that Felicity broke up with him because he is “stuck in your pity and your self-righteousness,” he’s not so offbase. Unfortunately, Arrowundercuts this truth-telling by eventually letting Oliver be right, which is kind of the cowardly narrative direction to go, if you ask me. You don’t always have to contrive plot to make your main character the heroic martyr, Arrow.In fact, it’s often more affecting when you don’t.
This was the thing that really rubbed me the wrong way about Laurel’s death: it felt like it was in service to the Oliver and Diggle character arcs rather than her own. The show used Laurel’s death to prove a point in Oliver’s favor, to demonstrate that he was right and Diggle was wrong and this is why we should root for the Green Arrow. But hasn’t Laurel already sacrificed enough for Oliver? Oliver can be motivated by something other than trauma, show, and so can our faith in him as a hero.
From the quiver…
“Some guy with perfect teeth and a missing hand.” Best Merlyn description ever.
“The only thing Darhk should be planning on is getting convicted at trial.” Is it just me or has Oliver gotten snarkier in recent episodes?
“There’s somethig I haven’t told you, guys.” “Shocker.” Thea has always been this snarky, and I love it.
“You really love not talking about that place, don’t you?” Laurel on Oliver and Lian Yu. You’ve got to love that, even when they are great terms, she’s still pretty bitter about Lian Yu.
“Oliver, Andy is a standup guy.” As much as I believe Diggle’s lingering mistrust of Oliver, his reaction to Andy this season has given me character whiplash.
“Just months ago, I was a dive instructor” is to Taiana what “Just months ago, I was a barista” is to Legends of Tomorrow’sKendra.
“This place truly is hell. It makes monsters of us all.” Taiana on the flashbacks, basically.
“Be district attorney by day, Black Canary by night.” I would watch this spin-off. Bring Thea, too, Laurel.
“That’s because he’s not dad. I know I’ve said it before, but this time it’s different. This time, it’s mutual.” The Thea/Merlyn thing is definitely going to come to a head soon.
“A magician never reveals his secrets.” Damn you, Merlyn, and your smarmy charm.
“This is about keeping us safe.” “No, this is about you controlling everything and everyone around you.”
“This city has enough heroes with masks on. It needs a her without a mask. It needs Laurel Lance.” Sob.
“One last time.” PSA: Guys, never say this. It ensures you’re about to killed off.
“It was really a hop, skip, and a jump from Diggle to you to your little sister to your ex-girlfriend.” Darhk’s “Duh, of course Oliver Queen is the Arrow speech” was magic.
“Going out there and fighting alongside you guys, it’s what makes me feel alive inside. And I love you guys so much.” OK, but what did Laurel ask Oliver to do for her when the camera pulled back? Probably something to do with Detective Lance, right?
“Her name is Laurel Lance, and she was my home before all of this.” Gah, see you guys April 27th or whenever. Until then, I’ll be worrying about Diggle and Detective Lance…