Though she's been a part of the show since the first season, "Arrow" Season Four saw Wendy Mericle step into a brand new role, that of co-showrunner. And in a season that has already introduced a major new villain in Damien Darhk (Neal McDonough) and featured a major crossover with "The Flash" that helps set up the third DC Comics-based CW series, "DC's Legends of Tomorrow," it goes without saying that she's had her work cut out for her.
Ahead of tonight's midseason premiere which features the aftermath of the attack on Oliver (Stephen Amell) and Felicity (Emily Bett Rickards), Mericle spoke with Managing Editor Albert Ching in the CBR Speakeasy about all things "Arrow," from her new responsibilities to the second half of Season Four. The conversation covers everything from whether we can expect Oliver to go Season One-style dark, what sets Damien Darhk apart from new villains and what the arrival of Vixen (Megalyn Echikunwoke) and return of Roy (Colton Haynes) mean for the series. All that, plus plenty of talk about how the writers manage to juggle the crossovers with seaso-long stories and how they're keeping fresh as the oldest superhero show currently on The CW.
In the first part of the conversation, Wendy Mericle explains how her role on "Arrow" has changed since Season One and what it means for her to become a co-showrunner on the CW series. She explains what themes "Arrow" is attempting to work with this season and whether the events of the midseason finale will lead to Oliver Queen returning to some of his darker former methods as the fight against Damien Darhk continues.
On making the transition to co-showrunner in "Arrow" Season Four:
It's funny, the way I describe it is just you get a lot more emails. [Laughs] You leave your desk for ten minutes, you come back, there are 40 emails for you. No, it's exciting. The guys had always created a very collaborative environment for everybody on the staff, but this season, just to be able to be in some of those high level conversations with the studio and the network about where we're headed and what we're doing, it's been very exciting. And to feel that I have a little bit more power and a little bit more say in terms of putting a stamp on the series, it's been a really exciting year.
On the main themes the show's writers wanted to explore this season:
The two main themes we are exploring this season are family and magic and we are going to be getting even more deeply involved in both of those with respect, not just to Oliver, but Felicity and Diggle and kind of exploring their backstories. Especially Dig, we're going to be resolving and exploring more some of the things he's been going through with his brother Andy. With Oliver we are going to see how he can take on Damien Darhk without actually wanting to explore magic on his own. Oliver, in the past, as we've seen with Baron Reiter is very nervous about exploring magic, believes that it can only lead to dark places. And in the back half of our season he's going to be challenged to explore magic from a different angle and see if he can use it for good.
In part two, Mericle discusses the season's "Flash" ties and what it's been like introducing new characters who will play a role on "Legends of Tomorrow" while still telling stories that stay true to the core of "Arrow," as well as whether fans can expect more Star City-based stories moving forward. Turning to the subject of Neal McDonough's Damien Darhk, the co-showrunner describes what it's been like creating a different kind of villain, how the writers attempt to keep "Arrow" from becoming stale as the "oldest child" in the CW's DC TV universe and what to expect from Vixen's live-action debut and the return of Roy.
On the challenges of telling crossover stories that tie into and set up storylines and characters from other series:
It's always a challenge. I mean, the crossover episodes are so popular and we get such a huge response from the fans that there's no way that we can't do them now. But logistically and schedule-wise, and with the actors, and now we're adding "Legends" into the mix, I think we really felt coming into the season that we'd mastered this whole thing with "Flash." "We've got this down, guys." And then bam, in comes "Legends" and we have to figure out a way to incorporate that so that we launch Hawkgirl and Hawkman out of that. And in addition, you know, we had to kind of get Ray Palmer back, explain what happened to him and launch him into "Legends," and the same with Sara Lance.
It's kind of both a blessing and a curse. You have a lot of story that you have to deal with and the hard part is how are you going to make it all work within the space of, really, nine episodes -- or fewer than that because you've gotta set up your season as well.
On how they attempt to keep the show fresh four seasons in as the veteran of the DC TV universe:
It's 100 percent true and we often feel that way, that we're the oldest child that has to watch all the younger ones get all the attention. [Laughter] But it's a couple of things, because we have that universe to contend with, which is just limited to The CW. But [Executive Producer] Greg Berlanti always says, and he's right, we're competing on a much larger scale. We're competing with all the Marvel stuff; we're competing with DC movies. I mean, this is the same audience and film and TV have converged to such an extent that you really do have to keep the caliber of the production values high and bringing in new characters is also a key thing. We've been so excited to have Echo [Kellum] on the show, we think he's a fantastic addition, and also Alexander Calvert's been amazing as Anarchy. Those are two characters we'd like to explore going forward in further seasons if we can, pending actor availability and all that stuff. But it's great, we do feel like we've reinvented the show a little bit this season. We've closed the first three chapters in the first three seasons and looking forward, looking ahead, you have to constantly grow your show, you have to constantly bring in new people and we've been really lucky to get great people for that.
On the return of Colton Haynes as Roy:
Roy will be coming back to the show in a very surprising way. He'll be, like Oliver, sort of falling back into some old habits. We just actually cut that episode and there's a scene between him and Thea that will hopefully make everybody cry, it's just amazing. Colton and Willa [Holland] are just gangbusters together onscreen.
In the final part of our conversation with Mericle, she explains how "Arrow" always keeps Oliver Queen at the center of all stories even while it tries to balance an increasing supporting cast and tell different kinds of stories. Mericle also comments on what it was like growing up without a television and what series from her time before TV she's discovered in the years since.
On how the writers manage Team Arrow and the show's supporting cast as well as Oliver Queen's storylines:
It's tricky. When we break the stories, the first character we talk about is Oliver whether it's a Dig episode or a Felicity episode or whoever we might be focusing on that week. It always has to in some way involve Oliver. He has to be active, and ideally it has some emotional resonance for him. That said, I feel like this season, more than in previous years even, we've allowed ourselves to stray from the model and the way we've been breaking episodes in the past and to really explore more what is it like to have an episode where maybe Oliver does take a little bit more of a back seat. We've seen Dig step up and be a leader, and we've seen more Felicity-centric episodes as well, so I think -- you have to do it gradually, you have to be smart about it, you don't want to alienate the audience that is there just to see Oliver Queen kick ass and go through big challenges. But you do also, to keep it alive, to keep it interesting, you do want to expand the universe a little bit.