This Arrow review contains spoilers.
Arrow Season 5 Episode 13
Arrow is a pretty great show when it comes to getting one’s quota of masked superhero violence and well-choreographed fight scenes for the week. However, what happens when the show takes a long and hard look at its own violence and tries to make it mesh with a real world problem? Those curious certainly got their answer in “Spectre of the Gun.”
I’m not necessarily against TV shows taking time away from their usual format for a “very special episode.” Series like All In The Family, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and more did it flawlessly, but I admit I wasn’t expecting it from Arrow. Furthermore, I especially wasn’t expecting it to be such a layered look at a topic as dicey and politically charged as the Second Amendment.
If you were hoping for a regular installment of Arrow, where we get new leads on this season’s big bad and clues are revealed through flashbacks, you’ll be disappointed. For a show that often bends over backwards to avoid its connection to the real-life America with cities like Bludhaven, Star City, Central City, and National City, it went after our country’s proclivity for firearms in a real way, bringing up issues like availability of weapons, the black market trade, and mass shootings.
Some of the characters fell on the side of our Founding Fathers, arguing that if guns exist, the government has no right to withhold them from citizens. This rang especially true for Wild Dog, who we learned this episode used to have a wife before gun violence involving a home invader ended the relationship. On the other side of the debate was Mr. Terrific, who even went as far as to make the point that a black man like himself is three times more likely to get gunned down at some point in his life. Caught in the middle of this debate was Mayor Oliver Queen, who put away his green hood for the most part this episode to take on this issue from a political standpoint. After all, this issue is too real for a superhero to punch into submission.
Normally I would be the first to balk at yet another failed attempt at political drama in a show where the mayor’s office has had more failed occupants than Hogwarts’ Defense Against The Dark Arts professor, but when it works it works. It was handled well as the mayor met with his political opposition about implementing a municipal order that allowed for more gun control – after getting into a minor scrap with Vigilante, so the episode had the masked stuff covered too. Where did we land in the end? Well, sadly the same place that America has, with gun control being too polarizing an issue to take a definitive stance. If you’re reading this, I’m sure you fall on one distinct side of the gun debate, but Arrow didn’t have the luxury of choosing, especially since it hangs its hat quite often on characters like Diggle getting busy with a glock (leg shots, but still).
If there’s one thing that can be said about “Spectre of the Gun” it’s that it was a rare episode of Arrow that wasn’t afraid to truly go there. It opens with a graphic, possibly triggering, mass shooting. For a show that’s had more characters die and come back to life than The Walking Dead, it found a way to be appropriately jarring to see red shirts throughout the mayor’s office die tragic, quick, and lonely deaths. The creators clearly had a point to make and it was refreshing to see the show actually deal with real world consequences.
Oliver didn’t jump over the table and kick the gun out of the killer’s hand. Instead, he had to deal with the horror of knowing that he wasn’t dealing with some Damien Darhk or Promethus-level villain. The shooter was just a guy who legally obtained an AR-15, America’s most commonly purchased rifle and the weapon used in countless real world mass shootings.
Additionally, seeing the origin story of Wild Dog finally put the otherwise rough around the edges character in context. I’ve been hard on him this season, tiring quickly of his relentless acts of defiance and predictable hot headedness. However, the episode did a good job of explaining why he’s such an unbelievable pill and what his road to redemption looks like (in this case, reuniting with his daughter). When the big moment came and he, as a regular father and husband, had to deal with a home invader and a stray bullet taking out his wife – it felt like we were watching the first act of a tragic movie and not just another episode of Arrow.
Normally this is the part where I’d talk about what we learned, what moved the plot forward and what the implications were for the rest of the season. However, this was a “very special episode” of Arrow, and such plot points were left on the cutting room floor for next week. This time, perhaps it’s best to do what the show urged us to do as Americans and examine the role of guns in our lives and entertainment.
This season, Arrow has had a lot of bullets flying both from the guns of heros and villains alike. Nothing raises the stakes of a fight or makes more sense than some good old fashion gun violence. However, in a world where there are more mass shootings than group hugs, maybe it’s time to rethink the reckless use of firearms on TV, especially in a millennial-leaning series.
Then again, with all deference to the opposition, perhaps showing characters that need to have guns constantly in their orbit taking that responsibility seriously is exactly what we need more of on TV. I’d like to be able to give you an answer loyal readers, but I will say this: I’m just OK with a bow and Arrow, and if Star City were real and I lived there, I can’t promise I wouldn’t feel safer with a “more efficient weapon.” I also can’t promise I wouldn’t accidentally shoot myself in the foot at the grocery store, so there you go.
OK, I’m ready for a fist fight with Prometheus and flashbacks again. See you next week!