Eleven-Fifty-Nine was intended to be the showpiece episode of Arrow’s fourth season. The one that defined the show’s year, setting up a thrilling final five episodes by way of a shocking, hard-hitting death teased all season long. So for the flashbacks, which have been almost exclusively bad for nearly two years, to be one of the episode’s few highlights, it’s clear that the show did something – or, more aptly, many somethings – very, very wrong.
Warning: Full spoilers follow beyond this point.
Immediately following both the season and midseason premiere, the producers did interview with some of the major outlets (TVLine, TVGuide, Entertainment Weekly etc.) and suggested that they weren’t entirely sure on which character they intended to place into the grave teased in the final moments of both of those episodes. On both episodic podcasts, I said that I thought – and hoped – they were lying. Based on Eleven-Fifty-Nine, it is clear that they were not.
Laurel’s demise in tonight’s climax stems from nothing more than a desire to use death just for the hell of it, the show forced to fulfil promises made earlier in the year regardless of how it fit into the larger story. Somewhat ironically, the explanation of why Laurel died within the context of the episode – well, why Damien killed her, not why she actually perished, which I’ll come onto later – was about the only good thing surrounding it. Damien has repeatedly promised Quentin that should he betray him or refuse to work for him, Ms. Lance would die. At least Damien follows through on his threats.
But virtually everything else about it lacked any substance, or certainly, any meaningful substance. Arrow has invested almost no time in Laurel as a character throughout season four. That was until two weeks ago, during the truly awful Broken Hearts, as Laurel was finally placed back into a courtroom (when did that last happen?) before having multiple conversations with Oliver in last week’s Beacon of Hope. While that might seem relatively innocent, the show giving Katie Cassidy what felt like almost as much screentime in the space of two episodes as it had in the previous 15 was a clear indicator that Laurel was about to bite the dust. Herein lies part of the problem. The writing team wanted to have their cake and eat it to; that is to say, they wanted to give the death as much shock value as possible, but to also make it fit into the story as much as they could and to build up the imminent departure.
Instead, neither were achieved, and Laurel’s exit fell so flat that a steamroller couldn’t have made it any more so.
Eleven-Fifty-Nine couldn’t have telegraphed her impending doom more if it tried. The episode was like a warning siren, blaring out the words “Laurel will die” with each scene that passed. And not in a good way. While Arrow loves to try and execute thematic links across storylines in virtually every episode that hits the air, very rarely is that seamlessly achieved, particularly since the end of the second season. This was no exception, and the insistence to incorporate a story about Laurel being offered the position of District Attorney and as a result having to give up the Black Canary mantle meant that it was strikingly and painfully obvious where things were headed. The balance between subtle and forcing it down viewers’ throats is a fine line, but, as has been the case for a long time now, the show didn’t even come close to that line.
Delving more into the death itself and it’s difficult to fathom what the writers were thinking with her final scenes. Firstly, the logic side of things: After surgery, the doctors say that Laurel will recover, yet she speaks to the team and Oliver as if she knows she is mere minutes from the end of her life. I’d be willing to let the first issue go, but not the way in which she effectively said goodbye, because there was no reason for that scene to happen the way it did aside from the fact that the script said that the next scene would.
Within her last conversation with her former flame, Arrow conveyed perhaps its most blatant, unnecessary and ridiculous attempt at propping up Olicity to date. Rather than provide a meaningful conversation with Oliver, or even with her father, Laurel was instead telling Oliver that she hopes he finds his way back to Felicity because she is the love of his life. There was even a line about how he is the love of Laurel’s life, even if those feelings aren’t reciprocated, just for good measure.
Cory wrote in depth last season about the show’s descent into fanservice; a year on, the point still stands and has been only further reinforced by what the show has done in the 21 episodes since. Laurel’s final speech was for one purpose and one purpose only: To hammer home that Oliver and Felicity’s relationship is the be-all and end-all for these writers, with nothing and no one permitted to stand in their way, intelligent writing be damned. The reaction from those shippers was never going to be anything but an overwhelming sense of joy, but it feels very much like those final moments were crafted purely to illicit those reactions, regardless of how the remainder of the fans would feel or the quality of the scene itself.
Frankly, it suggests that Laurel became irrelevant to the minds behind the show, who chose to focus their efforts on other story threads. I’m not going to go into any sort of depth about how disrespectful it is to the comic canon, mainly because I have no interest in the comic books, but also because there are enough articles and opinions out there in regards to it, if you’re really that interested. What I do care about, however, is the lack of respect the show has displayed towards someone who was once – and was still credited as – the lead female. Yes, shows develop and progress and change, and prominent or formerly prominent characters die, but it is the handling of this death that irks me the most.
Even the non-Laurel build-up was some of the laziest storytelling we’ve had in a while, starting with basing an entire episode’s plot around the totem that Vixen destroyed but that was inexplicably rebuilt by the team and kept in the bunker – the very same bunker that Malcolm waltzes into whenever he so desires (as he did here) and that Curtis managed to happen upon last week. Neither of those things on their own display any competency, but together, it’s a mess of forced idiocy simply to progress a plot.
Equally, spending much of the hour dealing with the debate over Andy’s loyalties felt wasted, given how little time we’ve spent with him since his supposed change of heart. And by “little time,” I mean no time at all. After the end of A.W.O.L., where he was introduced to Sara after saving Lyla’s life, he was absent until last week’s cliffhanger. So after spending the better part of four episodes with very little reason to trust him, we’re presumably meant to trust him with virtually no backing for it. And even if we’re not, that makes things no better. If anything, it makes it worse. In either case, (John) Diggle comes off looking incredibly hypocritical, having undergone some serious regression: He has criticised Oliver for having a blind spot for his family, as the Emerald Archer points out, and yet ignores that principle himself; that would be fine if not for the fact that the first two months after learning that Andy was alive, he was passionately against trusting him until he saved Lyla. There’s no way that the show can explain that without spending considerably more time with the Diggles between A.W.O.L. and now, which it obviously didn’t do. Half measures just don’t cut it.
So Andy’s betrayal was neither surprising nor nearly as smart as the episode played it as, particularly given Eugene Byrd’s smug facial expression at the end of last week; that seemed to indicate his true allegiance, but then to play it in the opposite direction for much of Eleven-Fifty-Nine becomes tedious. Perhaps the endgame, which presumably involves Diggle going after Andy and likely being put in a position to kill him, may deliver, but that won’t hide the fact that Arrow took a huge and ineffective shortcut here.
As I mentioned at the top of the review, the flashbacks were probably the highlight, even though their improved quality on the season-so-far’s island trips says little. Oliver talked about Laurel for the first time in at least a year and promised Taiana that he would go to Russia and find her family, should something happen to her. Looks like we’ll be heading to Russia in season five, which means more Anatoli Knyazev.
But that was a very slim highlight in an episode that struggled to get off the ground. Instead, it took a powerful kick to the head, leaving Arrow bruised and bloodied on the edge of the pavement. Can things get better? Maybe, but at the moment, the future doesn’t look too bright.