Warning: spoilers for Arrow up through episode 4×18 and The Flash through 1×23.
It’s amazing how obvious it’s been that Laurel would be the one to kick the bucket and yet somehow the writer’s managed to keep me second-guessing myself, even during the episode itself, and made her death more emotional than everything that’s happened on this show outside of Tommy’s death in season one.
This episode was introduced as the one that would finally reveal who was in the grave, so the entire viewing of the episode was colored by this expectation. Therefore, it was imperative that the writers keep the action engaging and the storyline moving to organically lead up to the inevitable death. They largely succeeded on this front, bringing the charismatic Damian Darkh back into the spotlight after the team’s brief encounter with Merlyn. Even the flashbacks were more interesting, as they showed fourth-year Oliver killing without a second thought, even burying three men alive. This entire episode was reminiscent of the golden age of this show, somewhere between seasons one and two, where stakes were high, villains were interesting, and the tone was much darker than that of shows like The Flash.
Season four was set up to be the lightest season yet, made evident by the stark contrast between the season three finale of Arrow (a lackluster episode that ended with Olicity driving off into the sunset) and the season one finale of The Flash (in which Eddie made the ultimate sacrifice, Barry went back in time and said goodbye to his dying mother, Jay Garrick’s flash helmet came flying through the wormhole, and a giant black hole threatening to destroy the city ended the episode on a cliffhanger). I understand why the Arrow writers wanted to lighten their show, as season three’s dark mediocrity (ironically) paled in comparison to The Flash’s light (er) and campy attitude. However, they made a mistake in assuming that it was this difference in tone that lead to Arrow suffering. What they seem not to have realized at the time is that The Flash in and of itself deserves to have its campy attitude, as it’s a show that deals with metahumans, time travel, giant man sharks, guns that shoot gold, and a multitude of other wacky stuff. Arrow needed to make room for some of this, but season two proved that the darker tone works for this show, and this season’s episodes with Constantine and Vixen proved they can integrate magic into the show without compromising the feel of the show itself.
This episode also proved that. Darkh uses magic, yet is interesting and menacing enough to raise the stakes and darken (heh, pun) the mood. With Andy’s betrayal, it wasn’t crystal clear that Laurel would die as John Diggle seemed a very logical candidate in the moment. Thea’s fight with Merlyn raised questions about how far Merlyn would go to support Darkh, and if he really had broken the ties with his daughter that would stop him from killing her. It turns out he still won’t kill her directly, but nonetheless the fight was intense.
There were a number of times during the episode where Laurel as the body in the grave crossed my mind. Most obvious to me was her line “one last time”, about being the Black Canary, though I figured the writers were trying to pull the wool over our eyes with that one. It seems unlikely and uncharacteristic that Sara would come back to Star City to replace her sister as the Black Canary, which made Laurel less obvious of a choice to kill off. Even after she was badly wounded by Darkh and taken to the hospital, the doctors claimed she was in stable condition and she told the rest of the team that she changed her mind about taking off the mask forever. At this point, I was ready for a fake-out, but the kind where the team were relieved to have Laurel safe and sound only to find out another member was killed, a la that one soap opera with the cancer patient and the bicycle guy (while they’re celebrating one character becoming cancer-free, they find out that another character was hit by a car and killed while riding his bicycle).
The final scene with Laurel was more emotional than I’d expected. I still figured the writers would do a fake-out (meaning Laurel was safe), but her quiet talk with Ollie (the only person in the main cast she’d been friends with since before the island) was well-written and brilliantly acted. I haven’t thought about them as a romantic couple since season two, but Laurel’s reserved confession that while she wasn’t the love of Oliver’s life, he was hers, really brought out the tears. That should have been a blatant tip-off that she would in fact be the one in the grave, but I still held on to whatever hope I had left that that wouldn’t be the case.
This episode in and of itself was great. The stakes were high, the plot moved forward, and the acting was superb. Everyone’s reaction to Laurel’s death, especially her father’s, was heartbreaking. However, I’m wary about what this means for the rest of this season and into the next.
As much as I hate to admit it, the Olicity drama during the second half of this season has really hurt the show. Emily Bett Rickards is a great actress, her character is interesting, and I even hold the unpopular opinion that Goth Felicity tormenting wheelchair-bound Felicity earlier this season was kinda great. However, it was refreshing this episode to see team Arrow not bogged down by the Olicity drama. It is because of this that I was hoping that, somehow, the person in the grave was Felicity and the “Felicity” we saw in the car was actually a hallucination caused by Oliver’s grief. Yes, a bit unrealistic, but at least that would have some interesting implications on the rest of the season and the next. Season two was arguably the best season so far, and that came straight after Tommy’s death. There will obviously be repercussions for Laurel’s passing, but losing the love of his life would have such an interesting impact on Oliver.
We’ll just have to wait to see the repercussions of this episode, if the Olicity drama will continue to be a problem, and what tone the writers will set for the upcoming fifth season of Arrow. Fingers crossed that we return to a darker version of the character and that we get to finally see how the fifth year on the island turned Oliver into the ruthless, murdering man we know from season one.