WARNING: THIS POST CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR LAST NIGHT’S EPISODE OF ‘ARROW’ — INCLUDING WHO IS IN ‘THE GRAVE’. READ AT YOUR OWN RISK.
Tonight on Arrow, we finally learned which beloved character was put in the ground for good. They’ve spent the entire season building up to this big reveal, and after an emotional hour we finally learned the truth.
Over the course of the episode, Laurel Lance was stabbed by Damien Darhk. While she survived the attack, she nevertheless lost her life in the hospital, flatlining after an emotional goodbye to her teammates. The showrunners have since spoken about how they knew, going into the episode, that it would spark some backlash among the fanbase. They spoke about how they know there’s a divide among shippers, and how they couldn’t let that backlash — and the thought that by choosing to kill Laurel they might be taking sides in the debate — affect the way they wrote the show.
I can appreciate and respect that. Creators shouldn’t allow the fans to dictate the way the story progresses. Fans don’t always know best, and surprising and challenging your audience is exactly what you should strive to do as a writer. Since the beginning, Arrow has placed their own spin on the long running Green Arrow comic books, and the characters that surround him — they’ve even put their own spin on the Black Canary — and they’ve had great success in the process. That spin has allowed them to write some incredible stories and characters that the audience (comic fans and non-fans alike) have come to love and respect.
But here is what the showrunners have so far failed to comment on, and the reason why Laurel’s death sits so poorly with me. By killing off this character, they have, whether knowingly or not, added Arrow to the long running trope of Women in Refrigerators.
First, some backstory. Women in Refrigerators is a term, coined by comic writer Gail Simone in 1999, which refers to a comic book trope in which female characters are killed, maimed, or de-powered in order to progress the story or development of a male character. More specifically, it refers to a Green Lantern story in which GA Kyle Raynor comes home to discover his girlfriend killed and stuffed into his refrigerator.
The term has become a catalyst for conversations surrounding the treatment of female characters across comics, and can just as easily be used to describe television and film (especially those based on the medium from which the term came). Over the life of comics, female characters have been killed, maimed, or depowered at an alarmingly frequent rate in comparison to their male counterparts.
But what is more alarming is the reason those deaths occur, which is that their deaths (or injury, etc) serve not to advance their story, but to affect, propel, or otherwise drive the male characters. From Gwen Stacy to Batgirl, and dozens of others in between, these female characters are subjected to horrible fates simply to spur on a male figure. With Arrow‘s most recent episode, Black Canary now appears twice on the list.
So, is Arrow friging Laurel? Obviously, I would argue a vehement “yes” as her death does very little to serve her own character development, but rather serves as a means of tormenting and punishing her father (in much the same way the Joker shot and tortured Barbara Gordon to torment hers — only Babs got to live). Over the course of this season, we have spent a great deal of time with Captain Lance as he infiltrates Darhk’s HIVE organization, working with the villain to save Laurel’s life, and against him to save her respect. It’s been a great season for Lance, actually. We’ve seen the character go through losing and regaining his youngest daughter for the second time, work with Oliver and his team, and struggle with difficult decisions as a father, a cop, and as one of the good guys. With all the emphasis on his character this season, something was bound to happen to him. If Lance had been the one to face down Darhk with mortal consequences, it would have been sad, but made a great deal of sense. It follows the course of his season arch, and any father would gladly sacrifice his life to protect his family.
But you know who was largely absent of real character development this season? Laurel. She’s had a role in the goings on of the year, but for the most part, she’s been the bait in the traps for her father. Laurel has had a major arch over the course of four seasons, yes. She’s struggled with her relationships with Oliver and Tommy, she’s dealt with Tommy’s death, she’s struggled with alcoholism, and she’s taken over the Black Canary role from her sister. She’s had a good run, but that run was far from over. Laurel didn’t die in a blaze of glory. She didn’t spend a season struggling with whether she wanted to fight crime as the Canary or as a DA (they shoehorned that moral dilemma into this one episode), only to choose a side and lose her life in the pursuit of whichever form of justice she chose. She didn’t save the city, or stop the bad guy. She was just a casualty of a war that’s not yet won. Even Tommy got a better death than that.
Laurel wasn’t killed because of her job, either of them. Darhk didn’t kill the Black Canary fighting to take him down in the streets or the prosecutor fighting to take him down in the courtroom. He killed Captain Lance’s daughter, Oliver’s partner, because he wanted to cause them pain. We lost a promising, incomplete female hero in the pursuit of the male hero’s story.
I understand that death is part of drama, especially in shows such as Arrow. I also understand, and fully support, the practice of killing off major characters in order to maintain the stakes of the show and the risks the characters take. But those deaths have to mean something. They have to advance, not just the plot and the development of the characters left behind, but also respect the character taking the bullet.
This just wasn’t one of those deaths.