The Essence Of A Superhero

Oliver – Someone once told me that the essence of heroism was to die so that others might live.

Diggle – It’s not that simple Oliver.

Oliver – Yes, it is.  Slade’s whole plan was to take everything from me.  He did.  He wins.  All that’s left is for me to die.

In this scene we see Oliver playing both the role of broken (wanting to die) and hero (wanting to die for others).  Oliver is broken again…still a hero but broken (now in the area of family).  This is a very heroic way to approach death…however, in the context he is doing it in (without “the fight”… not meaning physical fight but rather metaphorical fight.  The fight to help others, the fight for a cause) he is revealing how broken he is.  Oliver is now living in the hero stage in reference to “the island” but he has entered a broken stage in regards to his family and relationships.  To come out of this he will have to decide that he wants to survive yet again…just as he did in the cave on the island in the first season when he chose to try and survive the island.

Our lives are a lot like this too.  We live in multiple stages at once.  We are heroes in some aspects of our lives and still naive “playboys” in others.  When examining the different components of our lives (such as family, finances, health, relationships, occupation, physique, ) we find that we are just surviving or becoming vigilantes with a solid purpose in some parts and completely broken in others.  Being broken is never a desirable place to be however it can lead to becoming a hero.  And for Oliver, now that he is becoming a hero in respect to the island…he will have the chance to become a hero in more than one area of his life (physique, health, occupation…and now family).  As he becomes a hero in more than one area of life he will become a superhero.  We have this option in real life as well.  We can move through the stages, not as literally, but with just as much difficulty.  It’s a process. The process of becoming a superhero. (for more click here)


Worth It

Oliver – “It was the look in Roy’s eyes.  It was…Slade all over again.”

Diggle – “Oliver, what happened with Slade?”

Oliver – “Me. Someone killed Shadow.  Slade loved Shadow and it was my fault.  I wanted to tell him because it would have been better coming from me but I didn’t…

Felicity – “And he found out another way.”

Oliver – “If I had just told him the truth, I could have gotten through to him.”

Diggle – “And that’s why it’s so important to you to get through to Roy.”

Oliver – “I lived a five year nightmare, but if I learned something that can help me reach Roy now…It’ll be worth it.”

There is a lot going on in this scene.   The first thing I noticed is that for the first time Oliver is answering Diggle’s question completely, honestly, and in a way that makes sense.  Oliver has really changed a lot in how he is able to approach his memories of the island.  I think Diggle and Felicity are helping him see how these memories can actually be useful if he can find a way to communicate them.  Diggle and Felicity are exceptional characters because they are giving Oliver the time and support he needs to learn to use and access these memories.

The second thing I noticed is how focused Oliver is on his role/guilt in the situation.  His answer to “what happened” is “Me.”  I think this is a good response and although it may be a little extreme I don’t think it is wrong.  Other people often try to convince us that it was not our fault, however owning up to your role in any situation is part of being a hero.  His admission of what he could have done differently, and how his actions affected Slade, are healthy.  He points out that someone else killed Shadow (he’s not owning this) but that he did have a role in how Slade understood the situation.  His acknowledgement of fault remind us that we are all guilty to some extent and that only God is qualified to judge or forgive.

Thirdly this quote points out an essential component to recovering from trauma.  A book I read a while ago (Trauma: The Pain That Stays) said that people were more likely to recover from a traumatic event if they could find a reason or purpose for it.  That is what Diggle and Oliver are pointing out here.  The island was a nightmare but if it can be used to help others then perhaps it was worth it.  Identifying a purpose to what he went though is part of his recovery.

I also think it is interesting to point out that the big question in this passage is when to reveal who you really are.  Oliver didn’t know how to reveal to Slade what had really happened or how this affected him and now he is unsure when/how to tell Roy the truth.  Knowing when to tell the truth and when to withhold information is very complex.

Finally, I think that in this episode, and you can even see it in this quote, Oliver has finally transitioned completely from a vigilante to a hero.  He is telling his story (to those he trusts) honestly and completely, he saved a man from Roy’s lack of control, and he is pointing out how he can use his pain to reach others.  He has found a way to use the worst parts of his life as a tool…not something that he runs from but something he is strong enough to embrace and start using.  

Will everything he went through on the island be “worth it?”  I don’t think Oliver will ever say he is glad he was shipwrecked there or glad for everything he lost/gained as a result.  However, I do think it is possible, and that Oliver now understands, how even though these horrific experiences will always be a part of him they can be used in a positive way and hopefully that will give him resolve. 

Your Secret

Diggle – She has a point Oliver. Roy’s a loose cannon.  Now he knows your secret.

Oliver – You’re right, and I wasn’t thinking about the consequences.  I only knew that…I need his strength.  His power.  On the island Sarah told me that love is the most powerful emotion.  Well, the Arrow couldn’t get Roy to think about Thea.  But I could.

 It’s really neat how they use love in this episode as a (super) power.  Love changes people. Oliver has been trying to transform the city through his persona of Arrow.  He is cleaver, dedicated, and willing to fight for others but he has not used the power of love to reach them…until he tries to help Roy.  Helping Roy to focus on love, Oliver gives him the ability to use his strengths for good.  To make a difference, help the city, change lives they must use their physical powers in combination with love.

Oliver has done this in the past.  Slade reprimanded him on the island for caring about people too much and how dangerous that was…but even at that time Oliver declared his love for others as a strength, and it is.  His ability genuinely care about others is what keeps him from being overtaken by his vigilante persona.  Love keeps him grounded.

The disguise, although strong, inspirational, and empowering is incomplete.  Arrow has limits. He changes things through force and fear…the costume is not able to reach others on a level of love…but Oliver can.  For Arrow, everything is anonymous.  He is not known by those he cares about and is willing to protect…Oliver is.  When he sees Roy full of strength but detached from love he recognizes that the cover of Arrow will not be able to complete this disconnection, and so he reveals his secret…he is not just Arrow he is Oliver Queen, a person who understands loss, defense, and love.

His secret, our secret, is that our true identity can connect with others on the level of love.

A Hero Is Born

Diggle – “Oliver I know you’ve taken Roy on, and why, but Roy, Slade, a lot of guys I’ve served with…some people are just broken, man, and nobody can put them back together.

Oliver – “I refuse to believe that.  I’m not letting what happened to Slade happen to Roy.  I’m not.”

 A few weeks ago I suggested to one of my friends that a really good counseling question would be, “What does it take for someone to move from playboy, to broken, to surviving, to vigilante, to hero, to superhero?”  A lot of what I talk about in these quotes is this transition.  This one highlights what it takes to transform from vigilante to hero.

In this scene Oliver is no longer striving to be a hero…he is one.  This quote reveals how Oliver has taken on a lifestyle, a belief, an identity.  He is more than just someone who fights for others…he is now someone who believes in others.  He flat out refuses to see others, their circumstances and redemption, as hopeless.  He is not only going to do everything he can to help them to become something more but he is willing to acknowledge his horrific past as part of his identity, and use it to help others.  He stands up and fights for hope.

This is what I would say it takes for us to move from vigilante to hero in our “real lives”…a willingness to accept our past and live a life that stands for love and hope.  When hope is difficult, or love forces us to face our failings, faults, and traumas of the past, yet we choose to see potential, love, and hope in others despite our/their past or circumstances, a hero can be born.

(find more on what makes a hero here: Horcruxes, Heroes, and Harry Potter)

What Do You Want To Be Called?

Oliver: The city still needs saving. But not by the Hood. Or some vigilante who’s just crossing names off a list. It needs something more.

Diggle: It needs a hero, Oliver.

Felicity: It’s too bad The Hoods kind of ruined your nickname.

Oliver: No, it’s good. I don’t want to be called The Hood anymore.

Diggle: Okay. So what do you want to be called?

Choosing a name, finding an identity, takes time.  A person doesn’t just turn from a playboy to a vigilante because he killed a bird and put some muscle on.  Yes, Oliver kills a chicken (and puts some muscle on), and he learns from these experiences…but Oliver also kills a person out of instinct (at the end of season 1), then Oliver kills out of desperation, fury, anger, and hatred, and he begins killing to survive. He is changing. That is the genius of this show…it shows the that the whole thing is a process, a change in body, mind, soul, focus…everything.    At first Oliver is just learning to survive…he sits on the life raft waiting for dad to solve the problem (that doesn’t work out), he kills a chicken for food and realizes that survival takes sacrifice, he learns to survive under authority (following Slade around), and then on the boat he has to begin stitching up his own wounds. 

Oliver’s process from surviving to vigilante is slow and intertangled with a lot of complicated events/memories.  The process of becoming a hero is even more complex and requires more than just one person, and, to become a superhero, everything has to come together with just the right balance of right and wrong, self-reliance and dependence, fight and flight, reality and dreams.  

What do you want to be called?  A survivor? A vigilante? A hero? A superhero?  You won’t get there over night…it’s a process that takes time, sacrifice, many changes in identity, and a lot of help from others.  It is not easy to go through but it is possible.


Diggle – I’ve never seen you spooked like this before.

Oliver – Well, that should tell you something.

 If you notice a change in someone…it means something.  When people are upset, frazzled, frustrated, angry, or “spooked,” as Diggle says here, then something is wrong.   It could be something from their past that is making them uncomfortable.  It could be an anticipation of harm to come.  It could be uncertainty.  But no matter what the cause, there is meaning behind it and I think most often this is linked to fear (more on fear).  Whether we agree with the persons fear or not we should take them seriously and treat them (and their anxiety, fear, frustration) respectfully, because it is real, a part of them, and it can tell us something.

Secrets Have Weight

Felicity – Sarah Lance. Laurels sister.  The detective’s other daughter.  The one that you took on the Gambit with you even though you were dating Laurel at the time…which we never talk about…

Oliver – Felicity

Felicity – ah, ah…I’m sorry.  It’s just…isn’t she…isn’t she dead.  You told everyone that she died when the Gambit when down, that she drowned.

Diggle – You lied.

Oliver – …when the Gambit capsized…um…Sarah was pulled under.  It was so dark and cold and I thought she drowned…about a year later I saw her.

Diggle – You saw her where?  On the island, she drifted to the island too?

Oliver – Not exactly…

Felicity – Why didn’t you tell the Lances that she didn’t die on that boat? Laurel and Mr. Lance they blame you.

Oliver – It was my fault…what happened was my fault.

Diggle – Where has she been all these years Oliver!?

Oliver – I DON’T KNOW! Diggle, I swear to God.  I was sure she was dead.

Felicity – Do you have any happy stories?

Diggle – Alright, so just to make sure I understand this correctly, after not drowning when the Gambit went down, Sarah didn’t exactly make it to the island with you, where you would see her die yet again.  Feel free to fill in the blanks!

Oliver – Not right now.

Diggle – You mean not ever, don’t you Oliver

Felicity – Don’t you think her family had a right to know she made it to the island too?

Oliver – THESE WERE FIVE YEARS!  Five years!…where nothing good happened!  And they were better off not knowing.

Diggle – Do they deserve to know now?

Oliver – I need to take care of some business at the office.

…  …

Diggle – You know Oliver, somebody once told me that secrets have weight. The more you keep the harder it is to keep moving.

Oliver – You see how hard I work out.

I really like this scene because it shows how incredibly complicated the whole situation is.  I mean really, what is Oliver supposed to do…just start telling stories.  No way.  Not only are the stories too hard for him to tell but they are too complicated as well.  Without him adding a whole bunch of “rabbit-hole” stories how could he possibly explain the whole situation.  Knowing what we know with The God Perspective (about how Sarah was picked up by the boat and forced into a certain role and about how Oliver thought she was dead, went through a year of hell on the island, killed someone for the first time, lost his only two friends, only to be captured and find out that Sarah was alive and working with the people who captured him)…it is very, very complicated.  I don’t think it would be possible for him to explain all this in a way that made sense to others, even if, like Felicity and Diggle are, they were ready for what they would hear from Oliver if he told the whole story.

However, from Diggle’s perspective it is all very frustrating because nothing Oliver is saying makes any sense…in fact it is pretty comical.  I love how he says, “Alright, so just to make sure I understand this correctly, after not drowning when the Gambit went down, Sarah didn’t exactly make it to the island with you, where you would see her die yet again.  Feel free to fill in the blanks!”  It’s funny…because he states all the facts he knows…but when looking at it from his perspective it makes zero sense. The little bit that Oliver is able to get out is so full of holes that it might as well be nothing at all.  And Oliver can’t explain anymore…I think because he is too exhausted from what he has already tried to explain.  His only response is…”not right now.”

It’s interesting because this scene takes almost the same route that a Harry Potter scene I really like (see essay Romanticizing Adversity).  Oliver starts by trying to explain…but he gets practically nothing out in words.  Others join in trying to understand but Oliver can’t say any more.  And then when pushed he just explodes.  With the basic underlying meaning of, “You don’t, and can’t possibly, understand.”  They respond again but completely off topic from where he is (they want to tell/help Laurel’s family…Oliver is still thinking about the island), to which Oliver just changes the topic.  This is a totally exhausting process for him. 

Diggle’s comment in the end is also really great.  I like the interchange about the secrets Oliver carries because Diggle is able to point out that they exist and that they are incredibly difficult to carry…but he doesn’t see/know what Oliver points out earlier in that the Lances are “better off not knowing.”  They are not yet ready for the whole story.  And Oliver points out that he knows he is carrying a lot of weight…he knows these secrets take so much of his time/energy/strength and that they are exhausting him. And he believes that it is worth the cost.  He is holding the secrets inside for a reason.  Take for example the beginning of this scene when Diggle tells him that he lied.  In Oliver’s mind he wasn’t really lying…he was telling the whole story…from what he understood Sarah died.  What did it matter how?  He knew it would be easier for people (and for him) to just think that she drowned and not have to go into all the details.

What Oliver doesn’t see, and isn’t able to do (yet), is that secrets can be delivered in parts.  He doesn’t have to tell the whole story to begin letting go of some of the secrets.  This is what he realizes later when he offers to talk to Diggle in the next episode.  And what he begins to see when Sarah reveals herself to her dad…but not to Laurel and without telling the whole story.  Oliver is learning in these two episodes that the story can be told in parts…and that is ok…and maybe even helpful.  He is learning to separate specific events from the entire experience.  What a huge thing to learn if he is dealing with flashbacks, emotions, positive and horrific memories.