Arrow: How Laurel’s Mistreatment Disrespected Her Black Canary Legacy

arrow, laurel lance, black canary

TV shows adapted from comic books are never exactly the same as their counterparts. Still, there are some things that never change because to do so would alter the fabric of which the characters of the TV series is based on. Black Canary has always been an important character in the comic books and to the Green Arrow mythos. From the beginning, Arrow has sabotaged Laurel Lance’s (Katie Cassidy) romance with Oliver Queen (Stephen Amell) and tossed the moniker of Black Canary around to several people without care, including sister Sara Lance (Caity Lotz). Now in its fifth season, this complete disregard and mistreatment of Black Canary has only increased and doesn’t look to be stopping anytime soon. Through these actions, Arrow, a superhero series that has played too fast and loose with its comic canon, has tarnished and disrespected Black Canary’s character and legacy.

As the primary love interest of Green Arrow in the comics, Dinah Laurel Lance seemed to start off that way on the show as well. But any kind of rekindled romance quickly came to a halt after Oliver’s return to Starling City five years after being stuck on an island. Laurel is furious with him, first for letting her sister, Sara, go with him on the boat trip that resulted in her supposed death and second, for Oliver being alive instead of her sister. Oliver had also cheated on her with Sara prior to taking the boat trip (and in the second season it was revealed that he had also cheated on, and had a baby with another woman), so their relationship history sabotaged any romantic notions and extinguished any future romance between them as well. This relationship alteration hurt Laurel as a character and also removed her from being the show’s leading lady. It later allowed Felicity Smoak (Emily Bett Rickards) to take on that role as the central female character in both Oliver’s life and on the show.

Laurel’s role as Black Canary didn’t come to fruition until midway through Arrow’s third season. To fans of the comic books, or those who have seen the character in animated shows such as Young Justice, it was always quite obvious that Black Canary is who Laurel would eventually become. In the comics, she very often works with and fights alongside Green Arrow. For the casual viewer, however, her transition was not as obvious and her superhero storyline was greatly neglected in favor of others taking on what was rightfully hers. Laurel, as a lawyer, and later assistant to the district attorney, always sought to help her city. In the first season, she collaborated with the Arrow in order to take down the city’s corrupt. In season two, she spent the majority of the season struggling with alcoholism after the death of her boyfriend, Tommy Merlyn (Colin Donnell). She also attempted to capture Oliver’s alter-ego for his crimes against the city.  

By the show’s third season, it didn’t look as though Arrow was interested in giving Laurel the title they had so easily bestowed upon someone else. Within the show’s narrative, it was Sara Lance who originated the role of Black Canary and worked with the title hero without Laurel’s knowledge at first. It wasn’t until after the death of her sister that Arrow allowed Laurel to make the decision to take up the mantle of Black Canary. They were giving her what had always been hers to take, but it was without a proper origin story attached and felt more like a call to action in order to deal with grief and loss. Taking on Black Canary at that point, after the costume and persona had already been worn by someone else, felt unoriginal and disrespectful to Laurel. It was as if the show was giving her scraps left over from someone else’s meal. It didn’t feel wholeheartedly hers when it absolutely should have been.

arrow, black canary

Still, Laurel persisted and, without Oliver’s support (which was frustrating), she called upon the help of a trainer named Ted Grant (J.R. Ramirez) and eventually Nyssa Al Ghul (Katrina Law), Sara’s former lover, to help her. Even here, Arrow short-changed Laurel by not taking the time to show her training and cutting corners to allow her to hit the streets as Black Canary faster. Triggered by another supposed death, Laurel finally stepped into her long-awaited role as Black Canary… only to be killed off a little over a year later in the season four episode, “Eleven Fifty-Nine.” Even her death was made to be about how Oliver was the love of Laurel’s life (which made absolutely no sense based on their history) and then about Oliver and Felicity’s relationship. Melodramatic, terrible writing made for a death that was simply staged for shock value and ended Laurel’s life while making it about someone besides her. It proved that Arrow’s writers, along with executive producers Marc Guggenheim and Wendy Mericle, could not have cared less about Laurel, her story, or her as a person of value.

To make matters even worse, the very next episode had a copycat Black Canary by the name of Evelyn Sharp (Madison McLaughlin), who had stolen Laurel’s costume and Canary Cry device from the hospital. To add insult to injury, Oliver later asks Evelyn to join the team, but under another name. In the show’s one hundredth episode, “Invasion!” Oliver was captured by aliens and forced to take part in a dream world where he and Laurel are engaged. Although meant to provide some closure (and it did to some extent), the episode used Laurel so that Oliver could realize the life he was living was all a dream and that he was no longer the man that Laurel had fallen in love with. It was almost like the show was giving us everything their relationship could have been had it not been ruined early on.

When Laurel’s Earth-2 doppelganger, Black Siren, appeared in the episode, “Who Are You?” masquerading as Earth-1’s Laurel Lance, it once again became about Oliver and his need for redemption rather than being happy to have her back alive. In the episode immediately following, “Second Chances,” the team was on the search for yet another Black Canary. And they found her in former cop, Dinah Drake (Juliana Harkavy), who shares a first name with Laurel and is a metahuman with the ability to make the Canary Cry without the need for a device. It also happens that Dinah Drake is another alter-ego of Black Canary in the comics and so they’re erasing Laurel and trying to correct their Black Canary mistakes all in one go. Really though, it’s just another example of how Arrow has managed to completely derail this character. Oliver is trying to “honor” Laurel’s legacy, but by going about it the way they have, the writers are eradicating it instead. 

With four Black Canaries having been on the show in some form or another over the course of five seasons, Arrow, in their mistreatment of Laurel and her role as Black Canary, managed to dishonor and completely undermine her character. By so haphazardly passing along her moniker, the show has made it feel worthless and it’s tarnished her overall importance to the Green Arrow mythos. By replacing Laurel with so many others, the show isn’t looking to honor her legacy so much as they are disrespecting it and pushing it away, rendering it meaningless. Laurel has been mistreated in several ways and it’s been made clear that the show never really cared about or knew what to do with her character. Arrow threw away her chance at a romance with Oliver by derailing it from the start, gave Black Canary to her sister before her, and didn’t wait long enough after her death before they went looking for another as a replacement. Female characters are rarely treated equally in the superhero genre, but with Laurel Lance, Arrow has continually written her as an afterthought that doesn’t bear much regard and in doing so, has ruined her legacy. 

Mae is a Washington, DC-based film critic and entertainment journalist. A member of the Washington, DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA), she's a geek who loves talking about all things entertainment . She is also a voting member of the Black Reel Awards. If she's not at the movies, she's catching up on TV watching with a glass of wine in hand.
  • Brad VanLerberg

    THANK YOU!