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?
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?
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?
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?
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?
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.
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