Saturday, 18 February 2017

Review - 'Arrow', S05E13 - 'Spectre of the Gun'

With Arrow reaching the half-way point of its fifth season, the season's thirteenth episode would have to be the first time that the series has attempted to directly tackle anything resembling a serious, and topical, issue. This is especially interesting when you consider the overall serious tone of the series, as a whole, and the fact that the much more light-hearted Legends of Tomorrow has already directly taken on issues of racism, sexism, and homophobia through its various time-travel adventures.

With its overall grim and serious tone, though, it's probably appropriate that the show's first attempt to tackle serious, real-world, subject matter should concern itself with issues of violence and, in particular, the topic of gun control. Here, a seemingly random act of violence, as a mysterious gunman launches an attack on Oliver's offices at City Hall, leaves the people of Star City reeling – as Oliver, himself, is forced to confront the possibility that his own tendency toward violent solutions to his various problems may have contributed to the cycle of violence that the city finds itself trapped in.

From there, the episode begins to delve right into the gun violence debate – with various characters taking different positions on what the appropriate response should be. Rene, as you might expect, is fully in support of the right to bear arms – while Curtis is in favour of stricter regulations. Quentin Lance agrees with Curtis, while Dinah Drake agrees with Rene. Felicity, meanwhile, seems to have no interest in allowing any debate to take place while she's trying to work – and, Oliver just wants to prevent any possible future attack.

Further complications present themselves when the team is able to uncover the true reason behind this sudden, and brutal, attack – with James Edlund's (Cliff Chamberlain) intent being to punish the city for failing to pass gun control legislation which may have prevented the murder of his wife and children. It definitely presents an interesting challenge for Oliver Queen – who, while still hoping to prevent the next attack, also has to deal with the political fall-out of James's attack, also has to take on the responsibility of taking a stand on the issue, as the city's mayor.

I think that the most notable, and most impressive, thing about this episode would have to be the fact that it did, actually, place much more emphasis on Oliver Queen as mayor of Star City than it did on his role as the Green Arrow. It felt like an important moment for the series, as a whole – and, not just because this was clearly a political issue which couldn't be resolved simply by dressing up in a costume and murdering a roomful of nameless thugs.

In the time that Oliver Queen has spent as mayor, the one thing that the series has never really managed to show is whether he is actually any good at his new job – and, whether the people of Star City were right to rally behind him. He's delivered the occasional bland, though essentially well-written, speech, of course – and, there have been plenty of scenes of him sitting in his office, thinking seriously about various things. But, thinking back, it is strange to have to admit that I still have no idea what sort of mayor he actually is – or, in what direction he leans, politically (the character from the comics is quite well-known for his left-leaning tendencies, of course – but, as fans have had to accept, over the years, this version of Oliver Queen is a very different person).

It would have to be this aspect of the episode that stood out as its strongest element – with Stephen Amell giving a great performance as he portrayed Oliver Queen's struggles. The idea that Oliver, himself, would have genuine doubts about his ability to effectively lead the city through such a tense situation allowed for a genuine sense of character development to take place throughout the episode, as we were able to see Oliver finally seem to genuinely grow into the role he chose to take on.

While Oliver's gradual growth may be the strongest element of the episode, it should be admitted that the episode did have its weak points, also. For one thing, the episode's efforts to provide any sort of commentary on such a serious issue did tend to come across as heavy-handed, and incredibly unsubtle. Through Curtis and Rene's frequent debates on the subject, for example, we had the writer's desperately trying to pass off generic sound-bites as actual dialogue – with the two finally settling on a somewhat limp-wristed 'agree to disagree' stance.

Also, while it was genuinely interesting to finally learn a bit more about Rene Remirez, through this episode's 'flashback' sub-plot, the scenes, themselves, weren't quite as effective as they could have been. It's not so much the content of these scenes that was the problem, of course – since, the whole idea of a wife killed in another horrific act of violence, and a young daughter taken from him and place in a foster home, is suitably tragic. Instead, the main issue I had, here, is that the link the episode clearly tried to draw between these past events and Rene's decision to become a costumed vigilante didn't feel earned.

So, in the end, we had an episode that was weighed down by its insistence on attempting to directly address the issues that it raised. At the heart of the episode, we had the story of a man driven to commit horrible acts of violence by his own personal tragedies, and Oliver's growth as he was forced to respond to this new challenge in his official capacity as the city's mayor. Taken together, those two plot-points could have easily served as the basis for a very strong episode. But, the writers' insistence on, also, having the show's cast of characters directly address the issues raised by the episode, in such a painfully unsubtle and heavy-handed manner, simply dragged things down.

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