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)

To Be More

Slade – Where am I?

Oliver – As far away from the world as I could get you.  Where you can’t hurt anyone ever again.

Slade – That’s your weakness kid.  You don’t have the guts to kill me.

Oliver – No, I have the strength to let you live.

Slade – Oh, you’re a killer. I know.  I created you.  You’ve killed plenty

Oliver – Yes, I have.  You helped turn me into a killer when I needed to be one.  And I’m alive today because of you.  I made it home because of you.  And I got to see my family again.  But over the past year I’ve needed to be more.  And I faltered.  But then I stopped you, without killing.  You helped me become a hero, Slade.  Thank you.

Slade – You don’t think I can get out of here.  You don’t think I’ll come after you.

Oliver – No, because you’re in purgatory.

 This was a good speech from Oliver.  It not only really shows how far he has come but it shows how necessary each of the steps he went through to get to this point were.  Being broken, learning the skills he has now to survive, even being a killer were necessary phases for him to go through.  Just as these steps are necessary for Oliver, I think they are necessary for us as well.  Not that we need to become killers, but we do need to work through the stages of becoming a hero.  Those in a stage that is not favorably looked upon by general society (such as Surviving, or Vigilante) should not be discounted.  They are in a place of transformation towards heroism just as Oliver was.  And now, he is now on his way to becoming a superhero. 

Secondly, the last line  is a great play on words too.  Obviously because Slade is actually on Lian Yu (the island named purgatory) but also because Slade has a choice right now.  He can change.  The drug is out of his system and if he wants he can become something else.  He probably won’t, because he is so far lost in villain hood…but he could.  This is his time of paying for his choices, and, his time to consider something new.

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. 🙂

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.

From Vigilante to Hero

Tommy –  “Get up Oliver.”

Oliver – “Tommy? Tommy I’m sorry.  I let you die.”

Tommy – “You didn’t let me die Oliver.  You fought to save me because that’s what you do, what you have always done.  You fight to survive.  I know I called you a murderer but you are not.  You are a hero.  You beat the island.  You beat my father.  So fight Oliver.  Get up and fight back.” 

In this episode the three ghosts that appear to Oliver are saying some very interesting things. Shadow appears to Oliver essentially saying “stop trying”, Slade “you’ve failed”, and Tommy “fight on/back”.  There really is a lot of symbolism here. 

First off…these responses are accurate to how Oliver lost each of these characters.  Shadow was taken from him in a situation where he could do absolutely nothing.  Trying harder wouldn’t have helped.  “Saving” Slade was a failure (to Oliver).  It turned Slade into something else and the loss of Shadow permanently traumatized Slade (which of course Oliver sees has his fault…another failure).  And Tommy was lost when Oliver was trying, trying very hard to save the city, the glades, his friends. 

The whole episode is a really cool transition in the show. I mean during the pilot episode Oliver was this broken person back from the island who just killed to try to avenge…something.  Along the way Diggle began to teach him and try to get him to open up.  His flashbacks slowly began to turn to memories…and then he lost Tommy.  So what does he do?  He returns to the island.  He has to be drug back out of that place and given a new focus.  So he starts adapting to the new focus of justice without killing.  This doesn’t always work out but he is trying, and, he is starting to open up.  He tells Diggle and Felicity about Sarah.  He talks to Diggle about what really happened on the island. And now in this episode we find him actually referring to people he knew on the island (and he refers to them as friends).  His memories are muddling into flashbacks/hallucinations again but I think that is natural…it’s part of the transition.  And this episode is the first time Olive is focused on as a “hero” instead of a “vigilante” or “crazy” or whatever else.  It is stated multiple times that he is a hero.  It is the beginning of the transition from Oliver the vigilante to Oliver the hero…then eventually/hopefully they will work their way toward Oliver the superhero. 

This quote from Tommy, and much of the episode, is planting a new identity for Oliver.  Oliver is a survivor, a fighter, not a murderer, not a vigilante…he is a hero.  Tommy calls him to fight back, and not for his own survival…for the survival of others.  It’s other focused.  The first step in being a hero.