[WARNING: As the title of this feature notes, and this warning further notes, the following article is full of SPOILERS for the Arrow episode “Eleven-Fifty-Nine”. Read no further beyond the picture below, lest ye be spoiled now and forever. Thank you.]
I know opinions are going to be running hot on this piece and I can already anticipate some of the things that are going to be said by those Arrow-heads who disagree with me. So let me make a few things clear right now.
I have not written this piece to impugn Katie Cassidy’s character or her talent as an actress.
I have not written this piece to sing the praises of Olicity or any other romantic pairing of Oliver Queen with any other character on Arrow.
I have written this piece to discuss the character of Laurel Lance and why – from the perspective of a long time fan of Black Canary in the comics – the loss of Laurel Lance is no loss at all.
Why Laurel Was Doomed From Day One
Long-time fans of Dinah Laurel Lance despaired when they saw one name on the production team for Arrow – Andrew Kreisberg. Now, Kreisberg has done a marvelous job as an executive producer, bringing various DC Comics shows to life on the small screen. His work as a writer on the Green Arrow/Black Canary comic, however, is regarded less fondly.
Why? His first issue opened with Black Canary having been taken hostage by a common mugger and ended with her losing control of her Canary Cry and accidentally deafening a random civilian. This from a character who was once shown to have such fine control of her powers that she could pulverize a billiard ball without disturbing the hand of the person holding it!
In later issues, Kreisberg retconned Dinah’s background, giving her a tragic backstory more appropriate to an X-Men character. When her powers first triggered, she accidentally deafened her only friend. It was only then she learned of her mother’s secret past.
Even ignoring that Kreisberg had the elder Dinah turn to a professional boxer rather than the many scientists or magicians she knew to “cure” her daughter, nothing about this new background made sense! Previous stories had established that the elder Dinah Drake never hid her past from her daughter and that the younger Dinah loved her “uncles” in the JSA.
Thankfully, Gail Simone retconned the retcon in her second run on Birds of Prey. But I digress. The point remains that if you were a Black Canary fan back in 2010, Andrew Kreisberg wouldn’t be at the top of your list to adapt Dinah Laurel Lance for television.
Where Laurel Went Wrong
Let’s be frank. The only common ground the characters Laurel Lance and Dinah Laurel Lance truly share is a name and the fact that they both had a father who was a police officer.
No version of Black Canary in the comics was ever a lawyer. Presumably this change was made to cater to the strengths of writer Marc Guggenheim, who was a lawyer and whose previous television writing credits were largely in legal dramas. It’s not a bad change, given that the lives of lawyers are generally better geared toward criminal drama than florists.
The problem is that apart from acting as an informant, this choice left Laurel disconnected from the main plot of the show – Oliver Queen’ s quest for redemption – for the better part of the show’s life. In the first season, Laurel existed primarily as a continual reminder of the life Ollie had lost and the sins of his past. Some could argue that Laurel never really progressed beyond that point.
The introduction of Sara Lance/The Canary in Season 2 only served to complicate matters. Here we had a hale and whole Canary who was every bit the equal of Oliver Queen’s Arrow. More, Sara understood the hell Oliver had gone through better than anyone else ever could, having gone through an even worse trial by fire. It also didn’t help that Sara’s background drew more upon the comics than Laurel’s did, with Sara having trained for years alongside the deadliest killers in the world.
For better or worse, the fandom of Arrow and the Black Canary fans from the comics seemed to latch onto Sara in a way they never did with Laurel. There was much wailing and gnashing of teeth when Sara was killed at the start of Arrow‘s third season and Laurel was set on the road to take up her sister’s mantle. This created an odd situation where Laurel seemed like the usurper of what was meant to be her destiny!
A further problem was the speed with which Laurel was ushered into becoming The Black Canary. Oliver and Sara both spent over five years training with some of the most dangerous people in the world to become the heroes that they were. By contrast, Laurel had taken a few self-defense classes and spent a few months being trained by a professional boxer. To the credit of the writing team, Laurel didn’t instantly become a master ninja but neither did it help her image to show her nearly getting killed by petty thugs, saved only by the timely arrival of a more experienced fighter. Laurel was damned if she did and damned if she didn’t.
The Bitter End
By the time Season 4 started, the writing was on the wall. At San Diego Comic Con 2015, the Arrow panel described the upcoming subplots for all of the series regulars… except Laurel. After ensuring her sister’s resurrection in the early part of the season, Laurel had less and less screen time.
Before “Eleven-Fifty-Nine”, Laurel was a virtual non-entity who had no purpose or influence on the overall story. I know some fans are already calling her death a fridging, but I contend that’s inaccurate. Fridging occurs when a female character is killed off purely to give angst or motivation to a male character.
Laurel’s death, for better or worse, goes beyond merely giving Oliver Queen One More Reason to seek revenge on Darhk and Merlyn. It serves to motivate everyone, because everyone on Team Arrow has reasons to feel guilt over Laurel’s death and their choices, as a unit, led to her murder. And her final speech in her final moments, confessing her love for Ollie and saying that he was the great love of her life even if she wasn’t the great love of his was so utterly codependent and antithetical to the ass-kicking biker babe from the comics that I was shocked Judd Winick hadn’t ghost-written it!
The Laurel Lance fans may say she deserved better. I respectfully submit that we comics fans deserved a better Black Canary. It’s okay if you’re upset by the death of Laurel Lance and the untapped potential of the character. But let’s not pretend that she was ever a faithful adaptation of the Black Canary from the comics.