Arrow season 3, episode 13, “Canaries,” hammered home what a mistake killing Sara Lance was.
The late Sara Lance made a return to Arrow in “Canaries,” though only as a vertigo-induced hallucination of Laurel’s. She was a product of Laurel’s insecurities as she took over the Canary mantle, calling Laurel selfish and a fraud. These harsh moments highlighted how scared Laurel truly was to dishonor her sister’s memory. But when Laurel decided to stop trying to be Sara as the Canary and be her own hero, Sara smiled proudly at her.
It was a lovely moment.
It also encapsulated the issue with the arc for Sara Lance: She was nothing more than a plot device for Laurel’s story.
Sara mirrored Oliver in a number of interesting ways; she went through a similar crucible after the sinking of the Queen’s Gambit and eventually became a masked warrior as well. Sara returned to Starling City in a season where Oliver’s journey was about becoming a hero. She fought the bonds placed on her by the soul-sucking League of Assassins, earned her freedom, and was undergoing a journey to discover herself.
But Sara was more than a mirror for the male protagonist. She was a surrogate older sister to Sin, a strong relationship between two women in a male-dominated show. She was a friend, a daughter, and a sister. She was, as Laurel said in the season 2 finale, a hero.
She had her own demons and struggled with them, much like Oliver had in season 1 after his return from the island. She was an emotionally rich and complex character, dark and haunted in ways many women don’t get to be in popular media. And she was bisexual in a series without much queer representation.
When Sara returned in the season 3 premiere, only to die in an overly brutal way — shot with arrows, knocked off a building, and dropped onto a dumpster — she got a beautiful farewell episode (“Sara”) as her loved ones swore to find her killer. And her death pushed the story forward through the first half of season 3 precisely because she was beloved and The Beloved.
The fact that Sara Lance doesn’t exist in the Green Arrow comics and the comics’ Black Canary is Laurel indicated Laurel was likely to eventually become Black Canary at some point. And killing Sara was the most obvious way to put that arc into motion.
But was it the right one?
Not in the way it was handled.
The identity of Sara’s killer turned out to have nothing to do with Sara herself; the trained warrior was killed by a brainwashed Thea Queen, under the influence of Malcolm Merlyn. And to add insult to injury, he didn’t kill her for any reason to do with Sara herself.
No, her death was part of a ploy to force Oliver to fight Ra’s al Ghul in the hope Oliver could kill the Demon’s Head and negate the target on Malcolm’s head.
In one moment’s revelation, Sara was reduced from a complex, well-developed character to a plot device. Was this a move reflective of Malcolm Merlyn? Absolutely. Was it the farewell the character deserved? Absolutely not.
And, perhaps, the writers recognized as much, considering Sara’s dialogue from “Canaries”:
Sara’s death has been the turning point in Laurel’s journey to suiting up. But was it necessary? Could Laurel have become the Black Canary with Sara’s Canary still in the picture?
All signs point to yes. Laurel has had a deeply ingrained sense of justice since we first met her at CNRI. “Dinah Laurel Lance, always trying to save the world,” Tommy says in the pilot. She is also the daughter of a cop, and even before taking boxing lessons proved she knew how to protect herself.
Did Laurel have the tragedy in her background that most superheroes seem to need to push them to act? Well, she lost her sister and her boyfriend, watched her parents’ marriage fall apart, lost her current boyfriend, was kidnapped by a serial killer, fell prey to addiction in her grief and guilt… And the list goes on.
All of this is to say that Sara’s death, particularly a death that reduced her to a plot device, shouldn’t have been necessary for Laurel to eventually suit up. (This is not to put down Laurel’s heroic arc; in fact, I’m all in favor of it.)
Simply put, Sara did not need to be set on fire, so to speak, for Laurel’s Black Canary to rise from the ashes.
I miss Ta-er al-Sahfer every episode, and “Canaries” served to remind me of why.
Arrow airs Wednesdays at 8:00 p.m. ET on The CW.