Mick Rory and survivor's guilt
A post by @coldtomyflash reminded me of a topic I’ve been wanting to talk about for a while now: Mick Rory and his survivor’s guilt, and how it plays into his loss of Len and his characterization on the second season
Mick’s got loads of survivor’s guilt, from his childhood right up through legends. Mick’s survivor’s guilt started, undoubtedly, with the death of his family. He caused the fire that killed them, even though it was an accident, and his mental illness got the better of him and prevented him from seeking help for his family. That’s the normal survivor’s guilt – living through an accident that others, particularly those you’re close to, do not – with the added heap of self-blame on there to mess him up even further. We see in 2x12 of Legends how that guilt and blame are already starting to sublimate into self-harm – burning himself with matches, at that time. As people grow older, and since we can assume Mick received little professional help being, based on the Legends timeline, and adult or just shy of it at that time (depending on birthdates – his is never specifically given, but 1990 is the year Leonard would have turned 18, and we have to assume they’re at least close in age).
We don’t get to see exactly what happens after they return Mick to the timeline after the fire, but it’s most likely not good. He’s wrapped up in blaming himself, starting to self-harm, and probably a bit of a pariah with the community he came from after the fire. He probably still has Len at this point, but other than that? Mick doesn’t really have anyone else.
The other thing Mick doesn’t seem to have is a whole lot of self-esteem. Len didn’t finish high school; Mick probably didn’t either, if he even went. Rural farming communities do not have the best educational pushes, particularly if your parents don’t think it’s useful, or if they think you’re going to take over the farm or something. So he probably is undereducated and doesn’t think he’s very smart; he may have been told so, as his father doesn’t seem like much of a gem. He never refutes any of the bad things said about his intelligence by any of the team members, even when they very obviously hurt him. Even with the pirates episode, he feels unwanted. Part of it may be because he doesn’t want to admit he has feelings to hurt, but part of it is also probably because part of him thinks they’re right. You can’t argue with facts, no matter how much you resent them.
So Mick’s got survivor’s guilt and self-esteem issues right off the bat when we get to him in Legends, and we can start to see Mick sublimating it into sacrificing himself for the only constant left in life: Leonard.
It’s most obvious in the Gulag episode, where Mick makes himself a distraction so that Leonard can get out. Now, mick’s not one to sacrifice himself for just anyone or anything; he’s not about to sacrifice himself to save Raymond in the yard, because Ray doesn’t matter. Not yet, anyway; not until Raymond takes a beating for him. Then, things change. Because then Mick feels responsible for him.
Mick does not want to be responsible for other people. I’ve mentioned it before, but it’s worth repeating, because his survivor’s guilt is probably a large part of why he doesn’t want to be in charge or responsible for anyone else. We can see it with Sara: being in charge means that you shoulder some of the blame for what happens to your team, at least in most people’s minds. Mick doesn’t want to be to blame for the death of people who he’s supposed to be working with. If he shows up, does his part, and things go wrong and people die, that’s not his fault. He doesn’t have to take on that guilt because hey, he did his part, it wasn’t his fault. Should’ve been planned better, or someone should’ve done their part better, or something, anything that means he’s not responsible for more people’s deaths. (Clearly, he’s fine being responsible for other people’s deaths if he’s working against them, but that’s a horse of a different color.) Is also why he pushes people away; if he doesn’t have friends , he can’t be hurt by them dying or being hurt, which is probably particularly important given his chosen profession, where there’s a lot of violence and death.
But now Raymond has MADE him responsible. Because he took a beating meant for Mick, if he dies because he’s too hurt to get out after Mick and Len left him, Mick would feel responsible for Ray’s death. He’d feel guilty. And Mick can’t bear that much more guilt. That’s why he won’t leave Raymond at the gulag. He doesn’t want to be responsible for Raymond’s death.
And the Len takes his place at the Oculus.
Leonard is, by Mick’s own admission, his only friend at the time. He’s known Len for very nearly thirty years, based on their ages and the timeline we’re given. And Leonard has, to Mick’s mind, died because of him, because honestly, if Raymond had still been the one at the Oculus? I do not for a minute believe that Leonard would have sacrificed himself. So Mick wakes up and finds that, essentially, everyone he’s ever cared about has died, because of him. Keep in mind – this is only a few episodes after they took Teen Mick from the fire. Mick JUST revisited those painful memories and most likely reopened all the wounds and made the guilt even worse.
That’s probably a large part of why Mick and Sara – who both start season 2 dealing with the loss of a family member, as you can consider Len Mick’s family at this point – deal so differently ,and why it seems to affect Mick much deeper. Sara lacks that guilt about Laurel’s death – she wants to change it, of course, and she certainly wasn’t pleased that she wasn’t there when it happened – but I think she believes Rip when he tells her she wouldn’t have been able to stop it, and her initial quest to kill Damian shows she does blame him for Laurel’s death (as she should). Mick, though – all that anger and pain are reflecting right back onto him, and he sublimates it the way he always has – self-harm, this time in the form of suicidal behaviors.
Mick can’t quite bring himself to just end it – there may be a variety of reasons, but it’s not uncommon, when dealing with survivor’s guilt, for the person to have conflicting feelings of a desire to end their life, while still feeling that they’re not allowed to. After all, they lived through the event, so if they kill themselves there tends to be a sense of having wasted their survival. Mick deals with this by throwing himself into dangerous situations there’s a good chance he won’t live through – running into gunfights without ammo, setting off explosives he doesn’t intend to leave, picking fights with speedsters on the Waverider. He wants to die, because he feels like the cause of everything bad happening to people he’s close to, but he can’t bring himself to be the direct cause of it, because that would, in a sense, be wasting Leonard’s sacrifice.
Which is why it is supremely shitty, to the highest degree, for someone to say to this man – to his face – that he shouldn’t give advice on partnerships because look how his turned out.
Like, holy shit.
When he said that, Stein was all but saying that Leonard died because Mick wasn’t a good partner. He says that to a man suffering from survivor’s guilt and self-esteem issues who he KNOWS has been hallucinating his dead partner out of sheer grief. And he just throws it in his face, and then proceeds to take the advice Mick gave him anyway because IT WAS GOOD ADVICE!
I nearly lost my damn mind.