As part of The CW portion of the TCA Press Tour, there was a compelling panel entitled “Running the Show: The Women Executive Producers of The CW,” with Arrow, The Flash, The Vampire Diaries, iZombie, Jane the Virgin, Reign and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend all represented. After the panel, Collider got the opportunity to sit down with Arrow EP Wendy Mericle to chat about what’s to come in Season 4 of the hugely popular series.
During this exclusive interview, Mericle talked about female representation on Arrow, collaborating with the teams at The Flash and Legends of Tomorrow on character cross-overs, what sort of threat Damien Dahrk (Neal McDonough) will be this season, the challenge of getting John Constantine (Matt Ryan) on an upcoming episode, Team Arrow dynamics, how Oliver (Stephen Amell) and Felicity (Emily Bett Rickards) are doing, whether Diggle (David Ramsey) gets a code name, Malcolm Merlyn (John Barrowman) as Ra’s al Ghul, what’s next for Thea (Willa Holland), and the addition of Mr. Terrific (Echo Kellum).
Collider: Since we’re celebrating the voice of female executive producers on The CW at TCA, how do you feel about the female representation and viewpoint on Arrow?
WENDY MERICLE: It’s interesting, having been on this show from the beginning, I can testify to the fact that I’ve been on a lot of shows with Greg [Berlanti] and, unlike some shows where you’re the only woman in the room or the only female writer on staff, that is not the universe that Greg operates in. I’ve always been on 50/50 split staffs and the female perspective has always been valued, in whatever show he does. Coming onto this show, I’m not a comic book fan, but I’m a big fan of women kicking ass, so it’s exciting to me. We actually have a lot of strong female characters on our show, which is not that common. It’s not just Felicity, and it’s not just Thea. On other shows, maybe the sister character wouldn’t have gone on to be in costume. In fact, sometimes we say, “Oh, my gosh, everybody is getting a costume! What are we doing?!” In the landscape, when you look at television, I can think of a few other shows, Alias being one of them, but you’re hard-pressed to find women out there really fighting. It’s a privilege. Speedy and Laurel Lance, in particular, have a deep mythology, and that part is really cool.
This world keeps getting bigger, with Arrow, The Flash and Legends of Tomorrow. How do you decide where a character starts and who gets to pick the version of the character that we see?
MERICLE: Because of the universes are so complex and, with the exception of Supergirl, we’re all very keyed into what the other is doing, we’ve actually cast certain writers with tracking. We actually get all of the episodes and we read all of the episodes. What’s really important, especially when you get to those cross-over episodes, is that you know where everybody is, not just on Arrow, but everybody in the universe, so that you can tell the right story. That’s when it gets complicated. Sometimes where Oliver needs to be may fight with where Barry is, and vice versa.
How does it work with a character like Hawkman, who you’re introducing on an Arrow/The Flash cross-over, and then moving over to Legends of Tomorrow?
MERICLE: In that case, that is very much Phil [Klemmer], Greg [Berlanti] and Marc Guggenheim’s decision. On Arrow, we don’t necessarily participate in those discussions. In terms of Damien Dahrk, we had endless very intriguing discussions about who Damien is in the comic books, and how we change him and make him a part of our universe. That part is really fun. It’s great to have a starting point, and then figure out how to make them different. That’s exciting.
What sort of threat will Damien Dahrk be, this season?
MERICLE: He is definitely a super bad-ass, scary guy. We really were excited that we got Neal [McDonough]. We’ve had Malcolm and we’ve had Slade. If you start to break it down, they’re the villains, but they’re the heroes of their own story and you understand why they’re doing what they’re doing. Damien doesn’t have that. Damien is just pure evil. We wanted to explore that. We’ve never really done a sociopath on the show, and that’s what we’re exploring this year. That’s why we’re introducing him so fast and early in the season.
How long have you been working to get John Constantine onto Arrow, and was it a challenge to make that happen?
MERICLE: I wouldn’t say it was a challenge. It is tied to Sara Lance’s resurrection. We knew that Sara had died at the beginning of Season 3 and that she was going to be on Legends, so we had to find a way to bring her back. We were like, “How do you do that?,” and he was the most obvious character to do that. We feel honored and excited that we got him, and that Matt Ryan is available. He’s amazing.
Was there a Plan B for that storyline, if that hadn’t all worked out the way it has?
MERICLE: There is always a Plan B. That said, we really pulled out all the stops. DC and everybody came together to make it happen. We didn’t have to go to Plan B, but you always have to have a Plan B, and then a Plan C sometimes, too. You just don’t know, especially with something that high-profile and challenging. It’s great.
What can you say about the Team Arrow dynamic for this season, especially with some of the hurt feelings?
MERICLE: Dig has a huge bone to pick with Oliver when they see each other again, at the top of Season 4. We’re gonna work that out. It’s not gonna be easy. With what happened to Dig’s family, it’s really tough to buy that back, and Oliver is not gonna to be able to. Obviously, they can’t be mad at each other forever, or what are we doing? But also, in the intervening months while Oliver has been gone, Dig has, more or less, been leading the team. It’s a little bit more democratic, Speedy and Black Canary are both super bad-ass and kicking butt. He’s not happy, when he and Oliver meet again. It’s not an open-armed, “Hey, buddy, all is forgiven,” reunion.
Up until now, Oliver has not been happy with Laurel and Thea out there fighting bad guys. Does he have to get more on board with that, at this point?
MERICLE: Yeah, he does. And it’s helpful that he comes back in a much happier place. When he left the team at the end of Season 3, he specifically said, “You guys can do this.” At that point, we put to bed any concerns he might have about safety. He’s not stopping Laurel from doing anything. He tried, countless times, in Season 3. It didn’t work. And Thea has always done whatever she wants to do, including taking drugs and driving herself into a tree, like she did in Season 1.
Where will Oliver and Felicity be when they come back and have to be outside of their own little bubble?
MERICLE: They come back in a happy place. One of the things that we’re excited about is that we really want to explore them being together and in a good place, at the top of the season, but there are challenges. It’s not going to be easy. We’re interested in seeing how the relationship weathers those storms and how they influence the people around them. Oliver is in a much happier place. He has renewed faith. His returning from being a soldier of war with PTSD has all been closed off and finished, by the end of Season 3. He’s done dealing with his family’s legacy and is really looking towards what his is going to be. That’s an interesting, different place for him to be.
What are the biggest challenges now, for Oliver and Felicity?
MERICLE: It’s dangerous. They’re both soldiers, essentially, just in different ways. She’s a bad-ass on her own. She’s been attacked and she’s put her life at risk. The other piece of it is, how do you maintain any sense of normalcy? Any couple that works together, I don’t know how they do that. Everything you have at home comes into the workplace. Hopefully, we’ll have fun with that, this year. If they’re having a fight, how will the team members react?
Will Felicity get out in the field and get in on the action again, at all?
MERICLE: It’s a challenge, just because we’ve established her as such a smarty pants who’s vital to their missions, in terms of her hacking skills. That said, we’d all love to see her out in the field. I don’t think she’ll ever be out in the field in the same way that the other team members are, but I would love to see her in action, and I think everybody on the staff would, too. There will be a little bit of that, this season.
Now that he has a suit, will Diggle also get a code name?
MERICLE: By necessity, he can’t be Diggle out in the field. I can’t tell you what the code name is, but he’s gonna have a fun, cool code name. He’ll start to embrace a little bit more of that dual identity conundrum that Oliver has been grappling with for three years now.
Will Malcolm Merlyn being Ra’s al Ghul work to Team Arrow’s advantage, or is Malcolm still out for Malcolm?
MERICLE: That is the million dollar question for all of the Malcolm stuff. Does he keep his promise at the end of Season 3 to Oliver, or does he come back and jack things up? What we like about him and what we are really excited about is that he’s gotten what he wanted. He wanted to be Ra’s. He really wanted that ring and that power. He went back and forth, in terms of being allied with the team and not allied with the team, in Season 3. He was obviously playing a longer game, at that point, but he’s won that game. So, I think we’re going to see a little bit more of that Season 1 Malcolm, which was ruthless and more cunning and definitely more out for himself.
Will Malcolm also have to deal with Damien Dahrk?
MERICLE: He has knowledge of Damien from the League, that some of our team members are not going to have. He’ll help them, in that way, but by the same token, it feels like he could ally with Damien or he could ally with the team. He is able to play both sides, and it will be interesting to see what he has in store. We’re not sure. We feel like we have a lot of options on the table.
What made you want to contrast Oliver’s love life in the past and the present, with the flashbacks?
MERICLE: Yes, absolutely! It’s to see him in a relationship in the past and a relationship in the present, and contrast where he is. The flashbacks are going to be Oliver at his darkest place, but in the present day story, he’ll be at his happiest. It will be about, how did he get there and how did those really dark moments inform his decision to maintain his faith, despite everything that’s happening around him?
Thea has lost Roy Harper and her relationship with her father didn’t turn out how she’d hoped. What’s next for her?
MERICLE: This year, we’ve already hinted that she’s going to have some side effects from the Lazarus Pit, so she’s going to be grappling with that. And a little bit like in Season 1 with Oliver, she’s going to be dealing with this whole question of, how do I have a double life and what is that like? It will take her to some surprising places, emotionally.
What can you say about Mr. Terrific and his presence, this season?
MERICLE: Mr. Terrific, or Curtis Holt, is coming, and will be played by Echo Kellum. He’s just a genius. I don’t think we’ll see him morph into Mr. Terrific this season, but he’s somebody who brings a different tone and element, more in keeping with the lightness that we’re bringing into this season. He also is one of our only other LGBT characters, and we’re excited to have that on the show to explore those things, particularly through the prism of that character and with his relationship to Felicity and the team.
Arrow returns for Season 4 to The CW on October 7th.