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'Arrow' goes off the rails in a 'very special episode'

Posted February 22

So, as I promised last year, I’ve streamlined my superhero TV viewing habits. I only skim Marvel’s "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D," I’ve scrapped “Gotham” altogether and I’ve resisted the urge to watch the new X-Men show “Legion.” So as of now, all of my superheroes on television inhabit the Arrowverse, which is the nickname for the shared universe of “The Flash,” DC’s "Legends of Tomorrow,” “Supergirl” and, of course, the titular “Arrow,” which, sadly, is the worst of the lot.

It didn’t use to be. The first two seasons of “Arrow” arguably represent the best comic-book television content ever produced. But it went off the rails in the third season, and it’s never found its way back. I keep watching dutifully in the hopes that it’ll return to greatness, but after the recent “Spectre of the Gun” episode, I’ve come to accept that “Arrow” is only going to keep getting worse.

“Spectre of the Gun” was in the tradition of all those “very special episodes” that dotted the TV landscape back in the 1970s and '80s. You remember those, don’t you? That’s when a sitcom or light comedy decides it wants to tackle some kind of serious theme, like when Arnold on “Diff’rent Strokes” was suddenly confronted by a child molester or when Horshack on “Welcome Back, Kotter” started doing drugs.

The deadly serious nature of the “special episode” content is always wildly inconsistent with the tone of the rest of the series, and thorny social issues intrude into the narrative only to be tidily wrapped up in less than 30 minutes. So Arnold suffered no lasting damage from his encounter with a pedophile and Horshack kicked his drug addiction before the last commercial. In the course of the rest of the series, these earth-shattering events were never mentioned again.

Now I realize “Arrow” is no “Diff’rent Strokes,” and, to be fair, it actually has explored some rather meaty material during its run and done so effectively. The problem is that the issue it chooses to highlight in its “very special episode” was gun violence, which is an area where the Green Arrow/Oliver Queen holds absolutely no moral high ground.

The show begins with a mass shooting at Star City Hall, where Oliver serves as the city’s mayor when he’s not dressed up like Robin Hood and fighting bad guys. The rest of the episode consists of a great deal of hand-wringing by Oliver and his cronies about what kind of legal ordinances Star City ought to adopt to prevent future gun massacres. Character dialogue is peppered with trite partisan slogans that sound like they were cribbed from both MSNBC and Fox News, and the whole thing has the feel of a dreary town hall meeting gone to seed. In the end, Mayor Queen, who is opposed to guns, convinces a gun rights city councilwoman to support a compromise ordinance, and everyone is happy.

The problem is that they never provide any details of this magical compromise, so real-world politicians get no guidance as to how to craft their legislative panacea to a problem that has long eluded easy solutions. But even worse than that is the blindness of both the writers and producers to their galling hypocrisy.

Remember, these are characters that dress up in Halloween costumes and blow things up on a nightly basis, using arrows, bullets or whatever they have on hand. How are we supposed to believe the Green Arrow, a vigilante who routinely kills people by shooting arrows into their chests, has any credibility when it comes to telling people they shouldn’t use guns?

That was the final straw for me. I’ll still visit the Arrowverse in all of its spin-off shows, but that “very special episode” of “Arrow” was my last episode of “Arrow.”

Jim Bennett is a recovering actor, theater producer and politico, and he writes about pop culture and politics at his blog, stallioncornell.com.

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