Warning: Spoilers through Arrow episode 5, season 4. Like, there’s death and stuff in here, guys. Be careful.
This week, Arrow got a visit from our dear old cancelled NBC friend, John Constantine, and while the guest star brought about a much needed change of tone for the show, he also shined a light on the show’s biggest problem of late: the absence of consequence.
I’ll fully admit that I recognize the shift Arrow is making in its design. With the addition of The Flash and the upcoming release of Legends of Tomorrow, Arrow has to be a little more campy to exist in the same universe. For the first two seasons, Arrow was, for the most part, set in a more realistic world. Nothing was over-the-top fantastical and that made its grim nature all the more engaging. The show has since had to make allowances for the metahumans from The Flash and the mysticism of the Ra’s al Ghul plot line, and for much of season three the show seemed able to tow that line, staying true to its roots while adding new elements to keep the stories fresh.
However, somewhere around Oliver’s near-death at the hands of Ra’s, things took a turn for the worse. Introducing the Lazarus Pit to the universe has brought all sorts of chaos to Team Arrow and not in the exciting way. We knew as viewers that Oliver wasn’t really dead and I’m okay with that kind of fake out because Oliver is the titular character. He’s a safe bet for at least another season. But the reason why Arrow has been so successful where other comic book shows have failed is in part because at any given moment, someone close to Oliver can bite the big one. Look at Tommy and Moira and the impact those two character deaths had on viewers. They hurt because their deaths were unexpected and final. Sara’s death felt much the same way at the beginning of season three. That is, until the introduction of the Lazarus Pit. Since then we’ve had fake deaths for Roy and Thea, and while I can understand the reason for both, they’re cheapened by the fact that at any moment things go south, the Lazarus Pit is there to save the day.
The writers tried to get around the deus ex mechanic by giving those resurrected from the Lazarus Pit “side effects.” It wasn’t good enough, in my opinion, but with the increasing fantastical nature of the show, I can accept it. When it comes to having something as over-powered as the Lazarus Pit in your universe, there needs to be rules surrounding its use–rules other than “because we said so.”
And then the show introduced the even bigger deus ex in John Constantine in the most recent episode, “Haunted.” Sara is plagued by her resurrection, guided wholly by a bloodlust for revenge against her murderer, Thea. Only by killing Thea can she become herself once more. Oh, except there’s one other way, the way utilized by the charming Constantine: an exorcism of sorts to expel the demons holding back Sara’s soul from reuniting with its body. Without much trouble at all, Oliver, John, and Laurel are able to rescue Sara and return her to the world just in time to star in Legends of Tomorrow. Easy as pie. (Oh, and hey! Ray Palmer is also still alive in time for Legends.)
What? Where’s the danger in that? Are there lingering effects on Laurel or Oliver from entering the spirit realm? No. Does Sara appear to be any different than her “self” from a season ago? No, not really. Does John charge an exorbitant amount of money for the use of his services? Maybe?
So then, what’s to stop Oliver from resurrecting Tommy or Thea from resurrecting Moira? Or heck, Thea was in the room, why not cleanse her soul too and get a two-for-one deal and remove any immediate danger from Team Arrow? OR Diggle could just bring his brother back to life. (Actually, there’s another fake death since I’m all but certain that Andrew Diggle is still alive.)
EDIT: I’ve neglected to mention that in the last episode, Ra’s’ daughter, Nyssa, destroyed the Lazarus Pit so that others cannot use it. However, I struggle with this because 1. the damage has already been done and a terrible precedent been set and 2. Damien Darhk, according to Ra’s from last season, has the waters from the Lazarus Pit. I have no doubt he will try (had tried) to make his own pit.
When a story loses its consequences, it loses its emotional connection to the viewer. If a character can return from the dead at any moment, why get invested into a character at all? Why do I care if Team Arrow faces death in any scenario if at the drop of a hat they can brought back to life? They can even wait a year to try to resurrect someone if they so choose. You know, just in case they aren’t certain if they want someone back in their lives, they have options.
There’s creating magic and fantasy to add depth to a story and then there’s disconnected, lazy storytelling for the sake of being safe and unfortunately, Arrow has fallen into that latter category.