ARROW “Spectre of the Gun” Recap
BY The Screen Spy Team
Published 6 years ago
By Justin Carter
This week’s Arrow is different from the others. It’s the first episode in the series’ run that I can remember starting with a content advisory warning, and even the pre-title opening is a marked departure from what’s usually shown. There’s no rousing music to accompany the logo or flashy action sequence to set the stage, it just matter of factly shows a man loading guns into a duffle bag before getting right into the thrust of the plot. Said man walks into city hall and starts shooting up the place. Our shooter, James Edlund, is a grieving father and husband with an axe to grind with city officials after his family was killed in a mall shooting and the administration at the time shot down a gun registry for Star City.
In general, TV episodes that focus on a shooting may aim high but ultimately tend to be hit or miss, regardless of their political persuasion. Sometimes the story is used to great effect, and to give a personal voice to an important social issue, as in Degrassi, while at others it’s just incredibly exploitative, a la Glee. I’m still not entirely sure where this particular episode of the CW’s Arrow lands in that spectrum, and that’s part of the problem.
In theory, a shooting is something that a superhero show like Arrow seems perfectly suited to tackle because of how grounded it is, magic rags and occasional alien encounters aside. Flash, Supergirl, and Legends would all possibly run into a brick wall in trying to handle this type of story line, but with characters who lack any superpowers that can prevent a massacre before it gets even more out of hand or retcon the shooting entirely, the subsequent fallout means that there’s different character dynamics and layers to explore.
And if there’s any character in comics who can best do that, it would have to been Green Arrow. He was originally used as a mouthpiece for politics in some of his earliest incarnations, and his current run by Benjamin Percy and a rotating series of artists is no stranger to this idea, either. Since its beginning last June, Percy’s take on Oliver Queen has included themes of police brutality, corruption, and a system constantly failing its people, and Percy has gone a long way in helping Oliver reclaim his title as a “social justice warrior.” (All superheroes are social justice warriors when you get down to it, but that’s another topic for another day.)
Arrow the TV series has slowly been trying to bring that part of Ollie’s history into the series, with this season pulling the heavy lifting now that he’s the mayor of Star City so we can see how his work as hero and mayor affect the citizens and his teammates. However, the show seems reluctant to come down on one side of the gun control debate or the other, and in trying to represent all sides equally, presents an inoffensive milquetoast offering that doesn’t require viewers to consider very much of anything.
During the hour we learn that Rene is a staunch supporter of gun ownership (he manages to tag Edmund during the shooting), and has been even before his wife got killed by a drug dealer. This nugget of information makes sense. Given Rene’s line of work, both as a former military man and as a superhero, he should come packing at all times. However, the back and forth debates between him and Curtis are as just about as heavy handed as they can get. Both of them throw out bland statistics and facts which are reminiscent of one of those conversations at a family gathering that you really want to duck out of, but find yourself unable to escape. Curtis even goes so far as to have Rene come to a support group of shooting victims to change his mind (he says that wasn’t his intention, but that has to be a lie), but thanks to the flashbacks, it just seems manipulative, even though Curtis isn’t aware of his teammate’s former life at the time when he does so.
At one point, Curtis points out how one of the victims in the mall shooting is now quadriplegic, but it comes across more as an attempt to pull a “gotcha!” instead of really giving the audience something to consider. A conversation with Curtis and Felicity manages to amp up the cheese even further by dovetailing her refusal to talk about gun control into a larger discussion about how debates about politics became rude and led to the state of our country today. It just screams preachy and the urge to scoff was incredibly high. Fortunately, the talk between Oliver and a councilwoman who shot down the gun registry fares a little better here, if only because Oliver’s rationale is rooted in clearly defined character history instead of statistics.
The best parts of the episode come from just how subdued everything else is by downplaying the common superheroics of the show and having people react as real humans. During an interview with the press after the shooting, Oliver can’t do anything but speak in platitudes and practiced statements that most people, Americans in particular, have grown accustomed to hearing over the years with shooting after shooting. He just flat out admits that he has no idea how to handle something like this because it’s not a typical situation he can just shoot an arrow into. His big hero moment at the end comes as the mayor of Star City, where he talks Edlund down from shooting up the city hospital and working with Rene to come up with gun control ordinances for the city.
My general stance on media that tries to go out of its way to make a point is to at least give it credit for trying, even if it’s clumsy. Watch Dogs 2 and Mafia III, for example, were two games from last year that had plenty to say on the surveillance state and racial politics. Even though both stumbled in their own ways on their respective matters, I did find them enjoyable and important just on the basis of having the stones to Go There. Even though Arrow has its stumbles in the episode, and I wouldn’t say this is an Important Episode, I am willing to give credit where credit’s due here. This isn’t an episode I’d find myself watching when the season has finished, but it also didn’t have me wondering what they were thinking in confusion in horror. When a topic like gun control is on the block, that’s pretty much all you can ask for.
- Tina gets a new apartment! With a garden, something she’s very insistent on. She also plans to apply for the SCPD, which will certainly help the team in the long run.
- Rene’s flashbacks, for what they’re worth, are just decent. There’s not enough of his wife and daughter for there to be a huge impact, especially since he and Curtis will try and get him custody of his kid.
- Oh thank god Thea’s back. I’ve missed her, and she does manage to get in a god jab at Ollie’s relationship with Susan Williams.
- How much longer is the show going to pretend that Josh Segarra isn’t the Vigilante when nearly everything he does pretty much says so?