With a mass shooting, the comic book show gets political.
The CW's Arrow has had a rocky five years. When it premiered in 2012, it was criticized for mixing the worst qualities of a CW network drama (look at all the love triangles!) with a derivative, Batman Begins-lite formula. But in the back nine of its inaugural season, it started to strike out on its own and suddenly became very gripping. By the time we got to the second season, it was firing on all cylinders, and personally I think it's the best piece of comic book television period.
Then the third and fourth season happened, and well...they were really, really bad.
For those who don't know, Arrow is based on DC Comics' Green Arrow (his real name's Oliver Queen), who's a billionaire by day, Robin Hood inspired vigilante by night. There's very little difference between the character and somebody like Batman, except for one GIGANTIC thing:
The Green Arrow is a staunch, loud, hardcore liberal.
We're currently on the fifth season of Arrow, and it's actually really good now. It's separated itself from the bleep blorps and flirpty doos of The Flash and Legends of Tomorrow, and has gotten back to what it excels at; grounded, simple and engaging stories.
Last night, however, something special happened. Well, something awful happened first. Oliver, now mayor of Star City is holding a casual meeting in city hall when an AR-15 wielding gunman strides in and starts firing, killing seven innocent people and wounding dozens. The show, which really emphasizes stylized action, wisely pulls back here and tries to play this out as realistically as one could on a network show.
Oliver has never really taken a political stance before on Arrow, which is surprising if you're a comic book fan, but it sadly makes sense from the perspective of a network television executive. But last night was different, the whole air about the show was different, and Marc Guggenheim (showrunner and credited writer on this episode) drew a line in the sand.
Oliver doesn't stand for this shit, and for the first time in the show's history, he's an actual superhero. He only suits up as the Green Arrow one time in the episodes entire 43 minutes, and it's solely to point out that this matter isn't going to be solved by a vigilante.
Oliver Queen uses his power as a politician and works to push for gun reform in Star City. I cannot believe I saw this.
The show makes a strong argument for both sides of the gun debate, as Oliver debates a Republican senator who killed the last bill in the previous administration, the rest of Team Arrow had their own points to make. Rene Ramirez (Wild Dog) makes a rousing case for why one should be armed in public, and the episode unflinchingly flashes back to his origin story involving his drug addicted wife. It's riveting, gutsy, and the last thing I expected from the network that just greenlit a thirteenth season of Supernatural.
This title of this episode, "Spectre Of The Gun", is apt. Most of its run time is spent in conversations; the threat of gun violence clearly looms in the back of the minds of each character. Curtis Holt, who's Mr. Terrific and also a gay black man, exclaims at one point that he's "at least four times more likely to be shot" then the person he's debating. The statistics are dire, but the scene is proud; Arrow, whether it's the characters on the show or the show's writers behind the scenes, has had enough of not taking a stance.
The personal highlight of last night was a small moment in the Arrow Cave (just call it The Quiver already, guys) between Curtis and tech whiz Felicity Smoak, who says she doesn't get involved in political debates anymore because they've become mean and fruitless. Curtis astutely points out that it's because nobody listens to each other; nobody is interested anymore in understanding the other side of civil discourse. And then the scene ends.
Oliver prevails, both with the senator and in stopping the gunman, not with his bow, but with words and discourse. There wasn't an explosion or any elbows smashed into somebody's face. Just talking. And more importantly, listening.
Arrow still has some surprises left in its quiver, and now most of all, a teachable message.
More of this please, Mr. Guggenheim.
Terry Erickson is a screenwriter, lifelong film fan, and all around good guy based in Baltimore, MD. He's driven across America twice, is obsessed with Back To The Future, and loves almost everybody.