“Canaries’” Erratic Flight
It has been a rollicking week on television for strong female characters. Agent Carter took out the small army of agents who drew the unfortunate “go arrest Carter” assignment, Leslie Knope bowed out of the Pie Mary, and Lady Mary bobbed her hair. Even Taylor Swift got into the action telling a tone-deaf Nancy O’Dell, “I’m not gonna walk home with any men tonight.” Perhaps that is why Arrow’s “Canaries” felt so anti-climactic. Thea and Laurel both developed inscrutable cases of vulnerability and the episode’s plot holes left me asking, “Wait, was I supposed to do the reading before coming to class?”
As the title suggests, showrunners continued their dogged effort to transform Laurel into a credible Black Canary. The decision to shoehorn this story into Arrow’s narrative has led to the victimization of Laurel Lance in myriad ways. For example, “Canaries” treated the audience to her near-misogynistic beating at the hands of her sister Sara. Granted, Vertigo — not the dearly departed Sara — pummeled Laurel in the midst of her drug-induced haze, and in her quest to “wear Sara’s mask,” Laurel saw her sister instead. [BTW, does anyone else miss Seth Gabel as much as I do?] Apparently Laurel’s insecurities run so deep that they justify imaginary-Sara’s vicious characterization of Laurel as a “selfish bitch,” twice. The real Sara once declared, “I don’t like that word,” so the use of it here stings.
Oliver’s disgust at running into Laurel “again” while in the field says as much about her hasty decision to be there as it does about Oliver’s tendency toward paternalism. He took a much needed drubbing from Laurel after he had the audacity to suggest she was donning a mask to chase an addict’s high. She threw that barb back at him pointing out Oliver wears a mask to distance himself from those around him [read Felicity]. The episode moves erratically between empowering Laurel — “Maybe it’s best if we stay out of each other’s way” — to leaving her in a wild-eyed heap on the med table. At least Felicity remains consistent when she puts an end to Oliver’s “I’m trying to figure out why you’re standing up to me!” arrogance with her own barb, “You do not have the right to come back here and question everyone’s choices,” reducing Oliver to open-mouthed silence and then to slinking out of the lair like a scolded child. The team reshuffled the deck in his absence leaving little room for this Queen at the top.
In an effort to bring Laurel into the fold, showrunners are cautiously laying the groundwork for a friendship between Laurel and Felicity. Since Laurel Lance attracts a level of vitriol typically reserved for Kim Jong-un or one’s cable provider, this choice feels like a risk, but I can’t object. Felicity enlivens every scene she is in and Laurel needs a boost. During their quiet conversation, Felicity imparts the tough love that Laurel so desperately needs, telling her to embrace her own path and be herself. This moment left me thinking that the showrunners might finally abandon their quest to merge Laurel and Black Canary and let Laurel find her own way, wherever that might lead. Regrettably, they chose a different approach sending Laurel into the field near the end of the episode with Oliver’s blessing, thus bringing me to the ongoing Diggle conundrum.
Showrunners need to make some effort to craft plausible explanations for sidelining Dig in favor of Laurel. This has created plot holes of cavernous proportions. Here are some simple excuses to consider. Dig has a nasty case of the flu. He likely skipped this year’s vaccination given last year’s Great Flu Shot Fiasco. Influenza should be running rampant through Starling City right about now easily knocking the big guy back. Here’s another one. The nanny has the flu and Lyla has to hunt BGs for Amanda Waller requiring Dig to bring little Sara with him for playtime at the foundry. Strap a baby to his chest and we might accept that Diggle has suddenly lost his taste for hand-to-hand combat. Each of these options is more plausible than Oliver looking back and forth between Laurel and Digg and opting to take Laurel into the breach as his back up. I half expected Stephen Amell to look at the camera, break the fourth wall and say, “Don’t blame me; it was in the script.”
Oliver took Malcolm’s advice over Diggle’s and confessed his superhero identity to Thea. She surprised her big brother by thanking him for saving her and the city time and time again. While this reaction came as a relief to Oliver, it left me underwhelmed. Thea has often had stars in her eyes when it comes to Oliver, yet she has also valued honesty in her relationship with him. Who can forget the betrayal she felt upon finding out that Moira and Oliver withheld her true parentage from her thus sending her into Merlyn’s open arms? Perhaps Malcolm’s training has caused Thea to accept a new Zen approach to life.
Thea inexplicably turned against Malcolm after learning about Oliver’s identity prompting me to wonder which crucial line I missed that might explain this turnabout. What happened in “Canaries” that led Thea to condemn Malcolm, the man she praised as a loving father just a few days ago? We see the same kind of erratic writing for Thea that we saw with Laurel. Thea chooses to bring a boy home for some fun on what looks to be an uncomfortable couch and afterward quickly figures out that cute as he might be he is trying to poison her. Thea, who has been fully capable of defending herself all season, given that she is a trained swordswoman, suddenly requires rescue from her ex-boyfriend. Am I supposed to think it is sweet that Roy is lurking outside her apartment door dressed in full Arsenal gear while she was having sex with another man? Presumably Roy called Malcolm for back-up launching Roy from one position – keeping Thea away from Malcolm, to the opposite – calling on Malcolm to help him save Thea – in the span of a scene change. If you have access to the accompanying webisode that fills in this and other holes in the narrative, please send it my way.
“Canaries” ends with Oliver taking Thea on a camping trip to The Island and leaving his team, including a wonderfully irritated Felicity, to save the city in his place. Laurel breaks the devastating news to Lance that his daughter Sara is dead . . . again. The writers need to work harder to make Laurel’s transition to Black Canary a believable one. In the face of poor storytelling, Laurel, and probably a beleaguered Katie Cassidy, should take advice from the wise Taylor Swift and “shake it off.” Meanwhile, I’ll take comfort in knowing that “It’s A Good Day” to watch Peggy Carter crush a few kneecaps to this bubbly melody on her way to shattering the glass ceiling.
As always, your comments are entertaining and thoughtful. If only I watched the show. Have to say though, this doesn’t make me want to watch it! J.
Arrow certainly has its ups and downs. Sometimes the writing is excellent, other times you wonder if you are watching the same show you saw last week.
As always, I am happy to entertain you.
I was really surprised at Thea’s reaction too. Both to Oliver and Malcom. Like you said she always wanted honesty from Oliver and the fact that she so easily accepted him being Arrow and went on to hug him and thank him came as a total surprise. As for Malcom, for the whole season, she was singing a rendition of “My daddy is the best”, in fact when Roy told her in the last episode that Malcom was a killer and nothing else, Thea argued that whatever he did, he did it because he loves Starling. But in this episode she does a complete 360 and shows nothing but hatred towards him, and even says that she won’t forget all the horrible things he has done. Confusion much?
I was also surprised by Lance’s reaction. I thought he would feel betrayed by Laurel for not sharing the news of Sara’s death before. But guess not!
Great review! 🙂
This episode was such a mess I wondered if I missed a mini-ep in between. Thea’s reaction to Oliver could be explained away somewhat given that has always wanted to think that her big brother was flawless. The Malcolm turn around is simply poor writing. I talked it over with a friend and we could not come up with any reasonable explanation for Thea’s anger toward Malcolm. They appeared to be writing Lance as if he suspected that Sara was dead, but chose not to go in that direction. I was very happy to see that story line come to an end. I can’t predict how things will go over the next few episodes for Laurel and her father. I wonder if he will show some residual anger in the same way that Felicity continues to be angry with Oliver? That would be interesting.
Thanks for your comments. I appreciate them. And, I am happy to see that I was not the only person who found some holes in this episode.
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Another brilliant review (will you be doing these regularly?) that I completely agree with. However, you didn’t mention the line that really irritated me – “Sara had no light.” Apparently the only way to get it through the audience’s thick heads that Laurel is the superior Canary is by tearing down Sara.
“But wait!” Laurel’s defenders cry out. “Sara was an evil assassin! And she went back with the assassins at the end of season 2! See? Totally no light!”
I have a few problems with that excuse:
1.) Sara had her own arc. We saw the beginnings of it, and it was Laurel who actually played a large part in forwarding it. Season 2 had a scene where Sara starts to acknowledge that she might be a hero after Laurel insists on it. I may not like Laurel, but I loved that scene. Sara’s arc wasn’t about having light – fine. Whatever, we’ll go with that. Sara’s arc was about *seeking* light, about making the decision to go forwards and try for redemption. If it hadn’t been cut short (for obvious production-level reasons), we would have seen Sara gain light, accept that there was goodness in her, and understand that she already was a hero.
(Side note: in my head I’m writing a fic where Felicity was an intern at Stark Industries and Pepper became her mentor. Right now I have a Steve and Sara endgame, because if Captain America says you’re a good person, shouldn’t you believe it? And Bruce helps Laurel with her anger issues. Lance is going to be having an awkward time trying to be the intimidating father-in-law with both cases.)
2.) So Sara went back to the League of Assassins with Nyssa? Sara was in love with Nyssa. In a way, Sara and Oliver’s relationship parallels Felicity and Barry’s (except with more naked times). The couples may be perfect for each other on paper, but when you get down to it all they really have is affection and attraction. They love like friends love. It’s never spoken out loud, but the subtext feels obvious to me: Sara is in love with Nyssa. Oliver and Felicity are in love with each other. Barry is in love with Iris. In both cases they would be settling, and none of them deserve to be someone’s second choice. So why blame Sara for going with Nyssa? Especially when loyalty to the person she loves allows her to save the city filled with everyone else she loves? It wasn’t like she’d be there forever – she still had so much of her own journey left to travel. Besides, I wouldn’t trade that badass walk through the tunnel scene for anything.
3.) This is Felicity we’re talking about. Felicity who got past her own internal jealousy of Sara to see who she really was inside. Even before Felicity really had a read on Sara she was reassuring her that she was welcome, making jokes about joining a gym to show Sara she didn’t judge her (like Laurel spent most of the season doing – the addiction storyline was another mess that did no favors towards making Laurel more sympathetic). Felicity fans and Olicity shippers make a big deal about Felicity being Oliver/the team’s “light,” the heart of everything. It wasn’t an accident that Felicity used the word “light,” the writers brought it up intentionally to show Laurel has Felicity’s ‘blessing’ – Felicity says Sara had no light, then that means Laurel does have light, doesn’t it? Forget about the fact that Laurel has always been characterized as bitter, hostile, jealous and angry, while Sara had a sense of humor and could find joy in spite of her darkness.
“Canaries” left me cold on so many levels. I mentioned to someone how I’m getting everything I want but not when and how I wanted it. Once I get past Sara’s death and accept it as necessary, then I see a bunch of things I do want happening: Felicity is now standing up to Oliver; Oliver is FINALLY telling Thea the truth, Lance is being allowed to mourn his daughter, Laurel and Felicity are forming a friendship. Except for how much I love where Felicity and Olicity could be going, they’re the only things I’m okay with, an it was never really a question whether or not I’d stick around to watch them, no matter what was happening.
My hindsight “wish list” for season 3 is all about timing: give Laurel enough time to train, so that she’s putting on the mask for herself. KC has been saying everywhere that Laurel is “becoming” her sister, and I don’t want that. If Laurel’s going to be the Black Canary, I want to see her grow and fit into the role of hero; to do it right. Instead we’re seeing her half-ass it and get the shit kicked out of her (again, while Diggle plays second string). If I were Marc Guggenheim, I would have Laurel train the entire season. Have her actually do the twelve steps of AA instead of just showing up to one meeting and pretending everything’s fixed. Show her realizing she can’t hold onto her anger and bitterness. Show her realizing that she can’t treat people as dismissively as she has Diggle and Felicity (*THAT’S* how you build a friendship – not by having one character parrot how awesome the other character is). Have her grow into being a hero emotionally. Save putting on the mask for when it would have the most impact: season finale, all is lost, how are we going to get out of this… and suddenly a woman in black shows up and saves everyone’s asses. Is it Sara? No, it’s Laurel, and she’s now ready to be a hero inside and outside. Besides, the fallout from that rescue gives plenty of fodder for season 4.
Guggenheim has said Laurel won’t be facing any consequences regarding keeping Sara’s death from her father for six months. That doesn’t sit well at all, especially with that disgusting fake-out where Laurel literally imitated her sister to keep from having to tell the truth (Felicity’s participation being yet another case where ooc behavior is in support of Laurel). The guy already thought he lost Sara once; convincing him she was still alive was actually disgustingly cruel once you think about it.
Last week? So excited. Laurel was still a mess, Diggle was still getting sidelined, but at least they were getting Olicity right and setting up conflicts to be resolved by the end of the season. This week? Righteous indignation for Sara (again, after I was almost at the acceptance stage of grief), ups and downs for Felicity (standing up to Oliver is good, bashing Sara to make Laurel feel validated isn’t), and general WTFery for any interaction between Malcolm, Thea, Roy and Oliver. Because of course going on a family camping trip on the island where you were pretty much held prisoner for two years is a healthy idea (just as good as becoming crime fighting partners with your ex who slept with your sister is healthy–and I see people who ship Olicity but are determined to show how much they love Laurel joking about Oliver calling Laurel “Pretty Bird”?! In what universe is that not throwing nuclear waste on a pile of toxic sludge, especially if we assume at some point Oliver would be with Felicity and she’d get to hear that disgustingly obvious flirting through the comm system?!).
Sometimes I wonder why I watch television shows where every interpersonal conflict could be resolved through the intervention of Dr. Phil.
I’m loving the chance to read your thoughts and discuss them with you. My Valentine’s Day will be spent marathoning Peggy Carter (which has been collecting on the DVR as I start my final semester and go through preparations for two giant research projects), so somewhere between that, cuddling with my dogs, and two pints of Ben & Jerry’s I’ll be feeling better and more optimistic.
Good Morning Lex: In answer to your question, no I will not be writing about Arrow every week. Writing about Felicity, surprise surprise is easy. Writing about the rest of the show can sometimes feel like a chore, especially writing about Laurel. I still see little reason for her to become Black Canary in the narrative the writers have presented us with. The best thing that could happen to that character would be to redirect her on a different path – away from Black Canary and away from any romantic relationship with Oliver. As the Internet has pointed out repeatedly they have no spark between them.
I did not write about Felicity’s “light” comment to Laurel because it infuriated me. Not only did it borrow from sacred Olicity territory, but it simply did not make sense. Like you I saw Sara as a fun-loving person with a great sense of humor and insights into human nature. Laurel has never connected on that level with anyone on the show. Where is this light that Felicity speaks of? Like Amell, Rickards could have looked at the camera and said, “it was in the script” so don’t blame her for saying it.
The writers must feel obligated to endear Laurel to the fans even though they do not have much to work with. I don’t like writing about Laurel because I have a great deal of sympathy for Katie Cassidy. The Internet is a vicious place and for whatever reason she has chosen to remain in this role even though I can’t imagine it is healthy for her personally. I appreciate all of those fan sites out there that choose Radio Silence over mentioning Laurel. I believe they are a big part of the reason why Olicity has taken off with the writers. As for the showrunners, abandoning Olicity would so damage the best elements of the show that I simply don’t see them doing it. This is what I tell myself whenever I get nervous about the ship.
Agent Carter is a blast. I look forward to buying the DVD set so I can have an AC day myself. I know you will have fabulous Valentines Day with Peggy. Maybe you should put that Iron Man/Captain America/Arrow mash-up onto the page. I would read it!