Because this recap is a week late (sorry, got distracted writing on twitter about a different rich, blonde, white guy who learns the ways of the Orient and returns a superhero) and because I’m just filling in, my recap of the Arrow winter finale, titled “Dark Waters,” will follow a different format. Rather than just giving a play-by-play of what happened in the ep, I wanna spend extra time on two aspects of the show and its fandom that needs to be discussed. And of course we will talk about that ending.
For a quick synopsis of the episode, Ollie is holding a campaign event at Star City Bay when a drone starts opening fire on the crowd. Team Arrow saves the day (in their civvies) and Ollie suspects Damien Darhk is behind the attack. The team decides the best way to retaliate is to put Darhk’s business out in the open so they hold a press conference naming Darhk as the supervillain that he is. And in true supervillain fashion, Darhk and his H.I.V.E. minions crash the Queen campaign’s holiday party like a scene out of The Dark Knight.
Oliver gets knocked out and when he comes to, he learns H.I.V.E. has kidnapped Diggle, Thea, and Felicity (fortunately, Laurel was on other business during the party so she can save the day later). Ollie agrees to Dahrk’s demands and is taken to H.I.V.E.’s secret lair. There he finds his three friends placed in a fucking gas chamber. Before they suffocate to death, Black Canary and Merlyn (dressed as the Arrow) arrive in the nick of time. Merlyn shoots Darhk with an explosive arrow and it explodes! So Damien’s dead, right? Later, Team Arrow is prepped to celebrate the holidays in peace now that Damien Dahrk is smithereens. Ollie even proposes to Felicity.
But Darhk is actually alive and has put a hit out on Ollie. In an ending reminiscent of the season three finale of Smallville, the scene cuts back and forth between Dahrk’s celebratory Christmas and his goons gunning down Olicity. The episode ends with Oliver holding Felicity’s bullet-riddled and dying body.
Okay, so I lied about not giving a play-by-play. But I wanted to give proper context before drilling down to two specific aspects of the show (and its fandom) that was exposed as a result of the events of this episode.
Firstly, this show has an annoying habit of fridging many of its female characters, which is ironic and disappointing because there are so many really great women on the show. But since season one, the Arrow writers have used the women in Ollie’s life as mere plot devices to motivate the main male hero (or villain) and move the story forward. Think Sara or Shado or Helena or Sara again or Thea or Moira… the list goes on.
This episode was most egregious because of the scene in Damien Dahrk’s gas chamber. Nevermind the fact that the episode went out of its way to remind us of Felicity’s Jewish heritage, but to have her literally placed in a gas chamber? Seriously? Plus, if the anvil wasn’t clear enough, they had Damien do a Nazi joke.
But the thing that irks me the most about how Arrow treats most of the women on the show is that it’s completely unnecessary! Time and again, the women have proven to be more than capable of holding their own. Take Sara, for example. In the pilot, she was just a plot device. The “other woman” to show the audience how callow pre-island Ollie was with his relationship with Laurel. Then they “killed” her so to give Ollie pathos. Fortunately, they brought Sara back (as Caity Lotz) and gave the character her own motivation and agency and it was awesome! Then they “killed” her again.
I suspect the shooting of Felicity is being positioned in much the same way. Ollie is going to rededicate himself to the cause of being Arrow because of her death, which I also suspect will be temporary. After spending so many seasons pandering to them, I highly doubt Arrow is going to piss off that part of its fandom.
Even Thea, who has evolved a lot as a character since season one, is constantly being “protected” by her father and her brother. Nevermind the fact that, as Speedy, she’s proven to be their equal in battle, and then some. To continually use Thea as a damsel in distress is not only insulting, it’s nonsenscial given her superheroing experience.
Still, despite all of these missteps, I was grateful to see that the writers remembered that they had another female character who could help offset some of these tired tropes.
I’ve gone on record as being a big fan of the Laurel Lance character on the show. I usually feel like I’m in the minority since she has her share of detractors on twitter, and the internet in general. But I’ve always felt that the show has been about Black Canary’s hero journey as much as it has been about Green Arrow’s. And that has never been clearer than in this episode.
For one, throughout “Dark Waters,” Laurel is the lone voice of reason. She’s the one that reminds Ollie to be rational after the Ghosts attack the party. She’s the one of the only ones to remain unconvinced of Darhk’s demise. When she learns about her father’s dealings with Dahrk, she doesn’t berate him or drag it out into another source of drama. In fact, the best scene of the whole episode (season?) is when Lance sees his daughter save the day and says, “I guess you don’t need anyone’s protection.”
What is unfortunate, though, is that the episode that really lets Black Canary shine is the same one that will only be remembered for “killing” Felicity. And that’s kind of Arrow fandom in a nutshell. It’s like you can’t build one of them up without tearing the other one down.
And look, I get it. That’s what fandom is. You pick your team and cheer for them while you boo the other one. It’s what makes sports fun. If you’re a Red Sox fan, your job is to hate the Yankees. I get it. But even then, there’s a level of toxicity that can be damaging and unpleasant.
Fans who stan for Laurel get ridiculed for it. Olicity shippers get badmouthed and accused of not being “real fans” because they’re “ignorant of the comics,” which has been a bludgeon against “fake geek girls” for decades. What’s even worse is that some of this fan hate extends beyond the characters and to the actresses themselves. It’s all crazy!
Why can’t we be fans of both characters? Sure, Laurel makes boneheaded decisions sometimes, but so does Oliver. Remember, this show is about their evolution into the JLA stalwarts that we all know and love. Their flaws are what make these characters interesting. As for Felicity, who cares if she isn’t Oliver’s love interest in the comics? I haven’t always been the biggest fan of their romantic pairing, but that has more to do with how it has affected the character and less about rooting for any particular ‘ship.
Point is, Arrow has the potential to be an even greater showcase for women superheroes, but it shouldn’t rest on its laurels (pun intended) and should strive to be better in how it handles these characters. Between both Canaries, Speedy, Nyssa, and Felicity, Arrow could be one of the most feminist superhero shows out there. It just needs to try harder.