Disclaimer : I only talk about the CW show, so no reference to the comics story lines here. Also, if you haven’t seen the whole season, I warn you : spoilers alert.
What makes a hero?
In modern television, a fight for justice, strong beliefs, loss or selfless sacrifice often make a character a true hero.
At the beginning of the show, billionaire Oliver Queen, ex-party boy, comes back from darkness in the form of an island where he was trapped for five years. He holds secrets and traumas (seeing his father committing suicide in front of him, tortures, manipulations by those who took him under their wings)…and has a mission.
But does a mission make a hero?
Green Arrow (or “The Hood” as Starling City Police Dpt and the media calls him), Ollie’s persona, is the mix of a personal crusade (Ollie’s father, before dying, gives him a list of names responsible for “failing the city”), of anger and violence (he uses the skills he learnt from surviving on the island, mostly martial arts and of course, his bow and arrows) and guilt.
This guilt is not caused by some need to bring justice in Starling City : Oliver only follows his father’s dying wish (order?): “Survive”. By becoming a vigilante, Oliver Queen serves his own mission, crossing the names, stopping these people who failed Starling City, in the hope to honor his father’s name. At this point (first part of the season, let’s say), there’s no hero here. Just a young man throwing himself into work/fights. The guilt? He’s alive. Queen Sr is not. The father shot himself to save the son. A sacrifice. And now Oliver has to prove himself it wasn’t in vain. This mission is his redemption.
The turning point though, does not come from his mission. It comes from his personal life.
The love triangle between Oliver, old flame Laurel Lance and Ollie’s best friend Tommy Merlyn is interesting to witness : There’s a lot of things untold in these three relationships (Ollie/Laurel, Laurel/Tommy, Tommy/Ollie). And when Laurel & Tommy seem to settle, Ollie accepts he can’t have Laurel back. He accepts his best friend’s happiness. He could win Laurel back way before the end of the season. He doesn’t. He chooses to stay away, when she was the only thing keeping him alive these past five years. First sacrifice.
Family and loss are central themes during this first season. Malcolm Merlyn, the nemesis, is driven by a similar guilt – themurder of his wife. Both Ollie and Malcolm were helpless, and this guilt led them to serve a mission. And while Ollie lets his guilt lead him, Malcolm is soon driven by anger. And this is where their paths derail: Ollie never has an appetite for destruction. He always wants things to be better. For his family (not matter how disintegrated it becomes), his friends (Laurel & Tommy, of course, but also Felicity Smoak) and Starling City (co-operating with Detective Lance).
Speaking of friends, it’s impossible not to mention Diggle, bodyguard turned into sidekick, who plays a great part in the Arrow’s transformation: his friendship makes Ollie a better fighter, a better vigilante, and ultimately a better man. Because Diggle represents honesty and teaches Ollie to fight for his beliefs, he (and later Felicity) is the rock preventing Ollie from crossing the anger line Malcolm Merlyn crossed.
But sometimes it’s another sacrifice who makes a hero what he is. In the last minutes of the (really good) season finale, Tommy saves Laurel, in a selfless act of bravery, when the city is collapsing. And Tommy dies, in Oliver’s arms, changing the vigilante for ever. His mission is not just to erase the bad guys from Starling City. His mission is not to survive.
His mission is to live, whatever the cost.
Remember what another hero once said? “The hardest thing in this world, is to live in it”.
That’s what makes a true hero: To live through this.
And Oliver Queen, Green Arrow, is on his way.