(Season 3 Spoilers. Make sure you are caught up. You’ve been warned.)
I have had several discussions with friends revolving around female characters in media which has been on my mind a lot lately. This morning I woke up and started thinking about all the female characters in Arrow. How their characters developed but also how they have had such a strong impact on Oliver, who is technically the main character, and if it wasn’t for them Oliver would be a much different person.
Early on in the flashbacks we are introduced to playboy Oliver, his goals in life are pretty much to avoid getting into any committed relationship and have as much fun as possible. After the shipwreck and his subsequent decisions to fight for his life and not curl up and die on the island we are introduced to Shado. Until this point we only have seen Sara Lance as a female influence and her time on screen is minimal. We meet Yao Fe, who saves Oliver and Oliver’s father who has charged him with what becomes his life mission. Then we meet Slade, the man who starts to teach Oliver how to fight but it is Shado, a woman, who teaches Oliver how to use his weapon of choice, the bow. It’s Shado who convinces Slade that Oliver has worth as a fighter and has something deep within him that will help them survive and hopefully get off the island. Shado becomes the main bone of contention between Slade and Oliver which in the end earns Oliver his first enemy. Shado as a character is never defined solely by her relationship with either Oliver or Slade, she is a fully formed character in her own right and doesn’t need the men to help her stand on her own. Shado fights just as hard as they do, just as well as they do and yet brings forgiveness and understanding that the men lack due to their circumstances. She’s somewhat of a balancing force, helping both of them to heal or overcome things in different ways.
The next time we see Sara she is actually standing over Oliver with a knife ready to kill him if ordered to do so. She was rescued by Ivo and bought into his mission to “save the human race”. It appears that Ivo had started to train Sara on how to fight and handle weapons. Throughout the rest of the flashbacks with Sara, Slade and Oliver on the island we often see Oliver relying heavily on Sara’s advice on how to handle different situations. She is often the one encouraging Oliver to continue to fight, she is the one who tells Oliver about the side effect of the Mirakuru and she helps plan several of their attacks/escapes on the freighter. In many ways she has become much stronger emotionally and psychologically than Oliver and it’s obvious that he relies heavily on her input.
When looking at the current timeline versus the flashbacks we also become aware of the immensity of the power and influence of Moira Queen over Oliver’s life although he is completely unaware of it at first. Barely half way through Season 1 she has Oliver kidnapped to convince Merlyn that he knows nothing of the plans regarding the Undertaking. This pushes Oliver into rushing his plans on becoming the Vigilante and sets up a series of events which increases the difficulty he has with assimilating back into the world while hiding his vigilante identity. As the show progresses and we find out more and more about who Moira is we discover that in her desire to protect her family, her choices are what ultimately propelled Oliver into becoming the Vigilante. Her character is probably the hardest to define because her relationships with her husband and Malcolm Merlyn twist her into who she is but at the same time she constantly tries to find ways to escape their influence and save her family. She is a women who could never be called weak or stereotypical and the strings which she pulls drives the story of Oliver’s life in a multitude of ways.
Laurel Lance is probably one of the most polarizing characters in the show but I find her story line intriguing. As we know in the comics she is Black Canary and Oliver’s love and in Arrow they show that it is Oliver’s desire to gain forgiveness from Laurel for what he believes is killing her sister which helps propel him to try to survive the shipwreck and the subsequent situations that evolve. Laurel is a truly independent women, she has a law degree, she works at a legal aid clinic, she is the saving angel for her father and helped him recover from the tragedies in their lives. Her influence on Oliver is different than everyone else’s. To me, it seems that when he returns it is through the meetings with Laurel that the reality of how he must isolate himself from others to protect them truly sets in. In the scene when he is waiting for money to be transferred from his very first target as “Arrow”, Laurel is right in front of him, hoping to possibly rebuild what was lost and you can see that he wants that as well. As soon as the alarm on his phone goes off and he realizes that he may be forced to kill someone he takes a step back from her and pushes her away both physically and emotionally. In that moment he begins to realize that he truly can never put people he cares about at risk. Throughout the rest of the first season we see several attempts on both of their parts to try to make something work but Oliver is constantly forced to push her away. In Season 2 when Laurel starts to spiral downwards her plunge into depression oddly enables Oliver to forgive himself for the pain he caused her and move on.
Season 2 also brings the return of Sara Lance and we see she has become a fully formed assassin. Her and Oliver’s journey into and out of a relationship is one of the things that makes Oliver more resilient in his decision to not kill again. He sees the battle that Sara struggles with and how she wishes she could return to her family and he wants to help her do that and find her way back from the darkness she has faced. Having Sara, in her new form, in his life provides a stark contrast for Oliver to compare himself with. When she pushes him to kill and points out that by keeping his enemies alive he is making things worse he is forced again and again to define within himself what his role should be, killer or hero. Yet even when they are together Sara stands alone, she doesn’t need Oliver to survive or to keep her safe. They are truly equals in their skills and their damaged psyches, they have both been through hell and survived it.
Then we have Felicity Smoak, the one episode character who has become central to helping Oliver stay sane. Felicity is the perfect light to balance out Oliver’s dark, she is the complete innocent that is totally inexperienced in how to survive any violent situation. Felicity’s choice to help Oliver when he shows up in her car bleeding and her continued willingness to risk herself to help him forces Oliver to have to protect someone that he cannot push away because he needs her to achieve his goal. Felicity is as much of an expert in her field as Oliver is in his, neither one of them require the other to provide them an identity. Felicity makes her choices to help Oliver not out of lust or love but out of a desire to help him do the right thing and help the city. She, along with Diggle, show Oliver that the Vigilante can help the city in ways that don’t involve his list. As Oliver’s family and past relationships become more and more shattered and complex and he is forced to lie more and more to people, Felicity and Diggle become his new family without whom Oliver would lose what little is left of his humanity. The constant presence of Felicity, who has not become scarred and shattered by violence, gives him something to fight for both to protect her and as a reminder of what his true goal should be; not just to destroy those on the list but protect innocent people from harm.
So far in Season Three the women are still the ones teaching, guiding and influencing Oliver. Sara’s death has become the driving force behind Team Arrow and we are getting hints that Nyssa will play a rather intriguing role in the next few episodes. The date with Felicity, which ended badly and Oliver’s admission that he does love her along with her subsequent request that he has to decide, now or never because she wants more out of her life after Sara’s death, has forced Oliver to take a deeper look at himself and his choices. Felicity’s acceptance of the job at Queen Consolidated puts things in stark contrast for him. He admits, finally, that he doesn’t want to die in the Arrow Cave and Diggle’s advice of “Then don’t.”, well meaning as it is, offers no true solutions for Oliver. Laurel, who was just getting her life back on track after the harrowing events for her in Season 2 is on the warpath but it is much more than that. Her desire to join Oliver and fight brings us back to where Oliver was many years ago. He even states that he has been where she is, the rage, the pain, the darkness and even though he has made it through he knows what the cost has been. It is as if Laurel is holding a mirror up to him and showing him how he got to this moment. You can see that he wishes he had made different choices if given another chance.
In my mind Arrow is a show where there are no weak women, there are no “token” relationships or “trophy” women. Every single female in the show serves a purpose and have shaped Oliver’s character more than anything else. I want to see how all of these women and others like Amanda Waller influence Oliver. I want there to be a continuing succession of strong women in this show who are complete characters in and of themselves and not defined by a romantic relationship.