Arrow S05E13 “Spectre of the Gun” REVIEW
Airing in the UK on Sky One, Thurdays 9pm
Writer: Marc Guggenheim
Director: Kristen Windall
Essential plot points:
- As Thea returns to City Hall, a masked gunman makes his way to the mayor’s office and opens fire with an AR-15 assault rifle. Rene manages to wing the gunman, but he escapes, leaving Adrian Chase injured and several people dead.
- The team is involved in a heated debate on the merits, or otherwise, of gun control. Curtis and Quentin support it, Dinah and Rene vehemently oppose it.
- Chase speculates the gun used may have come from the Bertinelli crime family. Oliver interrogates one of them, who denies the shooter is anything to do with them — but is interrupted by Vigilante, who guns the mob boss down.
- Working the streets gets them nowhere but Felicity traces the gun’s registration to James Edlund, a quiet IT worker whose entire family were killed in a gun massacre in a mall 16 months previously.
- It turns out Edlund had been a heavy campaigner for gun registration — a law shot down by the previous mayor’s team. As Oliver debates with his predecessor’s executive on the rights and wrongs, the team hunt for Edlund.
- They find plans for Star City General Hospital. Oliver confronts him there, and manages to persuade him not to shoot anyone else, or himself, to honour the loss of his family.
- Oliver and Rene draw up new gun control ordinance for Star City – which manages to appease the strongest opponent of anti-firearm legislation without going too far — before holding a candlelit vigil in the city for the victims of the shooting.
- In flashbacks, we learn why Rene became Wild Dog: he and his drug-abusing wife had escaped poverty in the Glades to move into Star City. However, while Rene and their young daughter were coming back from a hockey game, her drug dealer burst into their flat demanding payment and, in the ensuing melee, Rene was shot and his wife killed. Afterwards, his daughter was taken into care.
So far Arrow has largely avoided going into the actual political realm that would otherwise make up the mayoral duties of Oliver Queen. Save for a couple of B-plots, the show has kept the realities of political life in America at arms’s length until now.
The problem with this approach is that, if you’re going to keep playing on a political stage, sooner or later you need to address that stage itself. And in America, there are few more red-button topics than gun control.
Even this week, as we write this, the USA has seen the new White House administration revoke legislation brought in during President Barack Obama’s time in office that restricted the ability of mentally ill people to buy firearms. The issue of the Second Amendment – the right to bear arms — is one that gets Americans from all sides of the debate and the spectrum hot under the collar.
What’s impressive here is that the Arrow producers don’t try to turn this into some kind of SF/superhero analogy. This isn’t about a supervillain or couching the debate in comic book terms. It’s about addressing a significant issue — gun registration — and laying out the debate on both sides.
Characters from both ends of the spectrum espouse viewpoints, with personal reasons to do so. No judgment is cast on those who hold either viewpoint, and the practicalities and realities of both aspects are spelled out clearly. It’s not exactly The West Wing, but it’s an honest and, let’s say it right out, brave attempt to try and do something genuinely different.
The debate also informs the storytelling, as we see more of the life of Rene Ramirez before he became Wild Dog. We’ve said on this site before that Rick Gonzalez, who plays Rene, has been quietly stealing the show over the last couple of weeks and that pays off in spades here, as we get to finally see the tragic backstory of the character.
It’s also nice to see Ecko Kellum given something to do apart from gurn and pratfall, as the show puts him firmly into the centre of the debate — pointing out that, statistically, as a black man he’s far more at risk of being killed by a firearm than anyone else in the room.
I’ve seen it argued that “Spectre Of The Gun” is too simplistic in its portrayal of the debate, but at the same time it’s worth considering the show’s demographic. It’s airing, in the US at least, on the CW – a younger audience channel. It’s not taking a Sesame Street approach, but it is trying to lay out the terms of a complex debate, using recognisable characters that fit those terms, within 41 minutes of airtime, and casting the spotlight on a major issue in America. For that, I think it should be applauded, not browbeaten.
I mentioned The West Wing earlier, and “Spectre Of The Gun” reminds me specifically of one episode, “Isaac and Ismael”, which was written and aired in the wake of the September 11 2001 terrorist attack on the USA. It was done in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, written and shot in less than a fortnight, and airing less than a month after the tragedy.
Aaron Sorkin always envisioned the episode, which looks at terrorism, as a standalone, out with the regular series continuity. “Spectre Of The Gun” feels like that. A brief reference to Prometheus’s mother aside, all the continuity in the episode is character-led, not plot-led, and as such this story could almost live outside the regular storyline.
That isn’t to wish it away, though. Quite the opposite. It’s hard to imagine that Arrow keeps being a politically driven show, but dipping its toes in to confront real world issues in a way that’s relevant to the Arrowverse? That definitely feels like a step in the right direction.
- The whole thing. Seriously. This is surprisingly grown-up television, considering the knockabout fair the DC TV universe normally brings us. Literally, at one point, it’s two people in a room having a debate about the merits or not of gun registration in the USA for several minutes. It’s exceptionally hard to find fault with the episode.
- Thea’s back, but only too briefly. Indeed, given what her character’s been through, you’d think she’d play a bigger part in the episode.
- There’s no consequences to Rene carrying a concealed firearm and using it, even in self defence, despite it being — as Quentin points out — illegal for him to do so as a dishonourably discharged former services member.
And the Random:
- This was the first episode to carry a viewer discretion warning for US audiences, given the nature of the shooting and the discussion over gun control.
- Arrow gives another directorial debut to one of its long serving crew members this week, with Kristin Windell, who’s regularly been an editor on the series since its first series, stepping behind the camera.
- Showrunner Marc Guggenheim, who wrote the episode, confirmed the title comes from the 1968 Star Trek original series story, where the crew found themselves reenacting the OK Corral.
Review by Iain Hepburn