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Laurel Lance: The Material of a Hero

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Now in its third season on The CW, Arrow has proven itself adept not only at depicting the journey of its central hero, Oliver Queen, but the arcs of its memorable, varied ensemble as well. Being skilled in hand-to-hand combat, technical skills, or the ability to use weaponry is important, however caring for others, resourcefulness, and the ability to get up and keep on fighting despite pain and loss matters as well. Not just from Oliver himself—Felicity Smoak, John Diggle, Roy Harper, Sin, Moira Queen, Thea Queen, Detective Quentin Lance, Sara Lance, and Laurel Lance have all brought different skills, viewpoints, strengths and weaknesses, and been heroic in different ways.

It’s time to talk about what’s great about Laurel Lance. Warning: this article contains spoilers through the mid-season finale “The Climb” and references to spoilers for what’s coming up in Laurel’s story.

Some character arcs on Arrow have played more strongly than others. Some characters have transitioned more smoothly or quickly into the heroic sphere. Felicity and Diggle click early on with Oliver and his mission while with others, such as Roy’s journey from someone who would steal a purse to the vigilante Arsenal, go through a longer struggle before finding their place. Likewise, we know Sara’s painful history that parallels Oliver’s journey on the island. Laurel’s story has been an unusually rough road so far, both purposefully as a part of the character, and due to some bumps in the writing. Katie Cassidy has brought charisma, grace, and a mixture of strength and emotional vulnerability to the role, a performance that at times has added needed focus and ballast to Laurel’s arc.

There have been mis-steps in Laurel’s story, on top of the fact that viewers were thrown at the outset because (Dinah) Laurel Lance’s iconic status in the comics as Black Canary didn’t materialize on Arrow. Fans new to the world the show is built from would have no such expectations, and some were disappointed with Laurel as a TV character. There have been glimpses of her heroic qualities, yet too many setbacks can pile up and affect the growth of a character. At times it also seemed as if it the show hasn’t been sure what to do with her. Sara Lance, the Black Canary created specifically for the tv series, has proven an appealing, badass female superhero. Sadly, she is killed off in the season three premiere. While the need to propel the character arcs, especially Laurel’s story, is understandable, that particular decision adds to the difficulties with Laurel. 10885583_1516896168580762_7852421752563954389_nIt might’ve worked better to somehow continue the story of both sisters, rather than create an either/or scenario surrounding an already troubled character. The relationship between the Lance sisters, and how it highlights both characters, has been among the strongest aspects of the show.

While Laurel from the start is clearly self-possessed, independent, and good at her job as a legal aid attorney, her role at first remained too often limited to Oliver Queen’s former love interest. Adding to that, her romance with Tommy Merlyn, Oliver’s best friend, brought in a love triangle that wallowed in romantic angst without really furthering the arcs very much. Laurel’s journey sometimes mired or stalled on a show that otherwise has an unusually strong sense of momentum and pacing.

As to what’s been right about Laurel, firstly, it’s a powerful and valid story to show a character with as poised and brave a front as Laurel’s unravel from pain, vulnerability, and self-doubt. Interesting in a show abundant with unhappy characters going through arcs about identity and crisis of purpose, Laurel has taken criticism of being “whiny” or “self-centered.” Despite the problems in the writing, Laurel does emerge as a sympathetic character. Her struggle with depression, addiction, and grief has been compelling, and we’ve repeatedly seen her caring for others, her connection to her family and friends, her ability to grow and change, and her courage.

While Laurel hasn’t played the role of kickass fighter yet, she’s had self-defense training, and we see this in action. Laurel—a cop’s daughter—grabs a shotgun to face an intruder while Tommy conceals a terrified, targeted child. In another incident, Laurel uses her self-defense fighting skills. She also takes on a gunman attempting to take Laurel and others hostage at a gala event. While Laurel sometimes needs help in her forays into physical heroism, her toughness and resourcefulness often show during a crisis. She’s outspoken and doesn’t accept attempts at intimidation, of herself or of others. Laurel Lance gets scared and she has guts.

We aren’t just told that Laurel is a smart lawyer, we see her doing research and putting clues together. She solves the mystery of Sebastian Blood long before anyone else—noting that no one believes her at first. Laurel gets put in jeopardy at times, but she also helps save others. At times Laurel’s fearlessness is a part of her issues—she can be heedless. Her season two arc, however, from the get-go addresses this after her actions in the season one finale contributed to a chain of events that landed in Tommy’s death. Laurel copes not only with grief but guilt. Things ramp up further when Laurel, now an assistant district attorney, takes point in trying to catch the vigilante, after her initial fascination. Her perspective on the vigilante continues to evolve and change.

Arrow hit some poignant notes with Laurel discovering Oliver’s secret and in how she and her father Quentin Lance decide to carry the knowledge. The friendship between Oliver and Laurel eventually gets to take a front seat, reminding us that, regardless of the ups and downs of their romantic life, they care about and respect each other. Eventually Oliver brings Laurel into Team Arrow’s headquarters. Yet still, she’s placed on the sidelines, as Oliver tells her she can’t help with the mission to stop Slade. Laurel decides to go in anyway, winding up saving Oliver’s life, then has to shoot an arrow at just the right spot to get them free, despite being terrified and shaken after an explosion traps them.

In season three, the sidelining becomes a pointed and recurring theme, with Oliver and Quentin at various points telling Laurel she can’t do things. It’s out of protectiveness, however, that doesn’t mean it’s always the right thing, just as Laurel’s courage can sometimes be heedless. Laurel, reeling and angry after Sara’s death, needs a way to deal with those feelings and so she turns to Ted Grant (Wildcat in the comics), a boxer with a vigilante past of his own, for training. The rapport between the two has so far been intriguing to watch, as Laurel finds a way to channel her pent-up need to take action. She somewhat rashly decides to go after a wife abuser, and the encounter doesn’t go well, but she endures and continues to seek an outlet for her feelings and follow her impulse to stand up for what’s right, something we saw from the start in her job as a legal aid.

The show dropped a bombshell when it released official images of Laurel in her own version of the Black Canary costume. In November, Arrow Executive Producer Marc Guggenheim discussed what’s to come with Entertainment Weekly, saying “a mask does not a hero make. We’re really at the beginning of Laurel’s journey to becoming the Black Canary, not the end by virtue of the fact that she’s put on a costume…She gets punched, she gets hit, she gets injured. When she throws a punch, she doesn’t always connect. When she jumps off of something, she doesn’t always land on two feet. She’s a much more rougher and realistic kind of crime fighter.”

Laurel’s steps into heroism may continue to travel over rough ground, yet that’s nothing surprising. Look at where Ollie started, what he became, how he’s had to re-make himself. He didn’t return home a fully-fledged hero, although he is already skilled warrior, and he wound up questioning his own methods. As far as he’s come, even Oliver still has more to learn. Likewise, Sara goes through her crucible, another imperfect hero. Roy Harper is granted a mask and a place on Team Arrow by the end of season two, a rather rapid trajectory, despite the difficulties of his own journey, his impatience, impulsiveness, and misfortunes. Laurel’s inching closer to Black Canary is hardly rushed—it’s mid-season three and we’re just now seeing the beginning of that transformation after the groundwork of the first two seasons. Her imperfections, vulnerabilities, and setbacks are part of the building blocks of a hero. Arrow has emphasized how much the person underneath the mask matters—Laurel’s story is another intricate, hard-won process.

The definition of what makes a character heroic isn’t just the times they save the day and triumph, it’s how they face their inner demons, what they do when tested, and how they get back up and keep going after they fall down. Laurel has already shown many times over that she possesses the raw materials that define heroism.

Are you excited to see Laurel take on the Black Canary persona? Further thoughts on Laurel’s arc so far? Sing out in the comments.

Author: Dot R

Dot has been bouncing around various fandoms for many years now writing essays, episode reviews, commentary, and reporting news and conducting interviews, among other things. Along with being a Marvel, DC, Star Wars, and Supernatural fangirl, she’s also a fan of fantasy and science fiction television shows, everything from Farscape to Killjoys to 12 Monkeys to X-Files to Wynonna Earp. Currently Fangirl at Large covering numerous geek culture related topics, convention news, casting spoilers, show news, and interviews.


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13 thoughts on “Laurel Lance: The Material of a Hero

  1. I agree with you, hero is not just about fighting bad guys, but also face their inner demon and came out stronger than ever, unfortunately with laurel, it blow up in her face, the writers try so hard to gave all materials for us to see her as this amazing character, but somehow she fall flat

    I really want to root for her just as much i root for sara, love her just as much I love felicity, I keep trying and trying and this really frustrated me. it shouldn’t be this hard to root and love black canary, a feminist icon, one of the greatest female super hero of all time, I think arrow failed when it come to tell us the story of the origin of black canary. but here’s hoping that the writers can turn it around next year

    1. There’s a lot of great material the show has created for Laurel, and a lot of mis-steps. I know fans are mixed on Laurel, some want to like her more and are sorry or frustrated they don’t, some really dislike her, she also has many fans who believe in her and love her already. Hopefully the good things the show has done with her will outweigh the mis-steps and what’s to come will finally bring her into her own. All the building blocks are there and the writing, other characters, the stories, sometimes hobble her but I’m excited to see where things are going. It sounds really intriguing that while she’ll be taken on the Canary persona, it’ll be a realistic, rough look at the nitty-gritty of what it really means to put on a costume and go out and fight bad guys. Especially since Laurel hasn’t had the years of training, I think that’s the right approach, as well as an interesting different take than highly trained heroes like Diggle (military) or Ollie (the time on the Island and Hong Kong). There are different ways of becoming a hero.

  2. Laurel for me is the best and most developed character on the show that’s female. She’s been through so much, and each time she has overcome and came out stronger. I can’t wait for the BC to appear.

    1. She’s a really complicated character. Taken as a whole so far, I think her journey towards BC makes sense–I’m really excited to see what they do with it. Sorry that Sara was killed off but I still think Laurel’s overcoming her personal demons has been a strong story. Her training with Ted Grant and season 3 so far I think has allowed the character to move forward.

  3. Great article on Laurel Lance. I think the EP’s made the mistake of not starting her journey a lot earlier than they did, but it is what is and there is no changing it. One thing I’m highly critical of is the constant need by the writers to have every character put down Laurel in some form of another, I was glad to finally see Ted Grant/Wildcat back her and support her without the need for overprotectiveness or pull her down. I have every confidence in Katie to pull off the journey from lawyer to hero, her recent movie the Scribbler and her time on SPN demonstrates this. We just need good writing for this character, which has lacked as well not deleting important character development scenes from the final cut. Laurel has always been tough and a fighter, a part of her journey so far is to show that a hero will do whatever it takes, and I think we’ve seen plenty of examples of that.

    Black Canary is an iconic role and I hope we finally get to see what I feel will be the true modern version of the Black Canary. I think 2015 will be the year of the Black Canary, and I can’t wait to see it.

    1. I really like Katie Cassidy as an actress, and I think this has helped sell Laurel’s story. The putting down of Laurel does seem part of the purposeful arc for the most part–that the whole point is characters underestimate her, or tell her she can’t do this or that, out of their worry for her. But after a certain point, she needs to break out past that and it seems like season 3 is going to get her there. I agree she has been proven very resilient and tough, despite her vulnerability and setbacks. The sadness of the character is part of what shows that toughness, because she keeps going.

      One problem I think was expectation about Laurel being the Black Canary, and instead she was kept out of the “hero” sphere and perhaps without enough focus on her crime-fighting via legal channels. But I think all of it has been part of the journey–“the island” to use the show’s metaphor. Whether Laurel is “ready” or not to take this on won’t stop her and I don’t think it should, because I don’t see that any of these hero characters were truly ready for what was thrust upon them or the painful job they chose to do.

  4. I want to like Laurel. I really do, but no matter how hard I try, I just cannot connect with her. I had hoped that I would like her better this season, but I actually find myself liking her less and less. In the first season, she seemed stronger and more caring. This season, she seems very selfish. She doesn’t seem to care about anyone else. Her father is a great example. She doesn’t tell him because he MIGHT have a heart attack and he MIGHT die and leave. I could see a teenager making that mistake, but it seems like a ridiculous assumption for a thirty year old attorney. I also can’t figure out what a successful, professional attorney would WANT to be a vigilante. Oliver, Roy, and Sara were all drop outs. They didn’t spend 7 or so years working for an education and then spend time working in a field. I just don’t get it. I don’t understand Laurel at all. Here’s hoping, I’ll like her better in 2015.

    1. There’s the scene where Laurel tells Ollie, what is it about me that everyone leaves me? Laurel has lost so much. So I find her decision not to tell Quentin understandable, if misguided. Is it the right thing to do? No, that kind of secret will cause more hurt in the end. But she’s afraid of losing yet another person she cares about. So I don’t see it as immature. All these characters make mistakes and in keeping secrets have caused hurt, even though sometimes keeping secrets is necessary.

      Diggle and Felicity aren’t drop outs, and they chose to join Team Arrow as well. They don’t wear a mask, but they are in the field. Sara was in college when she was shipwrecked. Roy lacked opportunity due to economics. Oliver had every opportunity but was aimless–and then he was shipwrecked. Circumstances made it so that becoming a vigilante was what they needed to become, for their own reasons–it gave them focus, or a purpose, or a way to do better. Laurel has done the education. She’s been an assistant district attorney. She’s tried the traditional route. Yet she still has this need, this drive to do more, and needs a way to channel her anger and grief and need to do good. Laurel’s issues are part of why headed towards vigilanteism makes sense–and I think the show has constructed that over the first 2 seasons and in the 3rd we’re starting to see the fruition.

      One point of the show has been there are all kinds of heroism and also there’s no closed club of who can be in the heroic club or who can’t. People take different routes to it. Or they choose, or have put upon them, different ways to do it. I also don’t see Sara, Ollie, or Roy becoming vigilantes as a sign of being “drop out” or failing in that sense. It’s where circumstances and their own inner demons led them. It would also be interesting seeing Laurel fight crime via another channel, she doesn’t have to put on a mask to make a difference, as we’ve seen. But I also see why Black Canary is where she’s headed.

      1. “There’s the scene where Laurel tells Ollie, what is it about me that everyone leaves me? ”

        I was trying to think of how to comment on your article, and then I read this and it really seems to encapsulate why I have trouble with Laurel becoming a vigilante. Because for Laurel, it’s not about saving the people of Starling City to make amends as it is for Oliver, or about making sure no woman is hurt by a man again as it was for Sara, or about modeling himself on a hero as it is for Roy and Barry, or even for making sure someone he loves isn’t hurt again as it is for Ray, it’s about her feelings and anger and vengeance for Laurel.

        It’s true that she thought Sara had died and then Tommy died but “everybody leaves me” is too self-centred for me. Sara and Tommy didn’t choose to leave her, they DIED. I’m sure both of them would have preferred to live if given a choice. Dinah left Starling City only after Laurel had moved out i.e. left her. If you look at all the characters on the show, Laurel has had it the easiest. She had a happy, intact family until she was 22, when her sister died. Thea lost her brother and father at 12 and her mother fell into a depression and abandoned her. Since Oliver has returned, her loved stepfather walked out, she’s seen her mother murdered in front of her and learned a psychopath was her birth father (and she’s not even as old as Laurel was when the boat went down). Roy had a single parent mother who was addicted to drugs, and multiple friends died in The Undertaking. Diggle lost his brother and friends in the war. Felicity’s father walked out when she was 6 and was raised by a mother who worked long hours and not much money, then her boyfriend committed suicide and Felicity blamed herself. Sara went through horrible things on the Amazo and with the LoA. Sin lost her mother to cancer and her father in a plane crash when she was just a child and now she’s living on the streets. Laurel’s had it the easiest of anyone on the show, and yet she doesn’t tell Quentin because she doesn’t want him to die. She makes his illness and Sara’s death about herself.

        I can understand why she doesn’t tell her father, that’s human and hurting, but that doesn’t make for the personality of a superhero. A superhero has to be larger than life, to go through hell and emerge as someone who cares more about the other people who are hurting than about him or herself. Not just Oliver, Sara and Roy but Diggle joined Oliver’s cause to help Oliver survive without tearing off too many bits of himself, and Felicity was willing to let The Count pump her full of drugs so that Oliver didn’t have to break his vow of not killing. Moira sacrificed herself to save Thea, Robert himself so that Oliver could survive. Laurel isn’t there yet.

        I could wave the lack of training for Laurel but the real problem for me is that emotionally she isn’t ready to be the iconic Black Canary. She wants to go out and fight because it makes her feel better to work off her rage, not because she wants to make the world a better place. She’s still rude to people (most recently Quentin but also Felicity and Diggle), she thinks she knows everything better than people with more training and knowledge (e.g. calling out the riot squad) and while she hurts that Sara is dead, she hasn’t done a thing to find the killer, not even using her resources as an ADA. Caitlin has done more and she’s not even on this show.

        If you look at Laurel alone, I agree she’s gone through a lot and she’s had to fight to get through some awful things. But if you look at her within the context of the other characters on the show, she’s really had it the easiest of anyone while being the most self-centred person there (with the possible exception of Thea). It’s that that makes it so hard for me to accept her becoming the Black Canary and a superhero.

        1. “for Laurel, it’s not about saving the people of Starling City to make amends as it is for Oliver, or about making sure no woman is hurt by a man again as it was for Sara, or about modeling himself on a hero as it is for Roy and Barry, or even for making sure someone he loves isn’t hurt again as it is for Ray, it’s about her feelings and anger and vengeance for Laurel.”

          Yet Laurel’s drive to help people of Starling City has been well established. She worked as a legal aid. There was a whole episode about her trying to clear someone of charges she believed was unjustly accused, and she risked her life to protect this man’s son. She cares about the city, she cares about fairness in the general sense, not just for herself and for her family and friends, and when she discovered Oliver’s secret, she kept it to herself for Oliver’s sake and for the good of the city. To support Oliver, so he could do what he does, to help others. There was a recent ep where Laurel overheard a woman in her AA meeting talking about being beaten by her significant other, so Laurel took it on herself to find the guy and make him feel what it’s like for the woman. Laurel wasn’t successful in the attempt, but she survived it, and this was her very first outing as a vigilante. This was similar to the impulse that led Sara to run into a burning building to save a child. The woman Laurel was defending wasn’t someone she knows well, it wasn’t a close friend or a relative. It was someone in pain and Laurel wanted to help.

          You think Ray’s grief for his fiance is not a personal mission? Why is it okay for Ray to have that personal mission, becoming a hero out of grief, but not for Laurel? Let’s talk about Roy, who definitely has a truckload of personal issues but a basic core sense of decency, but he’s shown himself to be impulsive and hot-headed and needed a lot of guidance to become the hero he eventually did. Barry is on another show but let’s talk about Barry, who is also driven by grief.

          “If you look at all the characters on the show, Laurel has had it the easiest.”

          Comparing pain and suffering kind of derails the discussion, I think. Also Laurel is battling against depression and addiction. These are real, terrible things that people struggle with and I don’t see how Laurel is lesser because that’s her struggle, along with the losses she’s suffered? But if you want to talk about who had it the “easiest,” Oliver Queen has had every opportunity in life handed to him. He was raised wealthy. He could’ve had every education, chosen any career, done anything with his life, but at his very start, we see how he’s somewhat aimless and resting on his privilege. He then cheats on his girlfriend with his girlfriend’s sister. And Oliver, as I mentioned with Ray, Roy, and Barry above, has his own personal motivations for being a hero, while also wanting to do good in a general sense. When the series starts Oliver is not yet the hero he’ll become. He makes plenty of mistakes. He decides to kill to achieve his goals of a greater good until he has his wake-up call about finding another way.

          I’m also not saying Oliver and Thea had it easy. The Queen family has many problems. But you placed Laurel at the bottom of the heap of characters and so I’m pointing out the nature of heroism on the show and the psyches of the people who become heroes–I don’t see how Laurel is lesser in any way.

          I agree that Laurel not telling her father the truth has a selfish motivation–she’s scared of losing him, but she’s also trying to protect him. Is she the only character on the show who has kept a secret to protect others, and sometimes done it in a misguided way? There are characters like Laurel’s father, and Ollie, who have tried to protect Laurel and as I said in the article, over-protectiveness that did her no favors, treating her like she’s weak, like she’ll break. And that just isn’t Laurel, we’ve seen how she doesn’t break, though things are a struggle for her.

          “A superhero has to be larger than life, to go through hell and emerge as someone who cares more about the other people who are hurting than about him or herself.”

          Yes, and this is exactly why I see heroism in Laurel. No superhero is perfect and without selfish impulses they act on. Oliver’s journey has shown in great detail what a person goes through to become a superhero, and while I think Laurel’s deserved and needed more detail and screentime, the show has also shown us, directly, how she has gone through hell and emerged stronger on the other side.

          “the real problem for me is that emotionally she isn’t ready to be the iconic Black Canary. She wants to go out and fight because it makes her feel better to work off her rage, not because she wants to make the world a better place.”

          Whether she’s “ready” or not isn’t my point, in fact I quoted the EP’s comments on how not ready she is. That doesn’t mean she can’t do it and won’t become ready. As I pointed out earlier in my comment, many of these heroic characters are working through something personal in becoming a vigilante, it isn’t 100% to help others, for any of them. Felicity finds a personal fulfillment she doesn’t anywhere else. Likewise, Diggle is seeking vengeance for his murdered brother. Roy very much needed a focus, something to do with his life, a channel for his particular kind of energy and insecurities. Oliver has shown to have plenty of emotional issues that affect his decisions as the Arrow.

          There are in fact very few superhero characters in general who are “ready” for what they do. A few really are well-adjusted and unfailingly good-hearted and unselfish. Clarke Kent, perhaps. Steve Rogers. They’re exceptional. On the whole, however, one thing that appeals to me so much about superhero characters, and origin stories, is the messiness. The struggle. How and why does someone decide to become a superhero, and they all have their personal demons and make hurtful decisions and are pretty much a mess. Sometimes they get beaten. They fall down and get back up again, and yes, along with their own personal reasons for doing what they do, they really want to help others. That’s why I say Laurel Lance is already heroic, even if she isn’t in a costume yet, and I don’t think it’s out of left field or inappropriate for her to take on the Black Canary persona. It’s going to be very difficult for her, that doesn’t mean she shouldn’t.

          I understand that her arc isn’t going to work for everyone–I do think the show has written Laurel in particular unevenly, but I do think this arc makes sense for her and it’s the journey itself and her struggle that’s the point and part of the point of superhero stories. Superheroes have different levels of skill and take different routes to their goal and there are so many who are neurotic and flawed even more than the cast of characters on Arrow.

  5. This article demeans Oliver’s story as a hero. As the poster above stated we are meant to feel sorry for Laurel in almost every episode she’s in because she always makes it about her. I don’t see anyone else being so committed to always saying “people are always leaving me!” She hasn’t shown anything for me to root for. If you want to get technical, Laurel hasn’t done anything to find Sara’s killer. Felicity is actually going out of her way and enlisting Caitlin and Cisco’s help from The Flash. It’s only Team Arrow who tried to find Sara’s killer. Laurel’s part of the story wasn’t even succinct with finding Sara’s killer. She was completely out of the circle of that storyline in the mid-season finale.

    1. I left a comment to a comment above that should address some of what you’ve said here.

      Not sure how pointing out Laurel’s heroism “demeans” Oliver’s story in any way.

  6. I wouldn’t call Laurel going after that girlfriend’s man a good idea at all or being a vigilante. She brought it upon herself to try to beat him up to feel better about herself. How does that help the city? He probably went home that night and beat up his girlfriend even more than before. Until the police (which was her father) put in a call about him. If she really wanted to help and the writers really wanted to give her a heroine role they would have given her the satisfaction of putting in the call about him to get him on other charges to put him in jail. But, they didn’t do that.

    Sara has saved many people. She has more grounds to go into a burning building to save a child because she has more experience in saving people.

    She’s had too many arcs on this show titled Arrow. If they wanted to make a black canary/arrow show with Laurel getting all these useless arcs they wouldn’t have employed a sister who had the background, who is a martial artist, who is connected to all characters in that role. How many times do we have to see the black canary story? Most people just aren’t here for Laurel the character at all.

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