NOTE: Full spoilers for this episode of, “Arrow” are present in this review
Arrow decided that it had something to say this week, specifically about the modern issue of gun control in the United States. It’s certainly quite ambitious of a DC Comics-inspired series on The CW to tackle such a thorny subject, but to its credit, “Spectre of the Gun” doesn’t completely fumble the ball. It still descends into surprising cheesiness at times, and occasionally suffers from some heavy-handed dialogue, both common dangers of topical issues in any drama series, but things definitely could have turned out a lot worse for a show that wants to be topical while also being all about vigilante justice.
Things start out with a mass shooting taking place at the Star City mayors’ office, which obviously doesn’t claim the lives of any of the show’s core cast, but also leads to several of Oliver’s staffers dead, with more being critically injured. The perpetrator gets away, despite Rene getting a few shots off at him, and this leaves Oliver with a massive political mess on his hands, as Star City’s press and citizens start pressing him about gun control.
A strength in this episode comes from building a conflict that the Green Arrow is helpless to stop, at least from a public viewpoint. Never before has the show so effectively had Oliver forced to put aside his Green Arrow persona to truly save Star City from its latest threat. Oliver facing this tricky political issue without being able to rely on his vigilante identity at all is something that satisfyingly forced this show’s hero to save the day with his civilian political savvy rather than his bow. Oliver’s genuine struggle with the issue helped to ground him in a strong way, and Stephen Amell delivered another highlight performance for the season in this episode, as Oliver quickly finds himself taking on a mayoral battle unlike anything he’s encountered before.
It was also nice to see the team more actively working at Prometheus again this week, narrowing down a possible location on his mother, even if the Prometheus arc was yet again put aside after the City Hall shooter shows up. Instead of much forward movement on Prometheus, the Arrow Cave sequences mostly consist of a rather trite gun debate constantly being held between Rene and Curtis, with Rene being strongly in favour of gun ownership rights, while Curtis strongly opposes them. Felicity meanwhile is caught in the middle, and serves as the neutral opinion that just wants the debate to stop. Yes, it’s a pretty heavy-handed allegory for the extreme sides of gun control debates in the U.S., and a lot of this episode’s most ham-fisted dialogue tends to show up here, but at least not every idea brought up was a bad one, even as the episode fully admits that Rene’s and Curtis’ arguments won’t truly solve anything.
Rene’s reasoning is also given a good amount of detail in this episode, as the flashbacks instead shift to his former family life, once again putting aside Oliver’s time with the Bratva and Talia Al Ghul. Turns out, Rene actually had a wife and daughter, which was hinted at during a spat with Diggle earlier in the season, but is now made abundantly clear at last. The flashbacks are fairly predictable though, sadly, especially when Rene tells Curtis before we see it that his wife died as a result of gun violence, and Rene wishes he could have had his gun to protect her. Rene’s daughter being taken away after his wife’s death is undeniably tragic, but Curtis seems to be on the way to reversing this by the end of the episode, somewhat diminishing the issue. As welcome as it is to have Rene get some more character development, the introduction and loss of his family, and lead-in to Rene taking to the streets as Wild Dog right after Oliver killed Damien Darhk at the end of last season, didn’t tell viewers much that they couldn’t have already put together.
More intriguing is the budding friendship between Dinah and Diggle, as the two find surprising parallels between each other’s experiences as soldiers that now have to try and lead a normal life. I still feel like Dinah will end up with Oliver in the long term, but her short-term gravitation to Diggle makes a lot of sense. I don’t know what’s so wrong with Dinah living at the old H.I.V.E. base, considering that Diggle was there for so long, and didn’t seem to have any living issues, but in any case, it does help to further Dinah re-adjusting to normal life. She’s still the new Black Canary, and I doubt that her life as a hero will ever be that normal in The CW’s DC Television Universe, but it’s nice to have Diggle find a second outlet of support to lean on, in turn helping Dinah feel like she belongs a little more with the rest of the ensemble.
“Spectre of the Gun” can’t simply be applauded for the mere ambition to tackle the challenging U.S. gun control debate head-on, but what is more applause-worthy is that it still manages to offer a solid, if slightly preachy episode. Oliver facing a potent new challenge as mayor made for some great storytelling however, as did Dinah taking her next step in balancing her Team Arrow life with her ordinary new life in Star City. Dinah joining the SCPD is especially cool, and now that Lance is deputy mayor and Billy Malone is dead, this once again gives Oliver a necessary link to the police department. The heavy politics and serious subject matter are certainly a lot to take in, much more than Arrow has tried to tackle in the past when it comes to real-world issues, but fortunately, if you want a reprieve, it looks like next week’s episode is going to go back to a more recognizable DC template.
That said though, Arrow still did alright with its incorporation of a serious topical debate this week, giving The CW a new way to further leverage the fact that this is the most grounded of their four current DC Universe-themed shows, even if this show should probably nonetheless do these kinds of issue-focused episodes sparingly. The DC Universe is still about escapism, after all.
Arrow tackled a very thorny real-world issue in this week's episode, which had Oliver forced to formulate an acceptable stance on gun control in Star City.
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THE GOOD STUFF
Oliver facing a danger as mayor that the Green Arrow can't stop
Diggle helping Dinah find peace in her new life
A few decent gun control debates in the Arrow Cave