Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Arrow 3x02 "Sara" (Grief Does Not Change You)

Original Airdate: October 15, 2014
"Grief does not change you, Hazel. It reveals you." - John Green, The Fault in Our Stars
I've always heard the phrase "grief changes you." But upon reading The Fault in Our Stars (an excellent novel which everyone should read immediately), I realized how wrong I had been and how wrong everyone has been about grief. I've experienced a few grieving periods in my life. I've mourned literal people like my grandfather and grandmother, and I've mourned the loss of relationships. And I've come to find, through those experiences, that John Green is correct: grief doesn't change who you are, fundamentally, as a person. It doesn't have that kind of power, really. Grief is like... grief is like a flashlight. Its presence illuminates parts of you that you've kept hidden, either consciously or subconsciously, from other people. Grief doesn't make you an angry person, it just uproots the anger that's already inside of you -- the kind that you've buried deep within. Grief doesn't make you a bitter person. Those seeds were planted slowly and grief waters them, allowing them to take root in your heart.

You see, grief cannot change you. But it can reveal you. And that's terrifying, especially for someone like Oliver Queen who doesn't know who he really is anymore. Arrow's second episode this season titled "Sara" finds our characters experiencing some intense grief over the loss of Sara Lance and it finds them questioning who they are in the wake of her passing. The results aren't pretty, necessarily, but then again, when has grief ever been pretty?

Sara (+ Oliver/Sara)

Before we dive into a discussion about the episode, let me address some criticisms that I've seen floating around Tumblr recently in regards to Sara's death. When "The Calm" ended, I was distraught and in shock and -- more so than that -- in complete denial. Sara Lance is nearly on par with Felicity as my favorite character, not just favorite female character, in Arrow. So watching her get shot and fall off the building into the horrified arms of Laurel was devastating because I watched my baby girl, my dark hero, die. I loved Sara. Immensely.

But I wasn't mad at the writers, as I know a lot of people are, calling Sara's death a cheap way to either a) further Laurel as the Black Canary or b) further Oliver's story. And maybe this is just me talking from a writer's perspective, but to those complaining about the death only used to serve Oliver's story or journey, I say: "... well, yes." Oliver Queen/The Arrow is the main character of this series. He's the main focus.  He will always BE the main focus. As much as I love Dig, Felicity, Roy, Thea, Malcolm, Quentin, and Laurel... this isn't their story to tell. It's his story. They are a part of it, certainly, but Arrow is -- at its core -- about one man's journey and the people who are there every step of it, for better or for worse.

Now, if the writers wanted to simply prop up Oliver's character, they would provide us with one-dimensional interchangeable or disposable stock characters. There have been a few of those on Arrow, but only a few (think Isabel Rochev who was pretty much just a villain with nothing much else holding her up or The Huntress whose crusade against her father was the really only element that made her character dynamic, and they kept mining from that well and only that well repeatedly).

Sara was not a prop for Oliver and her death wasn't either. Sara was a fully-fleshed out, dynamic, complex, and layered character and her death was, too. You can believe it to be a cheap ploy if you would like. I will not stop you from doing so. But this is how I see it: Sara's death makes the theme of identity in this season even more important. Think about the final piece of advice that Sara gave to Oliver: he needs people in his life who don't wear masks. Now think about Sara Lance not just as the Black Canary but as Sara. Do you have that picture? Can you see the girl with the blunt bangs smiling? Good. Now, indulge me for a moment and picture Moira Queen, but not the Moira we saw in present day Starling City. Think about Moira pre-island in Oliver's flashbacks. Can you picture her? Good. Now let's talk about why I'm making you do that.

Sara and Moira's deaths aren't happy accidents and they're not ploys, from a writing perspective. They're ways of chipping away everything Oliver Queen once was and are going to be used to shape who he is in the future. Oliver is surrounded by Team Arrow these days, but when you think about it, he's truly all alone now that Sara is gone. Sara was the one and only bridge that connected him from pre-island to island to present-day Starling City. She was the ONLY one who could bridge that gap because she's the only person on the island who knew him before, the only one who knew him THEN, and the only one who knew what that experience did to them. When you take Sara out of Oliver's life, you take away this anchor because you take away someone who knew him as a playboy billionaire, knew him as a survivor, knew him as a killer, knew him as a hero. She was the last bridge, y'all that connected Oliver from who he was to who he became, and -- most importantly of all -- she was the only person who knew how he got there. And I think it's just so significant that her death occurs in the season where Oliver Queen is trying to label himself, trying to figure out who he is as a person... or if he really is one anymore. Isn't that one of the biggest questions of Arrow? Is Oliver a person anymore or does he just exist as The Arrow now? Is he a vigilante or a killer?

If we take it back, even, a bit further to last season, Moira's death was kind of the catalyst for this identity "crisis," as it were (it's more like a split-personality disorder at this point). Moira is another person who knew Oliver his entire life, obviously, and slowly but surely these people -- these foundations in his life -- are being ripped away from him. It's more than grief that he's feeling when they depart: it's an uncertainty of who he is without them.

So when I say that Sara isn't a prop for Oliver's growth, I mean that sincerely. She was never a pawn or a character created simply to fulfill another character's purpose. She impacted everyone on this show -- Laurel, Diggle, Felicity, Quentin, Oliver, Sin -- and she GREW. Prop characters don't grow. Prop characters enter and exit and that's about it. They serve their one purpose and then they depart. Sara Lance was a dynamic character: this is a woman who used to be girlish and naive, who became a killer and assassin, who was scared and vulnerable, who couldn't see herself as anything but a killer, who was afraid she was irredeemable, and who (on that rooftop with Laurel) began to embrace herself as a savior of people. Sara Lance was never a prop; she was complex and beautiful and lovely and like every well-written character, she was layered. She was flawed. She made mistakes and she loved deeply and she reminded Oliver of the person he's been and the person he could become if he cast aside his fears, his masks of doubt and self-loathing, and embraced himself as a person.

That's really what Sara's death is about: that moment on the roof with Laurel and her conversation with Oliver is Sara Lance, the Canary who always believed herself to be more like a vulture, embracing that light within her and embracing herself not as a vigilante or a hero or a killer... but as a person. As Sara.

(And I can talk a lot more about Sara Lance, but I'm going to do that in a special character appreciation post for her sometime soon, so be on the lookout for THAT.)

Oliver (+ Oliver/Felicity)

Coming off of last week's spectacularly emotional ending, "Sara" finds Oliver and Felicity at another crossroads in their relationship. Oliver is the self-sabotaging heroic type, so he refuses to mourn Sara's death in order to allow everyone else to. He just about states this, word-for-word in the episode, to Felicity. Oliver doesn't have the luxury of mourning while her killer is still out there (he believes it to be his sole job to track down whoever shot Sara), and that's really only partially true. He uses that excuse in order to bury his emotions in "Sara" so that they will not manifest themselves like they used to (remember season one Oliver who was dark and driven by hatred and anger) and so that he will not have to deal with the reality that someone else he loved and cared about -- another hero with a mask -- died. At the same time, though, the notion that Oliver cannot allow himself a moment's pause for tears over someone he once loved is rather... well, sad. Because Oliver is good at pushing people and emotions away, right? It's his default response to anything bad that happens in his life. He's very good at pushing emotions down and burying feelings behind masks, both literal and figurative. But he's not good at confronting things, at saying goodbye, or at being completely vulnerable with people.

And in "Sara," we understand WHY he is pushing those emotions away when Oliver and Felicity confront each other in the foundry. Oliver does what he does whenever he cannot solve a problem -- he snaps. And he apologizes almost immediately to Felicity for doing so. Felicity spends the majority of the episode mourning Sara's death overtly -- she weeps for their friend and she isn't at the top of her game because she has emotions and feelings and is not afraid to express those and it's hampering her work. She is understandably baffled and agitated when Oliver refuses to do the same, to express any sort of sadness or pain over the loss of his Sara. He tells Felicity that the reason why he does this is because he knows someday, it'll be him on the table in the foundry. Someday, they will find his body on a rooftop or on the street because this hero or vigilante business? He's only ever seen it end one way. Gone are the days where Oliver believed he could have a happy life, a normal life. He doesn't believe in happy endings, anymore. Just endings.

But Felicity... is not that way. At all. Felicity believes in good things. She believes in happy things. She will fight for them until every breath has been expelled for her body because that is what living really is. Living, as she tells Oliver, is not waiting around for the day that you will die. It's not hiding underground in the foundry or pushing people and emotions and love out of your life because you think it'll be extinguished just as fast. That is not living -- that is existing. And Felicity wants no part of that life. She tells Oliver this to his face through her angry tears and it's one of the most powerful, intense moments of their entire relationship. Felicity will not wait around just to watch Oliver die. She will not waste her life waiting for the day where Oliver Queen might change his mind and be with her. She is so strong that she would rather walk away from the man she loves than spend the rest of her life hoping he changes his ways.

Here is what's so beautiful and so tragic for Oliver, though: Felicity was the one person Oliver has really opened his heart to recently. With Laurel, there were still barricades. With Sara, there were walls (and they both put them up, they knew it). But with Felicity, there's no pretending anymore. There's no denial. There's no more burying feelings deep down. Last year, he did. Last year, he very well could have lost her to Slade because of the fact that he buried and pushed. So when Oliver kisses Felicity in "The Calm," that wasn't him acting in selfishness. Was he and is he still cowardly and timid in terms of pursuing any kind of relationship, especially with the woman he loves? Yes. But Oliver kissed Felicity after they both survived through the explosion at dinner because I think he finally realized that any time he sees her could very well be the last time he sees her. And he cannot allow himself to live without kissing her just once, and he cannot allow her to walk away without her knowing -- just once -- that he loves her.

(I'll hold while you locate your nearest tissue box.)

So "Sara," there's a different kind of Oliver/Felicity dynamic at play but one that as just as important, perhaps more so, than we saw in "The Calm." It's a heartbreaking one, but also an empowering because Felicity refuses to allow anyone else to dictate her fate apart from her. When Ray Palmer continues to pursue her in "Sara," she becomes irate with him, but her anger stems from grief over the loss of Sara, a friend and someone she loved and also envied because of her perceived strength and invincibility. At the episode's end, Felicity decides that she wants more from her life than sitting in a dark cave, watching Oliver stand at a painstakingly close but utterly far away distance from her. (That is what killed me during the confrontation, honestly: the painful reality that Oliver and Felicity were so close to each other, but he was so emotionally detached that it was like he was a hundred miles away.)

I love Oliver/Felicity, but I ultimately care about each character's happiness above the pairing. Felicity wants a life that is worth living and she wants it with Oliver, but if she cannot have it -- if he stays in the foundry, waiting for the day he will have to be buried because of his hood and lifestyle -- she will find it elsewhere. The most heartbreaking thing of all, though? Even though Oliver tells Felicity that he believes his life to be a series of moments before he ends up on the foundry's slab, he doesn't want that. With tears in his eyes at the end of the episode, he tells Diggle: "I don't want to die down here."

Diggle's advice to Oliver says all you ever need to know about his character, when he bluntly replies: "Then don't." Let's see if Oliver can get out of his own way and take that advice, or else he will be forced to sit among blinking computer screens, watching Felicity live as he simply exists.


I've always liked Laurel well enough, but her pill addiction story last season was handled... well, the same way that every show in recent memory (Community, Pretty Little Liars, The Blacklist) has handled pill addiction (badly). It's a tough subject to tackle and one that should be avoided if possible. However, I do not hate Laurel. I actually think she's a very interesting character. She's not warm and fuzzy, not like Felicity is. She's more stoic than most. She's more guarded, too. Ever since Tommy's death, she's been more tough, hardened, and driven than ever before. She's a lot like Moira Queen in that regard, really. Laurel's passion doesn't usually manifest itself in emotional vulnerability. Her passion manifests itself in anger. In seclusion. In complete and utter self-sabotage, even. That's why she's such a complex character -- on the exterior, she appears to be the most put-together on the show with her crisp suits and her posture. But Laurel is vulnerable in a way that she rarely lets anyone see. And "Sara" finds Laurel Lance in the most vulnerable, despondent, angry position we have ever seen her as a character.

Grief doesn't change you, remember? It reveals you. I know viewers have issues with Laurel becoming The Canary and, you know, to each his or her own (Sara Lance will always be the Black Canary to me but... again, that's just me) but Laurel has been angry and irrational long before "Sara." In this episode, we see her acting impulsively, chasing down bad guys at the hospital, literally twisting arms to get confessions, and nearly shooting someone. That last one is really important to meditate on for two reasons. 1) Oliver knows Laurel, better than anyone else on Team Arrow and understands her grief. Therefore, he knows what he will do in that grief and it's why he removes the bullets from a gun Laurel trains on who she presumes is her sister's killer. 2) The scene in which Laurel wields a gun demonstrates to her (and to Oliver) the kind of person that she is and could be, if she remains unchecked and unhinged. Oliver -- wrongfully, in my opinion -- tells Laurel that all that matters is that she didn't pull the trigger on an innocent man. Laurel knows better.

When Oliver spews cliches at Laurel -- telling her to think about Sara and what she would want -- the woman fires back at him, and through her anger and her tears, she refuses to back down because she KNOWS what Sara would have done and wanted. She hasn't stopped thinking about her sister since the moment she cradled the blonde in her arms. Laurel has been angry for a long time. She's been angry at herself, angry at her father, angry at her sister, angry at Tommy, angry at the world. This anger isn't new, really, but it's just now being unearthed. She's realized through Sara's death the lengths she really could go to in order to avenge her sister's memory and death and that, quite frankly, terrifies Laurel. But I think it also exhilarates her, weirdly, too. Because -- again -- unlike Oliver, those emotions are an indicator that she is ALIVE and that she is feeling things and feeling them deeply. Did Laurel mess up in this episode? Absolutely. She acted irrationally and put herself and others at risk. She moved the boundaries of her ethics and harnessed the anger and pain within her that she had kept buried for so long. I am so interested to see Laurel's story this season -- interested to see the hurt and the pain manifest itself in all the ways that will illuminate and evolve her character.

Grief can do a lot of things to us and for us. It can help connect us to others, drawing us together and bonding us like the new Team Arrow was at the graveside of Sara at the episode's end. It can cause us to throw up walls and defenses like it did with Oliver and Felicity. Grief can reveal the darkest parts of ourselves, like it did with Laurel -- the parts that are nearly unfathomable. Grief cannot change us, though. It can only show us who we truly are.

And, as seems to be the theme this season on Arrow, that leads us to a final and somewhat daunting question: who are we?

Observations & favorite moments:
  • TOMMMMMMMMYYYYYYY. (Can you tell I miss him? It was so great to see him, even for just a little bit.)
  • MVP for this episode is too close to call, as everyone was utterly stellar. If I had to choose, though, it would be awarded to Stephen Amell for the utterly gut-wrenching way he delivered "I don't want to die down here, John."
  • There is a new "I must be someone/something else" monologue this season!
  • I want all of the Roy/Felicity scenes, please.
  • I'm glad Roy told Oliver about Thea running away and I'm glad that Oliver is intent on finding her. His frantic checking of his cell phone throughout the episode was great, reminding us that he has not forgotten about her. After all, she is the only family he has left.
  • "... you  better not be using it to tweet."
  • "Where are you going?" "There's someone I need to kill."
  • Show of hands: how many of you love to hate Ray Palmer? How many of you just hate him?
  • "In case you haven't noticed, I am not most girls." All of the awards to Felicity Meghan Smoak, please.
  • "What if we go to the morgue and find a body that looks like Tommy?" "... In HONG KONG?"
  • "Where's Felicity?" "She... needed some air." "And what do you need?" Me, to my television: FELICITY.
  • I love when Oliver jumps out of windows, y'all.
  • "So you're The Arrow? I thought you'd be taller."
  • I really hope someone tells Quentin about Sara's death sooner than later.
  • The announcement that Dig and Lyla are naming the baby Sara was not surprising but it still made me cry. Actually, the entire graveside scene made me cry.
  • I am so ready for more Malcolm/Thea scenes,  guys. SO READY.
Thank you all for reading this week's review and be sure to come back next week for another! :)


  1. I think I understand both sides of the fridging of Sara debate. I knew it was going to happen, i really had little doubt that they'd keep Sara alive and still get Laurel to Canary status, but I think conversely, I wish she'd had a better death? I definitely understand why it was necessary from a writing stand point; Sara going out in a blaze of glory doesn't allow for the exploration of character her death propels, so of COURSE she goes out in silence on a rooftop, but I *wish* it could have been in a blaze of glory. I think that's where some of my... not upset...I'm not mad at the writers or anything, I just think I get where some of the fandom anger comes from and empathize more than I think I even want to. But yeah, her character was certainly not a prop and from what I know about the fridging trope, it usually is a prop character who had potential to be their own person, but soley existed and died to further the hero's story, which isn't the case here. her death does so much more, especially because it's not just about the hero, it's about everyone.

    RE: hating Ray: So here comes Brandon Routh again, to cockily come between the OTP. I think anytime I see him on a show, I am going to dislike him just because of his character on Chuck (though, thinking about it, I suppose his character arc will be reverse in terms of "he's ok but annoying to hate"). I hope they address in clearer, more explicit terms, how not okay his actions are. Obviously that's where character development comes in, but he really needs to lay off of the harassment and we already see that Felicity doesn't take kindly to that (and in two episodes we'll get to see whyyyy!!!! =D) but at some point I hope his actions chill before we see Felicity actually take to liking him rather than tolerating him for giving her expanded opportunities.

    Yeah, that line about Oliver needing to kiss her just once, tell her he loved her just once before the inevitable... OW </3. But yeah, certainly true. I wonder where their dynamic goes from here, given her appearance on Flash in their next episode and her working with Ray. Will she be in the foundry at all, I can only imagine she'd be with John on the "i'm back until we find Sara's" killer train (sort of like her season 1 "I'll stay til we find Walter" ultimatum--they should reference that again actually..) because she loved Sara and would want to find her killer too. But then would be down there less often. Also dealing with Oliver's about face in not wanting to die in the Arrow cave, he thought he could have it, realized he couldn't, and now wants to try again. But I suppose part of his commitment to *living* might also have to do with the outcome of Thea's story.

    Poor Lance. After his initial grief of course, he's gonna be so upset he missed being able to lay her to rest, because he was the only one who knew the truth about Sara to not get to be there at her burial (well, Sin too. Also, no one mentioned her mother at all? I suppose Alex Kingston is busy somewhere...).

    The bits about leadership being apart of Oliver's identity and his team being mentioned in the intro is so lovely, gonna be great to watch that aspect of his character grow and develop.

    /end essay long comment.

    1. CONNIE. You know I love you immensely and your comments are always welcome. I agree with you about Sara's death in some ways; I think I just always expected her to have a dramatic, big death because she was such a big character. But honestly, I think that the quietness of her death was so much more impactful (to me) than anything grand would have been. At the end of the day, Sara died quietly, slipping into the night like she had so many times before. And I agree with you in regards to "Sara" -- this episode wasn't just about how Sara impacted Oliver but how she impacted EVERYONE and made everyone feel something.

      You know, I didn't haaaaaate Ray Palmer in the premiere. He was like a smarmier, smugger version of Schmidt from "New Girl." But I loathed him in this episode because he was just being so aggressive toward Felicity who -- of course -- took none of his crap, even when he apologized. She wouldn't even look at him or smile. I think the fact that he mentioned her anger wasn't really with him irked me because, no, it WAS partially about him. Yes, a lot of it was Sara, but she found it creepy and insulting that he kept pestering her even when she told him to go away. I mean, stalker much? I don't hate him because he's coming between Oliver/Felicity -- I just HATE him, lol.

      I do wonder, given what we know about upcoming episodes, if Felicity will begin to back away again from Team Arrow. I don't blame her, really. And I don't blame her for going to Ray for the job at the end of the episode because grief makes people angry and upset and Felicity was both of those things. She's defiantly determined to make her life her own, whether Oliver chooses to be a part of it or not. And I applaud her sincerely for backing away and refusing to pine after him forever. That's a strong woman, right there. And I've seen people call it harsh, but I don't think it was. I think it was exactly what Oliver needed to hear because at the end of the episode, her words clearly impacted him as he says that "I don't want to die down here, John" line.

      Ugh, I feel so bad for Quentin. :( It's gonna be rough when he finds out, seriously. And I totally agree about the new intro! I love that it's about the team, not just Oliver.

      BASICALLY I LOVE YOU, CONNIE. But you probably already knew that.

    2. "At the end of the day, Sara died quietly, slipping into the night like she had so many times before." Hmm yeah, this. Especially when thinking about what they want to do with Lance in terms of him not knowing yet. A big battle would have also been harder to hide from him. ALSO an interesting thought I just had: what if they don't tell him for so long that Laurel becomes BC and he thinks it's Sara? That seems like a LONG time to tell him, but the idea just occurred to me that it's something I could see happening.

      Yeah, Ray was annoying in the premiere, but definitely amped up a notch (the extra power from getting QC made him more arrogant and jerky) in this one. It's interesting to me that he "owns" his obnoxiousness, but yeah I even tweeted that, no, Felicity's anger was still a little about you, Ray. Partially because of his ridiculous actions, but also because of Sara, but not her death; rather, the way she didn't let men own her or control her. Sara would never let Ray (or anyone) treat herself or Felicity that way. It's in these ways, more than just the hunt for her killer and Sara Diggle (OMG, right? I had a feeling they would, but awwww), that Sara will live on this season. Her example, especially to Felicity (and obviously Laurel as well) will affect all these characters. Oliver too, with the "we need people without masks," he was trying to take the advice and decided against it, but now that she's gone and it was the last thing she said to him, he's going to internalize that more. He's just more stubborn about it than Felicity, lol.

      Aww, you're so nice. I'm feeling the love! lol! And I love your posts because after Sara's death, I've been reluctant to go on tumblr or anything (besides being too busy to) because I didn't feel like reading angry, mindless fanrage. I feel like this is a safe space where we can look past the immediate anger we all felt and analyze it from a story and writing point of view rather than just be angry because people think the writers are trying to do us a disservice, when they're just trying to tell an interesting story. Here, I can read analysis that understands why certain decisions are made, even if we don't like them.


  2. I agree with everything except that Oliver knows Laurel. For me the show has showed that they don't know each other as they thought. See seasons 1 & 2.

    1. Thanks for your comment and for reading! Well, to me, it was telling that Oliver knew exactly how Laurel would handle her grief and that's why he took the bullets out of the gun that was on the table. He knew she would go after him because he knew that's what he would have done before (think season 1 anger/bitterness/rage). I think he knows her better than she thinks he does or -- at the very least -- knows what it's like to feel grief better than she does.

  3. Thank you Connie! I was starting to think that no one could see sense. You are a kindred spirit and I admire your intelligence and understanding. This was a breath of fresh air!

  4. Great review but I wonder how long they can have the "who killed Sara?" Arc. As I love a good mystery but the thing is who could it be and how long will it drag out? (The obvious answer could be Malcolm or Ra's but a lot of people told me Thea.) I think it's neither but I would like to see it be a surprise.

    I also hope to see a Roy/Malcolm confrontation in next week's episode since Colton and John get along so well in real life.

    1. In his NYCC panel, Stephen points out that it took them 9 episodes (til the midseason finale) to introduce the main villain of the season (s1 Dark Archer, s2 Deathstroke), so I'm inclined to think, based on the way he phrased things, that it might be the same here, but we all KNOW Ra's did it, so I hope they have a twist in there somewhere, but it makes the most sense for Ra's to have done it since it's the best way to introduce him as a villain and give Oliver the strongest reason to fight him. So hopefully they have something in there that lets this stretched out reveal not feel so stretched. (if they hadn't announced Ra's at SDCC, it'd feel much different.

  5. "Grief does not change reveals you." - Peter Van Houten TFinOS