PUNISHER Ep 2 Spoilers, a.k.a. “How My Writing Has Changed Since I Learned How Guns Actually Work.”

'GoDaddy Coupon' http://www.scottsigler.com/godadddy-promo-codes brings you THE PUNISHER spoiler errrors

I am in no way, shape or form an expert on firearms.

I write about guns extensively in my work. Not having a background in law enforcement or the military, and not coming from a “firearm family,” when I began writing my knowledge of guns was limited to what I’d seen on TV and in the movies. You heard that phrase “you don’t know what you don’t know?” When it came to firearms, that was me.

Which brings me to one of my early mistakes. Frankly, it’s an exceedingly common error for suspense/thriller/crime writers who don’t have experience with handguns. What’s the particular screw up? The classic trope: “The gun clicked on empty.”

THE PUNISHER SPOILERS BELOW!!!

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I did this at least twice in my early books, and it is there is this rookie, easily correctable error all it’s glory in THE PUNISHER S1E2.

Frank Castle fights agent Carson Wolf. It’s an excellent fight scene (to the background tune of “Ain’t That A Kick In The Head”), because Wolf is a bad-ass hand-to-hand combatant and gives Frank a real run for his money. At the end, though, Frank gets the upper hand. Wolf (played by C. Thomas Howell) is tied to a chair with a flimsy silk tie restraint. Frank is interrogating him with some pretty severe punches. Then, common knowledge of firearms takes the brown bus to Shit Town.

Frank shoots Wolf in the leg. Ouch! Then, after repeated establishing shots showing Wolf working on loosening the tie restraint, Frank gets too close. Ooops! Wolf snatches Frank’s gun away. After a bit of dialogue where Wolf conveniently gives up the Sekret Plan™ that he wouldn’t give up while being tortured, he decides to kill Frank. Wolf points, shoots … and the gun clicks on empty.

THE PROBLEM: Wolf is holding a semi-automatic handgun. When these devices run out of ammo, the slide locks open. That means it looks like this:

The writers have clearly established that Wolf is a bad-ass operator. He’s no newbie to firearms. If the slide was locked back because the gun was empty, he’d notice. Trouble is, it’s not locked back. Frank fires the supposed last bullet, and the pistol’s slide is not locked back.

Clearly this was a setup by Frank. He trickily gave up the gun so that Wolf would — for some unknown reason — do the Evil Gloating trope and gives up said Sekret Plan™. Here’s that scene:

 

Then, we see the moment where facts fly out the window:

Hey, Scott, you jackass — couldn’t Frank have sneakily ejected the last round when Wolf wasn’t looking?
Sure, if we had seen Frank turn his back or done anything to hide the gun, I could buy that. Trouble is, he doesn’t — the gun is in clear sight of Wolf (and us) from the time Frank fires the “last” round until Wolf pulls the trigger and the gun clicks on empty. I re-watched the scene, twice, to be sure. Frank does turn his back, briefly, but if he ejects that round we need to either see it happen, or get some kind of information after the fact (see how I would correct the scene, below, as an example).

Hey Scott, you ridiculous buzzkill — couldn’t Frank have used a blank round?
No. A blank round would have fired (kaboom!) there just wouldn’t be a bullet coming out.

Hey Scott, you pedantic douche — couldn’t Frank have used a dummy round?
Sure. A dummy round in this instance would be a cartridge that takes up the space of a live round, but is just an inert hunk of metal. That would solve the problem. This is probably what happened. The trouble is, that’s the kind of information the writers need to convey, or they potentially take a certain group of viewers out of the story — that “group” being anyone who has ever taken even a basic firearms training course.

Jesus H. Christ on a Broken Crutch, Scott — can’t you just watch the show?
Sadly, no. I lost the ability to just enjoy a show shortly after I started writing novels.

Scott, you idiot, can’t you see they just made a mistake? Just like you did?
Here’s the thing with that. I know novelists can make this mistake (and often do), because, by and large, we’re isolated in a room by ourselves. We don’t know what we don’t know. If we get an editor who also doesn’t have firearms experience (and hasn’t run into this common error before), it’s easy to see the error make it to print. For example, I was asked to blurb the novel THE COLONY by A.J. Colucci (a fun book if you dig killer ants). I read the book and found “the gun clicked on empty” mistake. I was one of the last people to read this before it went to print — if I hadn’t seen this mistake, it would have wound up in the final book. It happens.

The difference between novels and TV shows is that a production like THE PUNISHER has literally hundreds of people working on it. Without a doubt, the showrunner and writers knew this was an error and they didn’t think it impacted the story enough to do something about it.

And, this is a show where guns are a primary focus of the story. Also, soldiers are a primary focus of the story. Characters are the bread of this series, but guns are the butter. Yes, it’s a comic book show. Yes, it’s fiction. But in my opinion, the showrunner should get this part right if only to make sure that people who know guns don’t get taken out of the story.

Okay, Mr. Smart-Guy, since you know everything, how did this happen?
My guess is that they did explain that Frank had either sneakily ejected the round, or he had loaded a dummy round. I’m betting that was in the footage before the final edit. During the final edit, someone cut that part out, deeming it wasn’t as important as, say, additional interaction between Frank and Karen.

It didn’t bother me one bit, brah, and I know me some guns!
Cool, I’m glad it didn’t take you out of the story. It’s a minor issue, but it is an issue. It just depends on how you react to such things in your entertainment.

How would you have fixed this, Sir Expert?
One simple change of dialogue keeps the scene as-is yet corrects the error.

Change:

FRANK:
Gun’s empty, asshole.

To:

FRANK:
Dummy round, asshole.

Problem solved.

So now you don’t like the show?
So far I love it … but now I love it a little less. Episode One was spectacular, an example of deep emotional writing and character establishment that every aspiring TV show creator should watch. I was all the way in. I’m still in, just not as much as before.

That’s what can happen when you make a mistake like that. As a creator, you have to try and get the easy things right. I have addressed my own shortcomings in firearm knowledge by a) using a consultant, Chris Grall, who has extensive military experience, b) getting basic firearm training, and c) getting a firearm safety certificate, a handgun of my own, and training with it on a fairly regular basis (with Matt Mellinger of the Glock Store in San Diego).

Yep, I had an area where I didn’t know jack shit, and I addressed it. Guns are prevalent in suspense and crime fiction. If you’re writing in those genres, take the time to find out what you don’t know and address your ignorance. It will help keep more readers/viewers fully immersed in your story.

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Comments

  1. HelloLudger

    Nice catch, it annoys me when ever this happens. But in this case, it is very possible.

    Frank must have known that he is firing the last round and pressed down the slide lock to make it look like there was another round in the magazine. This should be possible while shooting, without a chance to be noticed by the bad guy.

    So, yes, showing this (maybe in a flashback), would make Frank look even more badass than he already is.

  2. Mark Zaricor

    Another possibility is if a round misfired. It would look like there’s a round in the chamber (because there would be) and the hammer would still be pulled back from the previous round, so it would still click when the trigger pulled. I haven’t seen the episode, so I don’t know how many clicks were heard, but a single click would be acceptable for a misfire.

  3. Chris

    This is easy to explain. There were no live ammo or blanks. The guns are empty when doing the scene and so nothing was needed to release the slide since it never went back.

    However, in real life there are multiple ways to keep the slide from staying back, some that are perfectly logical. Many aftermarket modifications of magazines to hold extra rounds remove the mechanism that pushes the slide lock up. If he wanted to have a few extra rounds in his magazine to help kill all the people he wants to kill he could have done that which would me the slide wouldn’t lock back. But without explaining earlier it is just an after the fact answer.

    I doubt it was a mistake or they actually cut the scene out. Someone probably pointed it out, but the decision was made that 98% of the people wouldn’t know any better so why complicate the story.

    1. scottsigler

      Chris:

      This is easy to explain. There were no live ammo or blanks. The guns are empty when doing the scene and so nothing was needed to release the slide since it never went back.

      I’m not sure we’re talking about the same thing — Frank shot Wolf in the leg, so the gun isn’t empty when doing the scene.

      And if he has “a few extra rounds” in the magazine, Wolf would have killed him. Yes?

      1. Chris

        Thinking of the higher level of filming the scene. The gun was never really loaded with anything, so the slide never really went back after acting out the “shooting” so there was no need for him to do anything to keep the slide from locking back. The shot was added after the fact.

        For the modified magazine, he could have fired the last extra round into his leg, making the gun empty with the slide still closing.

        1. scottsigler

          I’m not following your logic here. Frank shot Wolf in the leg. To do that, the gun was loaded. Are you talking about it from the level of a prop? Of course a prop isn’t loaded with real bullets — we’re talking about the story here, not the mechanics of making the story. Am I missing something?

  4. TonyInSeattle

    Most of the audience has no idea how real guns work, and since TV has to pander to the lowest common denominator to be successful in America, realism is replaced by tropes to avoid making the masses feel stoopid….

    1. scottsigler

      Tony: You make a good point. There might be a decision that using the word “dummy round” would add additional confusion. Of course, use a revolver, and you have the same exact scene with no one wondering what happened.

  5. Arioch

    Your solution is tailored to the gun literate. It risks dropping the gun ignorant w/o further exposition. “Clicking on empty” is a well established trope, even if it’s totally inaccurate.

    1. scottsigler

      Arioch: There are enough gun-literate people watching — particularly this show, that adding a line of dialogue or using a revolver for this scene would have easily fixed the problem. Everyone would be happy, even those who have no idea what they’re looking at in the first place.

      1. Arioch

        We’ll have to agree to disagree. I view Hollywood storytelling the same as politics. It’s *impossible* for them to make everyone happy, so they tell the story they believe will resonate with the greatest number of people. This is by necessity going to make some folks unhappy. It’s almost always going to be the more educated (or at least specialized) folks, because simpler is easier to understand. It’s butts in seats that matters to Hollywood, not accuracy.

        1. Chris Grall

          I agree, especially with this error, but in the case of the “clicking on empty” error, the fault is in post production and uneducated foley artists. I’m sure that technical advisers pull their hair out when they see an inaccurate finished product.

      2. Messerjocke2000

        Yes, this one would be easily fixed by using a revolver or having Frank stab the guy and “handing” him a gun.
        He could also have held the slide catch down etc.
        I don’t think all actors and writers should be as good with guns as i.e. Keanu Reeves for John Wick.
        But basic knowledge would be cool.
        Like in Lethal Weapon, Clayne Crawford must have had some training.
        He holds his weapon in Sul position close to his body. Looks cool. Looks like an ex navy seal might hold his gun. Also looks different from Murtaugh. All great.
        Then he goes and swipes people left and right. Shoots his gun so close to his face he risks biting the slide and so on.

        I think thi bothers me more than it should in a TV-Series where they jump out of buildings into pools while shooting at bombs. 😉

        But i get it, it takes me out of the story…

  6. IusedtodoalotofstuffthenIgotfat

    @scottsigler

    Great little write up… one problem.

    What if he just pressed his thumb on the slide lock? 🙂

    Magazines have something called a follower in them, and they do just that – follow the rounds as they are moved up the magazine. When the magazine is empty, there is a small ledge that presses up against a lever, known as the slide lock, that forces the action open.

    On any handgun that has an externally accessible slide lock, it requires very little pressure to just press down on the slidelock with your thumb and it will prevent the firearm from locking to the rear.

    That may or may not have been what actually happened, but it is one way a seasoned operator like Castle would be able to fool a foe.

    Food for thought.

      1. scottsigler

        IUsedTo: He was using a Glock. I have a Glock. Maybe it’s easy with a Glock, but again, this is something writers should communicate to the educated audience so you don’t have that moment where you are pulled out of the story.

        1. Iusedto

          Many moons ago we would deliberately thumb our slide locks to do rack tap bang drills at the academy. Glock 17’s and M&P’s were used. I would re watch that scene and see if he is thumbing the slide lock 🙂

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