**This post contains spoilers for episode 3.02 of Arrow, “Sara.”**
Even the best shows on TV have one or two episodes where things just don’t mesh. BBC Sherlock fans will tell you that “The Blind Banker” is probably not their favorite; Community fans will likely point to a season 4 episode and say “I like to pretend this one never happened”; heck, there are one or two Friends episodes that I skip over on rewatches because they just aren’t very good. Great TV shows set the bar very high, so when that dud of an episode comes along — and inevitably it happens — it’s twice as disappointing.
“Sara,” to me, was a misfire. It’s made even worse because I think I know where they were trying to go with it, but the direction and even the writing was so uneven at times that the entire thing ended up feeling disjointed. The biggest example is that motorcycle fight scene: back and forth, three or four times, these guys pulled wheelies, drew their bowstrings, and drove past each other. By the time Oliver was finally shot (in the shoulder? in the chest?) it ended up feeling like a poorly staged parody of a telenovela. I get what they were trying to do, but the editing and strange cuts really took the suspense out of it.
I get the feeling the producers and writers weren’t expecting to go into this episode having to justify Sara’s death. For whatever reason, they seemed to assume the viewers would be properly sad but willing to follow this story thread in due course. So we saw Team Arrow splinter in what probably would’ve been an organic way in any other circumstance, with Felicity deciding she wants more and Oliver retreating in on himself and Diggle just showing up because he’s amazing like that. And in that regard, if you write it down on paper, everyone’s grief-driven reactions make sense. But that’s not what the viewers were wanting to see this week.
I spent the days since the premiere expecting the writers to have a good, compelling reason to have killed Sara off. I wasn’t interested in watching Laurel’s rage-filled vendetta (not that I didn’t want to see it — I just thought it was something better suited for episode 3) or Roy’s guilt over secret-keeping or even Felicity’s lashing out at Ray Palmer. I wanted to know one thing: Why did Sara Lance have to die? And maybe this is my mistake, but I expected the Arrow writers to have at least a nugget of a reason — a breadcrumb, maybe — for why they chose to kill her. We were promised flashbacks and backstories and tons and tons of Sara, and what we got? Was Tommy. In an episode called “Sara,” we got Tommy.
Don’t get me wrong, I squealed when Colin Donnell appeared on my TV screen. I’m happy to see that guy any day, and I would’ve been happy with the Tommy flashbacks if they’d existed in a vacuum, but they didn’t — they existed in this episode, the one right after Sara died, the one that should’ve had Sara flashbacks or Sara backstory or anything pertaining to Sara other than everyone else’s grief around her. That’s all this episode was: an episode of everyone grieving about Sara.
It seems she really was killed primarily to make Laurel become the Canary. We watched as Laurel struggled to come to terms with Sara’s death and whether to tell her father, and then she nearly shot a man who didn’t have anything to do with Sara’s death. She tortured one of the victims and railed against Oliver in the lair and cried the entire episode. I don’t mean to diminish the quality of the writing, because Laurel grieved credibly in the wake of her sister’s death, and Katie Cassidy was all in for these scenes, but I’m still not happy with the fact that Sara had to die in order for Laurel to take on the Canary mantle. Don’t kill your females just to give other characters their dark backstories. That’s cheap at best, and lazy at worst. Or maybe it’s the other way around. I’m too frustrated to decide.
That goes for the rest of the characters. Sara had to die for Diggle to rejoin the team? Sara had to die for Oliver to reach out to his sister? Sara had to die for Felicity to realize that she doesn’t want to play Monday morning quarterback to a guy with a deathwish, a guy who just a couple nights ago told her they couldn’t be together? Sara had to die for Oliver to realize he doesn’t want to die in his hood?
It’s bad. It angers me that her death set them all spinning onto these paths so easily, when there were a million other nuanced ways to get these reactions out of these characters. Laurel could’ve become the Canary on the rebound from Quentin’s near-death in the finale. She already has the dark backstory. Her sister was declared dead in a shipwreck, her boyfriend died saving her in an earthquake, and she was nearly turned into a porcelain doll by the creepiest man alive. That’s not even mentioning all of her other near brushes with death and her ongoing struggle with addiction. Laurel already had her crucible, and with a bit of preplanning and tweaking (and working with the actress) they could’ve had her on the Canary arc as early as the middle of season 2 if they really wanted it.
Similarly, Felicity could’ve decided to go work for Ray Palmer after Oliver’s half-hearted rejection of her last week. She could’ve decided that being Oliver’s sometimes-girl wasn’t enough for her, so instead of toiling away at Starling City’s smallest Best Buy, she could’ve accepted that job offer from Ray and told Oliver “Sorry bro, maybe if you hadn’t signed over your company to your side piece last season, we wouldn’t be having this discussion.” Sure, it means losing the emotional punch of those scenes where Felicity cries in the foundry, at Queen Consolidated, and at Sara’s graveside, but on the flipside, it’d also mean we never had to sit through that scene where she accused Oliver of not having feelings.
I don’t love that Felicity abandoned Oliver in his hour of need, but at the same time, he can’t have his cake and eat it too. I can’t fault Felicity for knowing her absolute limit, for knowing that she can’t sit there and watch Oliver slowly lose his life to his crusade. On the other hand, Oliver’s right, he can’t grieve because if he grieves, everything falls apart.
We all say and do things in grief that we wouldn’t normally say or do, and I know it must’ve been hard for Felicity to watch Oliver be so “cold and rational” over an ex-girlfriend. Part of her was probably scared, in the wake of what they just went through with their date and kiss, that he would seem this unaffected by her death. It must seem unfair to Felicity, who would feel so much overwhelming grief if something happened to Oliver, to think that he could be so detached and unaffected. But I still don’t buy, in that moment, that Felicity would accuse him of not having feelings. She of all people knows how he internalizes, how he feels so much that sometimes his body just seems to shut it off so that he doesn’t go to pieces.
And by the same token, I don’t buy that Oliver would insinuate that Felicity’s ability to be off her game and be able to cry all over the place is some kind of luxury. He realized he could easily die on one of his missions, or be taken by surprise, and instead of it inspiring him to live a fuller life, it scares him. That paralyzes Felicity, it’s the first time they just can’t empathize with each other, which is what causes the friction. He can’t argue with her when she says she can’t stay and watch him die; he doesn’t want to do that to her. But it still hurts him when she says it. How could it not?
But Sara still didn’t need to die in order for this to come about. Oliver losing Felicity and Diggle in the same week could’ve set him on this identity trajectory of “Damn, being alone sucks, maybe I don’t want to die down here!” He’d still have his mentee, Roy, but he’s also about to embark on Operation Save Thea which I’m sure will also be a target-rich environment for Oliver’s ongoing identity crisis. Through all of this, Sara could’ve still existed, alive and well and joyously assassinating bad guys offstage, while occasionally flitting in and out of Starling to dole out useful advice and maybe scare the crap out of Laurel once in a while.
There was an organic way to go about this, and killing off Sara Lance was not the right option. They keep saying this season is all about “identity,” yet Sara went through her own identity crisis last season. Both Oliver and Laurel insisted Sara was a hero, but Sara was plagued with self-doubt based on her assassin past. Sara doesn’t get her heroine arc. She was killed, and that arc was artlessly passed on to Laurel. Laurel, who could’ve credibly earned that arc all on her own. But hey, at least Diggle named his daughter Sara. Maybe she’ll grow up to become a future Canary.
And what about Sin?
Next week: It’s the Thea show, starring Thea’s new haircut, with a cameo appearance by John Barrowman! I’m actually looking forward to that — I think Thea will be a refreshing change from what we’ve dealt with in the first two episodes.