Arrow fans! Your regular recapper Kayti Burt is abroad for two weeks, possibly in Russia working with Bratva, so I’m dusting off my recap boots and filling in.
For much of Arrow’s “Spectre of the Gun,” I was thinking about Season 3 of The Wire. One of the reasons it’s my favorite is because it does something audacious — it legalizes drugs. The War on Drugs defined The Wire, and though the show was steeped in realism, it allowed itself some fictional fun by creating legalized drug zones in Season 3 called “Hamsterdam.” From there it played out, over the course of the season, the realities of such a brazen move. Yes crime dropped and drugs went off of street corners and moved to the legal zones, but those zones became absolute hell holes. The mayor’s office, public health officials, and just about everyone ultimately became involved in it and tried to make it work. Realistically it couldn’t, and yet, it was an experiment worthy of such an intense debate.
Similarly, gun violence is an issue that rises and falls in our public consciousness after tragedy upon tragedy occurs, but it’s something that is woven into the very fabric of a show like Arrow. The Green Arrow uses a bow instead of a gun, but he’s surrounded by guns and gunmen, and is himself a killer. As Vigilante taunts, “the only difference between you and I is I use a more efficient weapon.” As such, gun violence is something that deserves to be more than a “very special episode” of Arrow — it’s something the show should always be addressing.
Instead, we got “Spectre of the Gun,” which wasn’t bold enough to really take a stand either way on the issue. A mass shooting at City Hall killed seven people, but none were characters we know. It’s not that that has to be the case or that Arrow hasn’t had characters killed by guns in the past (or like Felicity, maimed for a time), but it allowed “Spectre of the Gun” to remove itself personally from the debate. Instead, Curtis and Renee lobbed facts at each other (though no hard numbers) about the pros and cons of things like a gun registry, which was the crux of the gunman’s desire to shoot up City Hall. But Renee’s argument that if he had had his gun things would be different with his wife’s death was flawed — he was able to get his gun, but it ultimately didn’t save her.
“Spectre of the Gun” wanted us to see the juxtaposition of a guy like James Edlund losing his family and becoming a killer of innocents in his rage versus Renee, who also lost his family but instead became a vigilante force for good. But that also reinforces Renee’s pro-gun argument. The show is trying to have it both ways. While Oliver says to Thea that gun reform is “not about politics, but about safety and security,” it feels hollow when the ordinance he drafts with Renee’s help doesn’t prohibit anyone from buying, owning, or carrying a gun, to make sure everyone can still protect themselves. So what exactly does it do? What are we meant to learn from this?
Arrow’s fifth season has been allowing its characters to slow down and really feel the weight of their actions, particularly when it comes to Oliver’s dealings with Prometheus. His past is haunting him, and it’s a very valid thing for Arrow to address its character’s first reactions to solving violence with violence. And yet, with an episode like “Spectre of the Gun,” it just felt hypocritical. Oliver chastises Diggle for torturing a man last week, and then does the very same thing this week. That would be fine if there was a moment of self-reflection, but there’s not. Arrow is trying to make a statement in one episode that needs a season’s worth of unpacking. And again, why not let Oliver be bold and come down strongly as pro or anti gun restrictions, and see how that plays out? How will a choice like that affect his team or the city? The luxury that Arrow has is that it’s a fictional world where anything is possible. Why not let that extend to some of City Hall’s policies as well?
“Spectre of the Gun” came with a warning before the episode that it would be rated TV14 for violence, and yet, this hour didn’t feel any more violent than a regular episode. It mostly felt like a missed opportunity to take a stand one way or another on a very complicated issue, and let that play out over the rest of the season. If Season 5’s desire is to focus on legacy and have Oliver confront the sins of his past, why not incorporate this into it as well? That would be revolutionary.
Rating: ★★ Fine, but could have (and should have) been better
Musings and Miscellanea:
— Though most of the episode was taken up with the gun debate, we must not forget Felicity’s addiction to that Dongle of All Knowing Truth. I still don’t trust it!
— It was nice to get a flashback for a non-Oliver character, and a surprise appearance from Samaire Armstrong! Still, defining Renee’s life with this one moment felt like it was cheating his story a bit.
— “Land of the free, home of the incredibly stupid” – Curtis, who actually had something to do and say in this episode.
Vigilante Adrian is ok …
— “You guys are really serious about this recruitment drive you got going, huh?” – Quentin
— We can talk about gun violence, sure, but when are we really going to address the tens of thousands of people Felicity killed with that nuke?
— “I guess there was no box to check for ‘vendetta’” – Diggle, the team’s new zen master.
— So Dinah is joining SCPD … does that mean she’s not going to be a full time member of Team Arrow?
— Welcome back, Thea!