Editor’s Note: TV moves on, but we haven’t. In our feature series It Still Stings, we relive emotional TV moments that we just can’t get over. You know the ones, where months, years, or even decades later, it still provokes a reaction? We’re here for you. We rant because we love. Or, once loved. And obviously, when discussing finales in particular, there will be spoilers:
In the first three seasons of The CW’s Arrow, Laurel Lance (Katie Cassidy) had a powerful journey that easily resonated with viewers. She watched her ex-boyfriend return home after being presumed dead for five years, complicated by the fact that her sister also supposedly died while cheating with said boyfriend. She lost her new love, Tommy (Colin Donnell), spiraling into a life of self-medicating and alcoholism to avoid her pain, again further complicated when her sister returned to Starling City alive and… mostly well. Then, her sister actually died in the premiere of the third season, which inspired her to pick up her vigilante mantle, train, and finally take her rightful place as the Black Canary alongside Oliver Queen (Stephen Amell).
However, in the fourth season of the show, nearly seven years ago now, Laurel was killed as the writers’ anti-climatic answer to “who’s in the grave?” that was teased in a flash-forward at the beginning of the season. Before she passed on though, the writers chose to have Laurel proclaim on her deathbed that Oliver was the love of her life, even though she knew she wasn’t his as his relationship with Felicity started to become the focal point of the show. (And, this was despite the fact that there had been nothing truly romantic between Oliver and Laurel since the first season.) From there on out, Arrow was tainted by this unnecessary death of a character who had much more story to tell, and who was arguably the most heroic of them all.
Laurel had a hero’s journey in every meaning of the phrase, filled with demons and hardships that continually seek to throw Laurel into a pit of despair that she can never rise out of. But, with support from her loved ones and sheer determination, she does. She breaks free and becomes a hero who doesn’t carry the fate of the entire world on her shoulders. After her experience, Laurel is much stronger and more motivated than ever to be one of the city’s protectors—which she technically already was, as she used her law degree to attempt to make the city a better place for the less fortunate and underprivileged.
While her journey as a hero began with her being haunted by her past, she quickly left that behind, separating her from many of the other heroes in the universe. She simply wanted to help people, as a lawyer seeking justice in the courtroom and then in her role as the Black Canary to get justice when the system inevitably fails, as it did with her would-be killer Damien Darhk.
Then, as if her death didn’t sting enough, the show refused to walk back their mistake on multiple occasions, even as the opportunity was right in front of them. Cassidy did make her triumphant return in the following season of Arrow, but as the Earth-2 version of the character. The villainous Black Siren pretended to be their late friend at first, eventually working with the villains trying to take down Team Arrow, before becoming a (sometimes) member of the team as she created a false narrative and stepped into the original Laurel’s shoes.
Though Black Siren was an interesting character on her own, she was nothing in comparison to the original Laurel, who far and away had proven herself a hero. Black Siren then took her life and, truthfully, disgraced it, pretending to have the skills required to continue as a lawyer and ultimately becoming one of the two Black Canary figures alongside Dinah Drake (Juliana Harkavy). In addition, the motivation behind being the Black Canary for Earth-2 Laurel devolved from being a heroic way to stand up for the citizens of Star City to one of redemption, further taking away from the original Laurel’s story and what she stood for in the world.
Earth-2 Laurel could never fill her predecessor’s shoes, which makes the sting of the Crisis on Infinite Earths crossover worse. With the crossover and Oliver’s death, every other deserving main character that died throughout the series’ run, including Tommy and Moira Queen (Susanna Thompson), was brought back to life. However, Laurel was not, which truly felt like one last slap to the face from the Arrow writers who refused to accept their mistake in killing her. Instead, alternate Laurel was further pushed on the audience, as the series finale gives a lackluster reason for this in that Oliver believed in her. In actuality, it was because she was slated to be a starring member in the ill-fated spin-off Green Arrow and the Canaries.
In short, Laurel should never have been killed off. She offered so much to Arrow. Her journey to becoming the Black Canary was inspiring, brutal, and truly impactful, as was seeing her stumble after she donned the costume and stepped out into the field. Laurel’s story felt real amidst the comic book world, becoming a grounded depiction of trauma, addiction, and healing. Her story was so much bigger than this show. However, it seems the writers felt trapped by her being introduced as Oliver’s love interest and were unwilling to put in the effort to further separate the characters romantically, instead opting for a cheap, cop-out fridging of their leading lady.
Despite clearly having no respect for the character in her final season, they crafted a great story for her in the first three, which I would argue continues to be one of the Arrowverse’s best. But, her death washed away all they had accomplished because there would never be a happy ending for a character that had experienced more than her fair share of the world’s darkness, yet still found the light at the end of the tunnel. The inability and/or outright refusal to accept their mistake in killing her continues to sting all these years later, and will do so for many to come. She deserved better, and so did the fans that felt a connection to her. Her death was needless, simply occurring because those who were behind the scenes wrote themselves into a corner with that stupid grave.
Jay Snow is a freelance writer. He has published many places on the internet. For more of his thoughts on television and to see his other work (or to simply watch him gush again and again over his love for the original Charmed) follow him @snowyjay.
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