UK TV recap: Arrow Season 5, Episode 13
Gun violence debate special6
Matthew Turner | On 24, Feb 2017
Warning: This is a recap and contains spoilers, so do not read this until you have watched the episode. For information on how to watch it, click here.
So, that was… unexpected. After more than a hundred episodes of shooting, punching and general costumed shenanigans, Arrow decided that what it really wants to do is a special episode devoted to the gun violence debate. The results, unfortunately, are something of a mixed bag. It’s hard to fault the show’s obviously good intentions, but the general execution leaves something to be desired.
The episode begins with a masked gunman shooting up the Mayor’s office and killing several employees. Just business as usual in Star City, you might think, as you wait for the reveal of just who the villain of the week is going to be. But no, it turns out that the shooter is just a regular guy, someone with no criminal record or dodgy history of any kind, who cracked up and went on a shooting spree with a legally obtained firearm. Sound familiar? Well, of course, it does.
There are no immediate consequences for Team Arrow, other than District Attorney Adrian Chase getting severely injured in the crossfire. This casts doubt on the subsequent appearance of a seemingly fine Vigilante (Adrian’s secret identity in the comics, although the show hasn’t revealed that yet), who contributes to the gun debate in the expected fashion, by shooting someone that Oliver had safely captured.
This being a very special episode, a conflicted Oliver decides that this isn’t a problem that can be solved by dressing up in green and shooting arrows at someone. Instead, he decides to tackle the problem as Mayor Oliver Queen, which involves sitting down with a hostile councilwoman and trying to hammer out a solution, while receiving conflicting advice from each of his team members.
Even though it’s pretty obvious which side the showrunners are ultimately on (the writers have continued to tackle the issue of Team Arrow taking lives, with largely successful results), they are nonetheless careful not to take an explicit position, perhaps mindful of a portion of their audience. Instead, the episode fudges the issue a little by focusing on the importance of healthy debate, with each character assigned a contradictory position. So we have Rene and Dinah being vehemently pro-gun, with Curtis and Quentin arguing for greater controls. Felicity, for her part, tries to stay out of it, and there’s a bizarre scene where she and Curtis lament that people just don’t talk to each other anymore and maybe that’s why the country is in a terrible state right now. Diggle, incidentally, is mysteriously silent on the matter, which is telling in itself. As for Oliver, he swings between the two positions, fully aware that even greater gun controls wouldn’t necessarily have stopped the shooting in the Mayor’s office. The problem is that it’s all so terribly on-the-nose that it ends up feeling at best preachy and hand-wringing and at worst out of character for everyone.
In the comics, Green Arrow is portrayed as a radical leftie, so it’s slightly disappointing that the show doesn’t seize this chance to have Oliver embrace his comics-ordained political stance, even if the writers do slip in a couple of lines about him being in favour of abortion rights and free speech.
There’s no visit to Flashback City this episode. Instead, the flashback duties are handed over to Rene, who gets a standard tragic origin story, parcelled out across the episode. Basically, he discovers that his former junkie wife Laura (Samaire Armstrong, no less – not to suggest that Rene is punching above his weight there, but he totally is) is back on the drugs, potentially putting their young daughter Zoe in danger. Sure enough, Laura is accidentally shot and killed during a drug-related home invasion, and Rene loses custody of Zoe shortly afterwards, prompting him to pick up the hockey mask and guns once he sees a report of Green Arrow taking down Damien Darhk on TV. It’s a little hard to invest in all of this, given that it’s the first we’ve really seen of Laura and Zoe, plus the transition to Rene going full gun-toting vigilante is too abrupt, but it gets the point across.
Meanwhile, the opposite side, as represented by Curtis, don’t get an illustrated argument and instead have to settle for some disturbing real-world statistics from Curtis, who points out that as a black man, he’s already three times more likely to die in a shooting incident, and he’d quite like to get those odds down, thank you very much.
And that’s pretty much it. At the end of the episode, Oliver and Rene (who’s now a special advisor or something, in his role as assistant to Deputy Mayor Quentin Lance) hammer out a list of gun control proposals that are acceptable to the councilwoman, although she warns Oliver she’ll be expecting a political favour of some kind. The show can’t tell us what those particular proposals are, of course, largely because it’s impossible to genuinely please both sides. So it’s more a case of ‘Let’s not, and say we did’.
There is one tiny, non-gun debate-related subplot and that’s a sweet series of scenes between Diggle and Dinah, as he tries to help her rehabilitate, after spending so long out in the cold, hunting down her lover’s killer. Diggle’s obviously extremely good at saying the right thing, because by the end of the episode, she’s found herself a nice flat and has landed a job on the SCPD. Juliana Harkavy and David Ramsey have unexpectedly strong chemistry in their quiet moments together, which could be disastrous, if the writers decide they need to act on that, but for the moment, it’s all just getting-to-know-your-new-teammate stuff, give or take what looks like a suspiciously lustful glance from Dinah.
All in all, this is a spectacularly ham-fisted episode, even by Arrow’s notoriously unsubtle standards. It does nothing at all to advance the ongoing plot and fails to satisfy on a character level. Still, the writers’ hearts were obviously in the right place, and there’s a slim chance this might give them the confidence to take Oliver in a more political direction in the future. Tune in next time for the return of China White and Cupid!
Slings and arrows of outrageous fortune:
– This week’s best moment? No contest. That would be the return of Thea Queen, after a three-episode absence. Of course, she wastes no time in laying into Oliver over what a ridiculously bad idea it is for him to be dating Sexy Evil Journalist Susan Williams. Good to have you back, Thea.
– It seems likely that Adrian’s injury is simply a fake-out and that he is, indeed, Vigilante after all. Here’s hoping they do a flashback later on, showing him getting into the Vigilante suit and wincing in pain from his severe injuries. To be fair, Adrian does seem a little… intense.