Tonight sees the return of the CW’s surprise smash hit Arrow. Many, including yours truly, were skeptical about another DC superhero program on the network that gave us ten seasons of Smallville, yes, but also the failed Birds of Prey and the pilot-only Aquaman. Arrow, however, benefited from a solid premise made stronger as the season progressed, a highly-cinematic shooting style, and not skimping out on the supervillainry. (We got Deadshot, Deathstroke, Count Vertigo, and the Royal Flush Gang all in one season!) What kind of things can we expect from the second season? We spoke to executive producer/co-head writer Andrew Kreisberg, star Stephen Amell, and co-star Emily Bett Rickards to get a hint of some answers to these very *ahem* pointed questions.
Most fans of the show will tell you that the first several episodes of the first season, with Oliver Queen brutally taking out names of bad people on his Failed-the-City list, were good but not necessarily great, and that a little before the halfway point, the show really picked up. This is a sentiment shared by its writers too. Said Kreisberg, “Around episodes 10, 11, 12 last year is when we as writers really found the groove of the show. I think we were still trying to discover it in the beginning. I think the storytelling this season will be tighter and cleaner from the get-go, because we figured out how to write Arrow.” He adds that once the premise for the show evolved, it was off to the races. “I think once we got it, we felt really good about it; it had a really strong run in the back half of Season 1, and I think these first few episodes of Season 2 are really continuing that.”
One of the most popular additions to the series while it was still finding its footing was that of Felicity Smoak, played by Emily Bett Rickards. She was meant at first only to a one-off character of a computer whiz working for Queen Consolidated, but eventually became Arrow’s permanent tech person. The fans of the show embraced her right away, and that has led to her being a full cast member this season. Of how the fan reaction colors her performance, Rickards says, “It lets me be a little more confident. It’s interesting, because at the same time Felicity’s getting to be a bit more confident too. I’m so happy the audience related to her.”
She also talked about Felicity’s place in the trio opposite Oliver and John Diggle (David Ramsey), both of whom are men of action. “Felicity’s never had a family, I don’t think, like this,” Rickard explains. “She’s found a spot here. Before, she was working in Queen Consolidated in a little cubby, alone, and she was comfortable but she wasn’t happy. I think she’s afraid, because the three of them are always put in these high-stakes situations, that the contentment won’t last forever, and if it doesn’t, where does that leave her?”
From the very start, Arrow set up the convention of flashing back to Oliver’s five year stint stuck on the island and how that would contribute to him becoming the scarred and capable man that returned. While this might have initially felt like a Lost idea, it too evolved into something much more engaging, introducing Slade Wilson, a/k/a Deathstroke, played by Manu Bennett, as Oliver’s begrudging ally. The writers even felt confident enough to set an entire episode in the flashback, Episode 14, “The Odyssey.”
“We didn’t know if it was going to work,” admits Kreisberg, “and that really showed us we could do that, and people could become invested no matter what kind of story we tell. That’s what gave us the confidence to do “The Undertaking” episode where we flashback to five years before. It gave us confidence in our storytelling, confidence in our characters, and confidence in our audience that they’re happy to go on this journey with us no matter where we take them.”
Oliver’s growth is taking two paths on the show, one in the past, on the island slowly transforming from spoiled rich kid to strong and ruthless survivalist, and the other in the present, a hardened man fighting learning how to fight the good fight while pretending to still be the man he was. It presents a unique challenge for the man playing Oliver, Stephen Amell, but he says it’s a challenge he likes. “It keeps me grounded and it keeps me thinking,” he says. “The cool thing about playing all these different versions of the character is I always have to check in with them. I know that they have to be very distinctly different, so I’m constantly aware of it. It helps me.”
This dual storyline aspect of the show led to parallel thematic or plot elements, but sometimes things feel like they don’t line up at all. This is a problem the writers hope to solve in the second season. “We’re not shy about it; in the beginning the island was a bit too much of a mystery even to us and I think it showed in a few places,” Kreisberg admits. “This season, we were very cognizant of, what’s the story in the flashbacks, what’s the overall story we’re trying to tell there, and where are we going and where are we starting so that we’re making the plot machinations better bridge the gap between the present and the past.”
Without giving too much away, the finale of Season 1 had Oliver in the past triumphant over his enemy, but Oliver in the present devastated after a huge defeat. Where will each version of our hero go as the new season begins? Amell explains that each will have a wake-up call pretty quickly. “[At the beginning of the season] Island Oliver is kind of a happy guy. Fyers’ men are dead, there’s no real danger on the island at the moment, and it’s kind of a happy, jovial Oliver. It’s neat. But, things shift pretty dramatically by the end of the first episode.” It’s a complete opposite to what happens with his present-day counterpart, Amell adds. “We find him in a very different spot; resolved to a very different life. It takes a cataclysmic event to draw him back into Hoodedness.” However, he does give hope to those who are interested in the development of his storyline with Roy Harper (Colton Haynes) who was introduced last year. “Pretty early on in the season, we see some cool interactions between Oliver and Roy, and also Arrow and Roy, and I’m very excited about that.”
Kreisberg finished by telling us that this season will be a tale of two very different Oliver Queens. “Oliver’s journey in the present this season is really leaving the list and being a vigilante behind and becoming more of a hero, whereas conversely we’re going to be seeing more of a dark journey of him in the past. Last season, Island Oliver was a bit of a lighter character, and there was some fun seeing a fish out of water. In this season we’re really going to be putting him through his paces and finding out the origin of a lot more of those scars.”
You can see Oliver Queen, Felicity Smoak, and all the other fantastic characters (including an appearance by The Flash later on) when Season 2 of Arrow premieres tonight (Wednesday, October 9th) on The CW.