On “Arrow” — Why *CHARACTER SPOILER ALERT* Bothers Me: A Meditation on the Integration of Strength and Vulnerability in Screen Characters

(Whew, that’s a long title.)

SPOILER ALERT SPOILER ALERT

 

In honor of the conclusion of season 2 of Arrow, we have our first commissioned post! Alex Wittenberg donated and requested that I write about “any one aspect of the show.” So I decided to write about something that’s been bothering me, which probably doesn’t bother most people for the same reason, but there are probably other reasons people are bothered by this aspect as well.

Enough with the vagueness! On to the spoilers!

Seriously, don’t read past here if you intend to watch Arrow and haven’t yet seen up to Season 2 Episode 4. Major character spoilers ahoy. Okay, you’ve now been warned three times. I give up.  

So as you may have figured out if you recall what happens in Episode 4, I’m trying to say that I’m bothered by the characterization of Sara Lance, also known as Black Canary.

I was really excited when she joined the show, because I thought it was a great twist and I was looking forward to seeing what they’d do with her. But unfortunately my enthusiasm petered out when I discovered I just didn’t like the character very much. I found her fairly flat and unmemorable despite all the screen time they gave her, and I really can’t tell if it’s the actress or the writing or possibly even the directing, but I just barely remember anything interesting she did this season, aside from having a female lover (which the cynic in me says was a desperate attempt to combat her unmemorableness, as well as a ratings ploy even though it was pretty tastefully done). At this point, I couldn’t care less about her being on the show or not, but I’m glad they haven’t killed her off yet, because if they did, I’d be expected to care, as a viewer, and I just don’t. (Same with Laurel but this post is not about Laurel.)

But aside from her overall blandness, Sara’s characterization suffers from one of my personal pet peeves: what I like to call “the Strength-Vulnerability See-saw.” (And by “I like to call it that” I mean that I just now made up the name for the purposes of this post, of course.)

The Strength-Vulnerability See-saw is what happens when a character seems to me to have only two modes: 1) stoic, badass, and hyper-competent, vs. 2) emotional, weepy, and overly vulnerable.

Sara Lance could give the master class in this. When her mask and wig and cleavage-baring catsuit are on, she is unstoppable, a force to be reckoned with. As soon as the mask comes off? She morphs into this sad-eyed, angst-ridden, quivery-chinned mess.

Some might call this character depth and talk about how her superhero mode is her coping mechanism for all the emotional turmoil underneath. And I’m not saying that’s untrue, I’m just saying that it’s irritating to watch an ostensibly strong female character see-saw back and forth between such extreme versions of being a superhero and being a child. It feels lazy to me, as all extremes do. Nuance is where it’s at, y’all. Not everyone agrees with me that this is unnuanced, of course; some see it as a positive: “On the plus side . . . the show landed a performer capable of pulling double duty as both an emotionally wounded individual and someone skilled at taking down gang members with similar proficiency as Oliver,” writes Kevin Yeoman at ScreenRant. But I don’t care what he thinks.

Writers and actors often have a hard time integrating strength and vulnerability into a single character without resorting to extremes. That was one of my biggest problems with the second Hunger Games movie as opposed to the first one — I felt upon my first viewing that Jennifer Lawrence see-sawed too often between the stoic and the hysterical. (The second time I saw it, I didn’t feel that as much, but I still think it was an issue at points.)

It’s not a problem exclusive to female characters, either. In the early seasons of Supernatural, Dean Winchester was super macho, except in those moments when he wasn’t and went to the other extreme. Fortunately, as the seasons go on, either the writing gets better or Jensen Ackles got a better grasp on integrating the character’s emotional side with his macho side, so that he no longer felt like a see-saw.

Maybe if Sara were on the show for longer, the same thing could have happened. But if she’s not, I definitely won’t miss her. Apologies to all the Sara fans out there.

 

___

Agree? Disagree? Like my posts? Consider donating and commissioning more of them, via my GoFundMe campaign — http://www.gofundme.com/sm-automotive — and thanks for reading!

Advertisements

2 thoughts on “On “Arrow” — Why *CHARACTER SPOILER ALERT* Bothers Me: A Meditation on the Integration of Strength and Vulnerability in Screen Characters”

  1. I’m binge-watching the season in late June, so I’m late to the party, but I have to agree. I’m currently at “Deathstroke,” but in recent episodes Laurel and Oliver have tried to convince Sara that she’s not a killer. Not a killer? Hasn’t she been an assassin for the past four years?

    1. But she’s not a killer in her *heart*! lol jk of course she is, but why does that have to be an unequivocally bad thing? Have you finished the season? What did you think?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s