Warning – FULL SPOILERS for Tonight’s “Eleven-Fifty-Nine”:

I’ve said from Season 4’s beginning that it was a mistake for Arrow to use the grave as a flash-forward, and I hold to that. Not solely because Season 3 front-loaded its narrative with a mystery aspect as well, or that so many genre series today feel like they need some far-flung puzzle for its viewers to solve instead of a linear story, but primarily that the kind of mysteries answered by “Eleven-Fifty-Nine” pull focus from viewers all season. Every inch of a given scene, every line of dialogue becomes trees in an unseen forest, something to pick apart rather than experience in the moment.

Not to mention, if you’ve been paying attention to Arrow news over the last few weeks, you might have heard that set photos essentially already spoiled Laurel’s death (from a scene that doesn’t even occur tonight). Even then, I can’t help imagining how much more of a gut punch tonight’s death could have been, had we never known of any future grave whatsoever.

Killing Laurel represents a particularly interesting and unexpected road to take as well, especially in light of how producers have sold the event with a permanence* intended to oppose the convenience of Lazarus pits returning both Thea and Sara last year. Realistically speaking, Arrow only had a few options here, between Quentin (robbing the series of yet another adult voice), Thea, or one of several extended family members, none of which would have earned the importance Season 4 assigned to that flash-forward.

*This is still Arrow we’re talking about, and skip this paragraph for a spoiler or two, but Katie Cassidy has already booked an Earth-2 return on The Flash, which could easily turn into a backdoor for Laurel to remain part of the team. Not only that, but the gap between Laurel’s recovery prognosis, an unheard promise made to Oliver, and the offscreen onset of her unexplained coding clearly intend some wiggle room, whether or not producers acknowledge it.

Not like they try to keep anyone out of this lair, anyway.

Laurel also represents a character that Arrow has struggled to utilize from the beginning, whether that owes to Katie Cassidy’s more reserved interpretation, admitted difficulties of working courtroom drama into the narrative, non-starter stories of substance abuse, or the pivot toward Oliver’s romance with Felicity. At the time, killing Sara felt like a desperate gambit to jump-start Laurel’s role as the Black Canary, and to her credit, Cassidy has put in tremendous work since, at least until Sara’s return somewhat blunted that grief. It’s a weird bit of poetry even, that for all of Laurel and Season 4’s laborious quest to revive Sara for a spinoff, she takes her sister’s place in the ground.

Arrow definitely loses a significant piece of its history with Laurel, and that could prove a major shift for the team if producers actually stick with it. Regardless of when we knew someone would die, it’s still a surprising choice, made all the more bittersweet that Darhk would use Oliver’s own arrow to finalize it. Season 4 has put in noticeable effort to restore the friendship between the pair, something “Eleven-Fifty-Nine” tacitly acknowledged (though again, it telegraphs dramatic irony), making this an all-too-rare instance of TV series fairly killing off a meaningful character.

I said “meaningful.”

Of course, there was plenty going on outside of Laurel’s demise, even if the reveal of Andy betraying the team didn’t quite carry the same weight. Diggle in particular seemed off from the level-headed John we’ve come to expect, to ignore so much of Andy’s obviously suspect behavior, and so willfully refuse to consider Oliver’s doubt. Oliver rightly draws attention to their history of blind spots for family members, making Diggle’s insults about Oliver’s inability to change, or the reasons Felicity left notably harsh; a sacrifice of convenience, perhaps, to push the team to a place of vulnerability.

The animosity between Malcolm and Thea didn’t have much room to take hold either, though the former’s presence in the hour at least offered a reason for aligning with Damien Darhk to protect his daughter from “Genesis.” We still don’t have any clear picture of what that endgame actually is, nor have the back-and-forth alliances between Merlyn and H.I.V.E. gotten any easier to track, especially with magic idols* in the mix. The greater concern tonight seemed to be moving Damien toward freedom and restored power over the course of that Watchmen-esque prison break, than any significant movement of evil plans.

*The rare instance of flashbacks making the main body! I’m glad that Oliver admitted he’d seen the idol on Lian Yu (I hadn’t gone back to “Taken” to check their resemblance), even if we still have one more year of “Oh, by the way, there’s a fifth thing I never told you about the island that ties into our current situation.” Not to mention, looks like we’re headed to Russia next season!

Far, far away from just … *any* of this.

So … yeah. If you look around the trades, there are dozens of interviews and angles to engage on the significance of tonight’s big death, and it’s certainly a bold choice at a time Arrow feels like it needs to work that much harder to make the same noise as its compatriots. Like its Flash-y younger brother, we’re off for the next few weeks, and hopefully spared any further set leaks in the meantime.

Still, this felt much closer to the intimate, consequences-laden early years of the series, and I’m curious to see where they go with it.

AND ANOTHER THING …

  • I rolled my eyes at “Make this city great again,” but looks like we’re keeping Oliver’s mayoral chances optimistic.
  • Vixen smashed the idol to bits, right? Why would they keep any of those pieces together?
  • “He took an arrow for me.” Pretty sure you both could have ducked.
  • “One last time … before I retire to my boat, the Live-4-Ever.”
  • WHAT PRISON CEILING DID THEY DROP FROM? NO.
  • Missed opportunity to not reveal that Damien Darhk knew Oliver’s identity all along, and just wanted to remind them they’re idiots.
  • Good on them to include Felicity for that brief scene, save for that incredibly distracting coat.

Arrow Season 4 will return April 27, airing at 8:00 P.M. on The CW.

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