Earlier today, one of my coworkers wrote a piece that seems to have riled up much of the Arrow fandom, in which he argued that John Diggle ought to be written out of the series since his role as Oliver's field partner had been taken over by Arsenal and Black Canary.
Like many of our readers, I disagree.
To clarify one thing, before we get started: I love the idea that superheroes and their loved ones eventually get to ride off into the sunset. The idea that Oliver has been driving home this season -- that the life he's chosen means eventually he'll die doing this job -- is not all that appealing when you think of it in regards to characters you're going to build a relationship with. I was thrilled when, during Geoff Johns' run, Wally West got to retire, hand off the mantle of The Flash, and go be with his wife and kids...but that's the kind of thing you should do when it feels natural for the character, or when a character has exhausted storytelling potential, neither of which are true for Diggle right now.
There are a number of reasons, but the biggest one is, from my vantage point, it seems clear that creative team are already resolving the biggest issue raised in Mr. Steinbeiser's editorial: Diggle is, and has been for a while, on a trajectory to have a different-but-still-vital role with Team Arrow going forward.
His proposal to ex-wife Lyla Michaels puts him closer than ever to A.R.G.U.S., the super-spy agency behind the Suicide Squad. Diggle, of course, has been recruited to work with them before because he isn't just a guy with a gun. He is an elite member of the U.S. Army Special Forces, one of the most elite fighting forces on the planet. He is, to borrow a phrase from the wrong Ra's al Ghul, a man with a very particular set of skills.
This makes Diggle something of the ultimate "friend on the force," a guy who can help Oliver get the equipment, backup and whatever else he needs...something that's even more essential to Team Arrow's operations now that Ollie isn't independently wealthy. He can even justify it, since the Arrow has the respect and tacit sanction of local law enforcement in the wake of Deathstroke's attack on Starling at the end of Season Two.
The season started with Diggle and Oliver agreeing to part ways, but Diggle returned to help resolve the mystery of Sara's murder. With Oliver out of commission and Ra's al Ghul still at large, the second half of the season will be an all-hands-on-deck situation, but Diggle is one of the only people who know who truly killed Sara and why -- something that will no doubt be driving the remainder of the season.
Whether that means staying with Team Arrow or returning to Lyla's side and directing A.R.G.U.S. resources at the problem, there's never been a time that Oliver's group needed more help than now, with Oliver gone and the League of Assassins potentially poised to descend on Starling.
Even after Oliver returns, there will be some things to do that will clearly be better-told stories with John Diggle in them. He and Felicity have often been the conscience of the team, and when Oliver believed that Roy had killed Sara, Diggle was the one telling Team Arrow that they couldn't just cover it up if true.
"There can't be two sets of rules," he told Oliver; Team Arrow cannot be above the law they claim to be enforcing or what's the point? And when Oliver comes back, that's still something they'll have to deal with: Merlyn clearly cannot walk away after brainwashing Thea into killing for him...and honestly, there are still questions regarding whether Thea needs to know the truth -- and possibly stand trial -- and what to do about the fact that, Mirakuru or not, Roy killed a police officer last year.
These aren't the kinds of decisions Oliver, often blinded by his love for his family (biological or adopted) can make with a clear head. And as Felicity has become more of a romantic foil for him, it's harder to totally trust her judgment on some of these questions, as well. Diggle is the most pragmatic guy in the room, using among other things the kind of battlefield thinking that nobody else on Arrow was ever trained to develop. Oliver has some version of this, but he wasn't fighting with the Geneva conventions and the reputation of the U.S. military in mind; he was working for Amanda Waller, a woman willing to nuke an American city to make her mistakes go away and blow up a crowded commercial jet in the hopes of assassinating one drug dealer.
And, yes...there are superheroes, both present and coming. Oliver now exists in a world where The Flash, Firestorm, Wildcat, Black Canary and Arsenal exist and The Atom is on the way. He's also going to be squaring off against the kind of villains who come with that world: The Flash's Rogues have already started to come together.
But all of that just reminds us that, for both reasons of character development and for storytelling purposes, Oliver needs people around him who don't wear masks.
That's something Sara told him point blank at the beginning of the season, and it's something that has resonated throughout a year that's all about the idea of identity. The question is, "Can Oliver Queen survive, or does he have to die for the Arrow to be effective?" The hope, of course, is that he can find a way to make both lives fulfilling and meaningful...and that's hard to do when the only people you surround yourselves with are other costumed vigilantes.
This is actually a problem with superhero comics at the moment: driven by the appeal of the interconnected universe and the never-ending demands of event tie-ins, supporting casts have shrunk to nearly non-existent and all the character development is done through the lens of bouncing off other superheroes, which means almost all of the conversation is about the action, the villains, etc. There's little to no humanity in many mainstream superhero comic books right now, and while some fans may complain about the romance and melodrama that's part of Oliver Queen's life on Arrow, the reality is the show would feel wrong without some version of that. It's part of the series' DNA, and the more "super" Oliver's heroics get, the harder it is to keep him tethered to that original "grounded and gritty" feeling they had in the first season.
The idea that Oliver -- who just got killed doing this, by the way -- needs a reminder that the challenges he faces aren't "about cops and robbers with masks anymore" rings hollow, too: He literally just lectured Barry Allen about this a few weeks ago. Remember? "Things work differently here; Starling City is...meaner."
Even so, Barry rebutted that last year, before he was struck by lightning, police scientist Barry Allen helped Oliver on a case...against Mirakuru soldiers, who are pretty similar to a world full of superheroes.
There's also the matter of H.I.V.E. That's a major, unresolved plot that Diggle is at the center of. The organization, with ties to previous Arrow villains and a long history in the comics, is responsible for the death of Diggle's brother. That tragedy was a major motivator for John in the first season and has been touched on occasionally since. It's incredibly unlikely that they'd kill the character or demote him from series regular without first resolving that storyline, and if they did it would feel a bit like poor storytelling.
Moving his role to less that of a field operative and more of an external source of support is necessary as Team Arrow grows, that's absolutely true; his connections to Oliver Queen make him an easy and obvious target if you have a bunch of masks and then one particularly skilled fighter running around making himself identifiable to any Clock King with a laptop and an IQ above 80. That doesn't make a core cast member expendable, though; it presents a creative challenge that the writing staff needs to overcome and, from all appearances, they've got a plan they're already working on.
This isn't The Walking Dead; it's not a show where "anything can happen" just means people can die at any moment. The stakes may be higher than ever, but they're also different from shows like that, and we've seen on other shows that the death or retirement/removal of a character doesn't inherently mean better storytelling or that the remaining cast members will carry an impact with them for more than the duration of the three-episode arc dealing with the killing. Death for drama works in the comics because nearly every character has a decades-long history and so the readers and characters have well-developed relationships.
On TV, it can often feel lazy and frankly "kill the guy because we don't know what else to do with him" is insulting to the character and the audience, and beneath the show's writers (and if it isn't, it should be).