Thursday, February 16, 2017

Arrow 5x13 Review: “Spectre of the Gun” (A Very Special Episode™) [Contributor: Jenn]

“Spectre of the Gun”
Original Airdate: February 15, 2017

This might surprise you all, but I used to really love Glee. For about 13 episodes, it was a really fun, interesting show. Did it have clichéd and archetypal characters? Of course! You had the head cheerleader (who was mean), her sidekicks (also mean), the typical teenage outcasts/nerds, and the jock with the heart of gold (rest in peace, Cory Monteith). And while Ryan Murphy is heralded now for helming such intense, engaging projects as American Horror Story and The People v. O.J. Simpson, I will always know him as the showrunner who blew up a FOX comedy just because he could. There came a point in the series in which Murphy just stopped caring about consistency and logic. The characters became erratic. The plot became absurd. There was an entire episode about puppets. Murphy did anything and everything just because he knew he could.

Including Very Special Episodes™.

My friend and I used to joke that the show had a roulette wheel they would spin in the writers’ room to decide what Very Special Controversial Topic™ the show would cover next. Glee never wanted to add anything new to the conversation happening in the cultural sphere. It just wanted to remind everyone that it existed and that it could be heard. So it did an episode about suicide. It did one about transgender issues. And it did one about a school shooting (perhaps the worst thing the show has ever done). And now that I’ve spent two paragraphs talking about Glee, you’re probably wondering if you’re reading the wrong review.

You’re not, because last night’s Arrow reminded me — unfortunately — of Glee. Now, there is nothing inherently wrong with a television show tackling current events or controversial issues. But a few factors have to be aligned correctly in order for the episode to work: 1) The show in question needs to have authority to address such a topic, 2) The show needs to add something new to the conversation, 3) There needs to be room for more discussion about the topic after the episode concludes.

“Spectre of the Gun” was Arrow’s way of pretending it could tackle a political current event while adding something to the conversation. It, of course, did not add anything. In fact, I would argue that this episode actually undermined all the good work that a show COULD do in tackling the complexities of gun control. Because my soul was filled with waters of rage by the end of the episode (and, let’s be honest, just some downright confusion about why the show felt the need to even talk about this subject at all), let’s dive right into those waves.



I’m not going to necessarily address the plot throughout the episode so much as I’m going to discuss the decision for the show to tackle a current event topic to begin with. If you watched the episode, you’ll know the topic: a masked gunman enters City Hall and takes lives. It’s supposed to remind us of events that are all-too-familiar on the news these days. It’s supposed to elicit chills and an emotional response.

I felt nothing.

And I’ll tell you why I felt nothing: because violence is nothing new for this show. In a series where bodies drop with such relative frequency that I barely even blink anymore, an episode about a masked man shooting City Hall who isn’t some Big Bad or Prometheus isn’t really impactful. I’ve watched for five years as heroes and villains alike have maimed, killed, or tortured others. What made this episode different? Nothing. Though Marc Guggenheim did a really blatant and heavy-handed job of trying to tell us WHY this week was different: our perpetrator was a normal person. He was a nobody.

Let’s pause and just ruminate on that for a second. Am I supposed to believe that in the course of five years, no one in Star(ling) City has ever committed a heinous act of violence that was unrelated to a Big Bad? There is suspension of disbelief and then there’s THIS. Felicity and the rest of the characters are aghast that this mass murderer is an unknown guy — he’s not a criminal! Yes, we’re supposed to believe this has literally never happened before and our characters are just becoming aware of the scope of humanity.

Returning to my three-point checklist above, Arrow is not the show to address the subject of gun control or violence. As I noted, this is a show in which violence has been prevalent since the very beginning. CHARACTERS HAVE WIELDED GUNS SINCE THE BEGINNING. Yet suddenly we’re expected to believe this is the first time in five or more years that anyone has ever thought about or talked about gun control? Additionally, the dialogue surrounding the subject was so stilted and ripped-from-the-headlines that it was eyeroll-inducing. Yes, people do have deep and complex conversations about this subject in real life. But what would ever lead me to believe that Curtis and Rene would have a conversation about it? Has there been any prior evidence that they would? Maybe on Rene’s part, but not on Curtis’.

Suddenly, Curtis became Kurt.

Kurt was a character on Glee (yes, I’ll be drawing parallels all day, so deal with it), who served as Ryan Murphy’s mouthpiece. Literally any time Murphy wanted to inject his own opinions into the show, he would open Kurt’s mouth and — much like a puppet — Kurt would vocalize the exact same sentiments we would hear Murphy state in interviews. The same thing seemingly happened in the case of Curtis this week. He felt very odd — stiff and rigid and very political — and I think it’s because Guggenheim tried really hard to use Curtis as the Very Special Episode™’s Very Special Moral Message Deliverer™.

This was particularly troubling when he essentially lectured Felicity about why it’s important to have conversations about topics like this — why people should be willing to debate and listen to each other rather than fight. (And then I rolled my eyes because somewhere, Ryan Murphy was watching and thinking, “Hey, that sounds really good and subtle!”)

Arrow is never going to be the show meant to incite critical thinking about moral, ethical, and political topics. I’m sorry, Marc Guggenheim, but your show exists solely for the purposes of entertainment. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is a comedy whose subject matter is about mental health and has been since the beginning. They have a platform to talk about these issues because they weave them through every episode. They’re in the fabric of the show itself. Black-ish (which Guggenheim called out specifically in an interview, citing shows that did political or current events well) has always been a show about race and racial identity. It set itself up as that from the beginning. Veep and Scandal are shows about politics, so of course they can mirror the political landscape and comment on it. Grey’s Anatomy and House are medical shows and yes, they’re going to tackle heavy medical-related topics like assisted suicide and religion vs. science, etc.

But Arrow is a show about a vigilante who is learning how to become a hero. It can tackle subjects of moral ambiguity and darkness, but it’s never going to be a show that leads a conversation about our political, economic, or cultural landscape.

And that brings me to my second issue.


“Spectre of the Gun” added nothing new to the controversial topic of gun control. It tried to, don’t get me wrong. It really tried to be an episode that touted how relevant and hip it was for tackling this subject (again, FIVE YEARS TOO LATE). Arrow isn’t breaking any ground with this episode. It’s not even adding anything valuable to the conversation. It’s like that woman in her fifties who goes out in public wearing a crop top and tells everyone she listens to Kanye West because she’s trying too dang hard to be relevant that she misses how completely desperate she really looks.

Arrow just wanted to be a part of a conversation it didn’t need to have. A show that’s all about violence can have a viewer discretion warning, but I’ll be honest: it wasn’t necessary. I’ve literally watched Slade Wilson drive a sword through someone’s chest. I saw Oliver shoot people in the eye with arrows. I’ve watched Sara Lance fall off a dang roof. This was nothing new. And it wasn’t worse than anything I’ve already seen on the show.

Very Special Episodes™ were a staple growing up for me. I watched Full House with such regularity that I think I’ve seen every episode. In the 90s, shows would choose one episode to focus on a particular topic — eating disorders, school violence, bullying, the death of a family member/friend, drugs, etc. — and present a moral message at the end that would solve everything. The conundrum with Very Special Episodes™ is that they generally don’t add much to the overall topic of conversation: they simply serve to reflect the current culture. It’s a throwaway episode to tell viewers, “Yes, we’re aware that things like this happen in real life and so let’s talk about those things and make our characters think about them.”

At their best, Very Special Episodes™ can actually be good: it’s interesting to watch characters encounter certain situations and determine how they would behave or react. Most of the time though, Very Special Episodes™ are just shouts into the void or static noise. Shows have chosen, for the most part, to do away with them for that reason. It would be absurd for Crazy Ex-Girlfriend to do a Very Special Episode™ on mental health because the entire show is about mental health. It is absurd for Arrow to do a show about gun violence when, for the past five years, there have been no moral quandaries with characters using or owning guns.

What was the end result of “Spectre of the Gun”? Will this Arrow episode go down in history as one that changed the tide of the gun control debate? Will it even be one that we can say — with certainty — created or started conversations about this complex topic? No.

One more thing: the worst character on the show to present an argument or stance about this subject is Oliver Queen. As I like to say, he’s pretty but he’s also pretty dense. I, personally, do not even feel remotely qualified to have a debate or good conversation about this subject. The fact is, I’m just not educated on this topic and I would never want to inject myself into a conversation where I’m not qualified to talk about the subject matter. But that’s exactly what Oliver Queen does. Suddenly, he’s spouting off opinions and facts and having educated debates when this is the guy so dense that he’s simply called Mayor Handsome in headlines?

(Sorry, Oliver Queen stans. Sometimes I love the guy but he’s not the right person to be in charge of this topic. You know who would be? A POLICE OFFICER LIKE QUENTIN LANCE. OR A GUN-OWNING SOLDIER LIKE JOHN DIGGLE. PEOPLE WHO HAVE OPINIONS AND EXPERIENCE.)

Oliver Queen is the person who literally ended an argument with his sister in this episode by saying: “So there.” He’s clearly the most educated person to be in charge of this topic of conversation.


Very Special Episodes™ always have something neat and tidy that they end with. In Full House, you would know these moments were coming because the music would swell and Danny would sit down with his daughters and present some moral message or wisdom. In Arrow, an issue I had with the way that the episode ended was that it seemingly wrapped up a very, VERY complex topic with a neat and tidy bow. Mayor Queen managed to appease both sides of the gun control debate, isn’t he just the best? You see, kids, this means that if we all work together and we have debates, we can solve really layered and difficult issues in the course of an hour!

No, friends, we cannot.

The point of Very Special Episodes™ is not to SOLVE a problem, but to ILLUMINATE an issue and let the viewers see how their favorite characters handle it. It’s not a television show’s job to present its viewers with the answers to complicated political, economic, or cultural problems — in my humble opinion, at least. The job is to start a conversation and to encourage people to figure out what they believe, why, and how they can make the world better. For Arrow to suggest that the solution to all of their in-world problems is easy-peasy, lemon-squeezy totally undermines the real nuanced layers in this issue. A lot of people may have very defined positions on this stance, but others might not. And for Oliver to come up with a solution that appeases everyone so quickly is Arrow saying that they’ve essentially found the solution in-show, so why can’t we find a solution in the real world?

And as someone who abhors political discussions because she knows she’s not educated on the issues enough to have them and have them intelligently, this is baffling. How can a DC comic television show suggest that its characters have knowledge or answers that we don’t?

I think if Arrow would have left the conversation open-ended (which it tried to do, but it still literally said it provided a solution without giving the viewers any DETAILS as to what the solution looks like), the episode might have been a little bit better. But it didn’t, so it wasn’t.

I don’t know if there’s anything about “Spectre of the Gun” that I actually enjoyed. The Diggle/Tina moments were nice, but they felt like recycled moments that Diggle has had with other characters over the past few seasons. I’m happy Thea made her return and am even happier that she hates Annoying Reporter Chick too. And I guess it was nice to know a little bit more about Rene, even though I really didn’t feel the need to know more about him at this point in the show’s journey anyway.

Ultimately, “Spectre of the Gun” was just Arrow’s way of shouting into the void and pretending that equates to social relevance.

And now, bonus points:
  • At least I didn’t have to sit through Bratva flashbacks this week. I don’t hate Bratva flashbacks, but they’ve just become boring over the past few weeks.
  • I won’t even touch the fact that Felicity has no opinion in this gun control debacle and wanted everyone to stop debating. On the one hand, I get that: I’m much like Felicity in that I would rather not be forced in the middle of a complex discussion in which two very passionate people are debating their sides. On the other, Felicity — the woman who was literally shot and also held at gunpoint by her ex-boyfriend — has NO opinions? At all? That seems really off, show. But it’s also in-line with what I discussed earlier about the show conveniently not addressing the issue of guns and violence until five years into its run. Why would they address the fact that Felicity was literally shot and paralyzed? Seems like that would’ve been an opportune time to talk about guns and violence in this show, right? The main character’s fiancé getting shot? No? No? Bueller?
  • “Did I mention people vomit a little?” I want ALL the Thea shade toward Annoying Reporter Chick.
  • “Land of the free, home of the incredibly stupid.” #Murica
  • What’s odd is that to me, Rene doesn’t look old enough to have a daughter who is... what? 10-11 years old?
  • I legitimately forgot that Ski Mask Vigilante still existed in this show.
  • Oh look, Arrow remembered that Tommy existed! Mark that square off on your Arrow Bingo Board, everyone.
  • I’m pretty sure at one point in this episode, Oliver said “freedom isn’t free.”
  • I really didn’t like this episode. Can you tell?
Well, friends, what did you think of “Spectre of the Gun”? Sound off in the comments below!


  1. I agree on all points. Disappointing episode. Disappointing on all levels.

  2. A disappointing episode in what is fast becoming a disappointing season. Oliver trying to convince Thea that his shady reporter girlfriend is a good person? Really?Loved Thea's response though.

    Can't wait for when shady reporter screws Oliver over and when he expects some sympathy - everyone responds by saying 'What exactly did you expect Oliver?'