Oliver Queen (Stephen Amell) has finally embraced his comic book destiny and added a long overdue color to his superhero name, signifying his evolution into a lighter, less murderous kind of vigilante this season. But that’s a decision that may come back to haunt him, if the premiere’s chilling final moments are any indication, showing our Emerald Archer standing at the grave of an unidentified casualty with Barry Allen (Grant Gustin), six months after he and Felicity (Emily Bett Rickards) decided to return to Star City following their attempt at domesticity. Did the villainous Damien Darhk (Neal McDonough) kill one of Oliver’s loved ones? Or perhaps the culprit was Darhk’s unwilling new ally, Quentin Lance (Paul Blackthorne), who has been coerced into helping Star City’s new Big Bad.
Below, “Arrow” showrunners Marc Guggenheim and Wendy Mericle share some hints about that mystery death, Darhk and Lance’s uneasy alliance and what’s ahead for Team Arrow this season.
Grave Threats: In the shared, superheroic world of “Arrow” and “The Flash,” deaths don’t always stick — especially with the introduction of the Lazarus Pit — but the producers insist that whoever’s in that grave at the end of the premiere is staying there.
“It’s not a fake-out. That’s not how we roll,” Guggenheim insisted. “It’ll feel organic and very earned. It’s actually very elegant.”
“They will stay dead,” Mericle promised.” We want to bring stakes back to the show, and so we’ll be finding a way to handle the Lazarus Pit portion in Season 4 in a new, inventive way that I can’t reveal. But it’ll be cool.”
The death will occur in six months within the world of the show, but the producers declined to give specifics about where in the season that will land, only that it will happen before the finale. “There will be time afterwards but we’re not going to tell you when it’s going to happen because that would actually really be a real big spoiler, because then you’re just waiting for it to happen: ‘Oh, it’s episode X.’ We’re not going to say when episode X is,” Guggenheim laughed.
Put a Ring on It: Oliver and Felicity were the picture of domestic bliss for all of 15 minutes, but even if civilian life didn’t work out for them, their relationship has certainly progressed this season, as evidenced by the engagement ring Oliver was toting in the premiere.
“We were breaking the premiere with Greg [Berlanti] actually… Greg had said, ‘I wish there was some way we could dramatize where their relationship was,’ and Wendy and I were like, ‘Well…’ When we threw it out, I don’t think either one of us really thought Greg would go for it. Greg was like, ‘That’s awesome! Totally do that!'” Guggenheim recalled. “What it does is it does dramatize, in a very clear way, not only where they are, but when Oliver hides the ring essentially, we’re also dramatizing the fact that, OK, he’s with Felicity, they’re together, but things are not the same as they were back in Ivytown. We want to get at that concept that their relationship had changed now that they’re back in Star City, but how do you do that? So that’s how we came up with the ring.”
As for when Oliver will finally pop the question, Guggenheim would only say, “You’ve got to watch the show!”
Felicity will make a new friend in Curtis Holt (Echo Kellum) — aka Mr. Terrific — this season, in part to give Felicity a friend outside the team. “He’s amazing. Echo Kellum is just fun and we love him,” Guggenheim enthused. “He really is a way for us to eventually bring on a member of the team who has a tech background, but he’s also somebody for Felicity to talk to and have scenes with. With Ray Palmer, obviously, moving on to greener pastures, we needed somebody and we pulled Mr. Terrific from the comic books and cast Echo and it just turned out to be one of those things that was just everything we hoped for. It’s just very magical. They’re great together.”
On the family front, Guggenheim said, “Felicity’s dad remains a topic… We were talking about it in the room the other day. We’re always talking about it. I think we have to find the right story and the right moment. I guess we trust our own process, that it will come to us when it’s meant to come to us. Just like with the comics, how we don’t sit there with a check list. We don’t sit there with a list of cards we want to turn over. We have a deck of cards we know we can turn over, but it’s about finding the right moment — not just doing it to do it.”
Fantasy Island: The premiere’s flashbacks took Oliver from Coast City (where we were tantalizingly teased with a guy wearing a flight jacket emblazoned with the name Jordan) back to Lian Yu. What awaits him there?
“A couple things. He’s going to encounter who we hope is a love interest, a woman that he is going to fall in love with, and he’s also going to encounter a lot of magic and mysticism on the show and that is going to inform what he is dealing with in Star City in present day with Damien Darhk,” teased Mericle.
That mysticism will help when John Constantine (Matt Ryan) makes an appearance in episode 405. “I can tell you it’s really cool,” Guggenheim previewed. “We’ve got all the props, we got all the original costumes, we got the original Matt Ryan. For us, when we finished watching the first cut of it, we were like, ‘You know what, this feels like a legitimate crossover.’ It feels like we’ve crossed over with the other show.”
Free Lance: Quentin Lance has obviously made a deal with the devil in working with Damien Darhk, but all is not necessarily as it appears. “You’ll see later in the season that he did not know what he was necessarily signing up for and so we’re going to play it really as a crisis for Lance in terms of why he chose to do it and what it means for him,” Mericle said. “He’s always been the moral center of the show and someone who’s lorded his morality over Oliver’s — and when this all comes to a head, it’s going to be very interesting to see how those two characters work it out.”
That choice will also inevitably affect Laurel (Katie Cassidy), according to Mericle. “The overarching theme of the season is about chosen family versus blood family and she’s really going to be dealing with Sara [Caity Lotz] coming back but also with her family on her team and also her dad when she discovers [him working with Damien], there are going to be ramifications for her and him as well.”
Digg-ing Deep: While viewers were no doubt thrilled to see the gang reunite, one member of Team Arrow wasn’t particularly thrilled to have Oliver return in the premiere. Diggle (David Ramsey) is still bearing an understandable grudge over his friend’s actions while Oliver was undercover with Ra’s al Ghul (Matt Nable) last season, and that friction will continue for some time, according to Mericle: “It’s something we want to explore, seeing them at odds and really honoring what Oliver did at the end of Season 3, which was pretty egregious. So it’s going to take some time, but they will get back on the same track.”
Diggle also kept his knowledge of HIVE and their involvement in his brother’s death a secret from the rest of the team this week, and Mericle said that secrecy is “really tied to his inability to make any headway. It’s his brother’s murder that he’s been trying to solve and the fact that he himself has been unable to get anywhere has both made him feel, I think, slightly ashamed and also he’s run into so many dead ends. There hasn’t been anywhere for him to go until now. He will eventually talk about it, but I think up until this point there hasn’t been a lot of reason to do so.”
But don’t expect flashbacks to Andy’s past with HIVE any time soon, per Guggenheim: “We decided to not be as aggressive with the non-island flashbacks that we were last year… Season one, we broke format and we did a flashback from Moira’s perspective in episode 21. That worked out so well we did more non-island flashbacks in season two, and that worked out so well we thought let’s do more in season three. But I think, for my money, we ended up doing too many. Every time you do a non-island or non-Hong Kong flashback, you stop that story so it prevents that story from gaining momentum. We just haven’t been aggressive. The first non-island flashback will happen in episode eight.”
While Diggle and Lance have both served as Oliver’s moral compass (or at least attempted to hold him accountable) in the past, Mericle said this season will see “Oliver finally have a little moral high ground to stand on. It’s also interesting to see both of those characters go to a dark place. They’ve both been through a lot of things but we haven’t really seen Digg have to, for lack of a better term, dig deep to find out what he’s capable of in the name of finding out about his brother. It’s a cool thing to take these characters on this journey and see where they end up and to really challenge them in that way… We will have some cool things where Digg and Lance find themselves on the other side of Oliver going on independent missions.”
No ‘I’ in Team: Now that Team Arrow has been operating without Oliver for months, we’ll see a shift in power in the team, according to Guggenheim. “I think everyone has learned their lessons from last year. I think the way we’re finding conflict in the show this year is very different from the past three years. It’s not as much about Oliver being angry or people being angry at Oliver. It’s not as based in secret-keeping as it was… I felt the team was pretty cohesive operating before Oliver gets back into town and I think you’ll see that cohesion continue into future episodes.”
“It’s going to be more democratic, for sure,” Mericle added. “Oliver can’t walk away and then come back and expect that Digg and Laurel and Thea have not found a new dynamic and a new way of working and they’re all very capable. It’s a very different way of doing the show and it puts Oliver in a different position vis-à-vis the team, which we found interesting.”
The Devil You Know: Last season saw a new Ra’s al Ghul take control of the League of Assassins: Malcolm Merlyn (John Barrowman). Mericle promises we won’t have to wait too long to see what he’s been up to. “You’ll see him early, and… his arc for the season is really revolving around Thea [Willa Holland] and trying to be a good father while also being the very evil, badass Ra’s al Ghul. I don’t know how you work that out, but if anyone can do it, it’s Malcolm and John Barrowman playing him.”
He probably won’t be winning any father of the year awards, but Mericle noted, “He’s going to be different with respect to Thea, we hope — we would like him to find a way to be a father. He doesn’t really know what that means as a character. That said, we do want to restore him to more of the season one Malcolm who was going around and messing up Oliver’s plans and anyone else he can cross paths with.”
Darhkness Falls: As evidenced in the premiere, Damien Darhk is a force to be reckoned with — and not least because of his own mystical powers. He’ll differ from the show’s previous villains in key ways, according to Guggenheim. “In Malcolm, in Ra’s and in Slade, they all thought they were doing the right thing. They had their own nobility. Not so much with Damien. Damien really could give a f–k whether you think he’s noble… And he’s really enjoying having no conscience. It’s very freeing for him. And there aren’t a lot of actors who can pull that off and make it compelling and make it interesting to watch every week. But the moment we saw Neal on screen we just found ourselves in the writer’s room going, ‘Oh yeah, Damien’s in this episode. Damien’s in this episode.’ He’s in the show a lot. It’s not every week Team Arrow versus Damien because that would get really stupid and repetitive, but we found all these really interesting ways to keep the character of Damien involved in the drama of the show.”
“Arrow” airs Wednesdays at 8 p.m. on The CW.
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