God help me, I love Arrow. I really do. Sure it has its flaws, but it consistently delivers an entertaining hour of television that somehow also manages to cloak its vigilante protagonist with complexity and internal conflict. As Maureen Ryan put it: “The show has been a solid slice of escapism with a brooding undercurrent of ambiguous morality.” The show even prompted me to start reading the Green Arrow graphic novels. I can’t get enough of this character.
Despite my appreciation and enjoyment of the program, I am growing increasingly irritated with the (mis)management of Laurel Lance’s character. In the first episode, Dinah Laurel Lance (Katie Cassidy) is introduced as an passionate lawyer, determined to bring criminals to justice in Starling City. She works in the legal aid office; her father is a detective on the police force. Her headstrong, bold actions are fueled by blind idealism and (stupidly impetuous) courage. In the pilot, Laurel is working on a case against Adam Hunt, a corrupt real-estate mogul. In the second episode “Honor Thy Father,” Laurel brings a civil suit against another millionaire, Martin Somers, who is also involved with the drug trade.
Laurel was given lines such as, “I’ve got the loose end now and no matter what happens I’m going to pull on it until your whole world unravels.”
Melodramatic? Sure, but it reveals a gritty persistence and commitment to justice. As the season progressed, Laurel’s career has dissolved into the background. We still see her in the legal aid office. But she’s always carrying thin manila folders from one desk to another, or she’s leaning over a computer to catch a news headline. We rarely see her in the courthouse anymore, unless she’s attending a hearing for her ex Oliver Queen (Stephen Arnell) or his little sister Thea (Willa Holland). It’s been ages since we’ve seen her actively working on a case.
Laurel has effectively been stripped of her professional identity and purpose.
Some may argue that Laurel’s main preoccupation on the show is to serve as a romantic interest for Oliver and Tommy. That aspect doesn’t bother me. Her character could easily develop romantic relationships alongside professional storylines and episodic intrigues. No, what bothers me is that Laurel has become a shell of her initial character. She no longer doggedly pursues criminals. Now she turns to “the Hood” for help. She arranges secret rendezvous and initiates clandestine phone calls with Oliver/Green Arrow so as to share information or ask for his assistance.
The infuriating (and baffling) part to all of this is that Laurel’s career juxtaposes perfectly with Oliver’s vigilante efforts. The writers could use her role within the legal system to deepen, expand and enrich the various plots. Sometimes Laurel and Oliver could partner on cases; sometimes their efforts might work against each other. Both situations would be interesting to watch and allow for Laurel to function more than a purveyor of messages, or worse the damsel in distress.
There are those that claim this character weakness is due to the network itself. The CW isn’t known for its complexly drawn characters. However this evaporation of Laurel’s professional career isn’t exclusive to CW programs. Jess on FOX’s New Girl (played by Zooey Deschanel) works as an adult education teacher, yet we rarely see her interact within her workplace. ABC’s Scandal started with its main character Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington) as a “fixer” in Washington D.C. The episodes showed Pope and her team tackling various crises, whereas the second season has focused more on the major crisis that is Pope’s life rather than her day-to-day career. Mindy Lahiri (Mindy Kaling) in The Mindy Project (FOX) is given the career of an OB/GYN but the series has predominantly featured her love life instead of her medical profession.
Especially in the case of Laurel Lance, Arrow could benefit from utilizing her profession as a lawyer more. (After all, they heavily emphasize Felicity Smoak’s career as an IT genius.) Why not bring back her fierce determination in putting criminals behind bars? Her individual agency has been emptied out, and men — whether it’s her father, Oliver or Diggle — are the ones carrying out the justice/legal actions.
Last night’s episode (Betrayal) showed glimmers of the old Laurel. I hope the writers give her more to do, especially as an attorney. Otherwise her character will continue to function as a walking shell, whose profession and purpose are more superfluous than of substance.