Comic books are infamous for never truly killing off their characters, with all manner of methods used to bring both heroes and villains back from the dead. CW’s Arrow operates in a similar vein, treating death as more of an obstacle than a permanent sentence. Early on in its run, the show fearlessly killed off key characters: Season 1 concluded with the death of Oliver Queen’s childhood friend, Tommy Merlyn, and Season 2 saw Oliver’s mother get run through by a sword at the hands of Slade Wilson. Since then though, things have drifted in the other direction.
Arrow‘s biggest problem came the second we were introduced to the mythical Lazarus Pit. In DC’s comic universe, the Pit is used primarily to prolong the life of Batman villain R’as Al Ghul. On the CW, it’s the cure-all for death at any stage. We saw it bring Oliver’s sister Thea Queen back days after her “death,” and soon it’ll do the same for the recently deceased Sara Lance. All this almost seems great on the surface: Sara was a fan-favorite for her time on the show, and Oliver has already lost his father, stepfather, and mother. But when the end isn’t the end for a character, it starts to present problems.
When death isn’t permanent, it’s hard to convince your audience that the stakes really matter. The Lazarus Pit in turn acts as an easy out whenever someone bites the dust, removing the suspense from any situation. The deus ex machina-esque vibe is hard to shake in the Arrow-verse, leading any fan to wonder if and when the Pit will be utilized as a cure-all. With Sarah Lance’s resurrection proving that even a year can pass without consequence, it leads us to wonder which other characters are set to return.
Admittedly, it makes sense for a comic book to make death less than permanent. A large majority of comic series exist without a clear ending in sight, and as such they can’t afford to be down major characters for long. For a TV show though, the storytelling structure is different. Someday, Arrow will end, wrapping up the aftermath of however many seasons the show ends up running. Even if showrunner Greg Berlanti hasn’t quite structured the latter half of Arrow‘s run, there’s no denying the presence of an eventual endgame.
It’s one thing to have a key character return from the dead for mysterious yet believable reasons. Ray Palmer’s Season 3 death occurred at the hands of an explosion in his lab, explained away in the Legends of Tomorrow trailer by his ability to shrink a la Ant-Man (Palmer is the DC equivalent known as Atom). Oliver Queen beat death because he’s the main character, and without him the show ceases to be. The introduction of what amounts to a magic resurrection hot tub, though, offers a fix that’s almost too easy.
The jury’s still out on Season 4 of Arrow, but it’s clear that the show is trying to redefine its stakes. We have a new villain in town to challenge our heroes, while Oliver vows to take a decidedly less dark path to give the show some much-needed levity. Amidst all this, it’ll be interesting to see how the show deals with any future deaths the season may bring. If you’re not the mayor of Star(ling) City, it would appear as though anyone can take a dip in the Lazarus Pit nowadays.
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