Courtesy Warning: Stop Reading If You Haven’t Watched “Eleven-Fifty-Nine” Yet
Let’s get the obvious out of the way: “Bye Bye Birdie” is a terribly insensitive title for a review of an episode featuring the death of Black Canary. My apologies. I couldn’t resist the temptation to make the obvious pun.
Now for the real question: is Laurel Lance really dead? Sure, “Eleven-Fifty-Nine” appeared to end with Laurel going to that great courtroom in the sky, but since when does anyone stay dead on this show? Heck, Andy Diggle, the man partially responsible for Laurel’s death, was “dead” for Arrow‘s first three seasons.
The answer is fairly standard for a show like this. The character we knew is dead, but thanks to time travel, alternate universes and flashbacks Katie Cassidy will make return appearances, beginning with a series of flashbacks in Arrow‘s next episode. Then she’ll play the Earth-2 character Black Siren in The Flash‘s penultimate season 2 episode. After that, she’ll voice Laurel in the second season of Vixen. Beyond that, who knows? Think of all the time travel possibilities on Legends of Tomorrow.
So Laurel’s dead. Did they give her a good send-off?
They sure as heck tried. The basic plot of the episode involved Team Arrow trying to stop Damien Darhk’s attempted prison escape, however illogical it might have seemed (see THE NOTES for more on that). Andy appeared to immediately come clean to John about his rendezvous with Merlyn last week, volunteering to be Team Arrow’s inside guy to figure out what one-hand Malcolm is up to. However, all the intel Andy fed the team turned out wrong. An attempted hijacking of some kind of army shipment was simply a decoy to allow Malcolm and his faithful ninjas access to the Arrowcave and Damien’s magic idol. A pit stop at a warehouse was simply a booby trap which conveniently allowed Andy to take an arrow for Oliver right at the time Oliver didn’t trust the younger Diggle.
It didn’t work. Oliver confronted Andy and accused him of lying. Diggle, uh, didn’t like that.
This is roughly how this played out:
Oliver: “Andy’s just no good and he never will be!”
Diggle: “Andy’s changed. I’ll never doubt him again because after a lifetime of lying to me he saved the mother of my child. I trust him with my life now. Granted, the last time we saw him was 7 episodes ago. I assume he’s been babysitting Sara this whole time. Anyway, you’re the one who convinced me he could be saved”
Oliver: “Something something something darkness.”
Diggle: “Really? Wasn’t that more of a season 2-3 kind of thing?”
Oliver: “We’re bringing it back. Just go with it. Didn’t you see the flashbacks where I killed a bunch of people? If I can’t change, nobody can.”
Diggle: “I can see why Felicity left you!”
Oliver: [Openly sobbing on the inside]
Of course, Oliver was actually right. Once Team Arrow made it into Iron Heights to stop Damien’s prison escape Andy turned on them. Damien regained his magic, used it to freeze everyone in place and stabbed Black Canary with one of Oliver’s arrow. She was rushed to the hospital and treated by a remarkably understanding doctor.
To this point, the episode was leaning super, super hard into making us believe Laurel was going to die:
- New dream job promising a bright future? Check. The District Attorney gig was hers to take.
- Quasi-conclusion to an arc with her dad? Check. Quentin officially declared he was cool with her being Black Canary, sorta bringing an end to his longstanding, all-consuming concerns for her safety.
- Dialogue which randomly summarizes her entire time on the show to this point? Check. When counseling her to take the D.A. job, Oliver referenced how before Sara died Laurel’s journey was to continue her fight for justice through the legal system, not as a masked vigilante honoring her sister’s memory.
- Sudden reminder that Laurel and Oliver used to be in love? Check. The flashbacks to pointless island included a moment where that picture of Laurel which Oliver used to keep in his pocket came back up, possibly for the first time since season 1. We’ve long since forgotten this, but she used to represent the last bit of sunshine in his increasingly dreary world.
- Reminder of potential danger? Check. When Laurel visited Damien in prison he reiterated his threats on her life.
- Near complete absence of Felicity to give Laurel more screen time? Check.
- “Three days to retirement moment” where she claims she’ll suit up as Black Canary one last time? Check. She decides she will stop being Black Canary and instead serve the team and the city as District Attorney, flat out stating the Iron Heights mission will be her last time in the mask.
After all that, she was as good as gone. Even when she emerged from surgery in full recovery mode you could sense she was simply being granted a final goodbye. She’s far from the first character to be killed off on TV through the old “everything went just fine in surgery, and she’s going to make it”/”oh crap, she just seized and died on us, but at least you got to say goodbye.” ER did that multiple times, but, then again, it was a medical show.
I’ll again ask: did Arrow manage to give Laurel a good send-off?
Not so much. First of all, it’s seriously challenging to take any of this seriously when the MacGuffin, i.e., Damien’s magic totem, looks so remarkably stupid:
The big twist with Andy hinged on a character we still don’t have much of an actual relationship with. Furthermore, Damien and HIVE have been a bit lost in the weeds this season, saved only by Neal McDonough’s scene-stealing performance. So watching him engineer a prison escape is still ultimately in service to, um, he’s a bad guy who wants to destroy the city? For…um, he has his reasons. If we don’t actually understand what Damien is up to it makes his killing of Laurel seem somewhat pointless.
More importantly, though, by freezing Laurel in place and forcing Oliver to watch her being stabbed as he was powerless to do anything they made her death more about him and less about her. This isn’t some fight she lost. She wasn’t fatally defeated in combat. She didn’t go out kicking ass. She was simply rendered completely defenseless and couldn’t even speak, leaving her to stand perfectly still as someone shoved an arrow into her while Oliver looked on with extreme anguish.
There’s an inherent powerlessness to that scenario which is supposed to make it all the more dramatic. The scarier death is not the one you don’t see coming and failed to stop but instead the one you saw coming the entire time but could do absolutely nothing to protect yourself from. However, having Laurel go out without an actual fight was perhaps not truly the best way to have taken this.
The episode tried to set it up as the conclusion to Laurel’s conflict with Damien, but by eliminating Diggle and Thea from the scenario (knocked unconscious by Darhk’s magic) and leaving Oliver as the sole witness of the attack it seemed more like it happened to further his manpain than anything else.
Maybe not. Maybe it can actually be both a moment for Oliver’s grief as well as an end to the Laurel/Damien conflict.
More egregiously, they completed botched her actual death. Simply stated, we absolutely needed to be in that room with Oliver when Laurel started coding. That shouldn’t have been something which started taking place off-screen. Since the last thing we heard Laurel say was to make Oliver promise something to her, it now seems like he somehow helped her fake her death. As such, her death is obscured by our creeping suspicion that all is not as it seems. Even the members of the press who attended a screening of this episode a couple of days ago picked up on this, forcing Marc Guggenheim to clarify:
GUGGENHEIM: The joke I’ve been making, quite frankly, is that Oliver Queen killed her. But there are certain coins of the realm on our show. Death is one of them. Mysteries and secrets are another. What did Laurel say to Oliver? We didn’t intend for it to be that she asked Oliver to euthanize her.
So, there is no room for it to be that he drugged her and faked her death?
Beyond that, her death saw Arrow at its melodramatic worst, with Blake Neely’s remarkably over-insistent score attempting to conjure up emotions the episode hadn’t earned, Stephen Amell awkwardly wandering into a hallway and Quentin crumbling to the ground at the realization that his baby girl was gone. Everything just felt off, like they were going through the motions of playing a capital “m” Monumental death when the evidence didn’t support the tone.
The bigger issue is this: Laurel Lance was written off of this show a long time ago; “Eleven-Fifty-Nine” simply made it official. Back when the “who’s in the grave?” mystery was kickstarted, this is what I wrote about the possibility of it being Laurel:
She might be the most expendable. With Sara coming back to life for the purpose of being spun-off to Legends of Tomorrow, we will soon effectively have two different versions of Black Canary in this little universe, even though Sara will change her superhero name and costume. Beyond that, Laurel no longer seems all that important to the narrative of the show. Felicity has replaced her as the love interest, at least for now, and the days of Oliver needing to rendezvous with a young lawyer on roofs to gather intel about crimes are long gone. Laurel could end up a casualty of war as a result of her father’s deal with Damien Darhk.
You could see from a simple storytelling standpoint Arrow no longer had any use for Laurel. “But she’s Black Canary!” was the only real reason to keep her around. Let’s look back at her season 4 storylines to see if they did anything to make her more indispensable:
- Took Sara to Nanda Parbat and resurrected her, thus helping set-up Legends of Tomorrow
- Was used as leverage against Quentin by Damien
- Successfully convinced a judge to take the case against Damien to trial
- Occasionally offered Oliver relationship advice during rough patches with Felicity
At one point during “Eleven-Fifty-Nine,” when Oliver is concerned about Andy but unwilling to say anything Laurel bluntly tells him, “Okay. Talk to me,” thus freeing him to open up to someone. It’s the type of moment those two can have because of the literal decades they’ve shared together as friends, but it also causes you to think, “Where the hell has that been this whole time?” Until “Beacon of Hope” and “Eleven-Fifty-Nine,” Laurel and Oliver almost never talked like that to each other because Laurel was barely a character on this show, at least not a particularly meaningful one.
As such, it simply rings hollow for Felicity, Thea and Diggle to all claim to love her while talking to her in the hospital room after her surgery. As Felicity herself once joked, were Felicity and Laurel even friends? How often did she even talk to anyone on Team Arrow outside of Team Arrow? That’s partially why her friendship with Nyssa sparked so instantly with audiences last season. She played Jane Foster to Nyssa’s Thor, and it was understandable as a fish-out-of-water pairing. However, it was also touching as a bond formed between two people stuck grieving the same person, and it actually allowed Laurel to show a different side of herself, one that was allowed to laugh.
We can at least remember a time when she was close to Thea, but that was back in the first season. Speaking of which, her final moment is similarly a callback to the first season, declaring her love for Oliver while also acknowledging the true love of his life is Felicity. Screw that noise. Laurel’s most consistent relationship on this show has been with her father. The one person whose presence would have made her death matter more wasn’t even there.
Of course, that’s the point. It’s supposed to hurt even more that her dad didn’t make it there in time to say goodbye. That lack of closure will haunt him, and provide Paul Blackthorne with plenty of material the rest of the season. Still, watching her go out by declaring a love for Oliver even though that hasn’t been a going concern for three seasons and then endorsing his relationship with Felicity felt less about Laurel and more about Oliver, or at the very least an indictment of how little they had truly done with her this season.
At some point along the way, Arrow eased way the hell back on Laurel, de-emphasizing her role and minimizing Katie Cassidy’s screen time. This initially seemed beneficial, especially after the story lines the writers kept giving Laurel sucked so much energy out of the show (e.g., her sudden alcoholism, half a season of lying to her dad about Sara). Katie Cassidy was actually better served during her guest appearance on The Flash last season, where she was allowed to have some actual fun with the role. However, in the long run they effectively undercut Laurel’s own death by making her not truly matter to Arrow. In his brief time with her, Cisco Ramon expressed more unmistakable fondness for Laurel than some of the characters on Arrow. Similarly, Nyssa might have more reason to mourn Laurel than someone like Felicity does.
It would be disingenuous of me to mount some kind of defense of Laurel. I have been critical of both the character and Cassidy in the past. I did not cry foul when the show pulled back on her and elevated Felicity to new co-lead. However, here at the end of Laurel’s run on the show I am left thinking that her passing did not mean nearly as much as the show thinks it did, and she deserved better.
1. Weekly Update from Pointless Island: Oliver and that one girl buried that one guy underground using C4, but he used his magical doohickey to survive the blast.
2. Favorite Line: Laurel after Oliver reveals just the latest secret from his time on Lian Yu: “You really love not talking about that place, don’t you?” Laurel was rarely ever given one-liners like that, but on this occasion Katie Cassidy knocked it out of the park.
3. Second Favorite Line: Diggle after Oliver expressed his doubts that Andy was truly rehabilitated: “Just because Felicity left you I’m supposed to believe all men are incapable of redemption? Not all men are like you, Oliver. Some of us change. Some of us grow. Some of us evolve. You are stuck, man. Stuck in your self pity and your self righteousness, and that is why Felicity left you.”
4. Nitpicks: Did I just completely misread last week’s episode? I thought Malcolm seized control of HIVE from Damien and was content to let ole magic boy rot in prison. This week he’s helping him break out in exchange for assurances that he and Thea will be spared in the coming Genesis project?
5. Nitpicks: Does anyone outside of Team Arrow know Star City’s new mayor is married to Damien Darhk? That has to be a big secret. Star City didn’t just knowingly elect the wife of a man imprisoned and charged with threatening the entire city, right? Maybe that’s why there were so many write-in votes for Oliver.
6. About Damn Time: Seriously, it took Damien Darhk way too long to figure out Oliver is the Green Arrow.