Spectre of the Gun - Arrow S05E13

So Arrow tackled the politically-charged topic of gun control in America.

Wait, what?

(spoilers beyond the fold)

Arrow has continued to surprise me, and at times, completely baffle me, in season five, and that's not necessarily a bad thing. I discussed, last week, the bad habit the Arrow showrunners have of killing off Canaries and Lance women (and women in general, really). The addition of Dinah Drake to the team as the new Canary hopefully heralds in a new era of women not dying on the show, but who knows. 

Anyway, this week we take a pretty big step away from Dinah/Canary, other than John having a heart-to-heart with her about getting back into the actual act of living. It was a nice little bit of dialogue, bonded John and Dinah, and didn't take up a lot of space from the rest of the heavy show. 

And heavy it was. Curiously, the writers decided to tackle not just something topical and pertinent to American politics today, but to also tackle a topic that is extremely divisive and somewhat risky for a tv show that doesn't normally seem to lean either left or right, politically. 

But while I appreciated the oddly in-depth and careful approach to the topic of gun control, I was also pleasantly surprised by the method by which the writers chose to approach it. 

We barely see Oliver in his suit in this episode. That is, in his green suit. He saddled up once to shake down a gang thug who he thought--wrongly--might have been responsible for the tragic and brutal shooting that took place in the Mayor's office and killed a bunch of his innocent staffers. There was a useless little intervention there from Vigilante, the asshole in the ski mask who likes to kill bad guys, whose only role seemed to be to pop in and say, "Heeeyyyyy, remember me? I still exist! Bye now!" 

"And don't you forget I exist, either, punk! Bye!"
Other than that one silly and forgettable scene, Oliver tackles this episode in his day suit... as the mayor. What makes this surprising is that his being mayor of Star City has sort of been almost a running joke, and a convenient (if bullshit) way of making it possible for him to do things that Mayors in real life don't actually do, like borrow a submarine solo, or fly to Russia on a private jet with a bunch of people not on the city payroll. So color me stunned when he decides that he needs to deal with this shooter, and the implications of it, as Mayor Queen, and not the Green Arrow. 

Doing this episode, on this topic, with non-superheroics, was the ballsiest thing I've seen Arrow do in a really, really long time. And it paid off. 

The whole episode centers around a shooter that was angry with the previous mayoral administration for failing to pass a stringent gun owner registry, which the shooter sees as the reason for his wife and kids dying. So he shows up at City Hall, shoots up the place, walks out, and then targets other public places to further get his point across. What I love about this story is that the shooter ultimately isn't even presented as a nutcase. I mean yeah, it was wrong of him to do what he did and kill the innocent mayoral staffers, but his pain was real, and his rage at the government doing nothing is a very real concern in the actual United States. In the climactic scene at the hospital where Oliver confronts the shooter, Oliver points out that the gun registry wouldn't have helped the man's family, because the thug that killed them didn't obtain his gun legally. At which point, the shooter agrees, and that he has done something horrible, and that it's actually his own fault for not protecting his family like a man should (which is barely skating that whole forced patriarchal/masculine role on fathers and husbands who feel it's their duty to protect their families, which is another crazy heavy topic for another day). So he turns the gun on himself. Oliver then talks him down from that too, telling him that killing himself won't help anyone, and that there is a better way. 

I also really loved how the petty way in which this topic is normally debated in the US--especially on the internet--was presented in the form of Rene and Curtis constantly going back and forth. Curtis is your typical bleeding-heart liberal (no insult, because I am one too) who believes less guns on the street is better for everyone and means less dead people, and Lance jumps in and says that yeah, cops would prefer there be less armed citizens out there. And Rene is your typical pro-gun supporter who feels safer with a gun in his own hands. I loved their debate, because it was so familiar to me. I've had the same debate, with very nearly the same exact words, on countless internet forums. Curtis was speaking for me. 

Curtis: This is my liberal "Bitch, plz" face
Rene: This is my general "Bitch, plz" face, hoss
We also get Rene's origin story here in the form of flashbacks, where we see how his wife was killed (by her drug dealer, with a gun), and that his daughter was taken away from him by the state. It's really sad, but there's hope yet, because Curtis has a lawyer friend who is going to help Rene get his daughter back from the state. 

I think what was astonishing to me was how fabulously-acted this episode was. We have entire scenes of Oliver being mayoral, hanging out in his office, debating the gun control thing with a councilwoman, and the crazy thing is, it works. I was never bored, and perhaps more to the point because gun control is an important topic to me personally, I was totally invested in the story. 

There are a LOT of "Bitch, plz" faces in this episode...
Ultimately, "Spectre of the Gun" does not pretend to have the answer to this ongoing and raging debate. When the episode finished, I was kind of rolling my eyes a bit and thinking, "man, what a cop-out, they weren't brave enough to actually present a solution." But after a few hours of letting the episode stew in my brain for a bit, I came to realize... the Arrow writers don't have a solution. Of course they don't, because we've been debating this topic in America for decades, and within my lifetime, since freaking Columbine. Every time there's a mall shooting or a school shooting it rages back up for a while and people scream at each other on the internet a lot and politicians hold rallies to satisfy their constituents and make it seem like they are doing something, but nothing ever actually gets done. We as a society don't seem to have a solution, or even really look for one, so why would a bunch of writers for a superhero show have one?

Actually, I take it back. The writers do have the solution to America's woes, including gun control. You might have missed it. The magical solution to the gun control debate is: sitting down at the adult's table and listening to one another, and coming up with a solution that satisfies both sides. The councilwoman in this episode has some pro-gun arguments that made sense, and Oliver and the anti-gun folks did too. Ultimately, Star City gets a new set of gun safety/gun control laws that both sides accepted, because the laws were written up with both sides sitting at the table having a sensible debate. Woah.

Curtis spelled out the real problem we have, and it's not guns: it's America's toxic discourse.

I am reminded of a Facebook "debate" I recently had with a militant vegan who showed up to let all of us meat eaters know that we were, unequivocally, murderers, and anything we tried to argue or say was simply an excuse to make ourselves feel better. When told that her discourse wasn't going to change anyone's heart and mind, her response was, "I'm not here to change anyone's mind. I'm here to let you know that if you don't stop eating meat right now, you're lower than pond scum and that you should die." Well okay then. So I went into full troll mode and lovingly described the delicious double patty burger I had for lunch that day. I mean, I'm not a total heathen. It had mushrooms on it. With bacon.

We in America literally cannot discuss what we had for dinner last night without de-evolving into a hot mess of hatred and loathing (and trolling, yes). How are we ever going to fix real issues? We can't, of course, and that was the stealth message in this episode. Americans have gotten comfortable with only listening to their own POV and shouting over the opposition. (The cancer is hardly contained to America; if the Brexit debate last year in the UK is any indication, the polarizing effect has infected other countries as well).

Holy hell. We got all this from an episode of a tv show that features a dude running around with a bow and arrow on the streets of Detroit, basically? Yeah, we totally did. This is superhero entertainment at its finest, bringing to mind the fabulous run of Sam Wilson as Captain America in recent Marvel comics, to the first interracial kiss on American tv in 1968 on Stark Trek, and all the way back to Captain America punching Hitler on a comic book cover, to a couple of Jewish guys creating the quintessential American hero with Superman, who fights oppressors like wife beaters from the get-go. Genre entertainment, particularly science fiction and superheroes, has always been political and topical. Always. Anyone who claims differently hasn't been paying attention to the morals of any of those stories. I really, really appreciate Arrow taking a massive risk in doing this episode.

This was easily one of Arrow's best written and best acted episodes. And they hardly kicked any bad guy ass in it. 

Ivonne Martin is a writer, gamer, and avid consumer of all things geek—and is probably entirely too verbose for her own good.