TV Review: Arrow – “Eleven-Fifty-Nine”

Warning: this review contains spoilers. You can find all of my Arrow reviews here.
This is a difficult review to write. In “Eleven-Fifty-Nine”, Arrow did the thing I really did not want it to do. But it did it really well, in a stellar episode to boot.
Before I get into what worked this week, let me start by airing my grievances. I did not want Laurel to die. And it’s not because of comic book canon, or some silly shipping wars. It’s because Laurel had grown so much as a character since the first season and finally hit her stride lately, and it’s unfortunate to see it come to a halt. In some ways, the death feels less like the right thing to do for her character arc, and more like the writers put themselves in a situation where they had to kill someone and picked the character with whom they’ve historically struggled to figure out what to do. Which is a shame, because the Black Canary is a character with much more potential.
So if the intention was to maximize emotional impact by picking the character whose death I wanted the least, it worked. Because it really was a very emotional scene. Part of me, the cynical part that did not want Laurel to die, thought I would be rolling my eyes when it happened. But my eyes ended up doing something else instead. To Arrow‘s credit, the fact that the ending had me so choked up showed that, whatever I thought of the decision, the death scene itself was handled really well.
Kudos to the actors for top-notch performances all around, the main reason that ending worked so well. They’ve all come so far since Season 1. Katie Cassidy lived up to the challenge, sending Laurel off with some of her finest work on the show, including a very touching final scene with Oliver. Stephen Amell’s reaction was utterly heartbreaking, as was Paul Blackthorne’s when Quentin was faced with this all-too-familiar grief. One performance that should not be overlooked was David Ramsey’s, as Diggle, who is usually the heart and backbone of the team, was utterly defeated by his guilt.
Black CanaryThe bulk of “Eleven-Fifty-Nine” focused on Damien Darhk’s prison break, and what I enjoyed was seeing this plotline tie together many of Season 4’s past threads. Merlyn’s return to full-fledged antagonist played a major role, as he was the catalyst for Darhk’s escape. Naturally, his fallout with his daughter also came into play, and Thea had plenty of strong material to chew on, reminding us that she’s also become a great character in her own right.
Another element of past Season 4 episodes that contributed to this story was Andy’s supposed reformation. This was one of the highlights of “Eleven-Fifty-Nine”, as Oliver and Diggle clashed over Andy’s loyalties in a way that was reminiscent of their post-Season 3 fallout. The episode did a great job making the audience uncertain of whose side to take. Sure, Andy’s actions aroused enough suspicion that we probably saw the betrayal coming, but I’m sure some of us hoped that John’s trusting, optimistic mindset would be proven right. Which made the gut punch revelation work.
“Eleven-Fifty-Nine” was a very focused and driven episode. I’ve always shied away from being too critical of Felicity because some of the nerd rage I’ve seen thrown at her is just ridiculous. That being said, I’d be lying if I didn’t admit her absence helped “Eleven-Fifty-Nine” feel more tight and cohesive, since her subplots often tend to be tangential. Plus, the absence of her (and Curtis’s) usual cheerful disposition helped sell the dread that permeated the episode.
The action scenes also did their fair share in making “Eleven-Fifty-Nine” feel exciting and energetic. Though not necessarily the best action this season (that honour still goes to the James Bamford and Lexi Alexander-directed episodes), between the car chase at the beginning, the Arrow cave break-in, the prison escape, and Thea’s fight with Malcolm, this episode had enough to keep the adrenaline pumping.
Even the flashbacks in “Eleven-Fifty-Nine” were better than usual. It helped that they were longer than a few seconds each, to be sure, but they also had plenty of action and some nice dramatic, character-driven beats. It was nice seeing Oliver’s photo of Laurel referenced again. And I also liked seeing Oliver’s non-romantic but still strong relationship with Taiana develop. Plus, the idol’s existence on Lian Yu made for a nice tie-in with present day events, and I hope the next few episodes capitalize on that better than Season 3 did.
If this episode was any indication, Season 4 might just stick the landing after all. Laurel’s death succeeded in selling Darhk as an incredibly dangerous enemy not to be trifled with, and “Eleven-Fifty-Nine” had the sort of energy and buildup that was reminiscent of Season 2’s final episodes—something Season 3 very much lacked. Hopefully the next 5 episodes deliver on that promise. Until then, we mourn a character who was given a touching hero’s death, despite being taken away before her full potential could be achieved.
Goodbye, pretty bird.

Rating: 4.5/5 (Excellent)

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