It was the dumpster. That was the extra element that made Sara’s death in Arrow’s season 3 premiere so infuriating to so many fans. She was worked into the episode for a quick little cameo just so they could kill her off at the end. That hurts, sure, but it all happens so fast you’re still kind of processing everything. She was shot in the gut with not one, not two, but three different arrows, signifying that she must really be dead. Yeah, but, no one stays dead on this show. Heck, I still call total bullshit on their explanation for how Malcolm Merlyn survived his “death” in the season 1 finale. Then they dropped Sara from the roof of a building and had her first hit a trash dumpster before finally landing on the ground, her Canary mask none-too-subtly falling at Laurel’s feet. Just in case you still had doubt, the blood surrounding Sara’s head on the pavement was a clear sign of, “Yeah, she’s probably not getting up from that.”
To some, that bit with the dumpster was an indignity too far. It was a needlessly ugly final moment for a character the show had spent two full seasons building up, her absence being felt throughout the first season and her surprise “return from the grave” driving much of the second season. This was the girl who fought to protect women, battled her own demons and homicidal tendencies, was Oliver’s equal in almost every way, and ultimately sacrificed her shot at a normal life to be a hero and save strangers. Sara Lance did not deserve to fall “broken and beaten into the trash,” her death serving no other purpose than to give Laurel an excuse to turn vigilante.
Or maybe you didn’t even notice that Sara hit a dumpster on her fall to the ground, or you did but, eh, no biggie. Maybe you’re not necessarily happy to see Sara go but also not necessarily weeping over her demise, believing her to be an unnecessary intrusion into the more traditional origin story we’d expect from the Black Canary we know from the comics. Maybe you don’t give a damn about the comics, and you’re simply confused why the hell Arrow just killed off Black Canary, quick to argue “And don’t give me that ‘Well, technically, she was only ever known as Canary’ crap!”
This is the type of baggage we carried with us into “Sara,” Arrow’s first real effort at truly exploring the immediate aftermath of one of its character deaths. Regardless of what we think of the manner in which Sara was dispatched or what it means for the long-term future of the show, “Sara” was an episode which had to give some sense of meaning to tragedy. We needed to see how each character was going to react to Sara’s death, and we wanted to see what this means for where the rest of the season is heading.
We didn’t have to wait long to find out, at least on that bit about how the characters would react since “Sara” opened with Oliver, Roy, and Felicity immediately discovering Laurel waiting for them with Sara’s corpse in the Arrow cave. It is a gut punch of a moment, particularly the quiet, sad way Oliver says, “Sara?” in reserved disbelief. Felicity is immediately emotional, Laurel looks to Oliver for guidance and comfort, and Roy mostly looks on, following Oliver’s lead.
And then we immediately cut to a Hong Kong flash back which, beyond dropping Tommy (Colin Donnell) back in, had little to offer the episode other than to make some labored connection between the reserved leader Oliver was in the present and the self-sacrificing leader he became in the past. Not every episode needs flashbacks. Moving on…
Arrow, with its brooding, taciturn, crime-fighting star, so often reminds of Angel, Joss Whedon’s Buffy spin-off about a vampire with a soul (“How lame is that?”), and no one does death better in genre TV than Whedon. One of Angel’s finest hours came in its final season when the character of Fred (short for Winifred, played by Amy Acker) was more or less killed off (hallowed out from the inside and possessed by an ancient god-like creature to be more exact). Fred was picked by Whedon as the one to go because she was the one whose exit would be directly felt by every single other character. If you love that show it is an absolute agonizing hour of television to watch just not as Fred dies but as all the heroes surrounding her ultimately fail to save her, emotionally devastated as a result.
Sara is not Fred, who was actually pretty similar to Felicity. Plus, Angel had 4 ½ seasons to build up its relationships so that Fred’s loss would be so deeply felt by everyone around her whereas Sara has only been an active character on Arrow for one full season with Caity Lotz never being upped to a series regular but instead always just a special guest star. So, it’s ridiculous to fault Arrow in comparison to Angel in this scenario, but there were times during “Sara” where it was both disappointing and interesting to realize that truthfully not all of the characters were actually that close to Sara. Obviously, Oliver, Laurel, and Captain Lance are as close as can be. However, Roy sticks to the background like a good sidekick most of the episode because what kind of relationship did he really have with Sara? Beyond that time he stood up to her when Oliver’s orders didn’t make sense, or when she almost killed him after he became a super soldier? Diggle immediately springs to action to assist Oliver, claiming Sara was his friend too, but speaking as someone who has admittedly not gone back and re-watched any of season 2 I don’t actually recall them being great friends, although certainly on good terms with each other. Felicity was often fairly funny around Sara, but as the season progressed she also took on an ever-present air of jealously, seemingly over Oliver’s renewed romantic relationship with Sara.
That was what the writers had to work with in “Sara,” forcing Felicity to not lament the loss of a close friend but instead the disruption of the assumption she’d made that Sara was always going to be around because she seemed so invincible, like a Wonder Woman-esque Amazonian warrior. It does cause to me to ponder how much more effective Sara’s death could have been if they had done it later in the show’s run so that when everyone in mourning keeps referring to her as their friend we wouldn’t have to pause and wonder, “Wait, were they really that close?” Then again, they’d already established the notion of Sara being a fellow soldier to Diggle, ex-lover to Oliver, beloved sister to Laurel, source of jealousy for Felicity, and…um…not much to Roy, and the point of “Sara” wasn’t how close anyone was to her but how her demise impacted everyone.
- It caused Felicity to decide that, basically, life is too short to wait for the guy rotting under his hood when the world is presenting you other opportunities
- It caused Oliver to decide he doesn’t want to die in his physical (and metaphorical cave), but he doesn’t really know how not to
- It caused Laurel to act out in anger and vengeance, which might seem more like the actions of someone being somewhat unnaturally pushed into becoming a vigilante, but it is actually in keeping with how she reacted to Tommy’s death
- It caused Diggle to re-emerge from his very brief retirement from Team Arrow, pledging to be there Oliver because they’re like brothers to each other at this point
- It caused Roy to … I don’t know – think about calling Thea without actually doing it, after finally coming clean to Oliver about a note Thea left behind, this after months of silence on the topic.
It did all of this while everyone but Felicity went into soldier mode, attempting to track down Sara’s killer even though we all knew this first guy (Komodo) would simply be a mis-direction because surely the “Who shot Sara Lance?” mystery wouldn’t last for just one episode. The exact mechanism by which Sara would supposedly be connected to Komodo was flimsy at best, but you went with it because you knew you were mostly watching these people work through their grief the only way they knew how. Heck, the very start of this investigation featured Oliver examining the crime scene, with the remarkably mournful way Amell re-enacted the crime serving as a testament to his increasing ability to communicate so much while otherwise appearing to do so little. The same could be said of every time Oliver checked his phone during the episode to see if Thea had called him back yet.
None of character’s reactions rang particularly false to me, even the part with Laurel going as far as trying to kill Komodo, although Katie Cassidy’s delivery of “You took the bullets out of the gun!” came off a bit odd. I was repeatedly drawn in by Amell’s complete mastery of his character, and only winced once or twice during Cassidy and Rickards’s big dramatic scenes. Laurel’s discussion of Sara’s stuffed animal was particularly effective because it felt so real and relatable.
Where I take issue with “Sara” is in the idea that they chose not to tell Captain Lance that his daughter was dead. I understand the internal logic of the situation, and already in this still very young third-season they’ve hammered home Quentin’s failing health. So, Laurel’s concern about what this news would do to him is not necessarily invalid; it just feels wrong. More specifically, it feels like the type of thing the writers completely manufactured because they simply cannot stomach a season in which family members on the show aren’t keeping big secrets from each other, and now that Queen of Lies Moira is gone and pretty much everyone knows Oliver’s secret you have to throw in this odd, “Laurel (and Team Arrow) knows Sara is dead, but is keeping it from Quentin to protect him” scenario. The result is that when Laurel cried out at Sara’s sad funeral, “This isn’t right! She doesn’t even get a fresh grave? It’s so perverse!” I agreed, and wanted to add, “Her dad should be allowed to say his goodbye at a proper funeral!” True as that may be, that wouldn’t have fit in with “Sara”’s idea that such an ignoble end is awaiting Oliver as well at some point down the line if he doesn’t do something to change it.
The Bottom Line
Maybe they were fools to ever introduce the character of Sara Lance, or will rue the day and way they killed her off. We’ll just have to see how season three plays out to know for sure. However, in the current moment her death brought about some fairly big shifts for all of the characters (again, not so much Roy), and helped give us one of Amell’s finest hours. Sara Lance has now officially been converted into a cautionary tale, and “Sara” took the time to let that sink in and give everyone a good cry. Well, everyone except for Oliver. He’s crying on the inside. Plus, not Diggle, what with him being a soldier and all. Roy never really came close to shedding a tear, but Felicity and Laurel, they got some crying in.
Goodbye, Sara. You were a kick-butt Canary, and there were those who rooted for you and Oliver more than Oliver and Felicity or anyone else:
1. The odd, yellow hue surrounding all of the flashbacks – Is that meant to ensure we can differentiate between past and present, or is simply their way of disguising the fact they’re using Toronto to double as Hong Kong? Or both?
2. So, who owns Verdant now? Didn’t Isabel claim it in the name of Queen Consolidated at the end of the last season? Beyond that, Thea is long gone which begs the question of who’s managing the place? Is it even open? We at least know that Oliver is living in the Arrow cave now directly beneath Verdant.
3. I almost never have anything bad to say about the action scenes on this show, but that dueling archers on motorcycles sequence was not just too silly but mostly hard to follow.
4. Isn’t that sweet? Diggle named his daughter Sara.
5. Who here had completely forgotten that Felicity is supposedly Jewish?
6. I am officially not charmed by Brandon Routh as Ray Palmer, but instead seriously creeped out by his stalking of Felicity. His whole entire “It gets better” moment with her was fine, but when Felicity took the job from him at the end of episode, arriving in his office as glammed up as we’ve ever seen her, it felt less like a personal victory for Felicity and more like she was simply being bought. To me, at least. From what I’ve seen, others find Routh’s character a gosh darn delight.
TV.com – “Mourning and Moving On”
AVClub – They gave the episode a B+
Last Note: I apologize for the tardiness of this review. Thanks to anyone who stuck around to see what I had to say about the episode.
What about you? What did you think of “Sara”? The comments section awaits your insight!