Arrow, Season 5, Episode 13, “Spectre of the Gun”
It’s not unheard of for the Greg Berlanti-produced superhero series to comment on real life issues. This year, Supergirl alone has addressed the personal struggles of Alex coming out, and the alien storyline has been a giant allegory for the current debates about immigration and race relations.
Even the subject of “Spectre of the Gun,” the gun rights/gun control debate, has been touched on in the Berlanti-verse this year, but this Arrow, written by show creator Marc Guggenheim, takes on the issue in a direct way that often brushed the edge of a “Very Special Episode.”
Arrow deserves credit for trying to have an even handed discussion about the plague of gun violence in America. However, the series’ own casual relationship with gun violence (remember, Diggle and Rene carry guns on missions, and Vigilante is a walking arsenal, Punisher type) sometimes made the points raised ring hollow.
The series knew it wasn’t going to change minds or solve the problems during the course of its hour, but it did encourage honest debate and action that works toward a compromise – a concept often lost in today’s all-or-nothing political climate.
The debate was framed in Arrow‘s trademark current time/flashback fashion. In the now, Oliver faces his toughest test as mayor when a regular guy (whose family were victims of gun violence) with a legal AR-15 semiautomatic rifle walks into city hall, opens fire, and seven regular civil servants are killed.
This isn’t the first time Star City has experienced mass shootings. They are the No. 1 killer of Star City mayors and hell, even Felicity was paralyzed in one such attack. It felt like a point of tone deafness on the show’s part that a mass shooting by masked goons under orders of a Slade Wilson or Damien Darhk, is treated as somehow less tragic than a random citizen, upset at the city’s inability to pass gun control measures lashing out in violent fashion.
This leaves Olivier in a twist about what to do after he gives the normal line about thoughts and prayers, following the shooting. Everyone has their opinions: Thea (who is back, and full of one-liners) knows action needs to be taken; Lance believes his job as a cop would have been easier if there were fewer guns on the street; Curtis is pro-tighter restrictions and Felicity, always the avatar for the audience, shuts down debate and just wants to move forward. The debate devolves into two sides of the issue merely yelling at each other.
Rene, whose tragic backstory is covered in the flashbacks this week, is pro gun ownership despite being a victim of gun violence himself. Rene had a wife and a tween daughter at one time. Rene owned a gun for personal protection but his wife, who incidentally, had substance abuse issues, made him keep the gun in a safe in the closet. Once day, Rene walks in on an armed dealer trying to take money from his wife at gunpoint. Rene is able to get his gun and shoot the bad guy. Tragically, the dealer’s gun goes off as he hits the ground, discharging a round that kills Rene’s wife, who had been knocked to the floor during the struggle. Rene enters a downward spiral; his daughter is taken away and entered into the foster care system. At his lowest point, he sees the Arrow, flanked by regular Star City citizens take the city back from Darhk on TV, and decides to don the hockey mask and take up the life of a vigilante.
While Felicity uses her shady hacktivist database to track down the city hall shooter, Ollie the mayor tries to solve a problem that is out of the Green Arrow’s league, by talking with all the city’s aldermen in an effort to work out a solution that serves the common good without infringing upon people’s rights.
Team Arrow discovers that the shooter is going to hit the hospital next, and Ollie rushes out of a meeting to confront the shooter as Mayor Queen. He talks the shooter down, thus ending the crisis and gaining enough political leverage to draft some gun legislation, as announced at a candlelight vigil for the victims of the shooting.
Despite Prometheus being MIA – again – the show was able to move some things along. Felicity tried to use her hacktivist info find out who Prometheus is, Rene and New Canary got jobs that they’ll never go to, and Thea returned from Parts Unknown to disapprove of Ollie’s reporter girlfriend.
Although this wasn’t a typical episode of Arrow, credit has to be given for using the episode to hold a mirror to one of the many difficult issues that are dividing the nation. While the execution was often inelegant, the ultimate message of open-mindedness and political compromise made the time well spent.