Last week’s season 3 premiere episode of Arrow ended with the sudden and tragic death of Sara Lance, the Canary to Oliver’s Arrow, as she was plugged three times in the chest, fell off a building, ricocheted off a garbage bin to finally fall dead onto the pavement at her sister Laurel’s feet.
We were set up for an emotionally devastating episode. What we got was, well, in the neighborhood of devastating but not as harrowing as I thought it would be. More on that later.
(Lots more actually; full disclosure this recap is LONG. You’ve been warned)
Oliver and Co. were appropriately shocked, grim, and reeling upon finding Sara’s dead body in the Arrow lair, dragged there by a still hysterical Laurel. Roy comforted Felicity as Oliver soberly closed Sara’s unseeing dead eyes, briefly comforted Laurel, and then left to go survey the murder scene for any clues. New dad Diggle finds Oliver on the rooftop to offer his condolences and help as Oliver coolly goes through the motions of vigilante cop. Alerted that Lance, clueless about his daughter’s death, has requested a meeting, Oliver bails on further bro-bonding to assume the Hood and get the 411.
Captain Lance fills Oliver in on a new archer in town who has taken down several citizens, not realizing that Sara is one of them. Oliver barely keeps his rage under control as Lance observes that the Hood looks like ‘Someone peed in his cereal’. If only, Quentin. If only.
While Sara’s body cools in Verdant’s still working freezer, Oliver stalks the city taking out his frustration on drug dealers who get in the way and even lashing out at Felicity (who does a good job of lashing back) the two still having raw feelings from the previous week’s break-up. A lead from Laurel with confirmation and follow-up by Diggle and Felicity finally puts Oliver in front of the ruthless archer that’s been taking out citizens and is the prime suspect in Sara’s death: Komodo.
And that’s when we get one of the best, if illogical, action sequences on television when Oliver and Komodo joust archer style on motorcycles, each firing arrows at each other with amazing accuracy and increasing levels of difficulty. Komodo in the end wins with a catching of Oliver’s arrow and firing it back to him to knock him off his bike to the ground. As Felicity and an irate Laurel watch, Komodo speeds away with Oliver nursing a bruised butt and aching shoulder.
In a snit that Oliver lost Komodo, Laurel takes off to handle business herself, confronting the one survivor of Komodo’s attacks. The scene appears more about showing that Laurel will get mean and break bones to get the job done (a Black Canary trademark), which, okay, is nice to know but when done on an innocent man, which her subject was, it leaves a bad taste in one’s mouth. Of course during said interrogation, Komodo strikes, taking out the poor victim in his hospital bed (SCPD really should’ve not put him in a room with clear line of sight windows) with Laurel gaping out the window to see her prey across the rooftop.
Fed up, Laurel goes back to Oliver with her info, the team piecing together where Komodo will strike next: Ray Palmer’s party at Queen Consolidated. Laurel wants to kill him herself. Oliver reminds her that if a highly trained Sara couldn’t take him out, Laurel doesn’t have a chance and to leave it to him to do it. Sara snits that Oliver let him get away once and that he can’t tell her to do. In a stand-off, Laurel bails while Oliver broods before arrowing up for the final showdown.
Oliver (with an assist by Roy in Arsenal gear) confront Komodo at the Queen Consolidated bash, TOTALLY ruining Ray’s party (Glass flying from crashed in windows will do that) before rudely dashing (Oliver in a particularly AMAZING move of diving out the window, turning in mid-air, and shooting an grappling hook arrow upward to control his fall). Oliver corners Komodo to get him to admit to Sara’s killing when (as expected) Laurel shows up with her gun aimed ready to avenge her sister. No amount of sweet talking from Oliver can deter her and she fires the gun (stone cold killer that Laurel!) – which is actually empty since Oliver took out the bullets. Laurel gapes at Oliver in betrayal that he should let her avenge her sister Sara’s killer when Komodo speaks up: Who’s Sara? And in another twist (not really) we learn that Komodo didn’t kill Sara for he was in Bludhaven killing some other people (apparently Nightwing took the night off). As police sirens sound in the distance, Oliver and Laurel take off in bounce, leaving Komodo to assassinate another day (?!)
Oliver confirms that Komodo indeed was telling the truth- he wasn’t Sara’s killer. Laurel is frustrated in not having closure and wonders what to do next. She hasn’t told her father about Sara yet and was waiting to do it when her killer was caught. But now…
Cut to middle of the night in the graveyard. Oliver, Laurel, and Co. all stand over Sara’s old grave which now actually contains her body in a pine box. She’s to be buried in the middle of the night by these few because of reasons that really don’t make sense. Laurel sobs, Felicity throws dirt over Sara’s grave in a nice family gesture, Diggle announces he’s naming his new daughter Sara which is nice I guess but just didn’t have the impact that it should’ve.
To wrap the main story Laurel in the end doesn’t tell her dad for fear that between the news and his bad heart she’d lose another family member (and honestly, I get where she’s coming from with that; Quentin loved his daughter like crazy and to lose her after getting her back in such a horrible way? He’d be at the bottom of a bottle by end of day if he hadn’t just died of a broken heart), Felicity takes steps to move away from the darkness of Oliver’s life by accepting a job with Ray Palmer at Queen Consolidated, and Oliver makes a truly heartbreaking admission: that before he had accepted that his double life could get him killed but now…he doesn’t want to die alone in his cave. Which is a BIG thing when you think about it. Oliver wants love, happiness, a life in the light and to look forward to something, to think about joys of a future but knows that if he continues as he has been as the Arrow…he’ll end up dead on a table like Sara.
Heroism has a cost. A huge cost. And Oliver isn’t sure he wants to pay it anymore.
Felicity definitely decided that she doesn’t want that life which is why she’s moved on to take a job with Ray Palmer after a pretty nasty fight with Oliver earlier in the episode. Like I said, both still reeling and raw from their break-up, Oliver was back to using Felicity as a punching bag (which is SO not cool) in his grief and Felicity snarked back at him that she’s sorry that he doesn’t like the way she grieves and then (crossing the line) calls him out on his being emotionless which is a low blow even if Oliver was acting like a dick. She then proceeds to prod him to lean on her and open up and when he refuses, angrily tells him that she’s not waiting around in this ‘cave’ for him to finally come to her which…sounds a lot like her criticizing HIS method of grieving and giving him ultimatums which I frankly don’t agree with. Felicity, you know your man, you know he likes his manpain, and you gave your ultimatum last week so to do it again while Oliver’s ex-girlfriend’s body is upstairs in the freezer and he’s trying to process it all is overkill. Be the nice *friend* to him until the situation passes. Definitely don’t take his crap but don’t counterattack and then bounce to another job (and another man’s attention) because YOU can’t handle the stuff that Oliver actually was worried about you not being to handle. Which is exactly what you did so…yeah…Felicity is out of the cave and moving on it seems.
Of course during all of this we got a flashback sequence, and honestly, this is where I felt the more heartrending events of the episode happened as we saw long haired Oliver in Hong Kong, being tasked to kill the late great, adorable, pure hearted party boy Tommy Merlyn?!
Yep, Waller as a test wants Oliver to kill Tommy who came to Hong Kong after Oliver activated his email account in attempt to contact the outside world. She doesn’t want Oliver compromised and thus wants anyone believing him to be alive to be killed.
Which is the moment I wanted Waller to kick rocks and then drop off a cliff after getting a good kick in the shins by Oliver.
Killing true blue friend Tommy Merlyn because he never gave up on his BFF and came to follow up on a lead with the hopes of finding him? That’s some foul thinking Amanda.
And Oliver thought so too as he devised a plan to send Tommy off the scent of his being alive by ‘kidnapping’ him and saying that he was the target of a ransom scheme using his friend Oliver as bait. Oliver watched as Tommy broke down over the news that Oliver was indeed dead, needing to lie to his friend to save both their lives.
While the flashbacks didn’t seem to initially serve any purpose to the present day storyline (other than make me miss Tommy and wish he was still around to be Oliver’s BFF and help with Thea and just BE there), it all connected up when in the final scene of the episode we finally caught up with Malcolm Merlyn and his favored child, Thea, who it seems has undergone some intense ninja training to be able to take on two fighters and win with ease and also now addresses Malcolm as Dad.
And so next week we’re headed off to retrieve Thea as Oliver now knows (via a confession from Roy) that Thea ran away from Starling City and wasn’t planning to come back.
And we finally (hopefully) have Oliver learn that Malcolm is alive and see the fight between them for Thea’s soul.
But before we get into that inanity (You choose to run away with the crazy dude who killed a lot of people- including his own son- over the brother you’ve known all your life? Mmmmkay) let’s talk about why ‘Sara’ didn’t have as much emotional ‘oompf’ as one would expect given that this was a eulogy for a seriously beloved character by both the characters in show and the audience at large.
Because this episode wasn’t about Sara, didn’t focus on her life and legacy, and in the end resulted in NOTHING of consequence when you think about it.
As much as I love Tommy (and I LOVE Tommy), you’d think the flashbacks would’ve served to show Sara in moments relevant to everyone she touched and how the loss of her would leave a hole in their lives. Instead the flashbacks made me suspicious that it was a Lazarus Pit resurrected LoA trained Tommy Merlyn that killed Sara for reasons yet to be discovered. You don’t just have characters randomly inserted in an episode like Tommy Merlyn unless it’s important. And it would make sense that a darker Tommy Merlyn would kill Sara if she were about to blow his cover if he was up to no good and needed to keep his presence secret longer. It also ties together the idea of believed to be dead loved ones actually being alive: what if Tommy was now in the position of Oliver from the flashback? A man who had to make deadly choices –including killing people he knew- in order to survive? To tie it further, the end scene shows Malcolm having molded what he considered his ‘stronger’ progeny into the image of a warrior but what if it’s Tommy that’s become everything Malcolm wanted to be at the expense of all the good that was in him? I’d hate it if Tommy of Arrow became aligned as the villain of comics Tommy but the structure of this episode seems to be foreshadowing a lot of things related to the Merlyns and Oliver and I can’t shake the feeling that having sweet Tommy appear in the episode around Sara’s death and the pursuit of her killer is not a mistake: Tommy may indeed be alive and have broken bad to become a deadly nemesis for both Oliver and Malcolm. Arrow may have been playing a long game on all of us about the scope of the show.
But as the episode ‘Sara’ did, I digress: the big point is that this episode didn’t celebrate Sara but served as a catalyst for Oliver to realize he didn’t want to live in the darkness and die alone, for Felicity to realize that she may need to leave Oliver behind to have the happiness she deserves, and ultimately firmly launch Laurel onto the path of becoming the Black Canary to align her with her comic canon persona. The first two of these I’m okay with, the last, I’m mostly okay with except for the fact that why throw away a perfectly good Canary to have to start over again? On paper showing what inspired Laurel to become the Black Canary – Sara’s death- and wanting to take up the mantle to extend that legacy so it will never die is touching but it has little to do with Sara and more about Laurel’s story which is nice but Laurel, unfortunately, isn’t as interesting as her sister and given a choice between seeing her journey towards heroism and Sara’s redemption from her LoA days into a heroine that could smile at herself when she looked in the mirror, I honestly rather see the latter. Nothing against Katie Cassidy who I adored on Supernatural as Ruby but Laurel Lance has not been very successful as a character as currently portrayed. And to have not one (Tommy) but two (Tommy and Sara) dynamic characters die to give her character something to do just isn’t a good trade, IMO.
Finally, while, yes, we saw many of her closest allies grieve for her, it just wasn’t as powerful as seeing arguably the person who loved her most, Quentin, react to his daughter’s death or her adopted ‘daughter’ Sin, the kid whose father she swore to look out for, learn of her mentor’s death, nor seeing Sara’s death absorbed from the POV of a lover, which could’ve been Nyssa (and supposedly we’ll see that in a future episode), but also Oliver if the show hadn’t abruptly broken them up last season. Imagine if Oliver’s visions of a future and not wanting to die alone in a cave had been about a life he could’ve had with Sara only for it to be cut short by her mysterious death and him to be left angry and alone and back to wanting to scorch the earth and die if need be to avenge her death. That makes for an arc with more heat under it than just Laurel working out her frustrations and Quentin being left in the dark and Oliver able to table finding Sara’s killer so easily. The writers undercut ALL of the emotion of Sara’s death by giving the reactions to Felicity (yes, they were friendly, but not THAT close) and Laurel and muting Oliver’s reaction by his making it less about his loss of Sara and more about his fear of dying alone. The reaction to her death was woefully disproportionate to the impact and importance she had in the Arrow-verse and no matter how many awesome stunt sequences you put in or adorable scenes of Tommy, it doesn’t make up for not truly honoring a fallen hero in an episode that bears her name.
The good news is that as we saw with Tommy’s appearance in this episode, being dead on Arrow, doesn’t mean you can never come back. Undoubtedly, Sara Lance and the Canary will reappear from time to time in flashbacks or fever dreams to let us enjoy her presence and awesomeness all over again even as we grieve for what might have been and all the potential lost. Hopefully Laurel’s evolution into the Black Canary will end up being a true honor to Sara and all that she struggled and fought for and we can see all the greatness that Laurel embodies rather than the empty place she’s trying to fill.
Next week: Roy finally gets to do more than grunt and say four lines in a scene; Oliver and Roy take off to save Thea- but does she need saving?