Saturday, August 29, 2015

Fixer-Upper: How to Remedy the Problem of Laurel Lance on "Arrow" [Contributor: Lynnie Purcell]

“You take people, you put them on a journey, you give them peril, you find out who they really are.” - Joss Whedon

Let me first start out with a little bit of a disclaimer here: I am approaching the problems with Laurel Lance on Arrow as a writer,  first and foremost. I am not delving into the rabbit hole of production, and/or acting problems that I have. My full disclaimer, of course, is that I am not a fan of Laurel Lance in this show. Her problems are numerous, and I’m not particularly fond of the actress’s choices, either. But instead of whining about what I don’t like about Laurel, I decided to write down the version of Laurel Lance that I would like to see on this show -- the version that would make her a character worth watching, worth rooting for, and worth appreciating. So, with that in mind, let’s dive in.

The CW is known for its angst. This is a network that loves to torture its characters, and I -- frankly -- love to let them. But Laurel’s angst has been problematic from day one. The writers gave her a love story instead of an origin story, and then tried to squish her into a mold that no woman would be particularly eager to fill. I mean, this is just me, but I don’t know too many people who would be excited about getting back together with someone who cheated on them with their sister – no matter how much the person has changed or claimed to change. A giant, flashing neon sign and lots of flags would flash in the air in front of them every single time that thought would even enter a woman's head. The Arrow writers, however, led her down that path. And then, they let her lose yet another man in her life when it was clear the Oliver storyline wasn’t working for her character. And as a result of the aforementioned stories, the show took her down the thorny road of alcohol addiction and built her back up from there.

Now, I didn’t mind the alcohol addiction storyline, as addiction is truly a crucible many people do not conquer. It’s a rough road, and it is one I hope the show continues to explore with Laurel instead of forgoing it in favor of making her magically better. On the flip side, I also think that this story is one they didn’t spend enough time letting her truly live in. Honestly, the writers didn’t really give her too much to do in season two other than cry, sink into self-flagellation and misery, and blame everyone else for her problems. Season three saw Laurel trying to crawl her way out of the pit of addiction and pain, but they had to kill off another woman to accomplish this. Arrow has few enough strong women, writers. Please stop killing them. (Although I am so, so glad that Caity Lotz is coming back to life for Legends of Tomorrow. She deserves all the awards and really makes me want to try out Parkour. Bad Ass Level = 1 billion for that chick.)

Laurel trained and she failed in season three, and it was nice to see that she didn’t immediately jump into being a superhero. Stumbles, falls, and failures should be part of every hero’s journey, and -- because we are seeing a pre-comic Black Canary -- we got all of those in vivid technicolor. The issue though remained with her interactions with Oliver, which were barbed at best (downright cruel at worst) and did not add to the story at all.

So the problem, ultimately, with Laurel Lance is that her story is being told through the lens of Oliver Queen, a man who cheated on her, disrespected her, and still sees her as the girl he left behind so many years ago. These two people have little in common now, but her growth is still tied to his story, and is never going to look healthy if continually looked at through that lens.

This is where I come in. Let’s delve a bit into how I think Laurel's problematic storyline could potentially be rectified.

First and foremost, Laurel needs a plot to follow that has very little to do with Oliver Queen . She needs her own villain. I understand that the show is called Arrow, not Laurel Lance Spends Twenty Hours Figuring Out the Buckles on Her Costume, so they have to limit her storyline in favor of Oliver’s and the team’s, as it should be. But if the writers managed to devote even six episodes out of the year toward giving her an arc that is centered solely to a problem that only she can face, unravel, and ultimately fix without having to call in Oliver to help it would be a good start in creating the legend that is the Black Canary.

I would like to see a version of Laurel Lance who doesn’t lie to her father about her sister being dead, and I would like to see a version of Laurel Lance who is smart enough to follow point A to B to C in order to figure out the given mystery of the season. (I mean, she IS a lawyer after all. Let her be smart.) The writers, additionally, need to let her develop platonic relationships outside of Team Arrow – see the point about strong women on the show, writers – and allow her to grow via a separate storyline so that when she comes together with the team, she is a stronger ally for them. I don’t intend this to mean that she should immediately be on Nyssa’s level of fighting skill by the end of season four. Laurel still needs to fail, and stumble, and create problems for herself and the team, but her actions and consequences to them need to feel as if all of it is in the name of stopping the bad guy instead of being on a spiral of grief and pain. Speaking of pain, Laurel’s lost a lot of people. Could she just... I don't know, make a friend who doesn’t get maimed, damaged, or thrown off a roof? Could that friend potentially be, like, linked to the villain that she may face in season four? Could said friend not end up married to Oliver Queen? Food for thought.

Here’s a breakdown of how a potential arc for her could go if I was in charge of writing it:

Season four, episode one: Laurel encounters a weird situation at the dock. In keeping with the theme of Damian Dhark, perhaps it has something to do with one of his shipments or maybe even a bit of magic. She informs the others, but they’re dealing with a larger and more complex problem and don’t have the time. Felicity and/or Diggle tell Laurel to follow her instincts and pursue this problem. She does, looking all determined and fierce. Pat Benatar’s "We Belong to the Night" plays in the background. (Potential screentime is five to seven minutes)

Season four, episode two: Tension arises with Captain Lance when, following a lead, father and daughter intersect on a case and he doesn’t approve of Laurel's interference. She tries to explain that he needs to let her handle it and notes that Damian Dhark is extremely dangerous. The Captain ignores her (of course), and she has to save him from himself. A clue is unraveled in the process, one that appears to be oddly magical. Dramatic cliffhanger at the end of the episode. Organs play the standard, “duh-duh-duh.” We wait breathlessly for the next episode. (Potential screentime is seven to ten minutes)

Season four, episode three: Magical object is being secretly magical, and Laurel is running into dead ends. After Laurel beats up a bunch of bro-dude criminals, a woman comes into her life saying she knows what’s up with the magical object. But the woman’s spooked, frightened, and definitely on the run. Laurel, the hero that she is, doesn’t like the idea of the woman being in terror and decides to follow. She sees the girl gets attacked, saves her, and takes her back to her house. They have a heart-to-heart and the girl explains that the thing is potentially a weapon. More ominous organ music plays. (Potential screentime is five to seven minutes)

Season four, episode four: Laurel takes what she learned about the object to her father and, because he trusts her to be a freaking intelligent human being who managed to get through law school, he believes her. They have a back and forth about telling Oliver. But as it turns out, Oliver is off dealing with Felicity’s father, who is being coerced by Damian Dhark to be all evil and stuff, so Laurel rationally decides to wait until she has a solution for him before adding another problem into Team Arrow's life. Captain Lance meets the woman Laurel rescued and he tells Laurel that the girl has a record. Laurel doesn’t care. She respects her friend. The two decide to dig deeper, uncovering a name that sounds remarkably like one associated to someone Laurel knows. Captain Lance begrudgingly agrees to help his daughter and the girl. The dynamic trio is off to be awesome. Slightly less dramatic music plays. (Potential screentime is near five minutes)

Season four, episode five: Secrets are revealed, names are divulged and the magical object is revealed to be a piece to greater uh-oh that leaves Laurel speechless for the first time in the history of this show's run. She’s then trapped with Captain Lance and her new friend in a building with the baddies and the weapon after they follow the mystery to its origin. Seriously ominous music reaches the mother of all crescendos. (Potential screentime five to seven minutes)

Season four, episode six: We pick up where we last left off: with Laurel, her father, and the girl that is near best friend territory for our angst-y baby Canary. Together, they logic and science the heck out of a solution, fight the bad guys, get beaten up a little, almost die, like, a billion times, and end up winning. They bond because of the experience, and know that they are gonna BFFs for life. Laurel struggles with the fact that she had to kill several people in order to survive and save the world. The show explores Laurel's darker side, what she's willing to do to win. (Potential screentime ten to twelve minutes)

And that’s just me spitballing, seriously. In my world, Laurel gets to be awesome. She gets to bond with someone who might be looking for a family in the same way that she is, and she gets to reconcile somewhat with her daddy Lance.

In order to fix Laurel as a character, the bottom line is to separate her from Oliver, give her back the kind of agency that is not dependent on a man or romance, and allow her to be a freaking hero.


  1. I need one of those: ACCURATE! gifs. Yes. That's what I need. Because I agree with you 100%. I wouldn't change a thing about this article. YES. Can we mail this to the Arrow writers? Because I've been wanting to like Laurel for three seasons, and if they go down this road, I actually might.

    1. To me, it's not all that complicated. Just write her like you would a hero and wait for love interests, if they have to happen, for once she's more firmly entrenched on her superhero arc. I'm right there with you. I want to like her but I just...can't.

  2. This is perfect. Because nobody needs to watch Laurel Lance Spends Twenty Hours Figuring Out the Buckles on Her Costume, but the writing (and production, and acting, but hey we'll leave it alone) could be so much better for this character! As it stands now, I simply ignore her presence on my screen. Taking your advice would encourage me, as a viewer, to pay more attention. Or not go pour more wine during her scenes.

    1. I don't know whether to be happy or sad about my potential keeping you from more wine idea. I'll settle for saying that I am the same way about Laurel. And it's not even tricky correcting it. I honestly think the writers struggle to find her voice and so write a caricature of a hero.

  3. This is spot-on. I'd be really, really interested in seeing this arc play out. They keep trying to fit her into the storyline/Team Arrow when they just need to give her time to grow. That's the thing about writing: you would think you have complete control of the story, but you don't. You just have to "listen" to the characters and not force them into your storylines. At least that's what I've been taught.

    Also, "the show is called Arrow, not Laurel Lance Spends Twenty Hours Figuring Out the Buckles on Her Costume" = golden. I don't understand this costume. It seems like more trouble than it's worth.

    1. Thank you! You are definitely right - gotta go where the characters tell you to go. Can't you just see Laurel trying to put that on while all the others are pacing around wondering what's taking her so long?

    2. ...or getting caught on something. "I'm right behind you, guys. Buckle number fourteen just snagged again!" *Oliver Queen eye roll*

  4. I want to ask this one question about BC's costume, since you wrote about LL I think this is a great place to ask. What's with the fishnet costume.I really, really want to know what the creator of BC in the comics thought when he was designing her costume. What is the advantage of wearing a fishnet to a fight, even though everyone says her costume has so many buckles it could at least hold her billy club at some point and be of some use, but why fishnets. When EBR's short film came and she was dressed in fishnet she says it was an S&M costume, so this begs the question why does a superhero has to wear that kind of a costume. I really like LL's costume compared to Sara's because Sara's costume was too revealing. Why does costumes of women in comic and cartoons be too revealing. I really, really hate that. If you could give some insight in this I would really appreciate it.

  5. I'm not an expert on costume design, nor comics (though I would love to write one in the future.) The truest answer, the realest answer, in my mind, is that men have predominantly drawn women's costumes and written their voices in the medium of comic books. Women are drawn with the backwards idea of only being strong if they still appeal to men's sexual fantasies about them. There's nothing practical or sincerely heroic about these costumes. It's male gaze at its worst. "You can be a hero so long as you don't threaten my masculinity!"

    I don't have a problem with Laurel's costume covering the entirety of her body. I have a problem with logic gaps. It would take her far too long to suit up with all those buckles in an emergency. They would snag on things, and most do not hold weapons. If she had straight-up total body armor that was light enough to where she could sprint and fight in but thick enough to offer protection, great! Go for it! On the reverse, I also have no problem with women's attributes being shown or the suit being revealing if it truly fits the character - a sign of taking her agency back from a man rather than being dolled up for a man to turn her into a caricature of a woman. There is nothing wrong with a woman's body being seen and celebrated; there is something wrong in it being exploited.

    I could go on. But I won't. I hope this helped. As I said, I am not an expert, and my views do not reflect Just About Write's. Just my own.

    1. So even when they try to show women being strong it's just male dominance. And men describing how a strong women should be is the worse. And you are right when women choose what is right from them it is good.