Every once in a while, a story demands a death. It authentically demands it. Romeo and Juliet both needed to die because thematically their suicides revealed a tragedy that didn’t need to happen. Today, we still remember Shakespeare’s writing because the outcome of this romantic tragedy is so powerful. We remember Romeo and Juliet’s death scenes because the play would not have worked without these deaths. But what happens when the deaths at the hands of writers are unnecessary to the tale being told? That’s the question I want to discuss in regards to the recent deaths of Laurel Lance from the TV Series Arrow and Camille O’Connell from the TV Series The Originals.
In Arrow, Laurel has a secret identity. While District Attorney by day, she’s also the Black Canary by night. In a fight against an evil immortal, Damien Darhk, Laurel is killed at his hand because her father stopped giving into Darhk’s blackmail. But did Laurel need to die to make a point? Not really.
In fact, the REAL reason Laurel HAD to die was because, at the beginning of the season, the show revealed a mystery of Oliver Queen standing at someone’s gravestone. Meaning, one of the characters on the show would HAVE to die because they set it up as such. But the writers didn’t go in knowing who was going to die, creating an uncomfortable corner that they wrote themselves into. What they did know: the death had to have an impact on Oliver Queen and would (as later revealed mid-season) propel Oliver and Felicity to want to kill whoever killed their unnamed “friend.”
Now I’m not saying that the writing of Arrow ever could be comparable to that of Shakespeare, but at the same time, I do believe the storytelling should at the very least remain authentic. Killing a character off on a show for shock value is no longer authentic to most stories being told on television. Deaths are created for a momentary (certainly only temporary) boost in ratings. We see constant advertisements of “tune in to see who dies.” Or someone won’t make it through the day, but who? Just think of the recent season finale promo of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Fans go into a tizzy speculating the deaths, worrying that their favorite is being offed, something also achieved with the “twist” at the beginning of Arrow’s season that someone was going to die. But, to me, this is fan baiting rather than just telling a story based on truth. In other words, the writing is not being true to itself. I’m a firm believer that stories must be told by the characters, that eventually the truth of where the story should go will always present itself if the writer doesn’t try to contrive an ending or paint themselves into a corner (something that is happening way too often on TV Series these days).
How do we know if a death is contrived merely for shock value or for ratings? WELL, this is why I chose two clear and recent examples. Let me paint a picture of the contrivance in Arrow. Did Laurel’s death work thematically? Mostly. I believe that Darhk would want to kill her to make a point to Quentin Lance, but this could have been achieved just by her ‘almost’ dying. For a short while, Laurel even seemed to have survived the stabbing until she crashed and later died in the hospital. So, she died. That was the writer’s choice. I get that. And at least it sort of made sense (though matching the timeline to the teasing clip of Felicity and Oliver in the limo was just bad. I mean, in an episode about not killing, suddenly the end is about killing Darhk. Ugh).
And then there’s the flashback in the following episode about the romance between Laurel and Oliver after Tommy died, a reveal that made absolutely NO sense to what we had seen on screen prior to this episode. Laurel was suddenly over Tommy and wanted a relationship with Oliver when before we saw something completely different? The story wasn’t even consistent to Laurel’s journey as presented on the show!
Even worse, is that in the spinoff show, Legends of Tomorrow, Laurel’s sister is a time traveler. She COULD have returned to the timeline to change her sister’s death. It was possible. But no. The writers had to keep Laurel dead no matter what, no matter how much this needed to be contrived to achieve what was unnatural to the story and the characters.
In Legends of Tomorrow, Rip Hunter brings Sara back to 2016 five months after she left because he didn’t want her altering the timeline by saving Laurel. Yeah, okay. How fair is that considering she just spent the entire season trying to save his family and undoing their deaths? But what makes this even more annoying is the writers kept throwing in nonsensical reasons WHY Laurel couldn’t be saved just to make sure it stuck. Sara can’t save Laurel because Rip tells her she would fail no matter what. Um, why are we trusting the manipulative liar again especially now that the timeline has been destroyed by Snart’s sacrifice? When you have to come up with reasons, you know it’s just not right. The story is no longer true. Basically, the only reason Laurel had to die was because the writers wanted her to remain dead.
Similarly, in The Originals, Camille O’Connell, it seemed had to die no matter what, even if the writing had to contrive it to make it happen. Already killed and turned into a vampire earlier in the season, it seemed as if there was still plenty of stories left to tell for this character (though showrunner Julie Plec claimed: “The responsibility of the storyteller is to recognize when a character has run its course”) such as her being the one vampire to not give into the darkness (the Faramir Lord of the Rings like possibilities would have been amazing). In its place, they rushed this characterization in the end making the execution of Cami’s goodness even as a vampire semi-sloppy and a little too ambiguous. Here, the responsibility of the storyteller arguably failed because the writers couldn’t creatively think of a way to keep the character “relevant.”
The show in reality, on the other hand, fabulously set up SEVERAL stories to tell about Cami such as her family’s weapons and heirlooms so it wouldn’t even be that hard to have kept the character relevant. Jason Dohring’s character’s investigation into her family could have opened the floodgates into more interesting stories about even her parents. What was their involvement after all? Why didn’t we delve more into Cami’s family tree line when we knew there was a huge history there?? Why not use one of these magical weapons to save her or take down Lucien? The weapons just remain a side note of unimportance when they could have been so much more. This remains a story unexplored and certainly not a good example of a character that had run her course.
Also, IF Cami’s death actually “[respected] the integrity of what the story [was] telling” the writers they “[needed] to do,” according to Julie Plec once more, then why contrive a breakup between her and Klaus when they had so little time left together on the show in the first place? Why have Cami act out of character to steal Klaus’s toy made from white oak? Why turn her into a vampire if they didn’t want to follow through with that story either? Indeed, I saw very little respect given to the character or natural progression of the story.
For instance, when it came time for Cami to die for real, I knew in her final episode she wouldn’t survive because the characters unnaturally made a list throughout the episode of why nothing could save Camille. She had to die come what may just like Laurel Lance even when there were several authentic ways for Cami to live. The writers had to have their shock value (which by the way, isn’t shocking at all when almost every TV series right now is focusing on shocking deaths for ratings).
Even more ridiculous is that after EVERY idea to save Cami has been exhausted (absurdly so) and Cami dies (respectfully, her death was at least well written albeit unnecessary), Elijah and Kol are bitten with the same lethal bite to vampires. SUDDENLY, Freya knows how to save them through the sleeping spell she had learned from Dahlia. Um, okay. Could no one have considered the sleeping spell for Camille? It’s almost laughable.
Aside from the inauthenticity and rushed aspect of Cami’s death is the complete lack of point to her death in the overall story thematically. Sure, Klaus tries to be better but that’s about it. He could have done that for Cami with her still living as Cami tries to find a way to save him. Instead, her death remains pointless, Davina’s death being the one that propels the story forward. Marcel becomes the antagonist and beast because of Davina’s death (another female character mind you), not Cami’s. In fact, the entire climax is about how the Mikaelsons betrayed him because of their choice to save themselves over Davina. The story doesn’t even focus on Klaus’s Byronic rage at the loss of his love. The climax has nothing to do with Camille, so what was the point?
The point my friends is that Laurel Lance and Camille O’Connell had to die just because the writers felt like it. Authenticity was thrown out the window for mere shock value that lasts but a moment to both shows’ overall stories. In the long run, neither death will ever be remembered as great even though there were touching moments in the end for both characters.
All it comes down to is this: if writers need to manipulate a story in order to achieve their desires, perhaps it was time to make a different choice. Perhaps it was time to let the characters speak for themselves, to tell us where the story needed to go rather than the other way around. I truly believe that if Laurel Lance and Camille O’Connell had lived, the story would have been stronger and, of course, more authentic.
A couple of clear TV examples where deaths did work both thematically and authentically include Mitchell from Being Human and Will from The Good Wife. In Being Human, Mitchell dies because he truly can no longer live or else he will keep hurting others as a vampire. Then there was the whole self-fulfilling prophecy thing which foretold his death in a very Shakespearean Macbeth kind of way. It just worked naturally, creatively, and beautifully.
As for Will from The Good Wife, his death happens like many deaths do in real life: unexpectedly. Sure, we would miss his character but the unfinished business and love story between him and Alicia made the death all the more tragic. His demise also led Alicia down a new path to where she could finally walk away from her husband. Everything just sort of clicked as if unfolding in a literary novel. What did Will want to tell Alicia when he called? Would they have ever found their way back to one another? Alicia can only fantasize about it and that makes Will’s death powerful, truthful, and yes, authentic.
Basically, some deaths work while others just don’t. But what can writers do going forward? As Laurel and Cami are just two examples of many deaths in TV that don’t succeed, it’s difficult to explain away all of them. But for these two, in particular, I believe that mistakes can be undone. Creativity allows for change and transformation. Creativity leaves the door open for characters to return in believable ways (especially in supernatural shows). As a whole, creativity will tell you when to listen to the path of authenticity over contrived storytelling. Let the characters speak and breathe for you and your story will, in the end, be a better success.
Do you think Laurel and Cami’s deaths were authentic? How would you bring these characters back if you could? Sound off below…Pin this article to read later! And make sure to follow us on Pinterest.