Synopsis of 4×18: Malcom works to break Darhk out of jail by securing the icon. Laurel considers her role on the team. Darhk stabs Laurel, seemingly fatally injuring the Black Canary.
Superheroes often work as predominantly reactive forces. They’re moving to stop others from committing crimes, working to prevent the next catastrophe. Very rarely are they forced to create their own opportunities, proactively move into a position to act against their enemies. While it’s an approach that keeps the characters heroic by allowing them to battle their enemies as they appear, it occasionally makes them seem impotent or unable to save lives until it’s too late.
“Eleven-Fifty-Nine” splits the difference here in a way that ratchets up the action compellingly. After being attacked by Malcom’s last League of Assassin loyalists, Oliver leads a counterattack, desperate to recapture Darhk’s stolen idol and keep H.I.V.E.’s lackey in prison. If anything, it’s an episode mostly full of well choreographed, interesting set pieces.
One of the greatest strengths of Arrow has always been its stunt work and it’s done well here. Oliver and Diggle’s attack on a missile shipment while Thea and Laurel battle the League in the Bunker is one of the best fights of the back half of this season and for the first time since Constantine’s appearance this season, the flashback actually features an exciting little shootout. The prison brawl at the climax feels a little too small for the rest of the episode but this is a show that frequently has had some issues creating a suitable sense of scale.
It’s helped that this is an episode full of interpersonal tension and characters rapidly reaching their emotional limits. Thea’s desperate to inflict a little cathartic violence. Oliver’s practically salivating at the chance to torture Andy to see if he’s flipped on the team. Laurel’s barely holding her rage against Darhk at bay. It’s the sort of intensity this show has needed for a while and it has real consequences.
The characters are snapping at each other, questioning their motives and confronting each other about their failings. John and Arrow’s debate over Andy’s loyalty is probably the most pronounced moment of this but Thea needling Oliver about his secret keeping is telling as well. Even Darhk gets in on the action as he attacks Laurel over Quentin’s alcoholism.
It’s solid theming and while the stakes of this season have never been too well articulated, they feel elevated and immediate here. By the end, the shocking moment the show’s been promising feels earned, the heroes mistakes and failings finally catching up with them in a shocking but obvious in retrospect moment of violence.
So, yeah, this kinda needs to be addressed. While what happens to Laurel makes thematic sense in the episode and her conversation with Oliver heavily implies that this isn’t the end of her story, Arrow throws another woman in the fridge this season. Much like Felicity’s paralysis earlier, it seems likely that this will be undone by the season’s end but that only heightens the problem.
Arrow has treated death and injury and violence as a constantly revolving door, where consequences can be washed away with a quick trip to the Lazarus Pit or a meeting with John Constantine. Death has no value in this universe but to galvanize the show’s male characters and it’s constantly made more superfluous by the show’s unwillingness to embrace long lasting consequences. It makes the grave that’s virtually defined this season feel empty and pointless.
It’s clear what the writers and creators were going for with “Eleven-Fifty-Nine,” crafting an episode that forces the heroes to see their failings for what they are as they come together to take on Darhk as the series draws to a close, but killing off Laurel, however briefly, is another notable example of the well-worn, sexist trope this show has gone back to time and time again. More than anything, it’s troublesome to see Arrow so frequently go back to the same well, especially as it damages its characters, setting, and mythology for increasingly diminishing returns.