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Oliver’s Survivor’s Guilt Explored, Arrow “Three Ghosts” 

Photo Credit: Diyah Pera/The CW
Photo Credit: Diyah Pera/The CW

[WARNING: Major spoilers for the Arrow mid-season finale]

So I know that this week brought us a whole new superhero going forward and don’t get me wrong, Barry is really starting to grow on me, but this episode was more about the past than the future. Oliver was dealing with some serious survivor’s guilt. It’s been clear from day one that Oliver has struggled with many personal demons and that his concern for others is often his downfall. But that being said, it took human form (or should I say forms) this week and manifested itself in unsettling ways.


SHADO: “I had to see you, had to warn you.”

OLLIE: “Warn me?”

SHADO: “You can’t fight what’s coming, put down your bow, take off my father’s hood”

OLLIE: “I wear that hood to honor your father. To honor you.”

SHADO: “If you want to honor me, stop fighting and live or everyone you love will die.”


Ollie’s first hallucination was of Shado, who we later learned was shot and killed on the island when Oliver was forced to save either her or Sara. One of many death’s that Oliver clearly holds himself responsible for. Now, this message seems pretty clear, However, it’s not until the end we realize just how right Shado is. More on that to come. When back in the lab alone, Oliver turns to find faux-Slade, who is clearly bitter and less than kind.


SLADE: “You told everyone when you started this crusade that it was making up for your father’s sins. That was a lie. The charade is to atone for your sins.”

OLLIE: “You’re dead.”

SLADE: “You are not a hero. Or a friend. Or a brother. You are nothing. Do not turn your back on me. Not again.”

OLLIE: “You’re gone.”

SLADE: “Wherever I am, its time you joined me.”


At this point, the two start fighting and I immediately jumpe to the conclusion that this couldn’t be a hallucination! Slade is alive! Granted, I’ve been saying that for weeks now, but I thought, “what an interesting way to reveal it.” Because let’s be honest, hallucinations can’t actually beat you up, right?


SLADE: “They say a count dies a thousand deaths, but even that wouldn’t be enough for you.”

OLLIE: “I tried to save you. And her.”

SLADE: “But you couldn’t, just like you couldn’t save this city. The island didn’t make you strong, kid, it revealed you to be weak.”


Well, I guess I was wrong, apparently they can because after Ollie goes crashing through his glass wardrobe, he turns to find Slade gone. So while Shado tried to save Oliver and relieve him of his feelings of responsibility, Slade instead belitted his cause and poured on the guilt that Oliver was clearly placing on himself. Oliver continues time and time again to beat himself up (literally in this case) over all the death and destruction that has occurred around him. He seems to carry the world on his shoulders and wants to save everyone and when he can’t, he sees it as his own personal failure. He initially tried to save Slade back on the island and even though it was the “miracle drug” that didn’t work, Oliver felt responsible for what appeared to be his friend’s death. Just as when The Glades went down, he took that to heart and banished himself back to the island despite the fact he did absolutely everything he could to prevent it. But apparently, a ruthless and determined effort is not enough if it doesn’t work out in the end. And that couldn’t be more true than his attempt to save his BFF Tommy Merlyn last year. He warned him, he pushed him away, he tried to do everything to keep him safe and yet, it still wasn’t enough. Tommy may have been the one to call him a murderer, but it was Oliver who truly believed it and was forced to come face to face with that in his final hallucination.


TOMMY: “You’re not gonna die down here.”

OLLIE: “Tommy, I’m sorry. I let you die.”

TOMMY: “You didn’t let me die, Ollie. You fought to save me because that’s what you always do. That’s what you’ve 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.”


This was by far my favorite hallucination. I nearly jumped out of my seat at seeing Tommy and Oliver together again. I absolutely loved the friendship these two had early on. Tommy really understood Oliver. Until he didn’t. Their discord was extremely upsetting and I was glad to see the two of them reconnect just before Tommy took his last breath, but this, this was the true closure Oliver needed. Not only has he beat himself up for Tommy’s death, but Laurel spent a great deal of time beating him up as well, which didn’t help Oliver’s conscience (and just made me mad). Now to see this Tommy back in Ollie’s corner, that was what he needed to stand up and fight on. Yes, Oliver has seen and perhaps caused a lot of death, but he’s also done a lot of good. More than he cares to acknowledge at times. He needed his best friend there to remind him of that. He has survived. He is strong. And his cause is worth something in the end. Now, I’m not saying Oliver should just forget his friends and not feel sorrow over the losses, but he also needs to recognize what has come from these battles. He can live in the past all he wants, but moping about won’t help him to change the future. He needs to find his strength that has gotten buried under all this guilt and channel that towards the battle he is about to face.


And what a face it is. Shado was not kidding when she warned Ollie of what was to come. As soon as Sebastian Blood walked in to the executive office and faced the big boss man, I knew who it had to be. Granted, the accent was kind of a dead giveaway, but in the end, my gut was right, Slade did not die! A flashback to the island shows us that the miracle drug did in fact work, giving Slade a brand new face and superhuman powers. And while I thought that the pseudo-Slade from the lab was just a manifestation of Oliver’s own guilt, Slade’s determination to take Ollie down made me realize that Oliver’s feelings may be more universal than I thought.


SLADE: “Death would be a release from this life and his sentence has yet to be carried out. I am going to tear everything he cares about away from him. Destroy those who choose to follow him. Corrupt those he loves and once he has lost everyone and everything he values, I will drive an arrow through his eye.”


And as he says this, we see him with an eye-patch, making this declaration feel very biblical. So if he wants Oliver’s eye, we can only assume that means Oliver once drove an arrow through his eye, right? Now we know Oliver witnessed Slade’s island resurrection and his new superhuman strength, but it’s what comes next that remains the mystery. Did Oliver watch his best friend die yet again at the hands of the freighter people? Or was he forced to take new soldier Slade down himself? I’m guessing the latter, but either way, Oliver’s conscience is eating him up and I can only imagine the challenge he’ll face when he discovers his one-time friend is still alive and he’s forced to battle him yet again.

 Arrow returns with new episodes Wednesday, Jan. 15 at 8/7c on the CW.

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  1. MByerly has an interesting interview with the ARROW showrunners about where all these changes may lead, including Roy’s new superpowers.

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