Note: this article contains spoilers from the latest episode of Arrow.
During last week’s episode of Arrow, Amanda Waller was killed. Despite being in 16 episodes, Waller’s death barely affected the cast members of the team. Given the amount of time the writers spent developing Waller as a powerful and imposing character, they gave her an incredibly unceremoniously send off, shooting her in the head so a male character could live. Cynthia Addai-Robinson generally portrayed Waller as a dubious, morally grey individual who was consistently able to stay one step ahead of her opponents. It felt like a betrayal of her character to have her be sent away so anti-climatically rather than having her get outwitted in a fair fight. Disturbingly though, Waller’s death isn’t just out of step with her personality; it’s also yet another in a long list of moments where the Arrow writers treat women as expendable characters who can be used to further the male leads’ stories.
Nearly every major supporting female cast member on Arrow has been a damsel in distress at some point. Laurel and Moira Queen were both kidnapped several times in season one. Shado and Moira were killed to raise the stakes between Oliver and Slade in season two. Sara Lance has been killed countless times throughout the show, seemingly because the writer’s have absolutely no idea what to do with her as the series moves further away from its original premise. While Arrow‘s writers have spent some time building a sizable cast of female supporting characters to fight alongside Oliver Queen, when the going gets tough, it’s always the women who get the short end of the stick. It’s always the girl who ends up temporarily or permanently incapacitated to raise the stakes. In both instances within season two, it was a women that motivated the fight between Slade and Oliver. Moira died in the present and Shado died in the past, why did Arrow have to kill off two key cast members just to ignite the tension between Slade and Oliver in both time periods?
After being shot during the mid-season premiere by a faceless group of thugs, Felicity Smoak suffered permanent nerve damage to her spine. Afterwards, the writers turned her into the hero Overwatch. While there is value to having an Oracle-type character represented on TV, Felicity’s demons are glossed over. We’re only shown minor psychological ramifications from her painkiller pills and don’t have to deal with psychosis of what’s really going through her mind. She went through a traumatic experience, but Arrow isn’t interested in exploring storylines that divert attention from Oliver Queen’s journey. Even he can come back from the dead and be back to fighting form in very little time. This begs the question, why cripple Felicity at all, if the representation is only a check in a box rather than a character beat to explore in depth?
At least The Killing Joke, the Batman story that crippled Barbara Gordon and inspired Felicity’s story, was willing to delve into some of the horrific emotional baggage from Barbara’s injury. The trauma Barbara has faced has been discussed again and again by many writers and artists since then. Felicity was given one episode to try to recover before being pressured to come back to work by Oliver Queen. Then, last night’s episode of Arrow provided an easy hand-waving resolution to Felicity’s feelings of inadequacy as a paraplegic. One inspiring speech from a Palmer Tech I.T. guy gave her the ambition to deliver a giant speech to a board meeting full of investors. The writers didn’t give Felicity’s suffering or anxiety its proper due at all, choosing to rush past it rather than give it the space and emotional impact it deserves.
As a person who struggles from intense anxiety (some of the same emotions that Felicity Smoak emits on Arrow), I felt cheated when the culmination of the episode resulted in her magically sticking up to the boardroom of investors. She’s risked her life for this man and it cost her a great career in technology and most importantly; her spine. It’s cost her so much, yet the ramifications for her life have been explored so little. It leaves her character feeling hollow and the viewers feeling cheated, but what else did they expect? It’s not like the writers did right by Moira, Shado, or Amanda, either.
Is it possible that rape will be the next scenario propelling the plot forward — the idea might sound preposterous at first — but season three’s episode Canaries came dangerously close. The show stuck Thea with someone in a dangerous sexual situation with someone who was deliberately lying to her. To be completely one hundred percent fair and transparent, Oliver faced a similar situation with Summer Glau’s character in season two — but that doesn’t change the fact that Thea is nearly half his age. Ultimately, Arrow would be better served avoiding the rape, fridging and crippling of characters in the immediate future unless the writers commit to exploring the psychological consequences of these events.