What happens when the producers of a low-budget crime drama have guilty consciences about all the violence in their show? Right, at best you get something like what the producers of “Arrow” did with their episode “Spectre of the Gun,” which aired on The CW on Feb. 15.
The show stars a comic book hero, Green Arrow, who is basically a cross between an angry Robin Hood and Batman. It takes place in what might as well be Gotham City. Green Arrow practices vigilantism even though he is the mayor of his fictional city. In the first season he killed the villains—he was judge, jury and executioner—but then he got a guilty conscience about that and decided lynch mob justice wasn’t exactly for him. Mob justice, yes—but sans the killings without a trial.
Now in its fifth season, Green Arrow is starting to handle problems without even his green suit and quiver full of arrows. The producers decided he needed to take on gun violence with gun control, not his trusty bow.
“In 23 episodes of television, you can have 22 pieces of candy and one episode of vegetables,” said Marc Guggenheim, one of the show’s producers. “We sort of felt that gun violence felt like the right topic, a) because of its topicality, but also because of the level of gun violence that is on ‘Arrow.’”
The thing is, after watching the hour-long episode, I got the feeling the program actually tried to be fair to both sides, but just did it so stupidly they probably baffled their audience (Neilson says about 3 million people watch this program) and made anyone who knows anything about the issue angry.
Well, as you’ll see, it is hard to get really angry, as this episode is so comically nonsensical.
The show begins with a mass murderer walking into the mayor’s office with what they say is an “AR-15” in a gym bag. The murderer, who is angry because his wife and two daughters were killed by another evil mass murderer, pulls out his rifle and starts shooting full-auto. If it was an AR-15, he found some illegal way to turn it into a machine gun, but none of that is mentioned.… as you’ll see, it is hard to get really angry, as this episode is so comically nonsensical.
The murderer kills seven people and shoots many more. One of the people in the mayor’s office, Jack Wheeler/Wild Dog (Rick Gonzalez), is carrying a concealed handgun. He shoots the murderer in the chest with what looks like a 9 mm pistol, but the bullets only smack into the murderer’s body armor. The bad guy gets away.
Maybe some lives were saved by this good guy with a gun, but we soon find out he is a felon, so he couldn’t have legally possessed the gun. When challenged, he says bad guys have guns so he’ll carry even if the law says he can’t. He says, “It’s pretty easy to buy one [a gun] though.”
The police never question this, and the “good-guy/felon” goes right on carrying.
The program then gives us a scene with Mayor Oliver Queen (Stephen Amell), who by night is Green Arrow, and a bunch of his staff (who are also comic-book type vigilantes by night) standing around what they say is an AR-15.
One says, “This is literally the same as an M16.”
Another says that it’s a very popular rifle in America.
To which the first says, “Land of the incredibly stupid.”
Sorry, if you were hoping for sharp or maybe even witty dialogue, lose that hope. Right at the beginning, when Mayor Queen’s (aka Green Arrow’s) sister doesn’t seem impressed by a new assistant, his clever reply is, “She’s a good person, so there.”
They then need to find the killer before he strikes again. They have the bad guy’s rifle, so one says they should simply plug the serial number into a database to see who bought or owns it. Another explains that there is no such database on gun owners. They argue. Later one notes that we have a database of those who have driver’s licenses, so why not gun owners? Another replies that driving is not “a constitutional right.”
But the debate is ended when John Diggle/Spartan (David Ramsey) says, “I’m a black man, so I’m three times more likely to be killed” with a gun. Of course, being a TV crime drama starring comic book vigilantes, they don’t cite the source of this statistic or clarify it by noting the other factors related to where most murders take place. They just leave it hanging, as if it is all about race.
There are then disjointed scenes, such as with Green Arrow beating up a bad guy in some alley in the dark of night. Green Arrow threatens to shoot the bad guy with his bow (the bad guy is a member of some gang that likes to use AR-15s), but then another vigilante, this one the mass murderer, shoots the bad guy, says something about Green Arrow’s wimpy choice of weapon, and gets away again.
Finally, the magic of a computer program at the fingertips of a staffer finds the mass murderer. They find out he is angry because his wife and two daughters are dead, yet a previous administration killed a bill that would have created a gun registry.
Now Mayor Queen/Green Arrow’s task becomes bringing the sides together to pass gun control. He brings a politician into his office (the one most responsible for killing the gun-registry bill) and tells her she can’t leave until they hash out a compromise gun control bill.
Queen is confused about the whole thing, as he is a violent sort of guy, but he soon gets an urgent call and leaves the pro-gun politician. They know where the mass murderer (who they keep calling a “shooter”) is going to strike.
Cue the climax when Queen will defeat the killer by talking to him, not donning his Green Arrow costume and beating him up.Sorry, if you were hoping for sharp or maybe even witty dialogue, lose that hope.
Oliver Queen confronts the killer. The murderer says it’s not right that his innocent wife and children were killed by a murderer with a gun. Queen says he looked into it and found that the murderer had bought his guns legally, so a gun registry wouldn’t have stopped him. Queen then says, “The seven people you killed were innocent, too.”
The murderer, who is holding a pistol, gets this simple-minded I-never-thought-of-that look and decides to kill himself instead, but Queen talks him out of that by telling him he has to live for his dead wife and daughters. (Evidently there is no death penalty in this fictional America.)
The big finale comes next. Mayor Queen didn’t call that pro-gun politician back to his office; instead, he got together with the felon, who was also a good guy with a gun in the episode, to write legislation that “protects” all our rights and solves the problems related to gun violence. What’s in the magic legislation, you wonder? Keep wondering, as they never say. The pro-gun legislator says she’ll reluctantly back it after glancing at it, but that she’ll expect payback later—yeah, she’s a heartless pro-freedom type. Then the whole thing ends in a candlelight ceremony.
There is more to this disjointed, weird, illogical and cartoonish plot. There is even a flashback subplot where a wife doesn’t want her husband, Jack Wheeler/Wild Dog, to keep a gun at home (he has it in a safe). But then she gets killed by her drug dealer, who is angry because she didn’t pay him, and Jack Wheeler shoots and kills the drug dealer. The husband then loses his child to foster care as a result of all that gunplay and the state won’t even let him talk to her—but still, they never seem bothered that he’s illegally carrying a gun.
If the producers of “Arrow” wanted to move the debate forward by taking on an important issue, they failed dismally. They made a confusing, childish parody of reality, filled with stereotypes and unanswered questions, and ended it by throwing pixie dust over the issue. If, however, all they really wanted was to generate hype to get ratings in a stale fifth season, they might have gotten that.
Frank Miniter is the author of the New York Times' bestseller The Ultimate Man’s Survival Guide—Recovering the Lost Art of Manhood. He is also the author of This Will Make a Man of You and The Future of the Gun. He is a contributor to Forbes and writes for many publications. His website is FrankMiniter.com