It’s almost the end of an era on Arrow — this season will be the last season of flashbacks.
The CW’s DC Comics series was first lauded for its heavy use of flashbacks to tell the story of how Oliver Queen (Stephen Amell) survived in the five years he was missing/presumed dead after his boat sunk while simultaneously telling the present day story of his return to real life in Star City. However, later seasons presented weaker and weaker flashback storylines. Critics and fans alike could tell that some flashback stories were just a way to stall and kill time. But now, in year five, Arrow is finally telling the flashback story that fans have been dying to see ever since it was first teased back in the series premiere: how Oliver, an entitled, rich party boy who was supposedly living alone on a “deserted” island for five years, became fluent in Russian and ended up a captain in the Bratva, the Russian mob. After that shocking reveal in the series premiere, Arrow has held off on showing exactly how that came to be … until now.
“We have a lot of what we call ‘long cons’ on the show and this is definitely one of them,” executive producer Marc Guggenheim tells Nerdist. “It’s funny, we had actually started to talk about doing it in year three. And then we started talking about doing it in year four. At the end of every season, we said, ‘Oh, next year we’re going to do Russia.’ For a variety of different reasons, we kept putting it off. But here we are, it’s the fifth and final year of the flashbacks and we’re ready to do it.”
When the Arrow showrunners choose what each season’s flashback storyline is going to be, Guggenheim reveals that some have been plotted out from the very beginning of the show while others develop organically as time goes on.
“We had a bunch of different ideas,” Guggenheim says. “We never really organized them as, ‘This is going to be year one, this is going to be year two.’ But we always had a wide variety of different ideas. We always knew at the end of season two, Oliver would get knocked out and wake up and not be on the island. We had that idea while we were filming the pilot. And we plant these little flags throughout, saying, ‘We’ll get to this moment at one point, we’ll get to this point at another moment.’ That’s been our approach.”
This season’s flashback storyline is going to span an entire year, the final, missing year of Oliver’s disappearance, bringing us to where the pilot first picked up with Oliver getting discovered on Lian Yu by a fishing boat. Since this is the last year of flashbacks, what does that mean for the core DNA of the series moving forward?
“That’s really next year’s problem,” Guggenheim says with a laugh. “My instinct is that we’ll shake some stuff up as we always do in season six. Last year, we experimented with episodes that didn’t have any flashback components. We’ve been experimenting all along with episodes that have flashback components that aren’t tied to a serialized narrative. The way I look at it is those are all now tools that we have in our toolbox. We can do episodes that flash back to an non-island period, we can do episodes that don’t have flashbacks, we do a mini-arc of flashbacks, we might even do a flashforward one day. More than anything, it will just open up our storytelling opportunities if we could choose for each episode an approach that’s appropriate.”
By the end of the season five premiere, Oliver began his bloody, brutal initiation into the Bratva. Fans know that he is obviously successful in that endeavor, since he somehow winds up becoming a captain in less than a year.
“I would describe Oliver’s initiation into the Bratva as spanning the length of the first chapter of the season,” Guggenheim says. “The end of the first chapter of the flashback story this season is Oliver becoming a member of the Bratva. People who watched season one know that that’s not the end of that story because there’s becoming a member of the Bratva and then there’s him eventually becoming a captain of the Bratva. That’s a story we’ve been looking forward to telling, how he becomes the captain.”
Something that really excited the Arrow showrunners was introducing the flashback villain, Mr. Kovar, since they were able to get iconic movie villain Dolph Lundgren to play the formidable role.
“You’ll meet him in episode 6,” Guggenheim says. “His first day of dailies were so strong that we figured out a way to expand his involvement, not in a huge way but slightly beyond the original three episodes that we had initially contracted him for.”
As for just how they got Lundgren to appear on the show, Guggenheim reveals it was easier than he thought it would be.
“We knew we were going to have this character, and originally he was only going to be in three episodes,” Guggenheim says. “So we thought, if it’s only for three episodes, maybe we can spend some money and stunt cast. I hate using that phrase, but when you are going to get someone for a limited period of time, it opens you up to a wider variety of actors since you’re not asking them for a long-term commitment. Brian Ford Sullivan, one of the writers, threw out Dolph’s name. I was like, ‘That’s never going to happen, but yeah, sure. Why not try?'”
He continues, “Our amazing casting people reached out to Dolph’s people, he was interested, and it really happened as easily as that. And Dolph has not just been terrific on camera, but he’s just the most lovely person and a total team player. He’s been fantastic.”
Expect Kovar to be unlike any of the villains Oliver has faced before, both in the present and flashbacks.
“By virtue of this character and the way we’re writing him and the way Dolph is performing him, he’s a wonderful mix in a way that we often haven’t had on the show in that his character is very erudite, but at the same time, he’s Dolph Lundgren so he’s very physically imposing,” Guggenheim says. “That’s a combination that we haven’t always had on the show.”
Are you digging the Arrow flashbacks this season as much as I am? Tweet me your thoughts at @SydneyBucksbaum!
John Barrowman teases his role on Arrow this season:
Images: The CW