The 170th and finale episode of The CW’s Arrow aired as the second-half of Tuesday night’s double-episode farewell to Stephen Amell’s austere archer after eight seasons of yeoman’s work both as Star City’s brawny protector and as the somewhat unlikely centerpiece of television’s largest superhero universe.
The Arrowverse may be populated by a flying, bulletproof woman with heat vision (on Supergirl), the fastest man alive (on The Flash), and a time-traveling size-shifter (on DC’s Legends of Tomorrow) but it takes its name from a simple street brawler who’s good with a bow.
The finale had an extra layer of complication in the fact that Amell’s bowman didn’t survive to participate in it — he sacrificed his life during the cosmic crossover event called Crisis on Infinite Earths. The challenges and opportunities presented by that were a topic when Deadline caught up with Marc Guggenheim, who co-created the show with Greg Berlanti and Andrew Kreisberg. The finale was written by the showrunner tandem of Guggenheim & Beth Schwartz and it directed by James Bamford.
DEADLINE: It’s tricky business delivering a satisfying series finale for any show that lasts as long as Arrow but usually the title character is at least alive for part of the farewell.
MARC GUGGENHEIM: Yeah. It’s funny, this sort of plan has been in place for, I would say, about a year. We always knew that Crisis would result in the death of Oliver, and we knew that the series finale, therefore, was going to be very different from what I had originally thought it would be. I always felt that Oliver should die at the end of Arrow. Stephen Amell and I were always very much on the same page about that. So I always thought the show would end with the death of Oliver Queen but then when we realized we were doing Crisis and we came up with the idea of Oliver dying in that story it basically made the series finale more of a coda, which is totally fine, and we always knew it was going to have a funeral. We knew a variety of different moments. What we didn’t have was what I sort of call a unifying principle. We didn’t have a theme. We didn’t have something that tied all these different elements that we knew we wanted to have in it together.
DEADLINE: Where and when did you find that theme?
GUGGENHEIM: I was in the editing room one day and I was watching a cut for the gazillionth time I heard Stephen delivering the saga sell, which always ends with or has as part of it, came home with only one goal to save my city. I realized that’s it. He won. He achieved the goal that we’ve been reiterating for eight years, which is save his city. I think really good series finales, you’ve got to get off of Gilligan’s Island and M*A*S*H the Korean War has to end. In Arrow, he always said his mission was to save the city and we got to see through Crisis that he succeeded and give the audience a little bit of a glimpse as to what that post saving the city world looks like. What was really helpful is once I hit upon that idea it became very clear as to what the effect on the individual characters would be and that, again, sort of gave the finale the unifying principle that we were on the hunt for.
DEADLINE: A finale is often expected to be a crescendo moment or the “big finish” — even if it’s an ambiguous one like The Sopranos. But fans don’t get to process their feelings with that finish-line approach. But this finale, with the funereal tones, would qualify as a wall-to-wall processing episode all the way.
GUGGENHEIM: It was. It’s funny, too, and unlike a lot of series finales, because you’re right: usually those are a climax. This is really an epilogue and that was something, again, we knew from the moment we decided to kill Oliver in Crisis, we knew that this would be a different kind of finale and it would be a more falling action. I have to say, I was pleased with that. That turned out to be the right way to end the show.
DEADLINE: It’s also one thats going to speak to your audience because — more than any other entertainment consumer — the Comic-Con sector is an audience that appreciates and desperately loves call backs and character returns and circles that are stitched closed in a satiating way. And this episode is loaded with those moments.
GUGGENHEIM: Yeah. We definitely wanted the show to really look back on itself. In many ways, that’s really what the entire construction of season eight has been. It has been an eight episode long retrospective in a way of the previous eight years. The finale hopefully is just like the final note in that little symphony.
DEADLINE: You get bonus points for style for sacrificing your hero and keeping your hero at the same time. That’s pretty rare. And the similarities between the Spectre’s wardrobe and Green Arrow’s costume are easy on the costume budget.
GUGGENHEIM: I have to say, again, one of the earliest conceits of the finale was we knew we were going to both honor the show but also honor the convention of flashbacks on the show, which were so important for the first five years by telling a flashback story, which of course would allow us to have our cake and eat it too. To have a dead protagonist but still have Stephen Amell on the screen. So that was always part of the design even though we went back and forth as to what exactly the story we want to tell there was.
DEADLINE: And he hasn’t even exited the universe, he’s merely transcended to a more spectral plane as DC’s beyond-the-grave superhero.
GUGGENHEIM: That’s right. It’s funny, that’s why people were tweeting is Oliver going to live, is he going to die. I think I had tweeted in response a couple times like you’re being too binary. There are other options available to us. This feels right to me that Oliver still exists in some form. He truly did become something else at the end of the show.
DEADLINE: In the comics, Green Lantern and the Spectre were merged as characters for a time. But not Green Arrow. And Green Arrow and Spectre have been around since the 1940s, too, and, as I said I never noticed before how similar their costumes are with the hoods.
GUGGENHEIM: Yeah. I mean certainly doing a live-action version of the Spectre costume was tricky. We went through a variety of different versions. At the end of the day, I said to our costume designer let’s just sort of lean into the look really that we’ve already established, which is Oliver in a hood. It’s done us well for eight years. I think truly what really in Crisis what really sort of sold it, it wasn’t the costume. It was Stephen’s performance and Stephen really embraced sort of the ethereal nature of that character. He sells the Spectre of it without us having to rely so much on the costume.
DEADLINE: The character brings a Ghost of Christmas Past quality to the story.
Yeah. And it’s almost like the Ghost of Christmas Past. And it dovetails with the “this is your life” element that’s already hardwired into the story.
GUGGENHEIM: Very Much so. Absolutely. That’s why when we come up with an idea we tend to immediately know if it’s the right or wrong idea. This was definitely one of the things that just felt like this feels right on so many different levels.
DEADLINE: The idea of Oliver giving himself to save and restart the world, in a way, that’s a lovey device considering the real-world aspect of this show launching the whole multi-series universe.
GUGGENHEIM: Thank you. I think it’s felt like…the thing that I love about the show is that Oliver has really gone on this enormous journey as a person. He starts off this story as a spoiled, rich asshole who then gets marooned on this island and ends up making a lot of really horrible choices and does a lot of horrible things. At the end of season three he tortures this character in a really particularly vicious way. There’s a feeling that he kind of enjoyed it. He returns home and he’s this cold blooded killer without any sense of remorse. By the end, he’s a father twice over. He’s a husband. He’s a former mayor and he’s a true hero. He’s not a vigilante anymore. He’s not only a superhero but he’s a hero who’s out in public, who is no longer hiding behind a hood and a mask. That evolution with his character, to me, is the best part of the show. A lot of times, especially in network television you’ll have a protagonist and you’re more writing the illusion of change like actual change. I love the fact that over eight years Oliver Queen really became a completely different person and that acknowledgement was important to sort of get into the series finale and Diggle’s speech when he talks about Oliver saying he has to become someone else, something else. It doesn’t refer to Green Arrow. It actually refers to himself and being a better man. I like that notion.
DEADLINE: It’s interesting that the most interesting heroes are the reclamation projects.
GUGGENHEIM: Totally. That’s the thing. I always say the franchise of the show is Oliver’s a character who makes bad decisions. On Twitter people will be like why are you always ragging on Oliver? I’m like this is the thing I love about Oliver. I love the fact that he can make mistakes and learn from them, that he can have setbacks and move on from them. That he can become a better person. For me, it’s always been a much more interesting character to write than a guy who arrives on the screen perfect. The fact that Oliver started off with all these flaws and maintained a lot of these flaws for much of the show, to me, is a feature not a knock.