When “Arrow” returns from its winter hiatus, the show will have a lot of balls in the air: Diggle has been captured and thrown in jail; Felicity is reeling from the death of her boyfriend Billy Malone; Oliver is struggling with his own guilt as well as his role as mayor; and Prometheus now has unparalleled access to Team Arrow and their secrets, but no one seems to know who he is or where he came from. Now, to top it all off, Laurel is somehow back from the dead.
Executive producer Wendy Mericle opened up to CBR about the upcoming mid-season premiere “Who Are You?” and beyond and addressed how the show will juggle all of these plotlines in addition to the introduction of new vigilante Tina Boland, the arrival of Talia al Ghul and Oliver’s burgeoning relationship with Susan Williams.
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CBR: Let’s start off with something I’m sure you’re getting a lot of today: Laurel. Obviously, her return was a stunning reveal, but Oliver has got a ton of his plate right now. Is her storyline going to be a slow burn, or can we expect that mystery to be resolved pretty quickly?
Mericle: I think the mystery will be resolved pretty quickly, and — for us — it was the idea of her bringing her back and having her show up when she did… as you pointed out, Oliver is in a very dark place, and bad stuff is just happening, so she’s a little ray of sunshine there.
Was it always the plan to bring her back, or was that more of an organic storytelling decision that happened along the way?
It was the second. You know, we always keep in mind all the people that have been on the show. We always want to find a way to bring them back. If it is story dependent and when we can find the right place for it, that’s when we do it, and we just pray the actor is available. We got lucky this time. We happened to hit on this idea, and Katie [Cassidy] had some time in her schedule, and it all worked out.
After everything that’s happened recently, would you describe Oliver as suspicious of Laurel and the timing of her return?
I think, for Oliver, he’s in such a dark place and he’s so looking for any source of hope and light, that — when she shows up — he’s sort of lowers his guard a little bit. He is, by nature, the most skeptical of the team, and yet — when he sees her — I think he just wants some break in the clouds. He latches onto this idea that she is who she says she is.
Will we see her interact with any other members of Team Arrow in the mid-season premiere?
Yes, absolutely, and we’re going to get what I hope are some really fun reactions from Rory and Rene and Curtis, who — to be fair to them — have not been part of the show up till now. They don’t know that we constantly bring people back from the dead here. [laughs] And so, for them, it’s nothing short of a miracle, which is just a really sort of fun, interesting thing to play for all three of them.
Speaking of Oliver’s love life, Susan Williams has been acting a little shady lately. Will we find out what she’s after sooner rather than later?
Yeah, Susan definitely has a very specific drive. I think what’s cool about where we’re taking her is, yes, we’re going to find out what she’s up to and how much she knows in the back half of the season, but — starting in [season] 5 [episode] 7 — they have a really genuine connection. I think she is, for all of her journalistic ulterior motives, also a really good person and they have a genuine chemistry. So, it’s going to get complicated for her and for him as well. It’s not going to be as straightforward as a reporter exposing some truth about the mayor. It’s going to be complicated by the fact they genuinely care about each other.
Can you tease what Talia al Ghul’s character is like?
Well, I can tease that she’s not what she seems, and that — when Oliver finds out who she really is — it’s a massive gut punch for him. He did not see it coming.
Diggle has always been good in a fight, but his upcoming trial isn’t the kind he’s used to. Does he have any tricks up his sleeve?
Yeah, well, I can tell you he’s not going to be punching his way out of jail this time. We just saw him do that in [season] 5 [episode] 4, and — as fun as that was — I think he recognizes… he has to take a different approach. And he is! He has some tricks up his sleeve, as always, and one of those tricks is Felicity. Felicity is going to be very, very crucial in getting him on the other side of this challenge and, also, Dig is really going to be dealing with the ramifications of that. Felicity is going to be doing some pretty questionable things to get the evidence that she needs.
Felicity has obviously suffered a pretty major loss. Is she going to take some time off, or does she throw herself right back into work?
I think we actually wanted to do something different this year with her, and Felicity has always been super smart, super capable, but she fundamentally never really had something that’s her own. I think what this is, this is going to kick her off on this revenge story and she’s going to experience a lot of what Oliver experienced in the first season, in the sense that she’s going to on a pretty dark path towards revenge. I think it’s going to be less about throwing herself into her work and more about how she’s going to avenge Malone’s death and get Prometheus once and for all, because she knows he’s the one ultimately responsible for what happened.
The mid-season premiere synopsis teases that Felicity will face off against someone as she tries to help Diggle. Would you say this is one of those elements that’s explicitly her own? Will this adversary continue to heckle her throughout the season?
It is. We’re definitely going to be kicking her off with a new organization and it’s going to take her to some pretty interesting places and also reconnect her with pieces of her past. We’re really excited about this new path for her.
What can you tell us about Tina Boland? Is she going to factor into the rest of the season?
She’s going to factor into the back half of the season. She comes into the story in a really interesting way. She’s like Oliver, has lost somebody and is hellbent for revenge. She is an amazing fighter. She has a lot of skills, and she’s very much a peer of Oliver, so they have an instant connection since they’ve both been through a version of hell. It’s ultimately him that’s going to show her a different way to do this — a different way to get revenge than just killing people.
Was Tina created for the show, or was she a character from the comics that has been repurposed?
We’re going to reveal her to be somebody very much connected to the comics.
Between Laurel, Diggle, Felicity, Prometheus and his job as mayor, Oliver has a lot of balls in the air. How is he juggling all of that when we return?
He’s struggling! I mean, one of the things that we’ve really enjoyed playing with Oliver… for the first time on the show, he’s had a real job where he’s accountable. People are depending on him! In the beginning of the year, he did not take the mayoral stuff seriously at all, and — as the season’s evolved — he’s really starting to, and I think it’s for a couple of reasons. One, he’s finding that he’s actually pretty good at politics, and second, he’s really questioning whether or not this is the right way — maybe the mayor is a better path in terms of helping the city and helping people that don’t have a voice. So, I think for as many balls as he has in the air, there are new balls and there are new possibilities and these new paths that are opening up to him that are different than the ones we’ve seen him explore in the past and, therefore, are kind of exciting. I think, for as much as he’s struggling with the guilt of what happened Malone and also obviously getting down to business and finally finding out who Prometheus is and finding out how to capture him and stop him. He’s got hope! He’s got hope in the form of the mayor’s office and this burgeoning relationship with Susan Williams.
In the flashbacks, Oliver has a very simple goal: kill Kovar. But are we going to find out Kovar’s endgame as well?
Oh, we are! Once we cast Dolph Lundgren, we knew it was a game changer, so we’re very excited about Kovar. We have a great plan in store for the back half of the season and how they’re going to finally face each other down and what that final battle is going to look like. It’s going to be cool to see Stephen [Amell] and Dolph trading blows.
Now that she’s suited up for the “Invasion!” crossover, will Thea take on a more active role in Team Arrow?
You know, we bring her into the costume at different moments. It was an alien invasion; as she quipped in the episode, “We’re fighting aliens, it’s time to do it!” But I think Thea’s arc this season is really much more about trying to be normal. What she was trying to accomplish in Season 4 and ultimately failed to do she felt was a result of being a vigilante. So, this season, she’s only going to get into that costume when circumstances are really dire and, obviously, things usually get pretty bad around right around May every year, so we’ll see what she ends up doing at the end of the season, but I think — for most of the time — she’s trying to just focus on politics and helping her brother in the mayor’s office.
Starring Stephen Amell as the Emerald Archer, “Arrow” airs at 8 pm ET/PT on The CW. The series also stars Emily Bett Rickards, David Ramsey, John Barrowman, Willa Holland and more. “Arrow’s” fifth season returns to the CW on January 25.
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