Goodbye Laurel Lance –You Deserved Better

Try as I might I have found it impossible to write a quippy review covering all of the usual nonsense in an Arrow episode. Rather than inspire me to put fingers to keyboard, “Eleven-Fifty-Nine” left me with a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach that I cannot shake. It’s as if the arrow that pierced Laurel Lance in the gut hit me there too. My emotions are a jumble of guilt, disgust, and sadness.  I never liked Laurel much so what right to I have to mourn her now? Well, maybe because with her death, Arrow has killed off yet another female character – and worse, a character that only recently has been allowed to realize her purpose.

It’s no secret that Arrow has not known what to do with Laurel Lance since day one. Despite years of comic book canon at their disposal, Arrow writers opted to build Laurel’s character around Oliver Queen’s Green Arrow rather than start her off with an independent hero’s journey of her own. There is nothing wrong with this creative choice in and of itself, yet it ended up doing a disservice to Black Canary – an iconic superhero in her own right. As Laurel Lance struggled to find her footing within Oliver Queen’s story so too did the audience. Laurel’s cold exterior did nothing to complement Oliver’s and added little joy to the Arrow canvas.

Laurel’s most compelling raison d’être, her identity as Black Canary, stayed out of reach far too long.  After several false starts including the introduction of her captivating younger sister Sara in Season Two, showrunners allowed Laurel’s super hero persona to take flight only recently. For some fans it might feel convenient to blame Laurel’s often-downward-rarely-upward trajectory on the appearance of Emily Bett Rickards’ Felicity Smoak. An honest assessment of Laurel’s storyline, however, reveals that from Arrow’s inception writers gave Laurel little to do and few places to go. Fan complaints should not be with Rickards; rather they should be with showrunners who in a spectacular example of creative stagnation determined that Laurel would serve the story better dead than alive.

Arrow has a habit of killing its female characters. And not just killing them, making sure they die at the hands of men, unable to defend themselves. This pattern began with Shado, continued most egregiously with Moira Queen, and now Laurel Lance. Arrow did not simply send Laurel to her grave at the mercy of Damien Darhk. Instead, the show stripped her of her physical and intellectual power, forced her to stand mute and paralyzed with fear in her eyes, while Darhk’s arrow ripped through her. Even her canary cry stayed silent. Moira Queen died much the same way with her hands tied behind her back, as Slade plunged a sword into her abdomen.

The specific circumstances of Laurel’s death undercut and nearly negate the lengths Arrow went to turn her into Black Canary – a highly skilled warrior more than able to defend herself, and fight alongside Green Arrow. Showrunners do not chart a new creative path for themselves or their remaining characters by killing off Laurel Lance. Instead, they fall prey to a tired cultural pattern in which women’s storylines are shunted aside or fridged in favor of a male’s.

If I want to see a powerful man maim, murder, and discard a woman unable to defend herself I can watch any number of generic crime dramas. I hang out in the Arrowverse to see capable men and women fight the bad guys. There is little more insulting to Laurel and her fans than determining her character has become so irrelevant to the story that her death holds more interest than the life she might have led. Arrow did not even grant Black Canary the dignity of dying as she lived – as a fighter. While Laurel Lance has never been a favorite of mine, she deserved the chance to become one.

9 Comments »

  1. You wrote another great post as I have grown accustomed to. I do have some very strong feelings regarding this subject that don’t necessarily match up with your views so I won’t say much this week out of respect I have for you. The only thing I will say is that even though I don’t agree with the writers’/show runners’ decision in this instance, I still support them and their right to make a creative choice about a show I love.

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      • Well here it goes…..

        The episode as a whole, how it was presented and how it was executed was really amazing. I felt tense the whole way, felt the foreboding and experienced the heartbreak in the finale scenes. Katie Cassidy delivered on a whole new level in this episode and, frankly, I am sad she is gone. I am frustrated with the writers a little bit because I do think there was more to Laurel’s story that could have been told and it felt like way too abrupt of an end for someone who has been through a lot over the seasons.

        Now this is where I will try to be careful. With all that said, I do stand behind the writers/show runners and respect their right for creative license with the show. The death can be considered a travesty because a good character with a lot of potential was killed. It should not be viewed as a travesty solely because it was a female character dying. I understand and agree with you that Arrow has a way of killing off female characters in a way that makes them seem weak and helpless when, in fact, they weren’t. In Laurel’s case, I think they wanted to show the pure evil and fear that Damien Darhk presents and inspires.

        Lately, it seems like every time a character dies and if that character isn’t a white, straight male it is turned into a some kind of social crusade or agenda on social media. It always is presented as the show runners are “racists”, “misogynists” or “homophobic”. That is wrong. Sometimes a character just dies because the writers deemed it necessary to move the story forward…nothing more or nothing less. It’s almost getting to a point where as a straight, white male that if I like or enjoy a show that has a straight, white male protagonist I should somehow feel ashamed because in the minds of many it must just another prototypical white-washed show that has an anti-minority, anti-feminist and anti-LGBT agenda. Sorry I kind of went off on a tangent there. I am all for equal representation and equality in story telling for female, LGBT and minority characters. Some of my favorite characters in the Arrowverse fall into these categories. However, people can’t demand equal representation on shows and then demand that nothing bad happen to those characters or that those characters should have a separate set of rules that apply to them. Yes there are injustices on television and in film regarding these different groups. I am not blind to that fact. I just think we should be careful to not make every character death involving these groups a social crusade. I’m not saying you did. I am just voicing my opinions in general.

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      • Now we’re getting somewhere!

        The episode was very well done. I held my breath through most of it really not believing that the show was actually going to kill off Laurel Lance. The foreshadowing was heart-breaking and very effective. As the end grew closer I could feel myself steeling my emotions for what was sure to come. When Laurel died I was simply horrified. Everyone delivered an amazing performance especially Oliver and Quentin. Placing Laurel in the hospital bed, diminishing her in size and the strength of her voice – all of this led to the poignancy of the moment.

        I appreciate your position on the death of a female character. Social media reacts to these types of deaths for a reason. For better or worse popular culture is a reflection of larger trends in society. I react negatively to the death of a defenseless female character because in the real world power discrepancies still exist between women and men. Women have made tremendous progress, but it has not come easily and they have not yet achieved equality.

        Watching fictional characters like Laurel die unable to defend themselves hits too close to home for women who know victims of domestic abuse, rape, and other types of violence. I gravitate toward Joss Whedon’s work because the women fight back. I thought that is what Arrow wanted to do with Black Canary. For me the circumstances of her death reduced her to one more girl who did not or could not defend herself. Arrow writers would never say they are misogynists. In fact, I don’t think they are. That does not mean, however, that they don’t fall victim to larger messages that circulate throughout American culture regularly about what it means to be male and what it means to be female or lesbian or gay or a person of color.

        Writers (and viewers) need to take active steps to disentangle themselves from tropes that advance female weakness. This takes hard work and most of all conscious effort to do. Three times now Arrow has not just killed a female character. They have done so by having a man put a bullet into a woman’s head with her hands tied behind her back, another man put a sword through a women begging for her life, and now a third male put a sword through a woman paralyzed in fear. One. Two. Three. These writers are not challenging themselves to write creatively. They are stuck in a cultural pattern they might not even be aware of. And that pattern will never change unless viewers/consumers point it out.

        Arrow gets a lot right. That is why I watch the show and why I like writing about it. In some senses Arrow makes itself more relevant when it kills female characters, again, and then those deaths prompt a conversation on social media. At some point though I would really appreciate it if Arrow would be brave and actually do something new with gender and power, rather than reinforce the same stereotypes that have existed since comics first went to print.

        Write back! And, no apologies! I really want to know what you think.

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  2. I took a lot of what you wrote to heart and went back to re-watch the Shado, Moira and Laurel death scenes. You are right about how the show runners portrayed their deaths. They were all helpless and compromised at the hands of man. They all died without being allowed to fight back. I think I get where you are coming from. It is not that they died but rather the matter of which they did. All three women were shown and built up as strong characters and then met their demise in a fashion fitting of a weak character. I agree with you that the show runners/writers should be more cognizant of this. Maybe through social media they will be made more aware.

    I still, however, stand by what I said regarding female, minority and LGBT characters. If one of them dies or has something bad happen to them, it doesn’t always warrant a social outcry and/or crusade. Characters die. Characters have terrible things happen to them. Sometimes those characters are going to women, or minorities or gay/bisexual. If a show decides to go that direction the writers/show runners should not always be vilified or be portrayed as having an agenda against any of these groups. I think we as viewers should be aware and acknowledge when stereotypes or common tropes are used regarding these groups. At the same time, we as viewers need to allow the writers to make creative decisions without always crying foul too. That is all I meant.

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    • You have a stronger stomach than I do! I don’t think I will ever be able to watch any of those death scenes again, especially Moira’s. Thank you for considering my perspective. You are right that not every character death (women, LGBT) comes from some sort of agenda or lack of perspective on the part of the writers. I suppose in a comic book show every character is marked for death at some point. Maybe what we need is a recasting of the villains so that they are not all white men? A female baddie would be nice (Glory from Buffy). Minority characters should also have the opportunity to be evil killers. Wait, that doesn’t sound right. . .

      Thank you for the great conversation. I appreciate it as always. I am eager to see where Arrow goes in the next few episodes. My heart breaks for poor Quentin.

      Talk to you soon.

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  3. And did I see that she “came back” ? I just barely caught some of tonight’s episode.

    She is a lost canary, and has been for a while.

    I am really enjoying reading your posts. Can’t get those two hours back. Worth it.

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    • You are cracking me up. I have a love hate relationship with Laural. Actually I mostly hate her, but I think she got the shaft there at the end. I am not too thrilled that she has “returned.” I am two eps behind on Arrow. Hope to catch up soon. Glad you are reading the posts!

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      • I don’t mostly hate her. I do hate her. Since episode one. I found her to be a snitty vacuous storyless individual who, when she became the Black Canary, destroyed any hopes I had that she could be logically woven into the story. She should have faded away, or maybe crushed in the building with her other love . . . is that bad to say?

        I am excited to read the rest of your brilliance, to be honest.

        Seriously. Talented. Writer.

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