Processing Fictional Trauma: Olicity Edition



I’ve been involved in fandom throughout my life, but it didn’t occur to me until last night that when it comes to television fandom, my involvement is fairly recent (2012). It also didn’t occur to me that when it comes to television fandom, most of my emotional involvement/devastation has been in shows that I’m watching on Netflix – not live. And so I haven’t lived through a fandom’s real time emotional aftermath of a show which has deeply affected me. (Sidenote: I do still watch Doctor Who, but Moffat’s writing doesn’t do for me what RTD’s did, so I don’t count it). The Arrow/Flash crossover episode last night was… well, emotionally devastating I think is the only thing that even comes close to describing it.And watching the fallout in the fandom was both excruciating as a fangirl, and fascinating as a clinician/researcher.

SPOILERS: The emotional devastation of last night was especially brutal because it happened TWICE. The first time, Oliver actually (in my opinion) does things fairly well, or as well as can be expected given a highly complicated, highly emotionally heightened situation. But Felicity’s control and abandonment issues flared, and Olicity essentially broke up (though that’s up for interpretation). And then, ya know, everyone died (which has its own emotional implications – I can never UNSEE that. THANKS FOR THE TRAUMA, ARROW WRITERS). So Barry goes back in time, thank god, and fixes things. Oliver and Felicity will get a second chance at the baby momma issues, and it’ll definitely be better this time, right? Because nothing could be worse than them breaking up. Right? Second chances are always better? RIGHT? Nope, this time around, it’s Oliver whose issues flare, and he therefore reverts to old habits and his biggest flaw – keeping secrets from those he loves for reasons he believes are noble. So instead of an explosion that can be worked through, now we have deceit. Which is so much worse.

As an individual fan who watched the end of that episode (and who was SO CONVINCED Oliver had grown and was going to do the right thing here…), my reaction can be summed up in one gif:

Arrow Expletives

I was upset, angry, frustrated, sad… you name it. ALL the emotions. I have conversations going on with multiple people through multiple social media, looking at the situation from every conceivable angle, playing devil’s advocate, arguing with other people playing devil’s advocate, venting feelings, trying to understand… and somewhere in the emotional blowout, a few things occurred to me:

Observation Number 1:

Right before my eyes, the fandom was going through the stagArrow Felicity NOes of grief. The first stage – denial – was all over the place. Tweets of “OMG please tell me that didn’t happen” or “NOOOOOOO” were all over the place. I may have sent several of my own.

Denial was quickly (very, very quickly) followed by the angerArrow Im Going To Kill You stage, which is where we all spent a great deal of time. Anger at Oliver, anger at Felicity, anger at the writers, anger at Barry, anger at Samantha… just… all the anger. I’m forever amazed at Twitter’s technological power, because social media was lit up like a Christmas tree. EVERYONE was online, ranting and raving, venting their anger.

Then came bargaining. The “if onlys” and the “what ifs…” abounded. “What if he tells her next episode.” “What if this is all some elaborate ruse.” “What if Barry goes back in time again.” “If only Barry had flashed out of that conversation and didn’t eavesdrop.” “If only Oliver had thought it through.” “If only the writers weren’t lazy and incompetent.” Clearly the bargaining phase has some hand holding with the anger phase, but I still saw it clearly defined.

Then came depression, which started to come out late last night, but I saw a lot more of this morning. After the venting and processing and writing and shouArrow I Cant Do Thislder crying, people seemed to move past their anger. They started to understand that maybe Oliver messed up, maybe Felicity did too, but they’re both human, and it happens. They started to understand that unfortunately, as in real life, we mess up. We make mistakes. And our beloved Olicity, who we love so dearly, is going to have to live with the consequences of those mistakes. The depression centers around knowing what our beautiful couple is going to have to live through, and wishing we could help them avoid it, but knowing we can’t.

Finally we come to acceptance, where I think many people are at this point. The stages of grief are such that we don’t necessarily go through them linearly, and we bounce back and forth. Acceptance doesn’t mean we aren’t still mad at times, it doesn’t mean we aren’t still Arrow Hurts Worse Curaredepressed about it, and wanting to bargain a way out. But it means we’ve come to a place where we can understand what happened and why (even if we don’t agree with it, and even if we’re still angry about it). We can accept that something awful is going to happen, but we can also see a way through. We can accept that Olicity will make it through, because that’s what they do. And even if we still desperately pray for a scene where Momma Smoak smacks Oliver soundly on the back of the head for his idiocy, or perhaps a scene where Zoom beats the holy crap out of Barry again just so we can have that visceral satisfaction of watching it, or even having Samantha be in the grave (with a death that’s hopefully appropriately awful because yep, the anger is still there), we have accepted that there will be awful things to come for Olicity, but that they will get through. People make mistakes, personal growth takes detours, but we will keep the faith, because Olicity is endgame.

Arrow Olicity Crossover Snuggle 2

Observation Number 2:

The second major thing I noticed, which goes hand in hand with the stages of grief, was just how intensely emotional so many people got because of what happened last night. There’s watching something happen to someone else, and feeling upset about it. But that’s not what happened last night. So many seemed to treat it as if it were happening to them, not to Oliver and Felicity. That what Oliver did – Arrow Screams Internallyfrustrating as it may be – was like a personal slap in the face. At first glance, this is the stuff that makes people look at fandom – especially science fiction fandom – and dismiss us all as crazies (even as they paint themselves different colors and weep over the losses of football teams… but okay). But here’s the thing. The reason that we all react so strongly to what’s happening on the television is because TV, film, and literature – all art really – exists because we see ourselves in it, and it reflects our feelings back to us. We process our own issues, our own grief, our own tragedies by watching similar things happen to fictional characters who we, through becoming engaged in their world, come to care about deeply. We see parts of ourselves in Felicity, and in Oliver. We see our own issues, our own shortcomings, our own traumas, and our own hurts. It’s part of why we all react differently, and have differing views on what happened on screen, because we’re all processing it based on our own unique experiences. TV, film, and literature are ways that we can process and manage our own feelings in a safe environment. Having someone we love betray or lie to us is an experience I’ll bet most of us have had. But it is far easier to rant and rave and cry about Oliver doing it to Felicity than it is to dig into our own stuff. But I Arrow Felicity Cryingdon’t believe it’s unhealthy to rant, rave, and cry about Oliver… just the opposite. I think that in expressing our anger about Oliver, and our fears and frustrations and hurt for the future of Olicity, we’re processing and healing some of our own fears, frustrations, and hurts. As long as you’re not completely avoiding your own feelings, and can recognize how they enter into your feelings about your fandoms, I think fangirling/fanboying can be an amazing outlet and a great coping skill.

Observation Number 3:

The third thing that I think is fantastic is how much fandom was there for each other after this episode. The Arrow fandom is a bit different than other fandoms I’ve been a part of, in that there is a lot of bickering and negativity on a day to day basis that I’m just unaccustomed to. However, with that said, when the emotional shit hit Arrow Olicity Hugthe Olicity fan, on my timeline at least, the negativity towards each other diminished, and the fandom was able to pull together and aim those feelings of negativity towards the characters and the show, while supporting each other. I saw fandom support groups all over social Arrow Oliggle Hugmedia, and was part of several myself. People were struggling with their own emotions from the show, but were huddled in groups processing it together. People within the fandom that were long friends, and people who didn’t know each other well at all… were all coming together to talk, to process, to grieve, to cry… and to support each other. Arrow Roy Thea HugObviously there are exceptions to every rule, but I was impressed by the fandom’s ability to support each other last night, and even today. My hope is that we can at some point reach the ability to support each other and be kind to our writers and producers (even Arrow Lance Sara Hugin our fury and disagreement), but I’m still encouraged by what I saw last night and today. And what I saw was a fandom that was hurt, upset, and angry but that could help support each other, help each other process, and take turns helping each other heal and keep the faith.

The Thrilling Conclusion:

While the rest of the world may mock us, our passion, and our excitement for a “silly” television show, what I saw last night was inspiring. What I saw were people who were emotionally invested in the health of a relationship they love. What I saw were people open to discussion and processing of feeling, and open to helping others process and deal with their emotions as well. What I saw was a community of people having strong feelings, who banded together to help and to heal. Set within the context of the bigger picture of the challenges our world faces, the negativity that we face, and the divisiveness… Maybe fandom is just one small piece of the world, and Arrow is just one small piece of that small piece… but I am once again inspired by the power of fandom, and honored to be a part of it.

Author’s Note: I’ve been so thrilled to read all of the positive reactions people have had to this article. I’ve loved hearing how this has helped people view their attachment to these characters in a different light, and give a sense of validation for those feelings. Hearing that so many of you can relate to the feelings described in this article further highlights that while the characters and stories may be fictional, the feelings they invoke in us are very real, as are the relationships we form within the fandom as a way to enjoy, process and cope with those feelings.

As I am writing this at 7:40pm EST on 12/9, I am sending out a collective pre-mid-season-finale hug to the entire Arrow fandom! Here’s hoping we can again pull together to help ourselves process and heal from what is likely to be a new wave of emotional trauma. 😉 Please cope (and drink) responsibly!

Hugs and Love…




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