While it isn't exactly a "very special episode," "Arrow" executive producers Marc Guggenehim and Wendy Mericle freely admit that tonight's installment of the DC Comics-based series isn't a typical one. Amid the superhero action, it takes on the very real issues of gun violence and gun control, and it's something Guggenehim wanted to do from the onset of the season.
"We went in to season five wanting to do an episode about an issue," Guggenheim told press including CBR during an event earlier this week at The CW's Burbank offices. "I'm old. This means that I grew up on 'St. Elsewhere' and 'Picket Fences' and 'L.A. Law.' I grew up in a time when it was commonplace, like literally every week, for a one-hour drama to tackle the issues of the day. Somewhere along the line, the whole industry got away from that. Now you've got 'Black-ish' and 'Carmichael Show,' but as far as network dramas are concerned, really not tackling current issues."
The episode, titled "Spectre of the Gun," deals with gun violence both in a present-day attack on Star City's City Hall, but also in flashbacks detailing a traumatic event in Wild Dog's (Rick Gonzalez) pre-vigilante life. For Guggenheim, guns were the natural issue to take on through the lens of "Arrow," given its timeliness and the show's prominent street-level violence.
Yet the episode also confronts broader issues of debate and discourse, something that Guggenheim said is more salient than ever -- the TV veteran and "X-Men Gold" writer said he wrote the first half of the episode before the United States' 2016 presidential election, and the second half afterwards.
"I think you can see, in the second half [of the episode], it's about guns and gun violence, but it's also about the state of discourse in our country," Guggenheim said. "Whether you voted for Trump or not, I think maybe the only thing we can agree on as Americans is that the country is as fractured now as it's ever been since the Civil War. My point of view and suggestion as a writer is, it happened because we stopped talking to each other."
Fitting the theme of the episode, it features fewer scenes of Oliver Queen (Stephen Amell) in action as the Green Arrow, and more of him in his role as mayor of Star City, as he seeks to take on the complicated issue of gun control not with fisticuffs, but with legislative policy.
"From a story perspective, it was really the challenge of figuring out what would an episode look like where we had to solve the problem of the week with Oliver Queen as mayor, as opposed to him gearing up as the Green Arrow," Mericle told reporters.
It was also important for both Guggenheim and Mericle that the episode didn't take any definitive sides on the issue. Some of Team Arrow are shown to be vocal proponents of the right to bear arms, some are clearly more in favor of stricter gun control -- and Felicity just wants everyone to stop arguing and focus on the mission. (No spoilers, but you can probably guess who's on what side.)
"You want to start a conversation," Mericle said. "At some point we did get away from that as a county, and we like the idea of hearing both sides as fairly as possible."
That idea was ingrained in Guggenheim following his experience writing for "The Practice," one of the many David E. Kelley creations -- such as the aforementioned "L.A. Law" and "Picket Fences" -- unafraid to take on hot topics.
"David always said, I'm not interested in the verdict, I'm just interested in both sides in the case having equal arguments," Guggenheim said. "Very intentionally, we didn't want to provide the answer to the audience to the problem of gun violence. We wanted to leave that open, almost as sort of a Rorschach test. One of the goals was to be as -- I'm sorry this phrase has been corrupted -- 'fair and balanced' to the issue as possible."
Based on the conversation, the "Arrow" EPs appeared up for potential further explorations of topical issues down the line -- Guggenheim pointed out that The CW and Warner Bros. Television were both "unbelievably supportive" of this venture -- but when asked by CBR if real-world politics may show up in less overt ways in the near future, Guggenheim downplayed the possibility.
"It's tough with a superhero show," Guggenheim replied. "I think one of the things Wendy and I have struggled with over the years on 'Arrow' is, every year we go into the season going, 'Yhis year, we're going to make it more about the city, and the city's going to be more of a character, and you're going to learn more about what's going on in the city.' It wasn't until this year where we actually really started doing that."
"It just shows how difficult just getting the city that the show is set in to influence the stories," Guggenheim continued. "Getting the rest of the country in is just hard."
No matter what, Guggenheim hopes that fans of the Arrowverse are open-minded about tonight's foray into a decidedly nonfiction issue.
"It's the fifth season," Guggenheim said. "We've hopefully earned the freedom. In 23 episodes of television, you can have 22 pieces of candy and one episode of vegetables. It's the best tasting broccoli you'll ever have."
The "Spectre of the Gun" episode of "Arrow" airs 8 tonight on The CW.