As “Canary Cry” progressed through its motions of mourning the late Laurel Lance, I couldn’t shake an increasingly unfamiliar thought: Hold on, is this actually a pretty good episode of Arrow? In fact, the thought occurred to me within the first minute of the episode when they pulled off an effective bit of misdirection, making us believe we were opening at Laurel’s funeral when in fact it was a flashback to Tommy’s funeral in-between seasons 1 and 2. That was actually clever, in a way Arrow almost never is, and genuinely caught me by surprise.
A good start, perhaps, but Arrow will surely squander this somehow. Like seemingly every other show in the Greg Berlanti-produced superhero TV universe, Arrow is rarely as good as it possibly could be these days. In general right now with the Berlanti shows (including Flash, Legends of Tomorrow and Supergirl), there’s always something wrong, be it a disappointing big bad, endless retreads of overplayed themes, universe-bending plot points, a kitchen sink approach to storytelling which rather quickly leaves the cupboard dangerously bare and an over-reliance on romantic melodrama. Great individual moments or even entire episodes are often followed by something regrettable and poorly conceived, like an entire episode with a villain who speaks in nothing but bee puns, as if she was auditioning for a revival of the 1960s Batman TV show. Plus, there’s always somebody in the ensemble who’s being undeserved.
But that’s what you sign up for when you watch one of these shows. You ultimately stick around for the characters and relationships, and that’s what “Canary Cry” rightfully emphasized.
This was Arrow‘s do-over, their chance to improve upon the “team reacts to the death of one of their own” concept they tried out with limited effectiveness last season after Sara died. There were some obvious similarities, particularly Oliver having to talk down the member of the team (last year, it was Laurel; this time, it’s Diggle) who goes hardcore vigilante in their search for the killer. However, the show’s approach this time around was ultimately different.
After Sara died, everyone was inspired to make life-changing decisions. Get busy living, or get busy dying…and all that. With Laurel’s departure, though, the focus was on protecting her legacy and behaving in a way that would have made her proud. It actually kind of worked.
And that’s good because they needed a win. Even looking back on it three weeks later, the way Laurel was killed, and the manner in which her final moments were depicted still rings as an extreme disappointment. By picking up directly where “Eleven Fifty-Nine” left off, “Canary Cry” invites all of those unfortunate memories, even as Paul Blackthrone is doing his best to rip our heart out as he gazes upon his dead daughter for the first time (well, at least dead Laurel for the first time).
Of course, if you’re paying attention at all you immediately notice the random girl who prominently walks past the group in the hallway. When the title card moment happens a couple of minutes later after a Black Canary imitator busts some crooks you’re already way ahead of the episode by saying to yourself, “So that random girl in the hospital is the new Black Canary, huh.”
Still, this is the mystery the episode runs with. This emergence of a new Black Canary does create one of the hour’s strongest moments when Quentin’s “Clearly, Laurel faked her death” hopes are crushed when her still very dead body turns out to be exactly where they left it in the morgue. The eventual reveal of the new Black Canary’s true identity was perhaps over-reliant on us having actually been paying close attention to this season’s go-nowhere HIVE plot, but it was an effective embodiment of the turmoil the entire team felt in the wake of Laurel’s death. They just failed their friend; now here’s an emotionally scarred young woman they happened to have failed months ago without realizing it. It’s too late to save Laurel, but they can save her imitator and the reputation of the Black Canary in the process. Damien Darhk killed Laurel; his wife can’t be allowed to kill her legacy, try as she might through clever manipulation of the media.
Meanwhile, they framed all of this around flashbacks to that previously unexplored period in-between seasons 1 and 2 when Laurel and Oliver would have been mourning Tommy. Her impromptu eulogy at Tommy’s funeral was Arrow‘s final way of showing the impact Laurel had on those around her. She stepped in for Oliver after he felt unworthy of being there after having failed his friend, but then at her funeral he stepped up to deliver a eulogy which in many ways echoed the one she delivered for Tommy. In death, she gave him one final necessary push toward being the hero the city and their friends need.
Again, I return to the thought I expressed at the beginning: This might have been a genuinely solid episode of Arrow. Am I crazy to say that? I haven’t even gotten to the very Angel-esque arc of Quentin refusing to accept Laurel’s death since the world they live in automatically defines death as temporary, or to the part about Nyssa actually crying over Laurel’s death and just generally classing everything up with her presence.
Yet I also feel inclined to greet this unexpected surge in quality with impatience. Simply put, where has this been this whole time? As I argued in my “Eleven Fifty-Nine” review, one of the more frustrating parts of Laurel’s final run of episodes is how they succeeded in turning her into the verbal sparring partner with Oliver she should have always been. They took one of the show’s weaknesses and made it into a quiet strength. Katie Cassidy was suddenly kind of a great Black Canary, leaving you to ask, “What, they couldn’t have gotten around to focusing on that earlier in the season?” Similarly, how is the show that just made a solid hour like “Canary Cry” the same one which made the regrettable “Eleven Fifty-Nine”?
Maybe the difference is ultimately that Arrow is now at its best when its character actually talk to each other instead of merely chasing leads and fighting bad guys. While there was plenty of the former in “Canary Cry” there was more of the latter, with even a semi-regular like Nyssa offering Oliver emotional counsel. Arrow may have failed Laurel’s death, but it didn’t fail her wake.
1. Weekly Update from Pointless Island: Actually, we were spared the horrible flashbacks to pointless island this week in favor of the Laurel flashbacks.
2. Barry’s Powers: Nitpick #1 – So I guess we know what happens next week on The Flash. It’s pretty bad for them to go from Barry Allen powerless on Tuesday night on his own show to fully powered Wednesday night on Oliver Queen’s show and then back to powerless next Tuesday on his own show. Because of when they air we assume these shows share the exact same timeline, but it now appears like everything that’s happening on Arrow is just a bit ahead of what’s going down on Flash.
3. Barry’s Powers: Nitpick #2 – Oliver and Quentin didn’t actually exhaust every option to bring Laurel back. They never once referenced the possibility of Barry Allen traveling back in time to change history to save her. Of course, we know that currently on The Flash Barry has no powers and wouldn’t be able to help them, but that’s not so much the case in “Canary Cry.” If they’d better managed their timelines they could have actually used Barry’s current powerlessness on The Flash as a plot point on Arrow, i.e., an explanation for why not even time travel could save Laurel. I know it’s a bitch to maintain dramatic tension when you have such a deux ex machina character like Barry around, but in this case they actually had a built-in out clause they failed to exercise due to poor planning.