The CW’s Arrow has never shied away from controversial storylines or decisions. From its conception as a darker, grittier take on a traditionally lighthearted DC hero, to the divisive Olicity romance, the show has weathered substantial criticism from die-hard comic book purists. The decision that provoked the most rancor, however, was the death of Laurel Lance, aka Black Canary, in the show’s fourth season. When all is said and done, however, Laurel’s death was not only a good decision at the time, but was also a very necessary one. Let’s look at why Laurel needed to die, and why the show’s future is better for it.
Laurel was problematic from the start
Critics of the Olicity pairing–that is, the romance between Oliver Queen and hacker Felicity Smoak that blossomed towards the end of Arrow‘s second season–are quick to point out that, in the comics, Laurel is Oliver’s true love. As such, killing Laurel was seen as the ultimate insult to purists who were holding out for a rekindling of their onscreen relationship. What those fans tend to forget, however, is why Olicity became so popular among some fans and, eventually, the show’s writers: Laurel was the worst part of the show.
During the first season, since she was in the dark about Oliver’s secret identity, she was never able to be part of the action. She was frequently relegated to being the damsel in distress or was left out of the main plot altogether. In season 2 she became an antagonist to the Arrow after the death of Tommy Merlyn, which served to make her more annoying than compelling. Even her transition into becoming a vigilante in season 3 felt rushed, and by season 4 she had literally nothing to do, to the point that she often felt unnecessary.
None of this is the fault of actress Katie Cassidy. Rather, it stems from the initial decision to have the character start out as a lawyer as opposed to a vigilante, removed from the main storyline. Whereas Felicity got to be part of Team Arrow almost from the beginning, it took Laurel almost two years to discover Oliver’s secret. By that point fans had lost interest in the character. This was made worse by the arrival of Laurel’s sister Sara, the original Canary, whose badass characterisation constituted everything fans originally wanted from Laurel but never got. By the time Laurel stepped up to take her sister’s place, she came off as a pale copy.
Her death made dramatic sense
Arrow infamously opened its fourth season promising a major death, even though the writers themselves were unsure who would end up in the grave. While this is probably not a smart way to plot out a TV show, the writers made the right choice when the time came. Her death shook up a season that was beginning to lose steam and put the final episodes of the year into sharper focus. Seeing Laurel die made Oliver abandon the “no-kill” rule he had adopted after Tommy’s death. After summarily executing Damien Darhk, Oliver settled back into his more murderous ways, paving the way for a fifth season that dove deeply into the question of whether or not Oliver was really just a murderous psychopath. For better or for worse, the widely-acclaimed Prometheus story of season 5 would not have had as much dramatic weight without this change.
Her replacements have reinvigorated the show
Laurel’s death, along with Thea Queen‘s retirement from vigilantism and John Diggle‘s temporary hiatus from the team, paved the way for the introduction of much-needed new blood. The new recruits–Evelyn Sharp aka Artemis, Curtis Holt aka Mister Terrific, Rene Ramirez aka Wild Dog, and Rory Regan aka Ragman–certainly changed the face of Team Arrow and allowed for fresh new storylines at a time when the show desperately needed them. Most crucially, none of them felt unnecessary or forgotten the way Laurel often was, meaning fans quickly connected to them.
Of course, there are two new characters who are more obviously direct replacements for Laurel. The first is Dinah Drake, a tough undercover cop with a metahuman “canary cry” ability. Named for the original Black Canary from the comics, Dinah is essentially the Laurel fans originally wanted but never got. While it’s too soon to know if fans will warm to her the way they warmed to Sara or Laurel, she’s currently hitting all the right notes.
Then there’s Black Siren, Laurel’s Earth-2 doppelganger. A deceitful murderer who has worked for both Prometheus and Zoom, Black Siren emerged on The Flash a few weeks after Laurel’s death and has since come into conflict with Team Arrow. In her few appearances, this version of Laurel has already been quite compelling: in her world, she turned to a life of crime after her version of Oliver died, and has embraced a darkness that has consumed her. Her situation mirrors Oliver’s own embrace of his inner demons, making for a fascinating contrast. Perhaps in response to the demands of fans who miss the old Laurel, Black Siren will be a regular character on Arrow starting with season 6.
Laurel’s death was emotional, divisive, and changed Arrow forever. But it was a good change, and it was a long time coming. The show is now stronger than ever, having learned from the mistakes of the past, and fans of Katie Cassidy will get to see her take on a new, more interesting character next year.