Team Arrow find themselves in the crosshairs of the national gun debate
Spectre of the Gun
Credit: Katie Yu/The CW
S5 E13
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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

Back in the Arrow Cave, Curtis and Felicity give voice to what lots of us are feeling these days: The arguing we do now isn’t healthy because it doesn’t accomplish anything, and nobody can disagree respectfully anymore. We disagree hatefully, and it gets us nowhere. (Except when it comes to white supremacists. It’s okay to disrespectfully disagree with those a-holes.)

Thankfully, Felicity can multitask, and she pulls up information about a gun violence support group Edlund used to attend. Rene and Curtis head out and, even though membership is confidential, they convince the group leader to give them the address where Edlund had been staying with a friend. (This despite the fact that they aren’t police and have no warrants, and Edlund’s name is all over town as the definitive shooter on the strength of one eye witness’ description and some circumstantial evidence. What happened to less libelous “person of interest” phrasing?)

As they leave, Rene tells Curtis that the sad stories of the survivors in the group didn’t change his mind. “Guns save lives. Period.” In fact, if he’d had a gun, his wife would still be alive.

Flashback, extra sad edition: Rene and Zoe come home from the game to find a twitchy dealer holding a gun to his wife’s head and demanding the $500 she owes from her last fix. Rene says he’ll get the money from the safe, which is actually where he keeps his gun. But Zoe startles the dealer, who flings her mother aside and starts shooting. Rene snatches his gun and kills the dealer, whose finger flexes on the trigger and fires a fatal bullet into Rene’s wife.

In the present, Rene and Curtis have suited up to check Edlund’s possible address, where they find a framed photo of his family, a large supply of bullets… and a floor plan for Starling General Hospital.

When Oliver gets this news, he cuts his meeting with an irritated Pollard short and arrives at the hospital as Mayor Queen, stopping an armed Edlund. Oliver speaks in a calm, steady voice, asking him not to do this. Edlund responds that everyone’s so angry all the time, he may as well put them out of their misery.

Oliver points out that the people Edlund killed today were as innocent as Edlund’s family, which causes Edlund to hold the gun to his own head. In the end, Mayor Hero convinces Edlund to hand over the gun without harming anyone.

Once Edlund’s in custody, Oliver returns to Pollard with a proposed citywide gun control ordinance that he and Rene worked out. He says it doesn’t make it harder for people in Star City to buy or own or carry a gun, or to protect themselves. Soooo what does it… do, exactly? Pollard sniffs that she’ll extract a political price for this someday, but she can live with the proposal. “Good. ‘Cause living is the whole point,” Oliver says.

Final flashback: A Star City social worker’s on the phone with Rene, telling him that his home isn’t a safe environment, so he’s lost not just parenting time but visitation rights with Zoe. Rene hangs up, despondent, and sees a television report of Green Arrow killing Damien Darhk and the Star City citizens who fought alongside him. Rene’s eyes fall on the jersey he was wearing the night his wife was killed, with the hockey mask sitting atop it. Wild Dog is born.

In the present, Curtis apologizes to Rene for the gun arguments, then admits that he Googled Rene’s story. Even though Zoe’s in a good foster home, Curtis and a lawyer friend would like to help Rene get his daughter back. So expect to see that story line again.

That night on the City Hall steps, Oliver leads a vigil for the shooting victims, and he gives a right pretty speech about not being desensitized and answering violence with violence. “Hard choices require bravery,” he says. “And we don’t run from hard choices.” He says they’ll rise up and make those decisions together, starting with the Star City Firearms Freedom Act, which respects both freedom and lives.


“Spectre of the Gun” was an ambitious episode, and it’s always interesting to see larger-than-life shows take on real-world problems. Was this topic handled perfectly? No. The debate was fairly shallow, the compromises were vague, and I’m not sure it exposed any new solutions or areas of agreement. It pointed out what a frustrating political climate we’re in right now without tackling larger issues like the influence of lobbyists or money or technological advances in firearms safety. But it tried. It started a conversation, and that’s something.

Quivers for your arrow

  • Some nice character beats tonight as John encourages Dinah to ease back into a normal life by applying for a studio apartment with a backyard garden. (She’s not sure how to explain her past three years on the application, and John sympathizes: “I guess there’s no box to check for vendetta.”) Even though she’s not sure who she’s supposed to be anymore, she takes a small step and rents the apartment, thanking John for the push.
  • Prometheus’ mom might be in Illinois, which is so delightfully random. Illinois? Why not?
  • Oliver and Adrian share a snippet of dialogue disagreeing about covering up Billy’s death, so I expect that to boil over soon.
  • Can we have Dolph Lundgren back now?

Episode Recaps

Billionaire Oliver Queen — under the vigilante persona of Arrow — tries to right the wrongs of his family and fight the ills of society.
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