MASSIVE SPOILERS FOR ARROW EPISODE 4×16
READ AT YOUR OWN RISK!
There are episodes of television that make us weep with joy. There are those that enrage us, or those that irritate us. There are those that leave us ambivalent. And then there are those that break our hearts, and even have the title to prove it.
For those who love Olicity (a term that is now officially canon I might add), last night’s episode of Arrow was emotionally brutal. The episode was 100% centered around Olicity angst and grief, with a baddie tailor made to twist the knife. And many of the reactions I saw on social media indicate that the heart shaped arrows certainly hit their emotional marks. People’s reactions ranged from outrage in all caps, to pure desolation. I saw tweets of people asking for hugs, posting every crying related gif Twitter has in their database, and of course the screaming, because emotions were intense. (You can see actual footage of me watching the episode in the gif to the left). And yet, with an episode so chalk full of heart break, an interesting theme emerged within the fandom:
While the pre-hiatus episodes of Arrow and Legends of Tomorrow left us with precious little hope, this episode, while stunningly heartbreaking, gave us hope for the future and for our couple once we got past the initial emotional responses. The theme of light versus dark has been strong in this season, and this episode especially seemed to bring in the essence of hope versus hopelessness as a part of that light/dark balance. I’m not an English scholar, and so I don’t pretend to be very good at picking apart the storylines and the intricacies of the plot. But when looking at why individuals may have loved this episode, and why they may want to watch it repeatedly, despite the heart ache, I think that hope may be the primary reason.
In the field of mental health, hope is huge. It is seen by many as one of the first steps to recovery of trauma or mental illness, because if you can’t see hope for the future, why would you even want to recover? What’s the point? Lack of hope means lack of meaning. It means lack of movement, and lack of motivation. There’s no point, so why bother? Hope is, therefore, one of the primary building blocks of happiness, and we are lost without it.
For Oliver, Felicity has always served as his beacon of hope. He had very little when he came back from the island, which is why he pursued his father’s list with such single minded focus… because it was the only meaning he could make from his existence. Felicity pulled him out of that, and showed him that there was so much more. That there could be so much more. And that he deserved it. For Oliver, finding hope was completely life changing, as it can be for any of us who have experienced trauma or had our world’s emotionally rocked. But what this episode showed is that Oliver is not the only one who needs a light, and who needs hope. While Felicity’s snark and negativity this week was hard to watch and seemed uncharacteristic, it was also, in my opinion, completely believable. Felicity has dealt with so much, and has done so with grace and with a smile. No matter how bad things got, she always forgives and she always sees the best in Oliver. But even – and perhaps especially – those people with intense amounts of kindness have issues, and have limits. Their ability to forgive cannot be taken for granted.
Which brings us back to why people may be drawn back to this episode.
While we may not all be at Felicity’s level of tolerance and positivity on a day to day basis (because let’s face it, seeing the good in people is every bit as much of a superpower for her as her tech game is), I think that every one of us has felt taken for granted, or pushed too far. All of us have felt ourselves snap, and our ability to cope disintegrate. We have felt wronged by those we love, and have felt the need to protect ourselves. With Olicity, it’s always Felicity dragging Oliver back and restoring his hope. This time it’ll be Oliver that has to do the dragging, and despite my undying love for him, he deserves to have to. And isn’t that what we all want, when we’re faced with feeling wronged? That the person who hurt us will step up and try to earn our trust back, showing us that our faith in them was not misplaced?
Despite the angst, despite the breakup, and despite the snark, what we saw in this episode repeatedly was that Oliver and Felicity love each other, and will continue to no matter what, by their own admission. We see them struggle, and we see them screw up. We see the issues that they struggle with individually, from Oliver’s time on the “island” to Felicity’s abandonment issues, and how those issues collide in their relationship. We look at all of these issues, and all of the drama, and we see… hope. We see that all relationships are messy, and while some of us may be lucky enough to ride off into the sunset, the fact is, you still have to get up the next morning in the relationship and keep going. There can be amazing moments, like first kisses and engagements and even weddings, but the real challenge in a relationship is managing those day to day issues and the randomness that life throws at you. The reality of any relationship is that even the best of us screw up, and everyone has issues that flare. No relationship is perfect, and without difficulty. But where there is love, there is hope.
After processing for a while last night, and into today, the fandom reaction to this episode I found to be beautiful. The ending of this episode was dark, it was bleak, and it seemed rather final. And yet, those who love Olicity believe that this dark time in their relationship has meaning and will be for the greater good. The fandom pulled together, not to console each other or to debate as it has in the past, but to find meaning in the darkness. The fandom focused on the vows that Oliver said to Felicity, even typing them out to share online almost immediately. We focused on Felicity’s words to Cupid, which show that despite all of the hurt, Felicity does still believe in love, and she does still readily acknowledge the incredibly positive impact Oliver has had on her life. We went back to find beautiful, loving words that Olicity has said to each other in the past, and we reminded each other that nothing worthwhile ever comes easy. We encouraged each other to keep the faith, and even trended today that “Olicity Is Our Always,” to come together as a community to support each other and the fictional couple we all love. The fandom has worked hard to band together and help each other see that Olicity will be better for having gone through these challenges, and will be more solid than ever once they come out the other side. We give meaning to their suffering, which in turn may help us find meaning in our own. If these trials and tribulations can mean there’s hope for a better relationship for Olicity, then maybe our own struggles mean there’s hope for a better us too?
For Olicity fans, and for all of us who are struggling with our own crises of faith, I leave you with what I believe to be very applicable sage advice, given by one of my favorite authors, Karen Marie Moning:
Hope Strengthens. Fear Kills.
Stay strong, Arrow fandom. It’s always darkest before the dawn.