Arrow season 4 episode 18 review: 11:59

Major spoilers as Arrow season 4 finally reveals which character winds up in that grave...

This review contains spoilers.

4.18 11:59

I’m going to talk about Laurel Lance for a bit, because apparently it’ll be my last chance to.

A lot of people dislike Laurel, which is an improvement on near-blanket hatred during the first couple of seasons of the show. But for three years the writers stuck with her, they developed her and they pushed her towards becoming the Black Canary 2.0 with admirable patience.

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But there was always a sense that she was one of the audience’s least favourite members of Team Arrow and, once Sara had been resurrected and Laurel had become comfortable with her new crime-fighting identity, the producers lost interest. She’s been through a lot in four and a half years, but a lot of that tension had admittedly been resolved a while ago.

My personal feelings aside, the episode itself is actually pretty great, teasing a number of character deaths before the axe (or arrow) finally lands on Laurel. Will it be Thea as she faces off with Malcolm? Or Diggle when he realises that Andy has been working against the team? All we knew going in was that Oliver, Barry (obviously) and Felicity would not be getting the chop, so that allowed the episode to play with a whole heap of naturally occurring tension.

When the moment finally comes, and Laurel is stabbed by Darhk with one of Oliver’s own arrows, it’s harsh and cruel and gut-wrenching. But she dies in battle, and she gets to say goodbye. The scene between Oliver and Laurel is the hospital was so rich, with both actors bringing their A-game with seemingly every scrap of painful history brought into that room just in time for the show to rip our hearts out.

Love her or hate her, these two characters have been on quite a journey, and the fact that all of it could be felt in a single scene is astonishing work from everyone involved.

The picture, of which we were reminded of in this week’s flashbacks, has been in play since the pilot, and Stephen Amell knocked it out of the park with Oliver’s reaction to seeing it again. It’s not a shipper thing, just two people who love and hate each other in every way you can love and hate someone.

That’s the good, now for the bad.

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This is textbook fridging of a great female character, and there’s no way around that. Sara’s death at least had major consequences for Laurel, and was key to her overall arc, but this is in service of Oliver and Quentin’s stories, and that’s not okay. In her final moments, Laurel was treated as an expendable part of other people’s plotlines.

Felicity’s arc has always been tied to Oliver, Thea’s to Malcolm, but Laurel was at this point her own woman, and so couldn’t survive within a show that consistently puts the existential angst of its main protagonist above rhyme, reason and audience satisfaction. It’s been that way since the beginning, but it’s devastating that Laurel, who had grown so far past the trappings of a mere love interest, had to be a casualty of that agenda.

She evolved so far past the writers’ original plans for her, usurped in the romance department by Felicity due to understandable chemistry issues, that the writers just didn’t know what to do with her anymore. She hasn’t had an arc this year, and she hasn’t had a love interest since early season three. Unfortunate as it is, this isn’t an ensemble show, and it could be argued that she’d served her purpose.

But that doesn’t mean I’m not emotionally distraught by the twist, or that the fact the writers seemingly hadn’t figured out who would actually be in the grave until a couple of weeks before filming 11:59 doesn’t sully its impact. The cynical viewpoint would be that the show wrote itself into a corner and that Laurel was the easiest person to dispose of. Would she have died if the grave scene didn’t exist? I don’t know.

The producers may claim that she had reached a natural plateau, and that fans of Laurel are a ‘loud minority’, but talented writers (which they are) make their characters worth watching – they shouldn’t have to be spoon-fed potential storylines. Laurel’s journey wasn’t over just because she was Black Canary. That wasn’t the end point, but what should have been the beginning.

As Diggle says to Oliver in one of my favourite moments from the entire series – some people change, some people evolve. Laurel changed and evolved more than any other character on this show, but she was rarely recognised for that by the audience or the overall direction of the show.

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There’s no doubt that this will have dramatic consequences for everyone going forward, and that it will add a gravitas to the Damien Darhk storyline that couldn’t have been achieved any other way, but isn’t that rather short-sighted? They killed off the Canary to add a sprinkling of drama but, in the process, they threw away a world of potential still within the character.

Read Caroline’s review of the previous episode, Beacon Of Hope, here.