With super-powered heroes like the Flash and high science villains like Professor Ivo and Amazo scheduled to arrive in Starling City, does that mean the more real world style action of “Arrow’s” first year will fall to the wayside? Not really, says show runner and executive producer Marc Guggenheim.
Ahead of tonight’s season premiere, Guggenheim spoke with CBR News about what’s planned for “Arrow’s” second year. The writer explains how characters with powers won’t overpower Starling City in Season 2, why the fallout from the shocking finale to last year’s run will remain an important event in the show for some time to come, how the flashbacks to Oliver Queen’s years on the island will get darker as his present persona gets a shot of humor and the way a mystery figure will shake up the entire cast before too long.
CBR News: Marc, we’ve talked about the general plans for Season 2 already, but since we had that conversation at Comic-Con [International], there has been a lot of news about the show — particularly in terms of guest stars. From the Flash to Professor Ivo, the characters appearing in Season 2 seem to be different from, say, the Royal Flush Gang in Season 1. There seems to be a growing super power bent, and I wondered if that’s impacted “Arrow’s” tone as a more gritty, realistic show?
Marc Guggenheim: You know, not as far as I’m concerned. I know that that’s been the perspective, and I guess I’d call that “the Flash effect.” People know that we’re introducing Barry Allen into the show and that eventually Barry will get the super powers of the Flash. My guess is that that’s led to an overall impression about super powers. I don’t think we’ve really gone in a more superhero direction. For example, Black Canary’s costume is very much in line with the Arrow’s and the Huntress’ costumes from last year in terms of it feeling grounded and of our world. We’ve got Bronze Tiger in episode 2, and he’s not wearing a “costume” per se. He’s wearing a leather jacket that has nods to the idea of Bronze Tiger, but I still think it’s a very grounded approach.
I always want to leave it up to the audience what we’re doing, but from my perspective, we haven’t radically changed the tone of the show. When you talk about bringing Black Canary on or Barry Allen, it gives the impression that we’re going more superhero than we were last year, but I don’t necessarily think that’s the case.
So, how do things carry on from last year? We know that the finale of Season 1 had a huge impact on Starling City and Oliver personally, but there is also a wide range of cast members, from Moira Queen to Roy Harper, who have their own fallout from that story. What’s the best way to pick up on all of that?
One of the things we talked about a great deal in the writer’s room is that things cannot return to normal immediately. You really have to feel the effects of the season finale in terms of Tommy’s death, in terms of the city being destroyed, in terms of the Arrow losing to Malcolm Merlyn, ultimately, and even in terms of Moira’s confession. Everything that happened in the finale has to have aftershocks that reverberate not just in the Season 2 premiere, but throughout the season. One of the rules we’ve created for ourselves is looking at each episode and asking ourselves, “Could we have told this story in Season 1?” And if the answer was yes, we’d jettison it or revise it. We really want to focus on telling stories that would not have been possible last year. And that’s all because of the consequences of that season finale. Unlike a lot of shows where you feel like there’s a big finale and then everything returns back to the status quo, we really wanted our season finale to be an agent of change into Season 2. So the aftershocks — no pun intended — of the earthquake will really reverberate throughout the opening episodes of Season 2.
As much as we’ve been able to talk about the new character debuting in the present, maybe the story on the island has gotten a bit of short shrift. There were some big aftershocks due there with Slade, Shado and the rest of that cast. As you’ve been ramping up the present, what did you want to do as counterpoint on the island?
I guess our goals were two-fold. Our first goal came because last year, the present day story was very well mapped out. We knew exactly where we were headed, but with the flashbacks last year, we didn’t quite know where we were going. Part of that reason was because we didn’t know how much story we were going to be able to tell there from a production standpoint. But this season, we know how to do that better since we’ve already done 23 episodes, so the goal became to plan out the flashback story as much as we do with the present day story.
Goal #2 was, as Oliver in the present day tries to become a hero, the stories become more aspirational. We wanted the island to counterpoint to that. The island really is a lot darker this year, and the stuff that Oliver is going through is a lot more horrible. As the tone may get more aspirational in the present day, we need to contrast that in the past. So the first flashback you’ll see in episode 1 of Season 2 is a pretty harsh reminder that we’ll be going pretty dark there across the season.
Though the show is very gritty, there has been a lot of humor, as well. In particular, Stephen Amell as Oliver has often found opportunities to be snarky. What kinds of things did you learn from the cast as a whole, and what were your goals in terms of giving them new material to play with this year?
I think whenever you work with a cast, it’s a symbiotic relationship in that you’re sort of intuiting what’s in their wheelhouse. On the one hand, you’re writing towards that, while on the other hand, you’re trying to push their performance in challenging directions. Our writing is always evolving, just as their performances are always evolving. You’re really in this almost telepathic communication with them.
We definitely started writing more humor for Oliver in Season 2, and Stephen came back from the hiatus ready to play. I think some of the best moments in Season 2 are thanks to his performance. Sometimes it’s just a look, but there’s little moments of levity throughout the series that are a testament to the extra colors Stephen and the other cast members have brought to their performances.
The big breakout character of Season 1 in many ways was Felicity Smoak, as played by Emily Bett Rickards, since she was meant to be a one-off and ended up becoming a huge part of the show. Is there anything you’ve found so far in Season 2 that’s similarly taken the writers by surprise and may become a bigger part of the story?
I would say that there’s a character introduced — I don’t want to say in which episode — who sparks a lot of story that will effect a lot of our characters and will continue to do so for the rest of the season. It’s a spoiler, so I’ve got to play coy about it. The other thing I’d say in terms of surprises is, Thea and Moira — played by Willa [Holland] and Susanna [Thompson] — have some really wonderful, wonderful scenes together in the continuing storyline dealing with Moira’s trial. It’s been really wonderful and gratifying to see them just take this material and make it their own and knock it out of the park. Every time we do a notes call with the network and the studio regarding a cut of an episode, they never fail to go, “Wow. Those scenes with Willa and Susanna are really phenomenal.” And they are! I think Moira’s storyline this year has given Susanna something different to play and Willa something different to play. We’ve always been very frank about how in the beginning of Season 1 it was difficult to keep Thea from just being a whiney teenager. One of the things we’ve done in Season 2 is to see that, of all the characters, Thea may be the only one who’s in a better place as a result of the circumstances of the finale. It’s really allowed Thea to come into her own as a person and Willa to imbue the character with so many more colors than she had before.
“Arrow’s” second season kicks off tonight at 8:00 Eastern and Pacific on The CW.