We gave it a B
The Green Arrow comics have a long history of depicting Oliver Queen as liberal. Incredibly liberal. Like, to a Marxist/Communist degree. Heck, kids in the ‘70s and ‘80s learned about apartheid, ecology, and feminism from the comics. This history, combined with our current national climate of anger and unrest, means it’s not a total surprise that the minds behind Arrow would take on a deeply divisive subject like gun control.
How did the show do? Like the issue itself, I suspect that answer is personal and varies from viewer to viewer.
We open on a normal enough day in the Arrow-verse: John and Dinah are sparring with bow staffs, Felicity’s trying to track the location of Prometheus’ mother, Thea’s back in town (yay!) and grossed out that Oliver’s still dating Susan (double yay!) and surprised that Rene’s working as Quentin’s assistant in City Hall (understandable!).
And then the office normalcy is shattered when a man enters City Hall and opens fire with an AR-15 rifle. Employees scream, scatter, dive for cover. Not everyone makes it. It’s one of the most upsetting scenes Arrow has ever done.
Rene’s carrying a gun and returns fire, but the ski-masked shooter is wearing Kevlar and escapes, leaving five dead and 24 injured, including Adrian. Thea wants to know why on earth Rene was carrying a gun on the job, and his attitude is why on earth wouldn’t he? They snatch the shooter’s abandoned weapon before the police can get to it.
In the Arrow Cave, they can’t trace the owner of the AR-15, America’s most popular gun, because there’s no registry. Thankfully, Quentin got a look at the shooter before he put on his mask, so they’ve got a police sketch.
And now, to tonight’s flashback, which reveals Rene’s sad origin story: He’s getting ready to take his daughter, Zoe, to a hockey game in the roughest part of The Glades, and his wife tells him to leave behind his gun, which he bought for home protection. Rene, in turn, says he knows she’s using again. The argue, and before he and Zoe leave for the game, Rene tells his wife that when he gets home, either the drugs will be gone, or she will be.
In the present, three more victims have died, and Felicity’s search for the shooter’s identity is hampered by the rest of the team debating the way semantics can frame an issue: rifle versus assault weapon, gun control versus gun violence, registry versus privacy. Curtis points out that as a black man, he’s three times more likely to be killed than Rene. Former cop Quentin would like fewer guns; former cop Dinah prefers fewer restrictions.
When Oliver suits up to question a member of the Bertinelli crime family about their possible involvement, Vigilante (it’s been a while; remember him?) arrives to taunt Oliver: “The only difference between us is that I use a more efficient weapon.” He guns down the crime lord and escapes.
In better news, facial recognition identifies 44-year-old James Edlund, a systems analyst with no criminal record whose wife and two daughters were killed in a mall shooting 16 months ago. Since then, he’s lost his home and his job, and online records show that he supported the Star City Gun Registry, which the previous city leadership voted down. The team decides this must be his motive for the attack.
Armed with this new information, Oliver addresses the press, giving the politician’s “thoughts and prayers” speech that we’ve heard over and over in America, so many times, too many times.
Then it falls apart when the media press him on City Hall’s stance on a gun registry and he can’t give a good answer. He also stumbles when they ask for his personal opinion, telling them, “It’s complicated.”
Privately, Thea and Quentin chide him for his poor performance, but Oliver already feels bad enough for consistently meeting violence with violence as the Green Arrow. “We cannot dismiss that idea that we are just feeding into a vicious cycle,” he says.
Quentin tells him that this problem doesn’t need the Green Arrow because it’s not just one guy with a gun. It takes the mayor suggesting new policies. “You try again, and if that doesn’t work, you try again,” Quentin says. This motivates Oliver to find a way to cut politics out of providing safety and security for gun owners and non-gun owners alike.
He does this by summoning Councilwoman Pollard, who killed the gun registry the first time around. She questions Oliver using his scant political capital on this, and they engage in the debates we’ve heard before: Why’s a gun registry any different than DMV vehicle ownership records? Is the Second Amendment less important than the First? Oliver pulls a Principal Duvall and tells Pollard to settle in until they have a policy in place.
NEXT: Oliver refrains from answering violence with violence