The CW’s “Arrow” kicks off its season three finale with its titular hero (Stephen Amell) in a markedly unheroic place, married to Nyssa al Ghul (Katrina Law) and next in line to succeed her father Ra’s (Matt Nable) as the leader of the League of Assassins. Oliver seemingly left his team for dead in a cell in Nanda Parbat and set off for Starling City with Ra’s to unleash a deadly virus on the unsuspecting populace — so where does the series go from here? Variety spoke to showrunner Marc Guggenheim about the consequences of Oliver’s choices, how the finale ties into The CW’s newly announced “DC’s Legends of Tomorrow” spinoff, and what we might see from season four.
Spoiler alert — you obviously haven’t killed 90% of your main characters, so what can you preview about Team Arrow’s mission in the finale?
Team Arrow’s mission starts off pretty different from Oliver’s. We’ve been seeing for the last five episodes that Oliver is acting on his own, and there are definitely gonna be some serious consequences to that, both in terms of his relationships and in terms of his emotional journey in the episode. It’s a very tricky spot that Oliver’s put himself in, and I hope the audience gets the sense that there’s a good explanation as to why Oliver placed himself in this position. Someone will basically ask him, ‘how do you expect to undo all the damage you did once all’s said and done?’ and Oliver has a pretty definitive answer to that question.
Diggle (David Ramsey) probably has more reason to mistrust Oliver than most after he kidnapped Lyla — how damaged is their relationship at this point?
It’s pretty well and truly damaged. It’s so damaged that we didn’t feel like it could be resolved in one episode, as that would minimize the very serious problems that Dig has with Oliver’s choices. We’ll be seeing the ramifications of this into season four.
Felicity (Emily Bett Rickards) has been through the emotional wringer this season — where do she and Oliver stand now?
It’s not in a good situation at the start. Oliver’s married and certainly I think Felicity will have an opinion on that, and I’d say that the episode really pivots on Oliver, Felicity and Diggle, that core trinity, and everyone’s reactions are not going to be uniform. Dig is not going to say the things that Felicity’s going to say; Felicity’s not going to say the things Dig is going to say; it’s a complex situation and people will have complex reactions to it. But we’re taking head-on all the questions that the last four episodes have raised, and hopefully answering them to everyone’s satisfaction.
The episode promo reveals that Barry (Grant Gustin) also makes an appearance. How does he play into the events of the finale?
He’s pretty pivotal — one can say the whole episode doesn’t happen without his involvement. One of the tricky things about doing this shared universe of superheroes is… how do things work when you could just call up The Flash and ask him to help out? How do you maintain any level of tension or dramatic uncertainty? Hopefully that question gets answered by this episode. I think Barry’s appearance is pivotal and it’s also a lot of fun — he arrives from Central City, bringing with him that much lighter tone of “Flash,” and it’s just great fun to see Grant back on “Arrow” and back in the suit, and I think he kind of steals the show.
How does the finale tie into The CW’s newly announced “DC’s Legends of Tomorrow” spinoff, particularly in regards to Ray (Brandon Routh)?
Ray definitely gets a very definitive send off in this episode. It’s really designed to be a series finale for “Arrow,” it’s not designed to be a kickoff for “Legends.” That said, Ray’s final scene gives you a pretty good indication as to where he’s headed in “Legends” as a character. So as far as Ray’s concerned, it’s sort of a soft launch into “Legends.” My hope is, it’s designed to all feel organic and all of a piece, so the send off for Ray is part and parcel with his journey of the year and I think it works within the context of this episode of “Arrow” without really having to be a lead-in to “Legends.”
Thea (Willa Holland) has evolved considerably this season and now she has Roy’s (Colton Haynes) costume — could we see her operating as more of a lone wolf given everything she’s been through, or will she want to be part of a team now she knows the stakes?
The finale gives a pretty definitive answer to that question and the finale does two important things with respect to Thea: number one, it ties a nice bow around the relationship she’s had with Malcolm [John Barrowman] all season — that’s a storyline that gets a pretty definitive end, and the finale also sets her up for the next chapter of her story. I don’t want to spoil what either one of those two things will be, but I think if you’re a fan of Thea and you’ve been watching her all season long, her evolution and relationship with Malcolm, both of those items really get checked off pretty substantially.
Laurel (Katie Cassidy) also found her purpose this season as Black Canary — where does she go from here?
We’ve seen her go through various stages of grief; we’ve seen her really come into her own as a hero; what remains for her is repairing the relationship with her father. Paul [Blackthorne] and Katie, who are always terrific together, have a pivotal scene, a very emotionally resonant scene. What I like about it is that it doesn’t put a tidy bow on everything; it’s a little messy, it’s not the usual she apologizes, he says “no way will I ever forgive you,” but at the same time, it’s not a hug and kiss at the end of it either. Their scene together — which I give all the credit to Katie and Paul for just acting the hell out of it — really feels real; it feels like both characters are having a real moment and we’re evolving their relationship. If you’ve been watching Laurel and Lance throughout the season, this should be satisfying for you.
What can you tease about the trajectory of season four — will HIVE still play a major role?
We’re kind of doing a lot more in terms of the big bad for next year than we have in previous season finales. We first heard about Damien Darhk in episode 321 and there’s a pivotal sequence that surrounds Damien Darhk in the season three finale, so that’s exciting. It feels like we’re pulling a “True Blood” or a “Sons of Anarchy” where the big bad for the following year is teed up in the season finale of this year, so that’s kind of exciting for me because that’s something we’ve never seen before.
Looking back at the season as a whole, what are you most proud of?
I think for better or for worse, I read the internet and I understand people are getting plot-twist fatigue, but personally I think we end the season with a run of episodes that were so twisty and turny and each one seemed to be more surprising than the next. I’m really proud of that. One of my litmus tests is, do we feel like we won’t be able to top it next season? And I certainly feel like we basically blew up the show and that continues on through the finale, so I’m really proud of that, because it’s something you can’t repeat — obviously you can’t blow up the show every year, so it’s exciting to me. The finale, when we finished writing it, I jokingly said I want to call it “Sticking the Landing” because there’s so many plot twists — and the thing about all the plot twists is, it’s all well and good but you’ve got to be able to explain it on the B-side, and all those questions have got to get answered, and at the same time you want it to be an entertaining episode on its own. It can’t just be 42 minutes of us reading Twitter and answering everyone’s questions, and knock on wood, I kind of feel like it’s satisfying in that regard. It answers the questions you have; it sets up new ones that hopefully people will carry into season four; it’s a very definitive ending…
People ask me, “does it end on a cliffhanger” and it really depends on your definition of a cliffhanger, because if your definition of a cliffhanger includes, “well how can they possibly continue to do this show after this episode?” then yes, this is very much a cliffhanger. [Laughs.] At the same time, it probably could function as a series finale if that’s the route we were going, but we’re at work on season four and I’m excited about what we’ve come up with.
The “Arrow” season three finale airs Wednesday, May 13 at 8 p.m. on The CW.