The CW's Wednesday night hit "Arrow" may have long ago been renewed for a second season, but show runner Marc Guggenheim tells CBR News that the producers have kept their eyes on the Season Finale target from the beginning.
Tonight, the drama adaptation of DC Comics' Green Arrow character sets up for its final confrontations with its second-to-last hour of the season. Titled "Darkness On The Edge of Town," the episode prepares Oliver Queen (Stephen Amell) to face down "The Undertaking" -- a secret scheme by Malcolm Merlyn (John Barrowman) to literally wipe the struggling Glades neighborhood off the Starling City map. In the midst of all this, Ollie's relationships begin to fall apart and his sister and Roy Harper (Coulton Haynes) work to track the vigilante known as the Hood down. The episode marks what Guggenheim calls part one of a real two-part finale with May 15's "Sacrifice."
CBR News spoke with Guggenheim (who co-wrote episode 23 with partner Andrew Kresiberg based on a story from executive producer Greg Berlanti), and below, the writer explains how the recent run of twists and turns were setting the table for "Arrow's" long terms goals, what new revelations will come with the final two island flashbacks, whether Oliver can survive The Undertaking and what will be left of his relationships with Laurel, Tommy and more after the season finale. Plus, a clip from "Darkness On The Edge of Town!"
CBR News: Marc, it looks like the "Arrow" writing staff has been working to shake things up as the season reaches its finale. Two weeks back, the episode ended with a breaking of a bunch of key relationships, and last week, we had a different reunion of sorts as Oliver broke his step father out of Malcolm Merlyn's safe house. With all those changes, how are you pulling the threads together in the last two weeks of the year?
Marc Guggenheim: I think we had a lot of the end of the season arced out at the beginning of the season. There was a lot of table setting we needed to do to get there, and we had to sort of move various chess pieces into position for episodes 22 and 23, which are really more of a two-part finale. Like in chess, the different pieces positions relative to each other create a dynamic that we were looking for. Everything is really set at the top of 22 that will take you on a rocket ride for the last two episodes.
We know we're on the cusp of "The Undertaking" -- Malcolm's plan to destroy the Glades section of Starling City with a manufactured disaster. Some characters know what that is specifically, but the cards feel largely in Malcolm's hand at this point. Why give him the power?
I think the two main things we wanted to establish leading up to the last two episodes was to get all the cards on the table in terms of the information. We wanted you to know exactly what it is Malcolm had planned so there was no mystery left in that regard. Giving Malcolm the upper hand was a big piece because we wanted to feel like Oliver doesn't have any hope of beating Malcolm. In fact, that's even more true at the beginning of 23 than it is at the beginning of 22. Whatever hope he has at the beginning of the next episode is gone by its end. Oliver's left feeling there's no way he could beat Malcolm and that any attempt to do so will lead to his own death.
Well, the story of "Arrow" is one of a guy who's cocky and needs to get knocked down before building himself back up. There's no way that whole journey can be complete by the end of just the first season, right?
What I'll tell you is this. We always say that each season we try to arc out what Oliver's character arc is for the year. This season was all about Oliver trying to build himself back up, and it's not to say that he wont' be taken down some other pegs. But he came back from Lian Yu with the very specific mission of crossing names off his father's list. And by the end of the season, I think it'll be pretty clear that he's now something greater than that. He's more than a glorified hitman. He's actually is trying to save the city. So his whole mission statement has changed over the course of Season 1, and that was a big evolution for him. Assuming he survives the events of the finale, we'll be setting up another arc and another evolution for him in Season 2.
Speaking of Ollie's time on the island, two weeks back you left the crew there with a big clffhanger as it seemed Yao Fei had defected -- and then the next week, you didn't flash back because you were explaining what The Undertaking was!
That was very much by design!
But there is a big confrontation coming for the island story as well, though in that case we know Oliver has four years left on that place before coming back. How do you ratchet up the tension there when in part the end point is known to the audience?
It does have its own challenges. I will say that the finale of the flashback story feels every bit as much of a finale as the story in the present. We're driving their towards its own season finale, and that's what the flashbacks in 22 do. They set the table for the end game. And Oliver obviously doesn't die on the island. Everybody knows that. But the question is really one of "What is Fyers plan? Will Oliver be able to stop it? What new level of development is he going to have to find, or what new gear will he have to find in order to stop Fyers?" That's really what the last two flashback episodes are about, and that sets the table for where the flashbacks will go in Season 2.
The spark that lit the fuse for all the big conflicts in the present was the episode Geoff Johns wrote a few weeks back where Tommy found out that Oliver was the vigilante. That pushed the domino pieces forward, and the latest one to fall was Oliver admitting he still had feelings for Laurel. I think the love triangle is where people have been expecting Tommy to tip towards the Merlyn family side of this fight. What kind of resolution did you look to create there?
If you think the Olvier/Tommy relationship is fraught now, wait until you see 22. Episode 22 really removes all the secrets between the three characters in the love triangle. Tommy, Oliver and Laurel really find out truths about each other that ratchets up the tension. And the whole focus of 23 -- aside from the pyrotechnics of The Undertaking and the plot mechanics of The Undertaking -- is to explode that love triangle and drive towards moments between those three characters that the love triangle exists to set up.
The other piece of the puzzle fans have been waiting for is Roy Harper's bigger role in the story. He and Thea have now dedicated themselves to meeting the vigilante, and I've got to assume that Roy will meet Oliver as a result. In that way and across the finale, how are you working to start setting more pieces of the classic Green Arrow character in place within the world of the show?
I think that both episodes offer two big steps in that direction. I don't think I'm spoiling everything by saying that we don't get all the way there by the end of episode 23, but in 22, Oliver and Roy do have their first meeting. We know that Roy met the Hood back in episode 18, but this marks the first time he'll meet Oliver as Oliver. It's a really fun scene, and both Coulton [Haynes] and Stephen [Amell] really acted it extremely well. You talk about that being an iconic moment of Roy shaking hands with Oliver, and it is an iconic moment. But we still found a way to put our own little "Arrow" spin on it.
"Arrow's" "Darkness On The Edge of Town" episode, part one of the season finale, airs tonight at 8:00 Eastern and Pacific on The CW. Check out a clip from the episode below.