A few weeks ago, Arrow’s third season began with an incredibly shocking first episode. And now, four episodes later, all the characters are still dealing with the tragedy. This tragedy—a major character death—was completely unexpected. I didn’t mind what happened, despite how much I adored said character, but dealing with the death of a loved one seems to be a recurring trend with Laurel’s character. In the first season, she was still coming to terms with her sister’s death. In the second season, she turned to drugs and alcohol after Tommy died. And now, in the third season, she is using another death as an excuse to engage in some truly ableist behavior.
Spoilers for Arrow Season 3 up ahead.
Last season, we discovered that Sara was still alive and a member of the League of Assassins. Laurel and Sara spend that season bonding and getting to know one another again, only for Sara to be murdered by a still-unknown assailant at the start of the third season.
After watching an injured Sara fall off a roof and plummet to her death, Laurel decides to not tell their father Quentin what happened. Laurel makes this decision for numerous reasons. Last season, Quentin was injured himself and now he has severe, though unexplained, heart issues, and Laurel doesn’t want to give him a heart attack. Her other reason is that after Sara supposedly died the first time, Quentin turned to alcohol and threw himself into his work. His own self-destructive behavior ruined his marriage and drove what was left of their family apart. As such, Laurel believes it would be best for him if they find Sara’s killer before she tells him what happened. Out of respect to Laurel, and in acknowledgement that it is her place to talk to Quentin about Sara, none of the other characters have told him the truth either.
In this situation, it is very easy to feel bad for Laurel as she tries to come to terms with this tragedy herself and struggles with how to confront her father on this issue. Sadly, though her reasons for not telling him right away seem noble—she’s hiding it for his own good, after all—it’s actually incredibly ableist, and it’d be really awesome if she’d stop.
To start off, every single one of Laurel’s reasons is complete bullshit. Although Quentin did react poorly to Sara’s death the first time around and engaged in some self-destructive behavior, that is not an excuse to not tell him what happened. Although he may have thrown himself into his work back then and Sara’s current killer has yet to be found, that is also not an excuse. And although it is possible to suffer a heart attack after the death of a loved one, that is most definitely not a fucking excuse. Dealing with the death of a loved one is hard, even for people who are able-bodied, but there’s no reason why Quentin’s health should ever be a basis for hiding his daughter’s death from him. They all know how he reacted to loss in the past, and they all know about his heart, so they should tell him and then provide him the support he needs. They can help him to avoid obsessing over work, Laurel can continue going to AA meetings with him, and there are ways to minimize the risk of a heart attack. Letting him know about Sara isn’t an automatic death sentence. Not letting him know, on the other hand, is a huge violation of his trust.
By refusing to tell her father what happened for the reasons above, Laurel is using his condition to assert herself over him. She is making a decision for him that is not hers to make. Her actions completely disregard his feelings—or how he will feel once he finds out—and in the process she has taken his health into her own hands. It’s not her heart condition; it’s Quentin’s, and as he’s the one who lives with it all day, he probably knows how to handle it better than she does. It is not guaranteed that Quentin will suffer a heart attack after hearing about Sara. And if Laurel really is concerned about a potential heart attack, then she needs to think long and hard about how she wants to break the news. There’s never going to be an easy way to tell him, but Sara was his daughter and he deserves to know. What’s worse: the fact that Sara died, or the fact that his other daughter knew she died and hid it from him for weeks?
I have found that there are very few things that are more annoying and rude than having loved ones ignore your autonomy and make decisions for you “for your own good” because of a medical condition. Like Quentin, I have a heart condition, and like Laurel, my own family members used to pull shit like this on me all the time. Though thankfully they never hid a family death, my parents would hide stuff from me to protect my “delicate” feelings. They even did this to me when my mom was briefly hospitalized. I felt hurt and betrayed, and this is more than likely how Quentin will feel, too, when he finds out the truth.
While I am aware that everybody else is just concerned for me and want what’s best, these actions are often done with only my condition in mind and without any consideration to the fact that I am a person with my own thoughts and feelings. It also disregards my own ability to handle my condition. And it’s not only my parents who think they can make decisions for me. I have had random strangers freak out at me over my condition; I have had friends and family members dictate whether or not I can consume certain foods and drinks, and I have had people call ambulances for me after I explicitly told them not to. It’s my own condition, I know my limits, and if I choose to push those limits by eating something I’ve been told not to, that’s my choice and no one else’s. It is significantly hard to appreciate someone’s concern when you’re being charged over $1,000 for an ambulance ride you didn’t want or need in the first place.
Laurel withholding information from Quentin is just another example of this sort of ableism.
Laurel is taking away his autonomy by holding his condition up as being more important than him, by putting limits on his life without his consent. And even worse, he doesn’t even know that those limits are in place. I could tell when something was wrong, and I suspect that Quentin can too. He’s going to find out, regardless of whether or not Laurel tells him the truth. It’d be better to hear it from her, and I wish more people would call Laurel out on her behavior.