The CW’s ‘Arrow’ promises to change the game with biggest episode yet

(CBR) In a preview video posted last week by The CW, “Arrow” executive producer Marc Guggenheim stated the following about this week's installment, “The Promise”: “This is the biggest episode we've ever done on the show to date.”

Those are very bold words from the veteran TV and comic book writer, and CBR News spoke with him to find out exactly what he's so enthused about in the flashback-heavy episode written by Jake Coburn and Ben Sokolowski. Following the ending of last week's “Time of Death,” which saw Oliver (Stephen Amell) discover that Slade (played by Manu Bennett and better known to DC Comics fans as Deathstroke) was not only alive but in Starling City and meeting with Moira (Susanna Thompson), “The Promise” is set to detail exactly how things went so terribly wrong between Oliver and Slade on Lian Yu.

“Slade's presence just changes everything,” Guggenheim told CBR. The full interview — including talk of the “Suicide Squad” episode set to debut on March 19 — follows.

CBR News: Marc, there's a video of you online talking about this week's “Arrow,” and you very confidently say that it's the biggest episode the show has ever done. Obviously, that's quite a claim.

Marc Guggenheim: Yes, it is! [Laughs] I had to ask myself if I had oversold it, and then I watched the episode [Monday] with all the visual effects cut in, and music and sound effects and everything — it is just a truly, truly epic episode. I'm actually hard-pressed to think of an episode on network television that is as big. I think we've really set a new standard in terms of what an audience can expect from a network TV show in terms of production value. It's really exciting.

It's purely to the testament to the incredibly talented crew of “Arrow.” When I originally pitched the episode to the production team, they said that it was unproduceable. To their credit, they figured out a way to do exactly the story as pitched. We did not cut any corners. We didn't make any creative compromises. The episode as pitched is literally the episode that you will see on Wednesday night. It looks like a million dollars. We have an incredibly talented, hard-working group of people who are just not satisfied with doing the cheap version of something. They don't like the idea of doing something halfway. They always find a way to take what we have and make it even bigger. There are a lot of times when I don't even think that's possible, and yet they are always astonishing me.

Without spoiling anything, let's hear a little bit more about what has you so existed about this episode — it's primarily on the island, correct?

Yeah, it's basically a sequel of sorts to the all-flashback episode from last year, “The Odyssey.” That was one of favorite episodes last year, and I think it was one of our most successful episodes. One of our to-do list items going into Season 2 was to do an “all-island episode” — I'm making little finger quotes here in my office. We wanted to see if we could duplicate, if not top, that episode. This episode very clearly tops it.

It's fun to spend an episode with the paradigm flipped. We do have a story being told in the present day, but the proportions are the reverse of what we typically do. If the show is 80 percent present day and 20 percent flashback, this episode is 80 percent flashback and 20 percent present day. As a result, it gives you a different feel. Obviously the flashbacks are telling a very different kind of story; Oliver is a very different kind of character. I think it's what made “The Odyssey” so special last year and what makes “The Promise” so special this year — you still feel like you're watching an episode of “Arrow,” but you feel like you're watching a different variation.

Based on what's been revealed about this week's episode, it seems that the story is getting to a point there the story on the island is coming to a head — obviously, by its nature, that story is finite, since it's in the past, and it's been revealed this week's episode will depict the moment Slade put on the Deathstroke mask for the first time, and Oliver putting on the hood for the first time. Are we getting to a point where the island story is reaching a climax, or will flashbacks continue to be a part of the show for the foreseeable future?

Flashbacks will definitely continue to be a part of the show. I will say that the flashback story in Season 2, like the flashback story in Season 1, has a beginning, middle and end to it. This episode is a very pivotal moment in the course of that storyline. This is not the end of the flashbacks, but it is a game-changer in terms of what's happening on the island, and what's happening between Oliver and Slade.

One of the things we said at the beginning of this year was, “If last year the flashbacks were what happened to Oliver on Lian Yu, the flashbacks in Season 2 are, 'What happened to Oliver and Slade, and their friendship, on Lian Yu?' This episode answers that question pretty squarely.

“The Promise” has also been described as a “turning point” — how much do you see it as a turning point for this season, and how much does it affect what viewers are going to be seeing over the next couple of months?

Pretty huge. It is a pivotal game-changer both in the present and in the past. In the past, we're going to get a major seismic shift in Oliver and Slade's relationship; and in the present, Oliver is going to learn that Slade is alive and well, and here in Starling City. There's really no way for the rest of the season to be the same as the first 15 episodes once we get past [“The Promise”], because Slade's presence just changes everything. Of course, it's going to activate Oliver in a very different way. Last year, Oliver knew that there was a dark archer out there, but because he didn't know who the dark archer was until episode 22 of 23, there was really nothing for him to do. Here, he literally has met his enemy. That will loom incredibly large for the remainder of the season.

Viewers saw Slade talking to Moira at the very end of last week's episode, which is an intriguing development in Oliver's already-strained relationship with his mother — what can you say about the relationship between those two characters?

Watching Manu and Susanna together in scenes is just so much fun. They're both such talented actors. It's fun to see a character combination that we haven't seen before. Slade is going to play a very pivotal role in Moira's life, and episode 15 really is just the beginning of that. How Oliver deals with it will be a big challenge for the rest of the year.

Looking a couple of weeks into the future, people are already excited about seeing the Suicide Squad on “Arrow.” That's such a uniquely “comic book” concept that the show is getting to introduce in live-action for the first time — as a person with a comic book background yourself, how exciting was that to see it take shape on the show?

Really, really exciting. In part because it kind of has an “Avengers”-like feel to it — we've introduced all of these characters in their own separate episodes, and it's fun to see to take all of these “villains of the week” and see them interact with each other. Part of the fun of the episode is, “How does Bronze Tiger relate to Deadshot?” “How does Deadshot relate to Shrapnel?”

This is one of those comic books that I grew up with. I remember the Luke McDonnell/John Ostrander run after the “Legends” miniseries incredibly vividly. It's such a great, compelling concept — “The Dirty Dozen” with supervillains. What's not to love? It's fun to be able to do it within the world of “Arrow,” and it never doesn't feel like an episode of “Arrow.” It just feels like a different iteration on this world that we've created.

And it appears to be a Diggle-centric episode, which we haven't seen in a while.

This is our most Diggle-centirc episode since episode #6 [“Keep Your Enemies Closer”]. It's not quite a direct sequel to episode #6 of this year, but it certainly speaks to it. Because it is Diggle-centric, we get to see the flashbacks from Diggle's (David Ramsey) perspective — so we're going to be flashing back to Diggle's time in Afghanistan, which is a fun little bonus for the episode, and you get to see how everything ties together.

It feels like that from the first season to now, “Arrow” has grown in a lot of ways — there's been some series-high ratings in key demographics, and the buzz around it seems to have increased, which is certainly not always easy to do in a second season. Comic book fans have likely been energized from seeing more comic book characters on the show, but at least anecdotally, I think even non-fans of the source material have come around more to the show than I saw in the first season. What do you attribute that to, as someone so close to it?

I think I might be too close to it, really, to answer. In all honesty, the only thing I know is, we came into this year and I had this massive amount of anxiety. I really felt like we ended last year so strong, it was hard for me to imagine how we would even match ourselves, much less top ourselves.

The thing about television, particularly network television when you're doing 23 episodes a year, you don't get a chance to self-reflect too much. You just go. You've got an episode to produce, and then you have another episode to produce, another episode — you hope that your plan holds up, and you hope that the totality of the episodes all hang together.

It's also hard, quite frankly, to answer the question without having finished the race. We're breaking episode 22 right now. We still have a couple of miles to go before we sleep. Hopefully while I'm on a beach somewhere, I'll be able to reflect back on Season 2, and figure out how we managed to grow the show. [Laughs]

The cast and the crew have raised their game enormously in Season 2. While it's hard for me to speak with any objectivity about what we're doing as writers, I can say that from a performance perspective and a production perspective, the show has only grown by leaps and bounds since season 1. I was already pretty proud of Season 1, but we just have a really talented group of people up in Vancouver who do not know how to rest on their laurels — no pun intended. “Arrow” episode 2×15, “The Promise,” airs Wednesday March 5 at 9pm.