Jesus Christ, what a mess.
Last week, I returned to Arrow hoping that the show had learned from its many mistakes during the first half of the season. No, that episode may not have been as strong as the previous two, but it still had promise. This week’s episode, however, was so uneven it nearly sapped my will to live.
It’s hard to say exactly what made “Spectre of the Gun” so bad. Well, maybe that’s inaccurate. Writer Marc Guggenheim (who also co-created the show) made so many bizarre narrative choices that the episode stands as one of the most baffling hours of television I’ve ever seen. Rather than give us the standard villain-of-the-week plot, it was really more of a PSA about gun control disguised as an episode of Arrow. This show deliberately takes place in a heightened, unrealistic world, so it was weird to see it tackle a real-life issue. Worse, its approach was often laughable.
Take the scene where Oliver (Stephen Amell), Thea (Willa Holland) and Quentin (Paul Blackthorne) argue about how to tackle gun violence in Star City after the mass shooting in the Mayor’s office. Not only did the dialogue feel like it was lifted from another show, but the actors’ over-dramatic deliveries flirted dangerously with camp. At one point, Lance literally slammed his hands on Oliver’s desk and yelled, “Nobody ever said being the mayor would be easy!” It was embarrassing. More importantly, it was false. Oliver is the privileged son of rich parents who’s never held down a job in his entire life. And yes, that includes his stint as Queen Consolidated’s CEO. He constantly shirked his responsibilities there until he lost the company and I can say with 100% certainly that anything achieved during his tenure was thanks to Felicity forging his signature on important documents. Both the character and the show have never given the real-life plots their due so why should we treat this storyline any differently?
Still, ridiculous as that scene was, it was nice to finally see Oliver be a mayor. I mean, he’s been in this job for nearly a year, but all he’s done is create a fairly ineffectual task force and put up the ugliest statue in the history of the medium. One of Oliver’s biggest flaws as a character and a hero is that he has no gift for seeing the bigger picture. He desperately needs to start thinking about institutional change rather than taking out his My Chemical Romance CD’s every time a masked villain from his past criticizes him.
However, nice as that small, belated bit of character development was, the biggest takeaway from this whole gun control plot is that this episode was obviously written shortly after the 2016 General Election. I suppose given the tenor and subtext of the Arrow recap I wrote the day after the election, I can’t really fault the show’s writers for using their platform to make a larger point. I just wish their work didn’t feel so forced. Case in point: the conversation between Felicity (Emily Bett Rickards) and Curtis (Echo Kellum). Sure, they were right in saying that people need to be more willing to listen to differing political opinions, but that didn’t make the scene’s heavy-handed preachiness any less cringeworthy. Worse, the characterization was completely off. Guggenheim twisted most of the characters to fit his point throughout, but perhaps none more egregiously than Felicity. Except Wild Dog (Rick Gonzalez), nobody on Team Arrow has been more profoundly affected by gun violence. No way Damian Darhk’s (Neal McDonough) henchmen legally obtained the guns they used to paralyze Felicity. Moreover, historically, no other character on this show is more willing to talk about morality/ethics than Miss Smoak and it was impossible to believe she would be neutral on the subject—particularly considering her anti-establishment, “hacktivist” past.
Again, there is nothing wrong with Arrow tackling a real-life issue. The problem is that he whole storyline felt so out of place that it’s difficult to take it seriously. The episode’s brand of earnest heroism and optimism felt more suited to the optimism of Supergirl or The Flash, not Arrow‘s baroque grittiness. Everything about the episode was so unlike the rest of the show that it didn’t feel like a serious examination of a moral/political conundrum, it felt like a mildly embarrassing Very Special Episode of Arrow. And frankly, despite its good intentions, it’s highly unlikely this gun control plotline will have any longterm effect on the characters. That may seem presumptuous, but you know how I know? After all that talk, we don’t even know what Oliver’s magical anti-gun violence ordinance even does. If all this show could do with that opportunity and that platform was spout empty idealism, then why should we listen at all? What a waste.