Arrow S04 EP18, "Eleven-Fifty-Nine," Roundtable Discussion

This is our roundtable discussion of "Eleven-Fifty-Nine." If you're looking for the recap of season 4 and this episode specifically, go here. The spoilers are everywhere.
Adrian: Before I get into Laurel thoughts, I've got to say one of Arrow's weaknesses is how telegraphed their reveals can be. It's clear to the audience that Andy is being sneaky, and having to watch John be a sap is painful (and not in an engaging way). It's less storytelling, more protracted torture. And what's with the magic idol, guys? Vixen smashed it to pieces a few episodes back and you reassembled it? And placed it in a display case in your highly insecure secret lair? I mean, good on them for hiding one key piece of the idol, but why not hide all pieces of the idol? This is just bad.

On one, small, positive note: I appreciate Malcom Merlyn. He hilariously slides in and out of wherever, whenever he chooses (even Darhk appreciates this). Mutilated, humiliated, and defeated, Merlyn remains resourceful, influential, and formidable. He's certainly the most consistent (and entertaining) villain Arrow has had. I'm glad he's still here.
Ivy: Okay look, Laurel dying was one of the many fan theories around the web (and if you were really paying attention, paparazzi actually ruined the surprise entirely), but I was still really disappointed the writers decided to go through with it. I mean, starting with the fact that Black Canary is essential to comic book lore involving Green Arrow! But you know, Laurel was written into the ground in the first two seasons and treated really unfairly by the writers. She was finally coming into her own and some fans were starting to not hate her quite as much (like me)... Well, it just seems cruddy. This “dramatic” death gets a thumbs down from me.

John: *aggressive groaning* Arrow has contrived pseudo-drama and Laurel’s taking a trip to the refrigerator? I am shocked and scandalized. Yeah, I’m not even surprised. I’d heard about the press leaks, but what I did see left the possibility of it being Quentin in my mind. The show’s treatment of the Lance familyand of the Black Canary’s importance to Green Arrow lore and historyhas really just been insulting. Considering this is the second time we’re killing a Canary, I think someone on the writing team just hates the character; the show isn’t doing favors to potential new fans either. Given that it’s taken four seasons for me to even like this version (only for her to die “dramatically”) I can’t see it generating much interest in Black Canary. Aside from Paul Blackthorne / Quentin Lance (probably my favorite character on this show), I can’t even think of much else noteworthy in the episode.

Ivy: It does not make me happy that Diggle was the team screw-up this time (there’s always one!). I mean, how does that character recover from the guilt that Laurel died because of his stupidity? SMH. So now either Diggle is going to spend like forever feeling genuinely guilty, or they are going to do a horrible job of writing away his guilt and he’ll be fine in a couple of weeks. I feel like the writers painted themselves into a corner.

Adrian: So, Laurel. They say you don't miss someone until they’re gone and that's partially true here. In this tragic case, it's more like you don't quite realize how thoroughly abused and neglected a character is until they've been killed off. Like you were saying, Ivy: from Season 1, Laurel has never enjoyed the breathing room necessary to grow into her destiny as Black Canary. So often, she was used as a foil to Oliver's early successes as the Arrow, that the fan base came to hate her. Sara, or more specifically Caity Lotz, was so completely lovable and perfect as the Canary that Laurel paled in comparison.

I was devastated when we first lost Sara, and while I was happy that Laurel finally took up the Canary mantle as Black Canary, it was difficult for me to get behind Laurel at the expense of Sara. Perhaps for this reason or another, the showrunners kept Laurel at arm's length and she remained secondary, sometimes last in line for focus. In the latest few episodes, I started to feel like Laurel was coming into her own, as her contributions in battle were more important, her Canary cry saved Oliver's life from the nano bees, even when she spat some Real Talk™ to Oliver about why Felicity left him (seriously Oliver, get it together).

But now she's gone, before we really get to see the fully-formed Black Canary. And what an unsatisfying death, when all the events leading up to her death were completely out of her control. Darhk hamstrings Quentin, Quentin escapes Darhk, Darhk swears vengeance. Oliver burns Malcom, who recruits Andy to help Darhk. John trusts Andy, Andy betrays John, Darhk gets his revenge. Laurel dies.

Laurel's life, the life of the Black Canary--one of DC's most iconic superheroes-- is used as the ball in a high-stakes yet remarkably petty game between men. This show has never given Black Canary's character the weight and respect she deserved and my regret is that it took me this long to realize it.

Ivy: You’re right Adrian: that Black Canary had zero agency. It’s a real classic in western fiction (of any medium): have the male characters act like idiots, but kill the woman as a result. I find Laurel’s fate really disturbing when viewed through that lense. Also, textbook fridging. I'm sure her death will now motivate Oliver, Quentin, and Diggle to go after Darhk. Because, you know, they didn’t have motivation before apparently. Uggh.

John: Considering Thea seems to be over the whole “I killed Sara” thing, I’m curious if the show will even bother with the contrived drama of “John feels bad over being a moron and Laurel dying.” Either way, I’m sure I’m not going to give a damn, because the show hasn’t been able to keep me emotionally engaged since Season 2. (I miss you, Manu Bennett.) You know, there’s something TV Tropes refers to as Darkness Induced Audience Apathy and I think we’ve either come to that point or have been past it for some time. Arrow, with it’s contrived attempts at drama that belong more in bad fanfiction than a moderately successful television series, has left me unable to muster up a damn to give. The show clearly doesn’t respect its own characters. So, why should I care what happens to them, other than by being a fan of their counterparts in the “source material”?

Frankly, it feels more than a bit insulting, considering the amount of time I’ve spent watching this series. There’s never reprieve or reward. The characters don’t learn, don’t get a break from their suffering, and their lives don’t give any better. In a good show, you’re upset at the characters. In a bad show, you’re upset with the people making it. I’ve gone past the point of being done with Oliver Queen and his idiotic choices. I’m just flabbergasted how the writer's method can still be summarized by “let’s take our female characters and make them accessories to the plot” (and I use the term "plot" in the loosest possible definition). Like, do they not get that we like Felicity and Sara? That we were finally starting to like Laurel? And Thea wasn’t bugging me as much. But she’s still just a plot point between Oliver and Merlyn. God forbid we get an ensemble of three-dimensional heroes.

Ivy: I’m invested enough in some of the characters to stick with the show. And perhaps more to the point, I’m invested in the larger Berlantiverse enough to stick with the show. But I have seen a lot of “That’s it, I’m done” from the fandom around the web since last night, and I don’t blame them one bit. Arrow has been greatly disheartening this season.

There were a few positives in this episode. The choreography was absolutely top notch. Easily some of the best fights this show has ever had. Black Canary looked beautiful in her battle scenes, andThea was brilliant too. As Adrian mentioned, Merlyn is hilarious, and well I just can’t hate John Barrowman. Oliver got to be right for once, which was a nice change of pace, even if no one listened.

Final note from me: Echo Kellum, who plays Curtis (and whom fans believe will become Mr. Terrific), has been elevated to series regular for season 5, so there is that to look forward to. Although no clue what that means for Ollicity/Overwatch. We’ll see, I guess.

Adrian: Even when my interest or investment in the series was down, I didn't imagine I'd ever think "I'm done with this show" but I had that thought for the first time after watching Eleven-Fifty-Nine. When it comes to comics, I am a DC fan first and foremost, so I always want to take time to dig in—for better or for worse. Even the monotony of Batman v. Superman was not enough to drive me away from the DC Film universe.

Now, I'm really questioning why I should keep watching Arrow. Oliver has grown increasingly unlikeable, shortsighted, and set in his ways, but Thea's story has been engaging. I'm tired of hearing Felicity cry, but Curtis (Echo Kellum) has thankfully been promoted to series regular; the show certainly needs some joy and levity. I don't mind Diggle being secondary, but I wish we could see more of his life with Lyla (happy things, please) and their adorable baby.

Perhaps most of all, I'm tired of this show being the Lance Family Emotional Torture Porn Hour. Laurel has died once (forever, according to the showrunners) and Sara, still living, has effectively died twice, putting the long-suffering Quentin among the most beleaguered dads of all time. Now that the show has run out of Lance girls, maybe they’ll finally give the guy a break. In fact, can I get a spin-off season of Quentin and Donna on vacation, just being sweet and supportive of each other? I'd watch that.

John: I’d almost forgotten there were positive things to comment on, considering the note the episode ended on. Echo Kellum as Curtis Holt, hopefully the series’ version of Mr. Terrific, is a delight. Whenever he’s on screen, it’s like we’ve switched over to The Flash. You know, a better show. As an aside, why is he “Curtis” Holt? Hopefully, he’s not going to die - only for us to discover his previously unmentioned brother, Michael. As much as I love Barrowman (and everyone loves Barrowman), I must admit that Merlyn’s starting to grate a bit on my nerves. Even after he lost his hand, the man just won’t take a hint.

But, I will agree on the choreography. It’s something Arrow’s done consistently well, throughout it’s run. It’s not quite Daredevil or Jessica Jones, but it’s never boring, much less bad. Maybe Laurel’s “death” will lead to better things, but unless someone at The CW answers my emails suggesting that Paul Blackthorne become the next Black Canary, I doubt it’ll happen. I suppose we’ll have to wait and see where this goes, though.  

At the very least, Katie Cassidy will be appearing on The Flash in the penultimate episode as the villainous Black Siren on Earth-2. So, that’ll be good. I’m still going to mourn the fact we’ll never see Quentin Lance in a corset and blonde wig, though.

Join the discussion on Eleven-Fifty-Nine in the comments section below!

Ivonne Martin is a writer, gamer, and avid consumer of all things geek—and is probably entirely too verbose for her own good.

Adrian Martinez is a graphic designer, comic book letterer, hobbyist writer, and all-around geek living in New York City.

John Conroy is a disabled nerd/geek/dork and aspiring metahuman. His interests include comic book superheroes, bunnies, and basking in existential ennui.