Friday, December 5, 2014

In Defense of Oliver Queen [Guest Poster: Jen]

This article was originally posted on Jen's Tumblr on October 23, 2014. She graciously allowed me to host it here as a part of my "In Defense Of" series. Hopefully I can convince her to return for guest posts in the future. ;)
I don't really know what this is. I haven't slept much, I am highly caffeinated and I am listening to WAY too much Cary Brothers. Specifically Belong. On repeat. It leads to thoughts.

I am having a thing. It's my thing. I am owning it but it's a thing nonetheless and so here we go.

Watched The Flash last night. Lovely episode. Very much enjoying Caitlin Snow. It was quite moving watching Ronnie die saving well.... everyone. Fire & Ice... subtle writers. I thought Barry was incredibly sweet & compassionate -- a good friend. Caitlin needed to grieve and she needed to grieve badly, so it was wonderful Barry could recognize that. That being said, I can't get too worked up about dear old Ronnie because we all know he's alive. Right? Right. And I gotta say...if it's a choice between Grant Gustin and Robbie go Robbie Amell. Every. Single. Time. Sorry Grant. I think you are all kinds of adorable. I basically want to adopt you. And feed you soup. Why? I don't know. You bring out my motherly instincts. But if it's a choice for who's hotter? The Amells win every time. That family has some incredible genes. I mean, seriously. Are they genetically engineered?

I digress. So I am cruising my Tumblr dash because that's what I do. Incessantly. I saw a gif of Barry hugging Caitlin. Underneath it was the comment along the lines of: "It took Barry two episodes to hug Caitlin Snow while it took Oliver Queen TWO YEARS to hug Felicity Smoak."

Totally innocent comment. Totally accurate comment. It was also a little funny.

But it irritated me.

I decided to ignore my irritation but it stuck will me all day.  Not at the person who wrote it. I'm not even posting a link because they did ABSOLUTELY nothing wrong. Like I said... this is my thing. No, the comparison between Barry and Oliver irritated me.

HELL YES it took Oliver Queen TWO YEARS to hug Felicity Smoak.

Look, I like The Flash. I know absolutely nothing about the comics so the show is all kinds of new for me. I am enjoying it. I like Barry Allen. He's a wonderful lad, he's completely adorable & sweet, a little nerdy but that's okay...I like my men nerdy (I married an incredibly good looking man but he's an engineer. Enough said). It's got a MUCH lighter tone than Arrow. It's gonna be a successful show, last many years and make a ton of money.

(Side note: I am having a slight issue with the running. Just so I get this straight, all Barry basically did was RUN AWAY from the gas man. RIGHT? That's what happened? He just ran back and forth until gas man got tired? Yeah. That's what I thought.)

I am probably feeling unreasonably protective of Oliver Queen right now. Maybe it's because The Flash is kicking Arrow's ass in the ratings. Maybe it's because Sara died. Maybe it's because Oliver has had 7 consecutively crappy years. Maybe it's because the minute he finds a LITTLE happiness, a rocket blows up the goddamn restaurant before he can even finish his scotch. Maybe it's because it took him two years to realize the love of his life was standing right in front of him and when he finally makes a move she's nearly killed, which basically confirms his worst nightmare and thereby reaffirms his belief he can never be with her. Or maybe it's because there's all these guys are sniffing around his INSANELY HOT soul mate, who is the future mother of his children, and ONE of them is Barry Allen.

Like I said. I am having a thing.

I've never made it a huge secret that I like my heroes dark & twisty. Why? Well, honestly I don't need hundreds of hours of therapy or a psychology degree to figure it out. I believe in the power of redemptive suffering. Why? Well... I've lived it. It's real. So I like stories that reflect it.

Barry Allen has suffered. His mother died when he was just a little boy. He witnessed it. He saw her body. His father went to prison for her murder. And nobody believed him when he told the truth.
Do you want to know why Barry isn't three different kinds of screwed up? Joe and Iris. Barry grew up in a family, with a father and his best friend. He was fed, clothed, educated, cared for, supported, protected, loved. Deeply loved. Joe did everything a father does. He raised Barry. The reason why Barry is Barry is because Joe made sure that Barry didn't lose his childhood. He lost his mother. He lost his father. But somehow Joe managed to salvage a piece of Barry's innocence and it's still with him to this day.

That being said, what happened to Barry, what Barry witnessed, was DEEPLY tragic. It was UNJUST and evil and horrifying. On the surface Barry is a ball of light. Happy, sweet, kind, compassionate...innocent. But make no mistake my friends. The darkness is there. It's what happens to every hero when the life altering event, the catalyst, occurs. Barry has A LOT of rage in him. It's bubbling underneath the surface. It's why the writers have surrounded him with father figures. His biological father, Joe and Dr. Wells. Barry, like Oliver, is a powerful weapon and whoever influences him the most can harness & control him. Barry isn't all good. Nobody is. He will struggle with the light and dark just like Oliver does.

Which brings me to my Oliver Queen. Oliver suffered unimaginable nightmares for five years. He was tortured. Every single person he ever loved either died for him or because of him. He could never fully trust anyone. He had to make life and death decisions every day. He had to forge himself into a weapon, strip himself of his humanity, to survive.

The process in which Oliver Queen became The Arrow and the process in which Barry Allen became The Flash are night and day. Barry was struck by lightning. But Oliver? Oliver became The Arrow through sheer force of will. He worked for it, trained for it and bled for it.  His survival depended on it. Barry didn't lose himself when he became The Flash. Oliver had to stop being Oliver Queen. He had stop trusting. He had to stop believing. He had stop hoping. He had to stop caring. He had to stop loving. He had to stop being a person. It was the only way for him to survive.  Humanity was just another thing that could kill him.

I knew when the writers embarked on this storyline for Felicity & Oliver I would land myself firmly in Switzerland. What makes it a great storyline is that BOTH sides are understandable. I sympathize with Oliver's viewpoint AND I sympathize with Felicity's. They are diametrically opposed and I agree with both of them. That's great writing.

So today is my in defense of Oliver. Trust me, there's a defense of Felicity Smoak coming up I'm sure, but today it's Oliver.

Oliver's story isn't only about him becoming a superhero. It's about Oliver reclaiming his humanity. It's about Oliver finding a way to push past all that darkness, everything the Island took from him, to the good within. To the pieces of light that somehow he held on to. Arrow is the story of Oliver learning to be a man again.

It is a slow, painful, agonizing process. For every step forward for Oliver there will be two steps back... again... and again... and again.

Why? Because of one simple irrefutable fact. One reason. Fear.

Oliver Queen is absolutely terrified.

I know people are angry with him after "Sara" and his treatment of Felicity. I know. But let's look at how Oliver deals with grief. Tommy dies. What does Oliver do? He runs away. Where does Oliver go? BACK TO THE ISLAND. He chooses the Island willingly. The literal embodiment of his nightmares. Why? Because it was isolated. He could be alone. Alone is safe. Diggle & Felicity find him and drag him back.

Moira dies. What does Oliver do? He doesn't go to the funeral. He runs away. Where does Oliver go? Well, this time there's progress because he sticks closer to home. He goes to his secret secondary location. Why? Because it was isolated. Until Diggle & Felicity find him.

Sara dies. This time Oliver doesn't run. He stays. He's a hero now. He knows he can't leave. It's unbelievable progress for Oliver to physically stay put after a tragedy like Sara's death. Since he can't find isolation by hiding out, he retreats inside of himself.  He shuts down. He isolates himself.

The Island isn't Lian Yu anymore. Oliver is the Island. He carries it with him all the time, every day. And he isolates himself every chance he gets. The simple act of being The Arrow isolates him. He must keep secrets, he must keep walls up to protect those he loves. It also protects Oliver. Those walls are safe. He needs those walls. He wants those walls.

It's why he consistently chooses dysfunctional romantic relationships. Whether it's Laurel or Helena or Sara, if it's about fixing the past or saving them then it's about THEM, which more importantly means it's not about HIM. Whether it's hiding his life as The Arrow or it's hiding Oliver Queen or both he never truly reveals ALL of himself to any of those women. He purposefully chooses relationships he KNOWS won't last because that's safe. There's no risk there. Does he care about them? Yes. Does he need them? No. Not in the way that truly scares him. Not the way you need someone when you are absolutely desperately in love with them. He is never that vulnerable.

At his core Oliver is a survivor. To survive, you don't show weakness or vulnerability. Needing is weakness. So you don't need anyone. Ever.

He does it with everyone. Everyone... except Felicity Smoak.

It's why she confused him so much in the beginning. That spark she ignited in him...he could literally feel his humanity coming alive again. It was so unfamiliar, to be able to look at a human being and not see them as a threat. It was so unfamiliar to immediately trust someone. Unfamiliar, terrifying, confusing and...enticing. Addicting. It was like a moth to a flame. He kept coming back to her. More favors. More lies. Coming closer and closer to her until finally...he pulled her all the way in.

It took him so long to understand what that meant, what she meant to him. Her ability to harness his light. Her ability to bring out his innate goodness. Her ability to make him laugh. Her ability to make him feel like a person. Her ability to make him feel like a man again, like Oliver Queen. To not only make him feel it but make him WANT to feel it. He had no idea what it all meant until one day he just did. He could put a name to it.


It's a different kind of love than anything he's ever felt before. It's love based on trust, honestly, friendship, respect, laughter, compassion, unconditional support, understanding, and loyalty. Felicity sees him. She really SEES him. She understands and accepts all sides of Oliver...the man and The Arrow. He doesn't have to hide from her. He doesn't want to hide from her. The walls are down. He needs her. What's more, he allows himself to need her. This love... this love is the love that changes your life. It's the love that BECOMES your life.

And it absolutely terrifies Oliver to his core.

Of course it took him two years to hug her. He's afraid to touch her. He's afraid to move. He's afraid to breathe. He's afraid that if he looks away for even a second, she'll be gone. He's afraid that if he allows himself this one small piece of happiness, this person that is just for him, he'll lose her. Because he's lost absolutely everyone he's ever cared about. Anyone he's ever loved has either died for him or because of him.

Oliver Queen is a survivor. And he knows without a shadow of doubt if Felicity dies, he will NOT survive that.

Oliver knows he needs Felicity to be The Arrow. He cannot save the city without her. He understands that comes with certain risks. He also understands that every moment she spends with him, she's a moment closer to danger. So he kept his distance. His greatest fear was that his love would endanger her. It would make her a target. He knew it was a weakness his enemies would use against him.

He was right.

But after defeating Slade, the City settled to a calm. Diggle tells Oliver it's now or never. The city will never be any safer. So Oliver takes a chance. His gives himself one moment of happiness. He allows himself to believe that the life he's been dreaming of with her is an actual possibility.

This was never about a date for Oliver. He and Felicity said it: they've already been on, like, 15 dates. Life and death cuts through all the bull. They know each other. They understand each other. Do they know everything? No, but news flash: you never really do about anyone. They know enough to trust what they have. This is it. Felicity is it for Oliver. Oliver is it for Felicity. They are in love.

It's why Oliver got real on that date.

He needed her to know this wasn't about a date. It wasn't about sex (although I'm sure he wouldn't have argued if it went that away). This was about building something. Building a life. When Oliver looks at Felicity he sees everything he didn't know he wanted and everything he never believed he could have. Love, marriage, a home, babies. He looks at what Diggle has built with Lyla and more than anything he wants to build that with Felicity. She is his love. She is his home. She is his forever. He sees his children in her eyes.

And then a rocket explodes.

Why was this time so different than any other time Felicity has been in danger? Because she wasn't with The Arrow. She was with Oliver.

There has to be some part of Oliver's life that's safe. But there isn't. How is he suppose to build a life with her? How does he build a home with her? A safe place to call their own? A place where he knows she's safe & sound, sleeping in their bed, waiting for him to come home from his nightly patrol... their children asleep down the hall. How does he create that for her, if he can't even take her out to dinner safely?


How does Oliver have that when he believes that being Oliver Queen is the very thing that will put his entire life at risk? There has to be a piece of him that's just Felicity's. There has to be a piece of him that is theirs. There has to be a piece of his life that is safe. It cannot be The Arrow. It has to be Oliver Queen.

Oliver Queen is walking Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. He is emotionally scared, battled and bruised. Everyone and everything is a threat. He is always on high alert. It's why Felicity is so important to him. With her...he feels like a person again. He can just be.

The Count took that from him. He took that possibility away. And the fear came raging back.
Looking at Felicity, bloody & unconscious, Oliver saw Tommy with a rebar through his chest.

He saw his father, Yao Fei and Shado with bullets in their heads.

His mother with a sword through her chest.

And then... Sara dies.

She is lying on that table with three arrows in her chest.

Do you know who was lying on that table not 24 hours earlier? Felicity.

What's the difference between Sara and Felicity? Felicity was just luckier.

Of course he pushed her away. Of course he refused to hold her. Refused to touch her. Refused to even look at her.

Two years. Two years to hug her.

Why? He was scared to touch her. That's why he was always so tentative, hand holding and shoulder touches. He would allow himself just a moment of contact, but not too much, not too close. He was terrified what he could do to her. What his love could do to her. Nearly everyone Oliver has ever loved has died. It's not too far of a leap, then, to start to believe that your love is what destroys people. That YOU are what destroys people. She is everything that is good and pure and warm and soft and safe.

He didn't want his darkness to infect her, to taint her soul like it did his. It took him a long time to realize how strong she was. That there was nothing about him that could ever scare her off. That she was the bravest of them all. She doesn't let her fear control her.

But Oliver? Fear is instinctual to him. Fear is one of our most basic instincts. Basic human nature. Fear triggers survival. And Oliver Queen always survives.

His fear is Felicity will die someday... because of him.

But if he stays focused? If he's vigilante? If he's just The Arrow? Assessing threats and targets at all times? Maybe he can protect her. Maybe she'll be safe. Forget dreams. All he wants is for Felicty to stay alive. He'll do anything to make sure she does.

He strikes with machine like precision. Removes the danger from her life. Oliver Queen is the danger. He chooses The Arrow. He lets Oliver Queen go, so she'll survive... so he'll survive.

But she won't stop. She's still standing in front of him, LOVING HIM, asking him to be Oliver Queen. She refuses to see the reality. What life with him means. Death.

He'll make sure that it's not her. But it will be him. He will end up just like Sara. The only thing he can ever give Felicity is a body to bury.

Of course he's retreated back into himself. This is all Oliver knows how to do.  He only knows how to survive. He's got no clue how to live. He tried. He dipped his toe into the life he's always wanted and it literally blew up in his face. Everyone he tries to save dies. Everyone he tries to love dies. So why bother trying? Why bother with any of it? No. He will honor his code. He will devote his life to a cause. He owes the people who have died for him that much. But anything more than that? No. He can't. He doesn't know how. He's too scared of what he'll lose in the process.

There is a beautiful line that Buffy said once that is so completely heartbreaking and encompasses the way Oliver is feeling right now:
I don't understand. I don't know how to live in this world, if these are the choices, if everything just gets stripped away. I don't see the point.
Death is easier. It's life that is hard. It's life that hurts. He'd rather hide in his cave and wait for death. Maybe it won't hurt anymore. Maybe finally it'll all just stop.

It works. She can't stay and watch him WAIT for death. She loves him too much for that.

He doesn't say a word. He lets her go. This is what needed to happen. He needed to push her away. To protect her. So she'll survive. To protect himself. So he'll survive.

And just like that, she's gone.

He knew he had to let her go. He knew he was pushing her away. But he didn't know what it would feel like when she was finally gone. Inside of the pain and the sadness was something surprising. Something he didn't expect. He was afraid again. It wasn't of Felicity dying. It wasn't fear of living. No, this fear? This was new. Something he fears more than what could happen to her. Something he fears more than living.

He's scared he's going to lose her love. She wants so much more to life than this. She's not going to wait for him. It's what he thought he wanted, but... what if she really does move on? What if she builds a life without him?

What if she stops loving him?

Oliver Queen is a survivor. Part of surviving is knowing your basic needs. And doing anything to get them. And Oliver needs Felicity's love to survive. It's like air to him. Even if they're not together, he knows her heart belongs to him. But he pushed too hard this time. He pushed too far.

It's enough to ignite something in him he hasn't felt since he returned from The Island.

He doesn't want to die. He wants to learn how to live his life. So he can go wherever she's going. There are some fates worse than death and Oliver just discovered his.

But what she's asking of him, what WE are asking of him, he's got no idea how to do it. It's going to be a long and painful process. It'll be one step forward, two step back. But he's going to try. He's going to find a way to live life, so he can come for her. He's more afraid of losing her love than he is of trying to live. He's more afraid of losing her love than of what his love could do to her.

So, no...I am not angry with Oliver Queen. I understand why it took him two years to hug Felicity.

Two years to realize he loved her.

Two years to kiss her.

Two years to remove her doubt.

And why it took him less than 24 hours to let her go.

He's broken. He's been broken in a way Barry Allen never was.

But just because he's broken, doesn't mean he won't be able to put the pieces back together again. At least he's going to try. He'll do more than dip his toe. He's going to give it everything he has, no matter how scared he is. He loves her that much.

Jen (one 'n' because it is a CHOICE, people) is a wife, mom, and lifelong television addict. She has a background in Marketing Education in Communications and English Literature. Jen is obsessed with Arrow and is an Olicity fan. She believes in selfless love and EPIC love stories. Oliver and Felicity are both. Be sure to check out Jen's analyses of Arrow at her Tumblr, linked up above!

1 comment: