At the start of Season 3, Laurel is in a good place. True, no one can forget the boneheaded idea that she basically blackmailed her way into continued employment with the DA’s office — this was supposed to be an uplifting and empowering plot development, if you can believe — but inauspicious beginnings aside, she’s doing well at her job. She makes sure to find what legally sticks to prosecute the people that the Arrow and his crew are taking down. Her father has recovered from a near-fatal injury, and she genuinely seems to be handling life well.
As is frequent on the show, happiness is soon to be dashed by tragedy and dark times; such is the formula for drama. Sara’s murder, particularly the devastatingly disturbing way in which she plummets to her death right in front of her sister, is a vicious catalyst for Laurel. Another particular trademark of those with addiction is obsessive behavior and compulsion, quite often over things of which they have no control. They established the heredity of the Lance line through Quentin’s own struggles, and even though the Season 2 storyline was cringeworthy, this base still exists within Laurel. And she gets lost. Again.
But here’s the kicker: this time they do it right.
Laurel is in a mental and emotional tailspin, something rooted in character and relationship that has a tangible and realistic feel to it this time around. Her sister is mysteriously dead, and she feels like she can’t tell her father for fear of his health. (Okay, we’ll dock a few points in execution here because this seems solely designed for the drama behind it rather than an honest-to-goodness reason.) She is full of an unquenchable rage, and when she turns to the one person she thought could understand and provide the help she needs, Oliver turns her away in his patented short-sighted manner, believing he’s protecting her.
So, Laurel Lance becomes the Black Canary.
The network and production released images a couple weeks ago of Katie Cassidy in the new costume and have stressed that she will, indeed, take on the colorful moniker, a way to both honor her sister and distinguish herself. To say a majority of fans and the viewing audience were livid is an understatement. The point was clarified in the past week that a development coming out of episode 9, “The Climb,” this year’s midseason finale, will spark a three-episode arc of Laurel’s BC journey to kick off the second part of the season following the winter hiatus. Fans lost their ever-loving minds. And not in that good Comic-Con kind of way.
It’s too soon, they cried out. Laurel takes Sara’s jacket and an all-too-brief training regimen with a world-class boxer (and former vigilante), and suddenly she’s capable and fit to be a masked avenger? Total BS, they exclaimed.
And you know, they’re right.
It is absolutely too soon for Laurel to be assuming a heroic alter ego. She’s not ready. She’s not trained. She’s not of the right mindframe. And she certainly hasn’t done anything worthy enough out in the field to dare to carry on her sister’s legacy. It’s all true.
And that’s just the story that they plan to tell with her, the next step in the evolution toward becoming the Black Canary we all know and love.
I was legitimately surprised to see the pictures of Laurel in a Canary costume surface. While I liked the look, I had all the same reactions at first glance. My initial thought was that this was, perhaps, preparation for later in the season, only to be somewhat dismayed to find out that she’d be appearing in costume in episode 10, “Left Behind.” Sitting with it for a time, though, it dawned on me precisely what they were doing and just how much this fits the character of Laurel and her journey.
Though it might be hard to look back objectively, bullheadedness is very much a character trait of Laurel Lance that has existed since the start of the series. Much like Oliver, when she gets stuck on a particular thought, she will doggedly run it down, sometimes disregarding sense and alternatives. She’d already attempted the masked route earlier this season, and it painfully made her aware of the reality that she’s not ready for this lifestyle. So, she sought out training, but she’s the kind of person to get what she needs to get over the hump and rush right back out there. She might have found good coaching in Ted Grant to help channel her anger and focus into measured and demonstrable training, but it would appear she’s going to have to take lumps to learn lessons.
To some, this might seem like a retread of Oliver’s story. To a degree, that’s purposeful, as the show often uses parallels in its storytelling. Oliver’s initial path was about survival, though, which differentiates Laurel’s path immediately. Also, it remains to be seen how the revelations behind Sara’s death will impact and color her transition. Both Oliver’s and Laurel’s vigilantism are rooted in revenge, particularly around the death of a relative. In Oliver’s case, though, there was a degree of self-induced atonement, righting the wrongs he felt like his father held a part in, as well as his own hedonistic, do-nothing lifestyle. With Laurel, it’s sheer rage and a sense that her sister’s life has to mean more.
That made the prospect of a Laurel who prematurely suits up and then struggles through learning abilities needed in this endeavor, let alone the adversities inherent in it, instantly and electrically exciting to me. Even Roy, whose path offered some similarities to what Laurel could face, eventually became a far different story through the Mirakuru. Laurel offers us the true street level origin of a hero, a promise built into the inclusion of the character in the series that is now, finally being fulfilled.
My excitement is further intensified by the confirmation of just such a storyline by Guggenheim. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, the exec producer states, “Just because you put on a mask and a costume doesn’t mean you’re a superhero. A mask does not a hero make. We’re really at the beginning of Laurel’s journey to becoming the Black Canary, not the end by virtue of the fact that she’s put on a costume.”
Just because she takes on the name doesn’t mean she’s done. Far from, and that’s something I’ve come to enjoy about Laurel in the past year. Of all the characters, each with their own ordeals to work through, Laurel seems the most fallibly human. She makes the wrong choices, has been extraordinarily selfish at times, and perhaps has gotten more free passes than she should. She started the series as seemingly the most put-together of all the characters, and yet could be the most messed up of them all. Everyone roots for the underdog, right?
The best improvement out of all of this is that it’s given Katie Cassidy something strong to play, and the level of her performance this season has benefited from that. Some will complain that it sucks that it’s at the expense of Caity Lotz’s Sara. Yet, with each of these pairs of nascent and stalwart characters — Yao Fei and Oliver as Arrow; Billy Wintergreen and Slade Wilson as Deathstroke; Sara as Canary and Laurel as Black Canary — death gives way to life in the new. This is a recurring theme, and that Sara’s death has such a wide impact on all of our main characters, precisely at the crux of them choosing this way of life or not, adds a necessary weight.
It’s easy to understand the trepidation regarding Laurel and this progression. Many have been burned by the character, and would likely rather have her off the series rather than devote any more time to her development and evolution. That’s only intensified by the revelation that she deigns to cobble together a costume and don a mask. This is, in no way, written to convince anyone otherwise. Such can only be accomplished by actions of the show, of which I have absolutely zero control.
If the issue is with Cassidy as an actress, frankly, there’s not much that can be done other than moving on from the show. The producers and creatives are fond of her and committed to her. Three years in as the second credited lead on the series likely means she’s not going anywhere any time soon.
This is a simple offer of my voice amongst the din in support of where Laurel is going, something I’m not sure I could’ve done in Season 1 or even the bulk of Season 2. As is frequently the case with the series, I feel my investment is now showing dividends. Laurel is hardly my favorite character, and there’s no expectation that will change, but any time a character feels relevant and is imbued with anima all their own, especially after such an extended period of floundering, that’s a win.
“It’s not like Arrow [Stephen Amell], Arsenal [Colton Haynes] or Diggle [David Ramsey] going out into the field,” he says. “She gets punched, she gets hit, she gets injured. When she throws a punch, she doesn’t always connect. When she jumps off of something, she doesn’t always land on two feet. She’s a much more rougher and realistic kind of crime fighter.”
– Marc Guggenheim, to EW
Looking forward to it.
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