A Quiver Full of Women: CW’s ARROW Misses the Mark with Female Characters

Arrow-CastOf the new crop of shows this television season, only a few sparked my interest, and even fewer held onto it. One exception, oddly enough, has been the CW‘s Arrow. I say ‘oddly enough’ because I haven’t watched a show on that network since Supernatural ended after Season 5. (Don’t try to convince me otherwise.)

Despite what some people in marketing evidently believe, I don’t just watch Arrow for the hot guys. It’s not like attractive men on the CW are so rare that I’d follow 22 episodes of tangled conspiracies and flashbacks just to see a set of abs. Even if they’re nice abs.

I like the adventure. I like the banter. I like the archery. I like it when a person with a secret identity has a support team, and they all hang out in a hidden base to do research on bad guys. And I absolutely love a good fight montage.

But all season long I’ve struggled with the female characters. It’s not that they’re awful, but they’re not developing. In some cases, they’re devolving. ‘Strong, female character’ is a label people will put on any fictional woman who has a career and a backbone, and that’s a start, but with the exception of fan-favorite Felicity Smoak, the women of Arrow seem to be defined by their relationships with leading man Oliver Queen, or another man in their lives.

No one suffers this more than Katie Cassidy‘s Laurel Lance. When we first meet Laurel, she’s a crusading lawyer with guts and a soft, gooey center. She knows how to handle herself in a physical confrontation. She hates Oliver for cheating on her and getting her sister killed. This is a good place to start – plenty of tension, a solid ground for her to stand on, positioned to antagonize. But as episodes unfold, Laurel seems to slip into the role of The Girl. Her story lines move away from the courtroom and into the bedroom. And while it’s nice of Oliver to point out in Wednesday’s episode that Laurel isn’t anyone’s property, between Tommy, Oliver, and Laurel’s father, that’s precisely what she’s become. Which is a terrible waste of Katie Cassidy’s badassery.

She’s not alone in taking a step back. Oliver’s sister Thea (played by Willa Holland) goes through some typical ‘teenage’ plots in the beginning, including reckless, rebellious behavior and a stint with drugs that forces her into community service. But just as she’s turning her attention away from herself, along comes He of the Chiseled Jaw, Roy Harper. Now her entire life revolves around the semi-reformed bad-boy and helping him find the Hood – not because she’s remotely interested in the vigilante, but because Roy’s obsessed. I realize that Roy Harper becomes the Green Arrow’s sidekick in the comic books, but considering how many sidekicks Oliver already has, adding this one seems unnecessary at this point. And wouldn’t it have been a little more interesting if it was Thea, after the loss of her father, the distance from her brother, and the kidnapping of her stepfather, who wanted to find the Hood and learn how to fight?

Even Moira Queen, who seemed to be building to become one of those tyrannical matriarchs who scare the crap out of everyone, sacrificing people left and right to protect what’s hers, has been shown to be Malcolm Merlyn’s puppet, demoralized by the absence of her second husband, and desperate for the approval of her son.

(Of course, the finale hasn’t aired, and I don’t believe we’ve seen the whole Truth About Moira just yet, so my fingers are crossed.)

I still enjoy the show, a lot. I like the characters. I like the action. I like the struggle in the walk of the vigilante, hovering between savior and sinner. I’d just like to see the women of Starling City make some moves that didn’t completely revolve around their love lives.

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