The following article contains spoilers.
Peruse r/Arrow, the subreddit of the CW series Arrow and you’d think the sky is falling. Starring Stephen Amell and based on the DC superhero Green Arrow, this week’s episode “Eleven Fifty Nine” featured the death of mainstay Laurel Lance (aka Black Canary, played by Katie Cassidy) which was seen as an unforgivable offense, maybe an act of war, from the show’s creative team — notably co-show runner Marc Guggenheim — by its dissatisfied and divided fandom. Fans are tuning out. They’re migrating to The Flash. If there is ever a book to write on writers and their relationship with fans, Arrow is a cautionary tale.
Something to remember about Arrow and the Green Arrow’s DC Comics mythos: Laurel as Black Canary is an indelible part of Oliver Queen’s world, as much as Robin is to Batman and bad aim is to Stormtroopers. She’s his true love and most reliable partner against crime. Putting aside debates about creative liberties, her death is a bold move by the Arrow writer’s room.
But Black Canary’s death is only the latest in a series of frustrations felt by Arrow fans. Since Season 3, the most divisive point that draws the line in the sand is Oliver’s romantic arc Laurel, but Felicity Smoak (Emily Bett Rickards), the blonde beauty with a brain and Team Arrow tech asset, and not Laurel. Originally a minor character, Rickards’s electric chemistry with Amell drove the show, naturally or intentionally, toward Felicity as love interest instead of comics-accurate Laurel, who began in Arrow as Oliver’s ex and then stayed that way until Damien Darhk stuck an arrow in her rib.
Oliver and Felicity, or “Olicity”, is as perfect an image of fandom shipping as you can get. A descendant of Ross and Rachel with shades of Twilight, the six-packed Oliver falling for the bespectacled Felicity resonated with a big portion of Arrow’s audience, either because of its aspirational imagery (lotta young females watch superheroes on the youthful CW) or because fans no matter the demographic felt so strongly about these two at first, myself included.
And so the Olicity train moved forward in Season 3, but it was poorly executed. But it didn’t die, and its elongated life has been blamed for the show’s major drop in quality.
It may not even be the reason Arrow isn’t sharp, but it’s a marker. Since Olicity, Oliver and Felicity have ceased being characters and instead became caricatures, doing dumb things because plot demands it. Not because it’s what they would do as defined characters. A popular criticism in Season 4: In one episode, Felicity advises her mother not to begrudge her new beau, police captain Quentin Lance for keeping secrets. It comes with the job, be it cops or superheroes (in Quentin’s case, a complicated mix of both). Yet not a few episodes later, Felicity literally walks out on Oliver and calls off their engagement, all because he kept his own son with another woman secret.
No matter how bad “Olicity” has been, there are fans who are happy it’s still a thing. There are just as many fans who are pissed. Arrow’s fans are at war, between pro-Olicity (those who want Olicity to keep going) and anti-Olicity, who believe their romance has killed the show. The death of Laurel was anticipated, and then celebrated, by pro-Olicity with the hashtag #ByeByeBirdie.
At the center of the chaos: show runner Marc Guggenheim. Like Steven Moffat and Doctor Who, Guggenheim — who works on Arrow but not on the better received The Flash and Legends of Tomorrow — has been criticized by r/Arrow, for prioritizing auteur stamps over telling a coherent, consistent series. Sarcastically nicknamed “Uncle Guggy”, Guggenheim has demonstrated favoritism towards Felicity, giving her the codename Overwatch, a reference to his own 2014 spy novel.
In “Eleven Fifty Nine,” which was written by Guggenheim and Keto Shimizu, Laurel told Oliver on her deathbed he should be with Felicity. Analyzed meta-textually, anti-Olicity and r/Arrow felt it was Guggenheim thumbing his nose, taunting them that Olicity is the permanent direction for Arrow.
Personally, I find it hard to criticize Felicity, no matter how deserving. R/Arrow’s critiques are steeped in coded misogyny; I’ve lost count how many times “Tumblrina” or other slangs for female Tumblr users, often with progressive values, are used as an insult. My eyes glaze when the fandom mocks Felicity, once a beloved character, for being “a great, strong, powerful woman” which is a whole bit on r/Arrow.
But it’s not without merit. Felicity has been a shell of her former great self, and the constant attention to her relationship with Oliver has been an energy vacuum whenever they’re on screen, though I did like the recent episode with Cupid.
The writers have no obligation to please all of its fans and Season 5 is guaranteed for the series. But declining ratings (“Eleven Fifty Nine” led Arrow to suffer a drop) and a confused, agitated audience is no way to ensure the show will love to see a sixth, seventh, or more. In trying to please its fans, Arrow only hurt them.