[This is a review of Arrow season 4, episode 19. There will be SPOILERS.]
It has been a few weeks since Arrow revealed who was in the grave that had become a lingering mystery since the season premiere. It’s difficult to say, then, whether the mournful circumstances of ‘Canary Cry’ might have had more of an emotional impact on the series and the audience if the fallout of Laurel Lance’s death hadn’t been delayed for so long. The trickiness of network television schedules aside, there’s a sense throughout the episode that the writers and performers are unaware they are carrying the unenviable burden of drumming up emotions that may have passed their expiration date.
Though the hour is certainly dedicated in its pursuit of something substantial to say about Laurel and what she’s meant to everyone in Team Arrow, the character has been given short shrift for so long that Arrow is at a loss of what to say. It would be one thing if the goal were to appear choked up and incapable of expressing certain sentiments in the moment, but that’s simply not the case here. Added to the indignity of the fumbling uncertainty surrounding Laurel’s place in the series, ‘Canary Cry’ makes several odd decisions that move the emotion from mourning the death of an actual person who has been a part of the show from the beginning to protecting the legacy of a vigilante that started out with someone else behind the mask.
The odd choices are there right from the beginning, which sets the episode off on the wrong foot and it stays there, struggling to regain its balance, for the duration. The opening sequence feeds on the audience’s expectations by first focusing on a priest at a funeral, as he calls on Oliver to say a few words. Only Oliver isn’t there. Instead, Laurel stands to talk in his stead and it becomes clear this isn’t some surreal sequence where the dead speak at their own funeral, but that this is a flashback nestled between seasons 1 and 2, and the dearly departed in question is Tommy Merlyn. Laurel talks about how much she loved Tommy, and in doing so spots Oliver who actually has shown up to acknowledge his friend’s passing, but the nascent vigilante just can’t muster up what it takes to stay and quickly leaves.
While it’s clear the intent of the opening is to move counter to what the audience expects – which, in this case might not have been the best move – the sequence is really just a clumsy way of introducing the episode’s framing device: an exploration of Oliver and Laurel’s post-Undertaking relationship just before he exiles himself once more on Lian Yu. The emphasis on Oliver and Laurel helps to reposition their relationship in the wake of her death, but the transparency of the hour’s attempt at reinvigorating emotions that maybe weren’t even there in the first place (and were certainly irreparably damaged by Oliver’s relationships with Sara and now Felicity) reads more like a retroactive correction of a thread that had gone offline years ago.
In its disservice to Laurel, ‘Canary Cry’ makes an awkward attempt to course correct by having a young woman named Evelyn Sharp (Madison McLaughlin) swipe Black Canary’s sonic device and somehow work past the security Cisco put in place, preventing anyone but Laurel from using it. Evelyn targets Ruvé Adams and the Green Arrow as she blames both for her family being kidnapped by Darhk and then being abandoned after his “friends” were safe. It’s a wonky bit of reasoning for a thinly drawn character but the shift in focus helps the hour segue from an outright mourning of Laurel to what it means for her legacy as a “hero” to live on.
That shift in focus also allows Diggle and Felicity to play the blame game – meaning they get to shift the blame for Laurel’s death onto themselves and act accordingly. Diggle goes looking for some absolution from Felicity and comes up wanting, leaving them both feeling even more guilty about their actions (or inactions as it were). There’s a nice exchange between Felicity and Oliver in which he reveals why it is he is so quick to shoulder the blame when things go wrong. It’s an answer; a quick and easy one that helps him process the events and move forward, even though he’s really adding to his emotional burden. This helps him to respond as Diggle nearly loses control and moves to a dark place never really seen before when he attacks Ruvé and her drivers. Not only does he assault two security men, but he also smacks Ruvé in an unsettling and aggressively physical display of his grief and guilt.
Arrow inadvertently creates an interesting dynamic with Diggle descending to an incredibly dark place, one from which he might not return. This is made more interesting as it forces Oliver to assume a role he doesn’t play often enough. But given the episode’s intentions and the need to still service the storyline by presenting Laurel’s funeral and finally putting the character to rest (not to mention giving poor Quentin a break from trying desperately to believe she’s not gone or is at least capable of returning), there’s simply no time to develop and explore Diggle’s emotional state as fully as it deserves. However, Andy is still out of pocket along with Darhk at this point, so there’s reason to believe this development in Diggle’s character can be picked up as the season heads toward the finale.
Obviously, Laurel’s death and Felicity’s plea for Oliver to kill Darhk will take up the remaining episodes of season 4. That will certainly give Arrow some much-needed focus from here on out, but it still is unclear whether a major character death will do more than energize the plot before the season finale. Again, it’s odd that the focus shifted from Laurel to the question of Black Canary’s legacy as the episode wore on. And Oliver outing his friend and teammate at her funeral was even more bizarre as one can only image how difficult it would be for anyone to draw a conclusion from his announcement to the identities of Star City’s resident vigilantes. More than that, though, Oliver’s eulogy is strangely devoid of emotion; it acts more as a reassurance of his vigilantism than as acknowledgement of a person’s life coming to an end. And with that, ‘Canary Cry’ not so sensitively sums up Arrow‘s feelings about a character it had always struggled to properly define.
Arrow continues next Wednesday with ‘Genesis’ @8pm on The CW. Check out a preview below: