Why Arrow Decided to Break Form and Tackle Gun Violence

Arrow is doing something it's never done before.

In Wednesday's episode, appropriately titled "Spectre of the Gun," the CW drama is doing its own twist on a Very Special Episode when a traumatic attack on City Hall leaves Team Arrow divided over the gun control debate.

The incident will also trigger painful memories for Rene (Rick Gonzalez), whose tragic past will be explored through his own series of flashbacks, replacing the typical Oliver-centric flashbacks fans have gotten used to over the past five seasons.

During a press screening with reporters, Arrow executive producers Marc Guggenheim and Wendy Mericle explained why they decided to tackle such an important issue now, what they hope viewers will take away from the episode and whether they plan on doing more episodes like this in the future.

How long have you been wanting to do this episode?
Marc Guggenheim:
We went into Season 5 wanting to do an episode about an issue... I grew up in a time where it was commonplace, literally every week, for a one-hour drama to tackle the issues of the day. Somewhere along the line we got away from that. The whole industry got away from that. And now you've got Black-ish and Carmichael Show, but as far as network dramas are concerned, [they're] really not tackling current events, current issues... You know, it's the fifth season. We've hopefully earned the freedom to in - In 23 episodes of television, you can have 22 pieces of candy and one episode of vegetables. We felt that gun violence felt like the right topic, A.) Because of its topicality, but also because of the level of gun violence that is on Arrow. We could have done an episode about abortion, but that's not really where the show lives. So gun violence sort of felt like the right thing to tackle.
Wendy Mericle: We knew that we were talking about the Mayor's office. There was an opportunity also to do an episode where he wasn't going to get in the Green Arrow costume. From a story perspective, it was really the challenge of figuring out [how] we have to solve the issue of the day or the problem of the week with Oliver Queen as the mayor as opposed to him gearing up as the Green Arrow. The other thing when Marc and I talked about doing it and when we talk about doing potentially more episodes like this going forward ... is the idea that you want to start a conversation. It's sort of what Curtis says in the episode, which is, "It's important to at least talk about this." And at some point we did get away from that as a country. And we like the idea of hearing both sides and hearing both sides as fairly as possible.

Did this come together before or after Nov. 7?
Guggenheim:
What happened on Nov. 7? No, I'm kidding. Actually, funny you should ask, this was totally not by design, completely accidental, but I wrote the first half of the script before Nov. 7 and the second half of the script after Nov. 7. That week I was writing the script. And I think actually as you watch the episode you can kind of see ... that in the second half it's about guns and gun violence, but it's also about the state of discourse in our country, as Wendy was saying. I'm an unapologetic progressive, but the thing that I've noticed is that not talking about issues serves a conservative agenda, not a liberal agenda. And I do agree with Curtis that I think the country is where it is right now because we stopped talking to each other.

What made Rene the right person to do the flashbacks with in this particular episode?
Mericle:
I think he is someone whose background we really wanted to explore. In my mind, he carries a gun. He's a natural spokesman for that point of view.
Guggenheim: We could have done it through any number of our characters. I think there was a real appetite for us and the writing staff to do flashbacks from one of the perspectives of one of our recruits, so that we were just getting to learn more about them. We know a lot about Curtis, obviously. Rory left the team in [Episode] 12. Evelyn had betrayed the team. We also sort of already knew her backstory from Season 4. Rene felt like the right recruit at the right time for all the reasons Wendy was saying. You know, a character whose whole superheroics revolve around guns.

Is it also a testing ground for when Oliver's flashbacks run out?
Guggenheim:
Well, we've been doing those - what I call the non-Island flashbacks - since Season 1. We sort of felt like we've done the testing ground. We love those episodes. We love those kind of flashbacks.
Mericle: I think of it as more of a testing ground for the recruits and whether we'd be able to generate enough story and be interested in those stories from the perspectives of those characters. But yes, going forward, for sure, given that we won't have the Island to go to and the flashbacks for Oliver, knowing that we could use other characters and that we have a device that's well-established on the show and knowing we can go to that well if we need to.

It's kind of rare for the show to talk about Star City politically as part of the United States. Is that something that was important to you for this episode -- to talk about the country?
Guggenheim:
I think the little judo move that just writing this episode required is obviously gun control is more of a national issue than it is a local issue... In the writing of the actual script and the dialogue, I kept trying to find those opportunities to invoke the idea of the country rather than just the city.

Do you see real-world things influencing the show more going forward?
Guggenheim: It's tough with a superhero show. I think one of the things Wendy and I have struggled with on Arrow is every year we go into the season going, "This year we're going to make it more about the city. This year it's going to be more of a character and you're going to learn what's going on in the city." It wasn't until this year where we actually started doing that. The reason I say that is it just shows how difficult it is getting the city it's set in to influence the stories. Getting the rest of the country in is just hard.

Did you receive more notes for this episode than normal?
Guggenheim: Thank you very much for asking that question, because it gives me an opportunity to say that the studio and network were so unbelievably supportive of this episode from the very beginning. At the beginning of the season, we told them we wanted to do a gun violence episode, they were like "great." We gave them the story idea, which is always the first piece of information the studio and network get; they were like "great." There was a plot twist regarding Edlund's motivations that was in the original conception that, it was actually even in the first draft of the script, that the studio talked us out of. Not because it was controversial, not because they were scared of it -- both the studio and network were incredibly fearless in their support of this episode, but because the plot twist sort of sent ... a message very different from the one we were trying to send. But there was no "this is too far, this is too much." We got the usual [standards and practices] notes in terms of the amount of gun violence, but nothing was compromised. This was very much the episode we intended to do.
Mericle: They were excited about it. They liked it, and they welcomed also that it was taking on an issue, which we hadn't done before, really, on the show. They were genuinely, I think, very enthusiastic and excited.
Guggenheim: I don't think Wendy and I have taken on an issue on television since Eli Stone, which is like nearly 10 years ago, which is a long time ago. Sad.

Arrow airs Wednesdays at 8/7c on the CW.

(Full disclosure: TVGuide.com is owned by CBS, one of the CW's parent companies.)

This article originally appears on TV Guide.com.

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Mar 24, 2017
I have yet to see this episode; I just finished bingeing Seasons 1-4 on Netflix. Did they take a brave stand in this episode and actually point blame and responsibility where it belongs? On the PERSON, rather than the gun? Or did they, as I suspect, do the trendy, politically correct thing and push civilian disarmament as the solution? Just curious.
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Feb 20, 2017
Lines:
Curtis: "This is military grade hardware"
Diggle: "Ar-15 assault weapon"
Curtis: "It's an m16, it's literally the same gun as an m16"
umm...no


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Feb 18, 2017
Not exactly into subtle are they?
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Feb 16, 2017
Arrow with a message? Really? This will really change a lot of opinions, I can't tell you the number of times a tv show about comic book super heroes has turned my opinion 180 degrees.
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Feb 16, 2017
Why now? Because TV/media is becoming 24/7 liberal talking points whether we like it or not. I'd prefer my politics left out of my entertainment, but not going to happen. Target stock is down. NFL rating are down, but they cannot help themselves.

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Feb 16, 2017
I say this as someone who is pretty vehemently pro gun control, Arrow is probably the worst possible show to tackle a message like this. It just does not work. I do agree that television shows should be able to have deeper messages to them and make real world analogies, but as everyone else has pointed out before, nearly every cast member has recently used a gun, and you have several main characters that have actively killed with guns. The ones who don't still hang around and actively work with said gun wielding people and have never once expressed displeasure or shown even the slightest bit of discomfort about it.

What could have worked if they used an analogy for gun violence. Maybe have some scientist who came up with a way of giving people meta powers to defend themselves from bad meta's, with that being the analogy for gun violence. At least then it works better in universe and isn't so hypocritical.
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Feb 15, 2017
FYI, my guess would be that the Eli Stone episode Guggenheim is referring to is "Two Ministers". Since Wendy Mericle co-wrote it back in 2008. Guggenheim isn't credited as co-writer, but it's one of only four episodes "Wendy" wrote, it's the only major message episode, and Guggeenheim EP'd.

Then again, legal shows are a lot better at tossing in "case of the week" message episodes. They're basically anthologies, so the cases of the week are often one-and-done. Rod Serling was good at it too with Twilight Zone. But he didn't have to say the equivalent of, "Forget what I've been having the characters do on the show for the last four years: here's my take on Vietnam=bad that contradicts all that!" Heck, most 60s shows where the plots were basically one-and-done did it better.
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Feb 15, 2017
"Natural spokesman" strikes me as rather lazy writing. Diggle has used guns as a soldier, a bodyguard, and as a vigilante. He's been in the main cast since day one. Have him be the "natural spokesman." Heck, splurge and have two "natural spokesmen." Judging form the preview, it looks like the anti-gun viewpoint will have more than one natural spokesman. And probably one unnatural one, given Oliver seems to be anti-gun in the preview. This is the guy who was gunning down Bratva mobsters one year before the show began, in-stoiry. We'll see tonight, but I'll bet Oliver isn't going to suddenly stop ignoring Quentin's sage advice. And Quentin is presented as anti-gun in the preview. I recall Quentin and his officers using guns a few times, too.

It's not like using a bow & arrow is somehow superior or less violent than a gun. Oliver has been killing people left and right with it: isn't that part of the theme of this season? Just two episodes ago he shot down a helicopter and killed at least two people. A B&A just takes longer to master. But this isn't the early comics where Green Arrow pinned bad guys to walls and shot boxing-glove arrows. The Arrow Green Arrow kills people, and at the end of the day he's getting a pass on murder.

This all makes sense from a 2017 storytelling perspective: Arrow ain't going to be about Oliver going to prison for 20 years and someone yelling, "Bend over, Abigail Mae, here comes the gravy pipe!" (Patton Oswalt line). But part of the problem with "message" episodes is that they bend everything out of true just to express the writers' views. Taking one episode to (apparently) pretend Oliver and Quentin are suddenly anti-gun, after five seasons of using gun violence to get the audience's attention at worst, treating it as background noise at best, is why a lot of people hate "message" episodes. Unless they agree with the message.
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Feb 15, 2017
It is possible to be pro-gun control and also not be anti-gun.
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Feb 15, 2017
"In my mind, he carries a gun. He's a natural spokesman for that point of view."

There's also the question of what "point of view" Guggenheim is referring to. However, so far Rene hasn't been interested in having his guns controlled in any way, shape, or form. Judging from Guggenheim's statements, the previews, and what has gone before, Rene is interested in guns but not gun control. If they're misleading... they're misleading. I only go by what is out there. :)
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Feb 15, 2017
Sure. But I can count the total number of "unapologetic progressive"s that I've ever encountered or see writing on one finger. :) Said unapologetic progressives want to eliminate guns, usually by advocating restrictions so strenuous that it amounts to anti-gun.

So yes, absolute pro-gun control often leads to anti-gun, so it's certainly possible to be both. And we'll see as far as tonight's episode. But my guess is that Spartan and Wild Dog aren't going to advocate pro-gun control for themselves. Because that's a pretty big chunk of why they're on the show.
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Feb 15, 2017
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Feb 15, 2017
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Feb 15, 2017
And Dinah just shot someone her lover's killer dead with a gun. And Adrian... well, check his backstory and see previous episodes to learn what he thinks of guns.

Pretty much all of the main/recurring characters on the show are pro-gun except Felicity and Curtis. And yet they need just one "natural spokesman"?
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Feb 15, 2017
"I think (Rene) is someone whose background we really wanted to explore. In my mind, he carries a gun. He's a natural spokesman for that point of view"

Wouldn't Diggle? He's been carrying a gun pretty much forever, but at least since he became Spartan. And Oliver was shooting a lot of Russian mobsters before Talia handed him a bow, in this year's flashbacks.

I'm not saying Rene doesn't need exploration, as I've noted in my weekly reviews. But the problem with many ":issue" episodes is that they tend to focus on one character and make them the "natural spokesman." With Rory gone, you've got six members of Team Arrow--Oliver, Diggle, Felicity, Rene, Dinah, Curtis--and three of them are or have been pretty heavy gun users.

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Feb 15, 2017
Wouldn't Diggle? He's been carrying a gun pretty much forever, but at least since he became Spartan.

True but we already know Diggle's backstory. This may be as good an opportunity as ever to explore where Rene came from.
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Feb 15, 2017
You seem to only be addressing one of my two stated issues, and the wrong one relevant to that post.

1) Rene could use backstory. I agree with that, both here and in my weekly reviews.

2) The sentence you quote isn't me referring to Diggle's backstory, but why the episode should be limited to one "natural spokesman" and he isn't it. By my count, out of eight current members of Team Arrow (as of this week) five of them (Oliver, Diggle, Rene, Dinah, Adrian) are big on uncontrolled guns since they use or have used them a lot.

Quentin seems to be of the "guns in the hands of non-criminals, except for the police and my vigilante teammates" school. And really, they all are that way. Since Guggenheim suggests that Curtis tends to speak for him and going by what Curtis has said before, I'm going to go with Curtis being "unapologetic progressive." That leaves Felicity, who I'll cheerfully concede could go either way given her new darker side.

So if there is one "natural spokesman" out of eight for the "point of view", what will the other seven say? Inquiring minds want to know. :)
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Feb 15, 2017
Just because there is one "natural spokesman" doesn't mean that the other characters won't fall on separate sides of the debate. They're probably just using Rene to show why he feels the way he does using flashbacks. I can't say anything for sure until I see the episode. And as far as Felicity, I'm guessing she'll be anti.
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Feb 15, 2017
And yes, I know Adrian isn't a member of Team Arrow. He may not even be in the episode.

But as a show star, he has far more on-screen sway than a Talking Head/Guest Star of the Week.
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Feb 15, 2017
"There was a plot twist regarding Edlund's motivations that was in the original conception that..."

Who is Edlund?
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Feb 15, 2017
"I'm an unapologetic progressive, but the thing that I've noticed is that not talking about issues serves a conservative agenda, not a liberal agenda."

Doesn't that depend on the issue?

There are issues that liberals want to talk about that conservatives don't.

There are issues that conservatives want to talk about that liberals don't.

I've heard conservatives say, "Why do liberals want to keep discussing gun violence and ownership? It was resolved, the Second Amendment is pretty clear, there's nothing to talk about."

I've heard liberals say, "Why do conservatives want to keep discussing abortion? Roe v. Wade decided it, it's settled law. It was resolved, there's nothing to talk about."

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Feb 15, 2017
So in a show where they kill people with Arrows and knives all the time they decide to get preachy about gun violence...of which gun homicide has decreased by HALF in the last 30 years.

That preachy left leaning mentality always ignores reality to deliver the message they want regardless of everything else. And then the "entertainment" industry wonders why so many of us hate them so badly.
Remember folks, you're only allowed to defend yourself if you're a make believe vigilante on a shitty tv show.
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Feb 15, 2017
Actually, they kill people with guns all the time, too. The heck with Wild Dog: Spartan uses a gun all the time and shoots/kills people.
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Feb 15, 2017
Even if I was still a fan of the show (it was decent enough in the beginning, but my god has it gotten terrible and hard to watch), I wouldn't be able to read the title of this article without laughing for the very reasons you mention in your comment.

I actually came here to say the exact same thing, but you hit it out of the ballpark with what you wrote.
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Feb 15, 2017
The show has actually gotten a lot better this season than it was in seasons 3 and 4.
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Feb 16, 2017
Eh, I think we're going to have to agree to disagree on the show's quality, but I'm glad you're enjoying it.
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