Episode 315 (called “Nanda Parbat”) of The CW series Arrow is a big one, with so many jaw-dropping moments that you’ll lose count. Malcolm Merlyn (John Barrowman) is captured by Ra’s al Ghul (Matt Nable) and taken to Nanda Parbat, where Oliver (Stephen Amell) and Diggle (David Ramsey) attempt to save him. Meanwhile, Ray Palmer (Brandon Routh) is obsessed with finishing his Atom suit so that he can save the city, but Felicity (Emily Bett Rickards) fears he is heading down the same path as Oliver.
During a recent interview at The CW offices, executive producers Andrew Kreisberg and Marc Guggenheim were joined by actor John Barrowman to talk about what they’re most excited about viewers getting to see with this next episode, finally getting Malcolm Merlyn and Ra’s al Ghul in the same scene, Malcolm’s fear of Ra’s, the Atom suit in its full glory, how the presence of Atom will affect Team Arrow, that the currency of the show is secrets, and revenge and vengeance being the undercurrent. Be aware that there are some spoilers.
ANDREW KREISBERG: We always know what the schedule is going to be, so we knew this episode had a break in it. It’s designed to be a crazy cliff-hanger with all of this amazing stuff in it. Willa [Holland] has just risen to such amazing heights, these last few episodes, and continues in this one. You’ll see what Thea is willing to do, and then what Oliver is willing to do for her soul. One of the things we talked about, very early on, is that this season is really the fight for Thea’s soul, and a victory this season for Oliver is saving Thea. She’s caught between these disparate forces. It’s the most screwed up family show that we could possibly think of.
MARC GUGGENHEIM: I’m really excited for people to see the Atom suit in its full glory, and the first time Ray flies. It’s a big moment for us, in so far as this show is not The Flash. We don’t traffic in these visuals. It’s a big deal for us to get this kind of character on the show, looking the way he does.
KREISBERG: Also, to finally have John [Barrowman] and Matt [Nable] in the same scene. The whole idea of Ra’s al Ghul was really wish fulfillment, on our part. After John had almost been assassinated by Deadshot, and he had a little speech where he said, “I met a man and went to Nanda Parbat,” we thought, “Maybe, one day, in Season 3, they’ll let us have Ra’s al Ghul be the villain.”
GUGGENHEIM: But, John had a pitch.
BARROWMAN: I also had an actor in mind.
When Oliver lost his fight with Ra’s al Ghul, the internet immediately exploded with conversation about the Lazarus pit. Now that so many of the characters are in danger, was that just a premature prediction?
GUGGENHEIM: I give you points for the veiled attempt at getting us to spoil the show. Truth be told, all the answers to that question have already been presented on the show. You’ve seen everything you need to see to know where we’re headed.
KREISBERG: Let’s just say that our version of Ra’s, on the TV show, is a lot closer to the comic books than you’ve seen in other live-action adaptations.
GUGGENHEIM: We said in 309 that no one has challenged him in 63 years, or some period of time that was older than he looks. There are plenty of auditory and visual clues that we’ve planted, throughout the season, and we encourage everyone to play along.
John, what was it like for you to play some of these scenes, in this episode, knowing that Malcolm Merlyn is truly afraid of Ra’s al Ghul?
BARROWMAN: The one person that he fears is Ra’s, and he’s touched on that fear in moments when he’s been talking to Thea. But to finally see him, because he knows that he is not in control, at that point, and there is not much that he can do. He has to face the maker. And he knows what Ra’s can do because he was one of his assassins and did his dirty work for him. He knows what Ra’s is capable of. I think it’s important for you to see the fear in Malcolm. The best compliment that the people who have fallen for Malcolm give to me and say to me is, “Oh, my god, we hate you, but we love you!” They get why he’s doing it, and they understand why he’s doing what he’s doing. That’s why it’s important for me to show that emotional side to him. That’s what the fans then connect with. They can see that he’s not just a villain. There’s something right behind it. There’s a reason why he’s doing it. There’s a reason as to why he’s scared, and you’re finding that out.
KREISBERG: One of my favorite moments, this whole season, is in Episode 12, with the flashbacks with Malcolm, just seeing him with Tommy, as a kid. All of these people have lost something so terrible.
BARROWMAN: And they’ve all had to change, completely, in a way that perhaps, along the way – and this is the fan talking, and not anything that’s been written – there is a bit of regret in their head, that they’ve turned the way they’ve turned. But, they had to make a decision because this is the way it’s gotta be.
KREISBERG: Nyssa was nine years old and already learning how to kill people. Unlike all of these other people who had normal lives, and then tragedy turned them into what they are, Nyssa was turned into what she is from birth. She’s actually going on a different trajectory, where she’s seeing what kindness looks like, for the first time, and she’s seeing what normal people look like, for the first time. She’s on a completely different journey.
BARROWMAN: I’ve always said that I don’t see Malcolm as being a bad person. I just see him as being misunderstood in the things that he does. We’re all doing the same thing.
KREISBERG: We always say that everyone is the hero of their own story.
BARROWMAN: Correct, and that’s how you have to do it.
As all of these secrets continue to come to the surface, do you feel like that frees you up, as writers, or does it make it harder to find that tension?
GUGGENHEIM: The currency of the show is secrets. I would never admit to reading recaps and reviews, after an episode airs, but were I to, I would be surprised by the number of people who said, “Finally, Lance knows the secret of Sara. Laurel should have told him back in Episode 3.” I think that misses the point of these revelations, in the latter half of the season, have currency only because the secrets have been kept for so long and the storylines have been simmering on the boiler for so long. We drop these little landmines, and then we wait for them to get detonated. That’s a big part of what makes the show, the show.
KREISBERG: Especially because it’s a superhero show, and it is about heroes, for us, the most interesting part about it is that, as good as they are as superheroes, they’re all messed up as people. They make a lot of bad decisions, but they don’t mean to. Oliver probably should have told Thea a long time ago that he’s The Arrow, but he had his reasons and they meant something to him. Just like Laurel was worried about her father’s health. Part of it was that, if she had admitted to her dead that Sara was dead, then it was really true. She only knew how to cope with it by becoming Sara, which she couldn’t do without telling her dead. So, she made things irrevocably worse, and we were building to that. Usually, on TV, people do something wrong, they have a spat, and they make up by the end credits. One of the things that’s happening on the show, and it’s going to continue for awhile, is that they’re not in a good place. We don’t solve that. We’re writing Episode 21 now, and it’s still not solved. Laurel made a really bad decision, and it’s going to haunt her and her dad for a long time. For us, that’s where all the drama comes from. That’s the best stuff to write. Otherwise, everybody would be getting along, all the time.
BARROWMAN: Otherwise, you wouldn’t really have a show. It wouldn’t be a drama. It would be something completely different.
KREISBERG: When we go on Twitter and we see somebody go, “Why is she doing that?!,” it’s like, “Otherwise, there would be nothing to watch!”
BARROWMAN: We get the scripts before the table read, but I don’t look at them until we go into the table read. I don’t want to know, when I’m playing a moment in the current episode, what’s going to happen because it might change how I’m playing that. Maybe that’s a good thing, but generally, for me, it’s not because I wouldn’t be playing it as honestly in that moment, if I know what the outcome is going to be. So, when we go into the table reads, sometimes I’m like, “What?!” The beauty for us is that we can go, “All right, how do we do this?”
KREISBERG: The table read is really important to us, on all of the shows. We’ll sit there and realize, “That character didn’t speak for two acts. We made a mistake there.” Listening to them do it the first time, we’ll be like, “Oh, that connection didn’t even occur to us.” Everyone who does the table reads really gives it their all, which is so sweet and helpful for us.
How will the presence of Atom in Starling City change things for Team Arrow?
GUGGENHEIM: Episode 317 is definitely the episode you’ll want to check out, in terms of that question. There’s a new superhero in town, and he’s going to go about things in a very different way than The Arrow does. He’s not a part of Team Arrow. Right now, he’s just a very smart guy in a very, very powerful suit. Oliver is definitely going to have an opinion, and the first instance of that is going to be in 317.
The last few episodes have really been about revenge and vengeance. Will that continue, or will people’s motivations change?
GUGGENHEIM: I think revenge and vengeance have always been the undercurrent of the show. It’s one of those elements that we always traffic in. Sometimes it’s right at the surface, like in recent episodes, and other times, it’s way below. In the next batch of episodes, a lot of it has to do with sacrifice, and what all of these different people are willing to do for each other. It doesn’t have to be life and death. There are a variety of different forms of sacrifice.
KREISBERG: This year is really about, “Who am I?” Every character is asking, “Who am I?” For Malcolm, it’s about, “Am I the villain, or am I the hero? Am I Thea’s father, or am I just a killer?” Oliver has been asking, “Am I Oliver Queen, or am I The Arrow?” Nyssa is asking, “Am I the heir to the demon, or is there something more to me?” And then, Thea is asking, “Am I this terrible thing that I did, or can I be something more?” Our goal at the beginning of the season, and it’s continuing now and goes up until the end, is to have people make those decisions for themselves. Some people will make surprising decisions, and some people will make exactly the decision you’re expecting. It will be interesting to see who gets to be what.
BARROWMAN: I don’t even know!
KREISBERG: You’ll have to wait for the table read.
BARROWMAN: I know!
John, what was your training like for this episode?
BARROWMAN: We have a fantastic stunt team, and I have to give them credit. Probably 90% of that is my stunt guy, and he’s absolutely amazing. We overlap the shots. I’ve done fight training for other shows that I’ve been on, and I’ve never really been taken aside by the stunt team to do any of the fight training. I treat it like a dance, and being someone who trained in dance, it’s all movement. They’re able to show me once, and I can get it and do it. The only thing they have to remind me is that in dance, everything is up, and I have to keep everything down. That’s the one note I always get told.
KREISBERG: Katrina [Law] is the stunt guys’ favorite, from day one. After her first episode in Season 2, they were like, “Can she come back, every week?” She’s up for anything, and they have to stop her from doing stuff.
Arrow airs on Wednesday nights on The CW.