Between Grief and Guilt

“The line between grief and guilt is a thin one.  Sometimes death is preferable to the agony of life.” ~Tatsu

True.  This quote speaks to many different stages all at once and we have to be careful to recognize what she is really saying here.  This is not a promotion of suicide but rather a statement of fact regrading the difficulty of life and an identity that has not reformed.  Maseo is stuck.  He is fluctuating continuously between Broken, Surviving and Vigilante and making no progress to move forward.  Although he has the experience and training to be a hero he is not because he as no reason to live (stuck in Broken), a purpose that is not his own (stuck in Surviving), and no sidekicks (stuck in Vigilante).  He has become stuck because he has developed an identity that IS his trauma.   The reconstruction of an identity is very important to growth and moving through the stages.  With an identity that is “island bound,” he is unable to use the broken part of his past as a tool. He doesn’t know who he is apart from the horrific event.  He is still capable of amazingly good acts, and intensely gruesome undertakings.  For those in similar states this is dangerous ground and very similar to becoming a villain. (for more on this subject check out Failure Redeemed)

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Yes You Can!

Laurel – No. No.  You can’t commit suicide Ollie.  You won’t do that to me, or to Sarah, or to your friends, or to Thea.  Oliver she just lost her mother.  Loosing you would destroy her.

Oliver – She’ll be alive.

Laurel – I don’t know anything about hoods and masks, or human weapons, or any of this, but I know you.  I know you like I know my own name.  And I realize it may sound crazy, in light of your secret, but I know who you are in your bones Oliver!  And that person, that person doesn’t give up.  That person he always finds a way.

Oliver – Not this time.

Laurel – You’re wrong.  You want to protect the people who you love then the only way to do that is to stop Slade Wilson.

Oliver – LAURLE I CANT!

Laurel – YES YOU CAN!

 Good job Laurel! (and those who wrote this script) 

 It’s interesting that Laurel points out here that in sacrificing himself Oliver will be hurting those he loves.  Oliver is broken again and not wanting to survive and therefor he doesn’t see the impact his death would have on those  he is trying to protect.  Sarah is right, Oliver’s death would destroy Thea (and probably others as well).  There are a lot of things out there that are worse than death.  Oliver knows this (that is why he is craving death, and end to all his pain) but he can’t see how it impacts others right now because “the broken phase” is a phase of blurred or vision.  The pain is blinding him.  So, although he is still a hero in many aspects of his life…he is unable to see how fragile others are as well.

 In our lives I think we experience this as well.  When things are so hard that we know death would be a release it is a time when we can’t see truth clearly.  Laurel yells at Oliver to keep going, keep trying, be a survivor…but he can’t see it yet.  Oliver needs Laurel, just as we need others in our lives during this time. Someone who will list off the people we HAVE TO live for, see what we can become, push us to survive.  Not everyone makes it out of the broken phase…we have to fight to survive.

Start By Letting People Help You

Oliver – I don’t know what to do.  He’s too far ahead.  I mean, he’s spent years planning this.  He knows everything about me.  I can’t, I……I don’t know how to stop him. 

Sarah – Well, you start by letting people help you.

Oliver – But, he’s gonna come after you.  You’re alive…because Shadow isn’t.

Sarah – And when he does do you think it’ll make a difference whether or not we’re together?  Let him come.  I’m not the girl he knew on the island.  I’m not that easy to kill. — Together?

Oliver – Together.

 Ok, so I know it’s really, really girly of me to say this but I was thinking a few episodes ago that one thing they really needed to do with Oliver next was have him show some emotion.  In this scene they pretty much do.  Hum…It’s a great scene because what I see happening is that Oliver is thrust back into survival mode and he’s barely making it…but this time he is tethered to the light.  He is lost in darkness again but he is not floundering…he is attached to Sarah, Diggle, Felicity, and Roy…and because he is attached/tethered to them they can pull him back out of survival mode, into the light, onward toward being a hero again.  Without them Oliver would have to learn to survive again, find a purpose (which is dangerous for him because his purpose right now is really to “get rid of Slade” a purpose that could easily cause him to become vengeful and perhaps even a villain).  However, being tethered to the light Sarah can pull him back up.  She offers him help and he accepts.  This, I think, thrusts him back up to hero status.  He’s not doing it alone.  He is even willing to give up his purpose to work as a team.  

In real life this is all very hard to do.  Asking for help, recognizing when things are out of our control, giving up our own agenda, and allowing others to fight some of our battle are things I would like to do better.

I Need This To Stop

Sarah – It’s just me.  What’s going on Olli?  Hey!  Talk to me.

Oliver – Now is not the time.

Sarah – Then when is the time?  The Bratva Olli? You’re losing your grip. Ok, Slade is getting in your head.

Oliver – I need this to stop!  And for it to stop, I need to find him!

Sarah – Yeah, and until then how long do you think you can keep this up for?  You’re not eating, you’re barely sleeping and when you do you have nightmares.  They’re about her, aren’t they. Hey, look at me.  You did what you had to do, ok?  Ivo was going to shoot Shadow, or me, or both of us.  It was an impossible choice.

Oliver –I made it anyway.

Sarah – But if you had chosen differently it would be me haunting you at night.

Oliver – It still could be Sarah. (great voice change!) That’s why we have to stop.

Sarah – What are you saying?

Oliver – He’s going to use you to hurt me. Or he’s going to hurt you… (another voice change) Stay away from me.

This conversation is interesting to me because Oliver is speaking more honestly with Sarah than any “superhero” ever does with his girl…however, he is being more dishonest with himself then he has been in a long time.  I think it’s really cool how the writers of this episode have Oliver (and Diggle) say and do everything we as the audience want them to do…and yet it doesn’t resolve all the problems.  In superhero movies there is always the plot line of “I can’t tell her because if she knew she’d be in danger” and “I can’t do that because I care too much.”  This episode shows how these plot lines do not have to be followed to keep the show interesting and suspenseful. There doesn’t have to be that “if they only knew” factor.   Diggle rescues Deadshot and stays with his ex-wife but things are complicated…his wife wasn’t making very good choices and Deadshot is going to have another bomb put into his head.  Oliver (especially in this scene) is telling Sarah how much he cares and how hard the situation with Slade is for him…and he is telling her point blank that he can’t handle her being in danger.  I really appreciate that about this show.

Also,  you can see in this scene how Oliver is still in survival mode (his body stance, not making eye contact, fear, fight and flight) but he is trying to force himself into Vigilante mode (putting himself in danger (i.e. with the Bratva, trying to face fear), forcing a purpose upon himself).  He has forced the purpose upon himself to “get rid of Slade” and he can’t do it.  Slade is too far ahead of him.

Oliver is struggling with a fluctuation in the level he is at (surviving/vigilante) and the level he wants to be at (hero).  He is also struggling with guilt (from Shadow’s death), fear (of losing Sara and others he loves), and pride (wanting to fix it on his own), not to mention the actual threat itself.  This is a lot to take on alone…to make it through he’s going to have to accept help.

Becoming a Superhero

Becoming a Superhero is a process.  A process that is fun to watch in fictional characters but one that is also evident in our real lives.  The most facinating part for myself in the show “Arrow” is how the writers are able to explore and reveal this process.  What does it take to become a superhero?  We must go through the stages, just as Oliver does (and many other characters in Arrow do as well), moving from playboy, to broken, to surviving, to vigilante, to hero, to superhero.  

 

Playboy to Broken – What does it take to transform from Playboy to Broken…it takes an impactful event.  This step usually involves something that challenges your identity.  It could be something simple, like getting turned down for a loan or losing your freedom to drive, or, it could be a huge trauma.  I also think the strength of how much the impactful event shakes your world is directly proportional to how broken you become… which, in turn, is directly proportional to how hard it is to survive, how strong of a vigilante, and how impactful a hero you can become.  If you go through brokenness in being turned down for a house loan you can recover and become a hero to someone else who has been turned down for a house loan…but you are not equipped to become a hero for a person who has returned from war (or something like that).

Oliver fell hard and far (so did Sarah) and he was broken on multiple different levels (physically, mentally, emotionally, financially).  I think most of the first year on the island is him being broken (the shipwreck, him getting shot with an arrow by the Chinese man, discovering how nothing would be provided for him any longer, being captured, watching the Chinese man be killed, learning that most people did not have his interests in mind, and failing…a lot.)  All of the events during his first year on the island (and even a few afterward) force him to reexamine who he is.  The old Oliver has been broken, shattered into pieces.

People do not have to be broken however, they can choose to avoid this stage.  They can ignore how events really affect them and just shut down…present themselves as “fine,”…insist they are ok…pretend they are not broken.  Laurel is a good example of this.  She doesn’t allow herself to BE broken and because of this she can’t move on.  If she doesn’t allow herself to be broken she will never learn to survive, gain the skills and purpose of a vigilante, or become a hero.  This happens in real life too.  People ignore events that break them and because they never allow themselves to fall they can never rise up to become a hero.  In real life I think this often shows itself through bitterness, entitlement, and resentment.  Those, like Laurel, who ignore their brokenness just want to hear that they are fine and everything is ok…this is a dangerous place to be and an easy place for a villain to step in and feed on, or channel, the hostility and animosity.  I think this is what happened to Moira (Oliver’s mom).  I think she decided not to be broken.  To pretend everything was fine, and as a result she was the perfect person for a villain like Malcom Merlin (more on this later) to step in and focus her resentment, entitlement, and desire to keep pretending everything was fine.

 

Broken to Surviving – This step requires a desire to recover (fight and flight), a willingness to do things you never thought of doing before, and the strength to reexamine everything…especially your understanding of good/bad, right/wrong, and your perception of others and yourself.  This stage is a lot of work and not everyone wants to put forth that work/effort.  If you allow yourself to be broken but cannot move into survival you will wither and fall completely apart. 

For Oliver I think his first step here is the chicken/pheasant he has to kill in season one, episode 3…but I don’t think he really starts the “surviving phase” until the end of season 1 when he decides to go back to try to rescue the Chinese man…and into season 2 when he starts fighting himself.  One could see this as a downfall for him (the first time he starts fighting/killing I mean) but I see it as a metaphor for the first time he starts trying, standing for something, fighting to survive rather than just tailing after Slade like a puppy dog.  

People (myself included) learn a lot of things during the survival phase and not necessarily all of them are good.  This phase is about surviving after all…surviving physically, mentally/intellectually, emotionally, spiritually, relationally, financially…it takes a lot of time, strength, and isreaction based.  Those in the survival phase do not always think through their choices carefully…they tend to react.  In this phase people are very unpredictable because they are just “reacting”…but this step is essential.  We must learn to survive the traumas we face, develop (coping) skills, understand flight and fight, and learn to just be in our own skin.

 

 

Surviving to Vigilante – This is where Oliver is at in the flashbacks/memories in the middle/end of season 2.  What does it take to become a vigilante?  Training and Purpose.  Purpose is what it really comes down to.  To get out of the surviving phase people have a purpose, passion, dedication.  They have to have find a “reason for it all,”  something to live for, something to fight for.  This could be anything.  For Oliver it is “the list” and to “save the city.”  It motivates and drives him to use his skills. It pushes him to do more than just survive.  For Diggle it was helping his sister-in-law, and later reminding Oliver who he was.  For Malcom Merlin it was “saving the city.” and for Slade I think it is (or will be) finding a cause/purpose for Shadow’s death.

Something interesting about the Vigilante stage is many people have the tendency to ignore it (not realize it exists) or criticize those in this stage.  Everyone I have talked to so far about this “transition theory” has asked me right away why I include a “vigilante stage.”   

I think this stage is essential!  We want others to jump right into being heroes but in reality takes longer than that.  The passion/purpose comes before being a hero, and a person in the vigilante stage does not always fight for their purpose in the right way…for example Oliver is very, very violent in the first season.  He is fighting to “save the city” by killing off those on the list.  He needs this tangible way to fight for his purpose, something he can check off.  He needs to see that he is doing something “good” and making progress.  The vigilante takes the law into his own hands to strive toward their purpose.  They are purpose driven…but they are doing more than just surviving…they are fighting for a cause.

This is a very important stage because after a purpose if found, once a person is in the vigilante stage, what happens from here is what will determine whether they will become a villain or a hero.  Heroes and villains both go through the same steps to this point.  Both villains and heroes have usually be broken, learned to survive, and taken the law into their own hands to serve a “bigger purpose” (become a vigilante)…this is true for Oliver, Diggle, Malcom Merlin, Slade, Sarah…it’s what happens next that is key to whether they become hero or villain.

 

Vigilante to Hero (or Villain) – This is what Oliver is working on in the “present day parts” of the second half of season 2.  To make the transition from Vigilante to Hero it takes time, sidekicks, processing, purpose, knowing you matter, and a group you can make a difference for/with.  I also think it takes a willingness to use BOTH your vigilante side and your broken side.  (this is what Oliver is doing in episode 12 with Roy…he’s using both parts of himself…Arrow and Oliver…his fighting skills and his compassion/love for others). 

Those who become heroes do so because they are able to put their purpose (from the vigilante stage) into an “other minded focus.”  In other words, while they are vigilantes they are “purpose driven” but the hero is “other driven.”  The hero has a purpose with an other minded focus.  

Oliver makes this transition with Roy…he starts seeing how love is one of his powers, how he can control and use his memories from the island, and how killing is not the answer…helping others is.  Those who become villains instead stay purpose driven and are self-focused…this leads to their purpose becoming one of revenge, disconnectedness, and violence that is self-centered in contrast to the hero who’s purpose is molded to become other minded and carried out both with a balance of fighting and compassion.

If a person doesn’t reach the hero stage I think it is usually due to lack of sidekicks and an inability to use the broken part of their past.  If a vigilante remains isolated (without sidekicks, equals who are there to help them) it is easy for them to begin thinking their way is the only way…and this leads to a self-focus.  Diggle knew this and he joined up with Oliver for this vary reason.  A vigilante can also get stuck in thinking that their past/trauma has ruined everything.  This leads to an attitude of vengeance instead of a mindset that learns to use past events as a tool to reach others and “save the city.”

We see this with Oliver, Diggle, Sarah, Malcom, and Slade.  Malcom and Slade (as far as we know) become “villains” because they have become self focused.  Both of them went through the broken, surviving, and vigilante stages just like Oliver (in fact Slade’s experience was pretty similar) but they were unable to turn their vigilante focus into an “other mindset.”  In contrast, Diggle has clearly been able to do this.  He is probably the only character who starts the show in the hero stage.  He has already taken his purpose from his vigilante stage (to avenge his brother’s death, rid the world of this type of evil) and turned it outward to others…he starts helping his sister-in-law, and then Oliver and Felicity…and so on.

Oliver on the other hand is still working on this stage…and Diggle knows it.  It is clear from Diggle’s comments that he can see right from the beginning that Oliver will have to be pushed to see the “other,” pushed to have an “other focused mindset” to truly become a hero…and this is what Diggle does with Oliver all the time (except when he is working on his own superhero issues that is).

Hero to Superhero – Well we haven’t seen this stage yet in the show but I’d say what it takes comes from a comment I made a while back… “The process of becoming a hero is very complex and requires more than just one person.  To become a superhero takes something beyond heroism.   To be 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.”

Practically, meaning in real life, I think this means being a hero in multiple areas of your life…i.e. we can be at the playboy, broken, surviving, or vigilante stage in many different aspects of life like family, friends, individual relationships, our health, our house, job, financial status, spiritually…ect.  When we are broken in a certain area we then have the potential to become heroes in that area…when we are broken in multiple areas we have the potential to become heroes in all of those areas… if we do become heroes in multiple different areas of life, we are superheroes. 

Diggle is working on this.  He has been a hero right from the beginning of the show…purpose driven (to avenge his brother’s death, rid the world of this type of evil) but other focused (do this purpose through helping others)…however when he is face to face with Deadshot (the guy who killed his brother) he is back in survival/vigilante stage.

As for Oliver, it is clear that he is becoming a hero in his physical aspects…i.e. saving the city through helping others.  However, he is not a hero at all with his realtionships, family, or job.  This is what I hope for for Oliver (and myself…and the show) that he can become a hero not only in fighting for his city, but with his family, with his friends, with his relationships, in his job, with his money…ect.  That would make him a superhero.

The genius of this show and this theory is that it shows how we can be at different levels all the time.  Oliver is becoming  a hero in one area of his life but is still just surviving in other areas (i.e. family issues) and is a vigilante in some areas (financially…he uses money for his purpose but not for heroic reasons) and he is not even broken in other areas (I would say that Oliver has not yet been broken in relationships…he still treats his romantic relationships very much like a playboy…in an out, always changing, no risk of being hurt).  It would be really neat to see them develop his character to be a hero in all of these areas…but I’m not in charge of the show so we’ll just have to wait and see. 🙂