For the past few weeks, the tone has been a somber one for our team in Star City. Grief has cast its shadow over every situation that’s played itself out on screen, as our team comes to terms with their recent loss. But things changed this week. While the grief still remains, what the Original Team Arrow (OTA – Oliver, Diggle, and Felicity) came to realize is that now that the traumatic loss has occurred, they are left with the very things that we always so intensely want, but in times of crisis may desperately fear:
How will they channel this grief? How will they give this loss meaning? And how far are they willing to go to do that?
For me, superhero stories are so profound because they show us the importance and the consequences – both positive and negative – of choice. In Arrow, the line between heroes and villains is explored frequently and intensely, with Team Arrow desperately trying to keep each other on the side of Good, while many of the villains (Daddy Merlyn for example) think they’re trying to do the same but have actually fallen headlong into Evil. Arrow is forever delving into the idea that while choices define you, redemption is also possible, and they explore that notion through a multitude of angles, characters, and scenarios to highlight the shades of gray in the world on these existential issues.
The Punisher (if you’ll allow me a brief Marvel reference) once said that a superhero was just one bad day away from being him. Is that true? Does that apply to all of us? And if we are, does that also then mean that we’re all one really good day away from being a superhero?
It’s all about choices.
OTA’s choices in this week’s (ridiculously awesome) episode show that everyone changes, and that life is a constant cycle of choices and consequences. Arrow is about the origin story of Oliver Queen, and we have watched him go from feckless boy to stone cold killer to the imperfect but much healthier, mature man and superhero that we know today. Through that journey we’ve watched Felicity and Diggle pull him back from the line between hero and villain any number of times. This week, OTA played musical chairs with their roles on the team. Felicity is working through pushing people away and isolating herself due to reacting strongly to having trust betrayed, while Diggle has completely lost his ability to be rational when it comes to his family and has now officially done something that has walked him right up to that hero/villain line that Oliver is usually flirting with. And Oliver is now the voice of reason. He is the light and the Yoda of Team Arrow, showing such profound and believable character development that I get a little misty eyed. I’m so proud of Oliver that my heart could burst.
And the fact that he’s fictional doesn’t dampen my feelings even a little.
The reason that I want to spit rainbows all over this episode is because it is so mired in hope. Oliver beat back Darhk’s magic not just because he thought of Felicity and his team and the others who have said wonderful things about him… but because he finally, truly believed it. Yes, we saw Diggle destroy a part of his soul, and yes, it hurt. But we saw it happen just as we saw Oliver officially – really and truly – restore his soul to whole after he lost so much of his. Diggle can and will come back, and Oliver will help him, just as he helped Oliver. Felicity can and will regain her equilibrium in her relationship with Oliver and Oliver will help her believe that people can change, just as she helped Oliver believe it. Their roles are ever shifting, but their relationships remain.
They are family.
In watching the fandom’s reaction on Wednesday, I believe that’s what so many saw, and why so many responded so positively. We saw characters who love each other band together, to be there for each other no matter what. We saw progress, hope, love, and camaraderie despite such challenging circumstances. We saw imperfect people loving each other regardless of their flaws. Like moths, we are drawn to the light… just like Oliver.
But more than just being drawn to the light, we also get drawn into this story and these characters because rooting for them is the same as rooting for ourselves. If Oliver Queen can come back from the horrors that he went through on Lian Yu… pain, torture, betrayal… then maybe we can come back from our traumas and heartbreaks too. If Felicity can have the courage to stand up for herself and her needs in a relationship which she clearly holds dearer than anything in the world, then maybe we have the strength to stand up for ourselves too in our own relationships. If John Diggle is able to do the unthinkable to keep his wife and child safe, then maybe we do too… even if we’re not necessarily sure we want to. While these characters may be fictional, we can relate to them. Their lives are what our lives look like, just with the volume turned WAY up on the fantasy drama. But if they can do these things… well, there might just be hope for us too. And if we aren’t sure, we can go back to Felicity’s words:
“You are not perfect. None of us are. Good news is that all of us can change.”
We just have to make that choice.