In the latest episode of The CW series Arrow, entitled “Spectre of the Gun,” a traumatic attack on City Hall triggers painful memories for Rene (Rick Gonzalez) about his family, leading to flashbacks that reveal how he evolved into Wild Dog. And in a new twist for Oliver Queen (Stephen Amell), he must deal with the perpetrator behind the attack as Mayor Queen instead of the Green Arrow.
After a screening of the episode that was held at The CW offices, executive producers Marc Guggenheim (who also wrote “Spectre of the Gun”) and Wendy Mericle talked to a handful of outlets about what brought this episode about, at this point in time, how the studio and network felt about doing such a different episode for the show, why now was the right time to tell Rene’s backstory, exploring both sides of the gun debate, whether Katie Cassidy might return again, before the end of this season, and the challenge of working out time with the actors who aren’t series regulars. Be aware that there are some spoilers discussed.
Question: What brought this episode about, at this point in time?
MARC GUGGENHEIM: We went into Season 5, wanting to do an episode about an issue. I’m old, so that means I grew up on St. Elsewhere, Picket Fences and L.A. Law. I grew up in a time when it was commonplace, literally every week, for a one-hour drama to tackle the issues of the day. Somewhere along the line, the industry got away from that. Now, you’ve got Black-ish and The Carmichael Show, but as far as network dramas are concerned, they’re really not tackling current events and current issues. So, we went into Season 5 going, “You know what? It’s the fifth season. We’ve hopefully earned the freedom, in 23 episodes of television, to have 22 pieces of candy and one episode of vegetables.” We felt that gun violence was the right topic because of its topicality, but also because of the level of gun violence that is on Arrow. We could have done an episode on abortion, but that’s not really where the show lives. Gun violence felt like the right thing to tackle. So, we knew we were going to do it, and we knew we were probably going to do it in the second half of the season, just because of all of the pipe laying that has to happen in the first half of the season.
WENDY MERICLE: We knew, when we were talking about the mayor’s office, that there was an opportunity to do an episode where he didn’t get into the Green Arrow costume. From a story perspective, it was also about figuring out how to solve the issue of the day or the problem of the week with Oliver Queen as the mayor, instead of gearing up as the Green Arrow. The other thing, when Marc and I talked about doing it, and we talked about doing potentially more episodes like this, going forward, was the idea that you want to start a conversation. It’s what Curtis says, in the episode, which is that it’s important to at least talk about this. At some point, we did get away from that, as a country, and we liked the idea of hearing both sides, as fairly as possible.
Because this is a different type of episode for the show, did you receive more notes than usual, or was there anything you had to cut out?
GUGGENHEIM: The studio and network were so unbelievably supportive of this episode, from the very beginning. At the beginning of the season, we told them that we wanted to do a gun violence episode, and they were like, “Great!” There was a plot twist, regarding Edlund’s motivations, that was in the original conception and even in the first draft of the script, that the studio talked us out of, not because it was controversial or they were scared of it. Both the studio and network were incredibly fearless in their support of this episode. It was actually because the plot twist sent a message very different from the one we were trying to send. But there was no, “This is too much,” or “This is too far.” We got the usual S&P notes, in terms of the gun violence, but nothing was compromised. This is very much the episode we intended to do.
MERICLE: They were excited about it. They liked it. They welcomed that it was taking on an issue, which we hadn’t done before, on this show. They were genuinely very enthusiastic and excited.
GUGGENHEIM: I don’t think Wendy and I have taken on an issue on television since Eli Stone, which is nearly 10 years ago, and a long time ago.
Did you write this before or after the election results?
GUGGENHEIM: This was totally not by design and completely accidental, but I wrote the first half of the script before November 7th, and the second half of the script after November 7th. That week, I was writing the script. I write chronologically and linearly, and I think you can see that, in the second half, it’s about guns and gun violence, but it’s also about the state of discourse in our country. I’m an unapologetic progressive, but the thing that I’ve noticed is that not talking about issues serves a conservative agenda, not a liberal agenda. I do agree with Curtis that the country is where it is right now because we stopped talking to each other.
Was it important to you, in this episode, to explore Star City, politically, as part of the United States?
GUGGENHEIM: Yeah. Obviously, gun control is more of a national issue than it is a local issue. It’s not even a state issue because he’s not the governor, he’s just the mayor. So, in the writing of the actual script and the dialogue, I kept trying to find those opportunities to evoke the idea of the country, rather than just the city.
What made Rene the right person to do the flashbacks with, for this particular episode?
MERICLE: I think it was that he was someone whose background we really wanted to explore, and he carries a gun and is a natural spokesman for that point of view.
GUGGENHEIM: We could have done it through any number of our characters. I think there was a real appetite for us and the writing staff to do flashbacks from the perspective of one of our recruits, so that we get to learn more about them. We know a lot about Curtis, obviously. Rory left the team in Episode 512. Evelyn had betrayed the team, and we already knew her backstory from Season 4. Rene felt like the right recruit at the right time. He’s a character whose whole superheroics revolve around guns.