Arrow broke from its traditional vigilante fighting on Wednesday night to tackle the complicated issue of gun violence in a, for lack of a better phrase, very special episode.
Executive producers Marc Guggenheim and Wendy Mericle have been wanting to tackle a political issue on the show for some time, and after a while of searching the writing team settled on gun violence as the appropriate topic for Oliver Queen (Stephen Amell) and his team to tackle. The episode wasn't purely about bringing two sides of a debate to the Arrow audience though. The episode also forced Oliver to become a hero in his own right as mayor without relying on the darkness of his Green Arrow hood. The hour also brought new information to light about Rene's (Rick Gonzalez) backstory and how he came to be a vigilante in the first place.
However, while Oliver and his team grappled with this very serious topic after a shooting at town hall, the Prometheus storyline took a small break. TVGuide.com spoke with Guggenheim and Mericle after a screening event to find out how the new gun ordinances will affect the team forward, when we'll see Prometheus again and what's in store for the rest of the season.
When the season started, Oliver was in a gray area in regards to killing people as the Green Arrow. Does this impact his opinion going forward?
Marc Guggenheim: I think one of the things you'll see in the second half of Season 5 is the gray area becomes a lot more gray. We're really delving into the complexities of Oliver being a killer in a way that we've never done on the show before I think with a lot more nuance. In the past, it was either I'm a killer or I'm not a killer. It was very binary. This year it's super gray and it's really messy. And this is a component of it. This is a piece of it, for sure... It is a complex, moral decision. Oliver killing is in many ways the seminal moral quandary of the show... One of the things we're doing in the back half of Season 5 is really getting underneath that and what that means, not just in terms of morality, but in terms of psychology and specifically Oliver's psychology. There's things about Oliver's killing that you have yet to learn.
Will we see these new regulations come into conflict with Team Arrow?
Guggenheim: Not the regulations specifically. Actually, in the very next episode Team Arrow is going to come up against the police for a very different kind of reason.
Wendy Mericle: Oliver's decision to kill or not to kill has huge moral implications, not just for him but for the team and the people who work with him. The rest of the season will definitely be exploring the ramifications of that season - not necessarily with respect to the gun control laws and whether or not they exist and what that means for the team when they're out in the field, but definitely with respect to Felicity and to some extent to Curtis as well, what they're going through and do they square their own circles morally with the actions they've taken?
Do we know the specifics of the regulations or are we going to find out what they are?
Guggenheim: No, actually we left that intentionally vague... We didn't want to provide the answer to the audience to the problem of gun violence. We wanted to leave that open to the audience, almost like a Rorschach test. One of the goals obviously to be - I'm sorry this phrase has been corrupted - as fair and balanced to the issue as possible. I think once you put a fine point on, "OK, this is what the regulations should be," then you end up taking a side. If we're going to take any side, I'd like to err on the side of, just because there's gun legislation doesn't mean the second amendment is being infringed. There's a way to have the second amendment and still have some reasonable limitations on gun ownership. I think last week congress voted to remove mental health issues as being a thing that could prevent you from owning a gun. Why? Who does that possibly benefit? There's things that we all should be able to get together on. And the idea is that these regulations in a general way represented that, "OK there have got to be a few things that we all agree on," gun owners and gun control advocates alike.
In the face of a very real-world threat, we saw Oliver as Oliver step in as the hero way more than as the Green Arrow. As he keeps exploring what his legacy is, will we see him more as the hero?
Mericle: I think so, mostly just because it's different and the show has to evolve. I liked that. It's one of my favorite parts... It's a very powerful thing. And given that yeah, he has this other place where he can do this, this role as the mayor, where he can take that stand and have an impact, I don't see why we wouldn't go in that direction.
Is Oliver going to finally have made the city a better place at the end of this season?:
Mericle: I think so.
Is that a concerted effort on your part as writers?
Guggenheim: Yeah. One of the things we went into Season 5 with the mindset of is Oliver's mayor, so without it turning into The West Wing, how are we going to find ways to have Oliver be active as mayor, and to everyone's surprise, be a good mayor, end up being a good mayor. And you'll start to see, actually - and this is true in next week's episode, in Episode 14 - Thea's gonna make a good case to Oliver, of all people, for all the things he's accomplished as mayor, and you start to see like, oh wait, in the first 13 episodes, he actually kind of did some stuff. And he's not done yet. Obviously, the season's not done yet. But we definitely went into the season with the goal of showing that Oliver is actually much better at this job than you might expect.
There's obviously still a lot of Rene's backstory that we still don't know. Is that going to be a priority this season?
Guggenheim: We know very specifically what each episode's flashback content is going to be and we're not going to see another Rene-specific flashback this year.
Mericle: Maybe Season 6.
What about any of the other recruits? Will we get origins for some of them?
Mericle: I don't know. That's a good question.
Guggenheim: I think we still have a lot of ground to cover with Russia. Let's put it that way.
We've had a couple episodes without Prometheus being a central part of the story. Can you preview what's ahead and what we're dealing with?
Guggeneheim: For me, [Episode] 14 is this fulcrum where a lot of the little seeds that have been planted in the first half of the season start to come to fruition and you start to realize, "Oh, Prometheus has been setting up a chessboard." And the episode ends with the next key move in Prometheus' grand plan.
Now that Dinah's laying roots down in the city, how is that changing her mindset as part of the team?
Guggenheim: I think what's interesting to us about Dinah is that she kind of offers this fresh perspective to the team. In many ways, she's almost acting like our Greek chorus. She comes to the team without the burden of having been trained by Oliver or without the burden of having dealing with all of Oliver's secrets and in some cases lies and mishegas. She just has a nice, clean perspective that isn't so much where she's living, but is about what she's been through and her backstory. But her backstory is also not being someone who was a member of Team Arrow who comes to the team without the baggage of the past four seasons.
Was it just as obvious to have Curtis be the counterpart to Rene's gun argument?
Mericle: I feel like the clearest person who would be opposed is Lance. Just to my mind, because police as a rule tend to not want criminals to have guns and they're all for minimizing...they're a little more pro-gun control as a cohesive group of society.
Guggenheim: I don't remember either, to be honest with you. Certainly Felicity being the one [saying], "Stop arguing about this," that came out in the writing. It's funny, in the first half, before Trump was elected, it was me trying to keep the show from descending into this back and forth debate. So it was helpful as a writer to have a character go, "Stop debating!" But then, once Trump got elected, I realized her saying "stop debating" was speaking for another segment of the population, which is the segment of the population who considers talking about politics to be impolitic, something you're not supposed to discuss in polite company. When did that happen? And yeah, the thesis statement of that scene she has with Curtis is the state of our country --whether you voted for Trump or not -- I think maybe the only thing we can agree on as Americans is that the country is as fractured now as its ever been since the Civil War. And my point of view and suggestion as a writer is it happened because we all stopped talking to each other.
Oliver doesn't know that his girlfriend is on to him. How is that going to play into their future?
Guggenheim: I'll just say, based upon what little -- I try to avoid online, but it's online, so it's impossible to completely avoid stuff -- but it seems like the general prevailing theories about how we're going to play that subplot off are wrong. That's kind of my impression. Everyone's expecting something we're not doing, for better or for worse.
Will Vigilante come back into play with Oliver questioning where he is on the morality scale with regards to killing?
Guggenheim: You definitely haven't seen the last of Vigilante. In the episode "Vigilante," I think we kind of pretty much told that story in terms of, how does Vigilante affect Oliver's moral decisionmaking. The role Vigilante has to play the next time we see him, it's a little different than that. I don't want to say too much.
We're getting to the point where soon you're going to have to reveal the identities of some of these masked characters. How much are those end of season reveals, and how much are those potentially going to happen sooner?
Guggenheim: I will say it happens later than we typically do it. How about that?
Mericle: Some will happen much later than we typically do it. [Laughs]
How will those reveals/identities affect the show?
Guggenheim: Oh, gosh. Good question, Terri. How do I answer that without spoiling? Obviously, I will say, I think anytime we do a reveal on the show, it's always with the intention of not just surprising the audience, but also of resetting the board and resetting the characters' perspectives, and the characters having a profound reaction to things. Hopefully, we'll do that again. We always go into the season with a game plan, but we've certainly reached the point in the season where now our game plan is specific episode to episode to episode, as opposed to knowing what tentpoles we want to hit. I feel good about what our game plan is. We're certainly reaching that point in the season where things probably just by happenstance become more controversial. So stay tuned.
Did you know who Prometheus was when you started the season? Has that identity changed at all?
Guggenheim: Yes, we knew from the beginning. No, it hasn't changed. I think I've said this in a bunch of different ways over the last five years, but we always go in with a plan. We do tend to call audibles as we get inspired and get new ideas. A year is a long time. But general speaking, something that major, like the mystery of the identity of the Big Bad, we're pretty dialed into it from jump.
Now that Thea's back, can you tease where her storyline is going?
Mericle: She's headed in a direction that's very similar to where her mother was before she was killed in Season 2. We're excited about it; I'm actually really excited about her storyline because we're taking her to a place where she's been dealing with all of these issues the same way Oliver has, with her bloodlust and with her other elements of her past, and this season's going to find her in a similar place but for very different reasons. There's gonna be a great scene coming up between Oliver and Thea that's one of my favorites on the show.
Guggenheim: There's some really terrific Oliver/Thea scenes in next week's episode and beyond. It's been so much fun to have her in the mayor's office and we've really been enjoying writing for them.
Rory left the team. Is that a natural process of narrowing down the recruits? Will we see him come back?
Guggenheim: We've talked about Rory coming back. Look, it's funny, there's a whole system of actors and availability that just doesn't -- one of you guys should do an article about this, actually. No seriously, because everyone's like, "Where's Thea? Where's Thea?" Willa's [contracted for] 14 out of 23 episodes this year. She's not in all 23. That's not her contract. So, we've had to write around that. Joe isn't a series regular, so just like with Katie Cassidy, we've got to go to Joe and make sure he's available. Hey, guess what? The end of all these network seasons, they coincide with this little thing called pilot season, and people are busy doing pilots. It's actually one of the reasons why we make the kind of deals we make is part of it's money, but also part of it is making sure certain actors are available to us. It's complicated. We try to make the process invisible in terms of our storytelling, but there are just human realities and contractual realities that not only tie our hands, but tie the hands of everyone running a show these days -- unless you're Game of Thrones and you can just literally afford to hold people for an entire year for ungodly sums of money.
Will Evelyn be back to wrap up her story?
Guggenheim: You'll see her again.
Mericle: But not in the way you think you're going to see her. It's going to be a pretty fun reveal.
Guggenheim: We're trying to throw as many unexpected things as we can without it turning into a crazy plot twist fest. We still actually have some surprises up our sleeves.
How deep is Felicity going to get into [the hacking and darkness]?
Mericle: We really started the season wanting to have her go through some version of her own island in some way. I would say it's going to get very interesting, and the team, they're definitely going to have very strong opinions about it. We really wanted to take her to a place where she would sort of understand Oliver in a more profound way. Without giving too much away, that's what I would say about her and Helix.
Riverdale: How far will the love triangle develop this season?
Will we be seeing Katie Cassidy again by the end of the season?
Guggenheim: Um, I'll be honest, I can't answer that. We have an idea for how to see her again, but we haven't made a deal with her. She's not a series regular anymore, so we have to make a contract with her and she has to be available. We haven't had those conversations. But we do have an idea. We know exactly what we want to do. You now know more than Katie does in terms of her involvement at the end of the season.
Arrow airs Wednesdays at 8/7c on the CW.
(Full disclosure: TVGuide.com is owned by CBS, one of the CW's parent companies.)