Killing a main character on a TV show is about one of two things, it’s either done in the name of shock value for the viewer, or it’s done to shake up the characters and spin them off into new directions as they deal with the grief. The sudden murder of Laurel “Black Canary” Lance a few weeks back initially seemed to about the Arrow writers doing the former, but the fallout this week in “Canary Cry” strongly suggests the latter. Strongly, not definitively. There are some impressive performances during the hour, and a fairly strong storyline as well, but is it enough to carry Arrow’s uneven fourth season back to greatness?
The all-star of the hour was definitely Paul Blackthorne. Now Blackthorne has done good stuff on Arrow before whether its providing requisite gravitas or adding a bit of comedic relief to the dourness, but Blackthrone owned every scene in “Canary Cry.” It was a truly heartbreaking tour de force as Quentin Lance moves very quickly to try and get in front of his daughter’s death. He knows now about the existence of the Lazarus Pit, not to mention a couple of other workarounds like time travel, so for Quentin, Laurel’s death wasn’t something to grieve, but a problem to solve.
Looking back on the hour, you recognize that Blackthorne as Quentin is going through all the stages of grief. There’s his denial as he frantically packs Laurel’s things for a trip to the Lazarus Pit even as Nyssa al Ghul tries to explain that it’s destroyed. Quentin’s raw emotion even brought Nyssa to tears, which quite subtly said how palpable it was. Later, Quentin undertakes a search for remnants of the League of Assassins who can direct him to a pit when Oliver stops him. Here, Quentin breaks down, bargaining, struggling to get going when Oliver’s trying to get him to accept. Finally, at Laurel’s graveside as Oliver eulogies, it’s not Stephen Amell‘s speechifying that makes the scene work, it’s Blackthorne’s tears.
It seemed cruel to throw Alex Kingston in at the end as Laurel’s mom because there’s no way she can keep up with Blackthorne’s emotional arc. If he didn’t leave you misty in at least one scene in the entire hour, you’re made of strong stuff than I. There’s been a lot of discussion following Laurel’s death that it’s a ploy and she’ll be back at some point in the not-too-distant future. Seeing Blackthorne’s journey in “Canary Cry” should effectively put a cork in that, as Blackthrone wasn’t given anything anywhere this meaty when he finally learned that Sara was killed last season. Seeing where Quentin goes from here should be an interesting though emotionally wrought journey.
David Ramsey also got a great scene tonight. Usually in these situations it’s Diggle that provides cool support and analysis, but he’s feeling the grief as much, if not more, than anyone because of Andy’s betrayal. He tries to take that grief out on Ruvé Adams by killing the new Mayor of Star City, and considering how haughty she was being with Spartan, you almost wish he did ice here there in the street. But Oliver intervened, stopping Diggle so that Ruvé could get away, and seeing Diggle’s angry outburst after that was, frankly, jarring. Diggle’s been mad before, but that’s usually in a parental “I’m not mad, I’m just disappointed” kind of way. This was raw emotion.
The quality of revenge was one of the major themes tonight, is it about getting justice for the victim or is it a way to make the survivors feel better? Part to that dynamic is whether getting revenge for Laurel taints the good name of the Black Canary, and all the good work she’s done, an issue forced when a teenager named Evelyn Sharp steals Laurel’s sonic device and cuts a bloody swath of payback against those that left her to die at Reddington, the facility Darhk was making zombie soldiers at before Christmas. Evelyn feels betrayed by Ruvé Adams, her new chief of staff Alex Davis, and Team Arrow, and she’s going to get some justice with the barrel of a gun, and dressed as Black Canary.
Admittedly, there was some poignance in seeing Green Arrow talking Black Canary 3.o out of shooting Ruvé Adams in the face, not to mention his talking Spartan out of doing the same earlier, but there’s something of a double standard by the end as everyone and Oliver himself starts talking about killing Damien Darhk. Perhaps it’s a fine distinction, Darhk is the King and Ruvé is the Queen, take out the King and the match is over. Still, it seems weird that Oliver would spend the hour talking people out of killing, and spend the last five minutes psyching himself up to kill.
But that wasn’t the only inconsistency, the flashbacks this week were to the events immediately after season one and the death of Tommy Merlyn. That was a good fake out at the top there, thinking that we were seeing Laurel’s funeral, but no, we were flashing back to Tommy’s. If only everything in the flashback was so smooth. Retconning things so that Oliver’s almost blurted out the whole story, and having him and Laurel caught in a tender moment does kind of a disservice to both characters. Instead of Oliver and Laurel being straight-up distraught about Tommy’s death, the icky attempt at grief-spurred reconciliation between the two adds an unnecessary detail that makes Oliver look like a coward, and makes Laurel seem cheap.
Still, the pluses in this episode far outweighed the demerits. No matter Oliver’s final decision about the final fate of Darhk, “Canary Cry” arranges the chairs nicely for the final four episodes with Ruvé getting the Star City PD to re-activate the vigilante task force and giving Team Arrow a personal drive to bring H.I.V.E. to justice for their fallen friend. I don’t if Laurel was the best character, or that Katie Cassidy played her well, but this episode of Arrow made me miss her, and that’s saying something.