For five seasons, The CW’s Arrow has tracked Oliver Queen’s turbulent morph from playboy wastrel to nihilstic vigilante to the principled superhero known as Green Arrow. Along the way, the show launched an interconnected world of superhero shows known as the “Arrowverse” – The Flash, Legends of Tomorrow, and Supergirl – and helped bridge two different cultural moments and modes of superhero pop: the heightened reality crime noir of Christopher Nolan’s Batman films and the brighter, lighter aesthetic with a more unabashed embrace of comic book tropes best typified by the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Arrow has also chewed through a lot of plot, played with a lot of risky tones (Antihero pulp! Magical fantasy! Apocalyptic sci-fi!), and experienced a lot of creative ups and downs. All of which begs a few questions: When should Arrow come to an end? How should it end? And should the quagmire protagonist played by Stephen Amell pay the price for his immoral brand of justice?
In short: should Arrow die?
Season 5 wouldn’t be a bad place to bring Arrow to a close. It has the tenor of a closing chapter. The show’s long-running flashback storyline – tracking Oliver’s evolution into the hard-boiled, criminally-trained avenger who returned to his hometown in season 1 after a five year absence – is reaching a conclusion this season. The story in the present finds Oliver Queen as a man – and hooded lawman — in full. By day, he’s the mayor of Star City. By night, he’s Green Arrow, training a new team of masked vigilante to assist his executions of jackboot crime-fighting. He’s allowed himself to kill again – not out of the great vengeance and furious anger he possessed in season 1, but because he accepts it as an inevitable consequence of his never-ending war on crime.
“One of the things we embrace on the show is he’s a hypocrite, he’s kind of a lousy leader, he makes terrible decisions. It gives us fodder for a lot of stories,” says executive producer and co-creator Marc Guggenheim. “[But] in season 5, we’re probably telling more stories about the conflicting moralities of what Oliver’s been doing over the life of the series. Everything we’ve been trying to do in season 5 has been building off of our history, our long history, because that’s something that the other shows just can’t do.”
Oliver’s hypocrisies will be further explored in next week’s episode, when Green Arrow tangles with a character named (appropriately) Vigilante, a gun-blazing mirror twin of Oliver’s darker-than-dark dark knight days as “The Hood” in season 1. And look for the show to further interrogate Oliver’s queasy policy on killing as season 5 progresses, particularly in the second half, in which Oliver will be made to confront the sum of his moral ambiguity.
Guggenheim says the theme of the season is legacy: “A phrase we use a lot when writing season 5 is ‘We’re looking backwards to move forwards.'” The big bad, a shrouded, star-throwing psycho named Prometheus, is essentially another Dark Arrow doppelganger and appears to be a sin from Oliver’s past come back to haunt him. In the most recent episode, “So It Begins,” Oliver learned that the people Prometheus killed were coded provocations: their names were anagrams for the names on “The List” – the corrupt elites Oliver targeted for assassination in season 1. “We brought in a villain this year that we’re going to learn is a villain of Oliver’s making,” says Amell. “He’s someone that exists because of the things that Oliver has done. It allows us to go back and revisit some stories that we haven’t seen on Arrow in quite awhile.” Fun With Literary Allusions! Prometheus = Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus = Arrow’s “Prometheus” is a monster of Dr. Frankenollie’s forging.
Season 5 has also been a full-circle season tonally, too. Arrow has gotten back to gritty, grounded crime genre storytelling after indulging fantastical premises and soapy romance. Last year, the mystic despot Damien Darhk (Neal McDonough) tried to wipe out most of mankind as part of a plot to reseed the planet with his followers. Season 4 also pushed the ‘ship between Oliver and Felicity Smoak, a.k.a. Overwatch (Emily Bett Rickards). (“Olicity” has since broken up.)
Amell confesses that he became frustrated with last season’s creative direction. “I put my heart and soul into every day of work and every episode, but at the same time there is a lull in any relationship where you need to have a ‘come to Jesus’ moment, so to speak,” says the actor. “That happened for me in the latter half of season 4, where I feel like there were just a few things that got lost in the shuffle, so we needed to really refocus in season 5.”
It was a savvy, natural move, anyway, given Arrowverse’s expansion to four shows this season and a franchise desire to make sure that each of them had a distinct identity. “The original vision of Arrow has been augmented and changed to support and accept and help introduce various other shows, and that is a wonderful amazing opportunity. Now that that’s done, we have to do what we do well,” says Amell. “There are things that Legends and Flash and Supergirl can do, based on the sort of more fantastical nature of their shows. But there are things that we can do that none of them can. We are a street-level crime fighting show. We’re at our best when we’re focused on those things.”
Does the conclusion of the flashback storyline and the “legacy” emphasis mean that Arrow is eying the end of its run? “No,” says Guggenheim. “I think we tend to look at season 5 as the end of a particular chapter.” Arrow doesn’t seem to be in any danger of cancelation at present; while ratings are down from last season, it remains one of The CW’s four most-watched programs. The show’s longevity seems to surprise even the producers. The flashback storyline was always “a five-year deal,” says Guggenheim, and they intend to stick with that plan. “The show just turned out to be more successful than we anticipated.”
Whenever Arrow decides to enact its endgame, should Oliver pay a price for his practice of taking other lives in the name of vengeance and justice, law and order? “It’s a great question,” says Guggenheim. “There’s an element of this show that’s very Sons of Anarchy to me, which had a similar question: Was there any redemption to be had for Jackson?” (If you don’t know how things ended for the outlaw biker played by Charlie Hunnam, we won’t spoil it for you. Get thee to Netflix!) “I will say that I have a very specific notion as to how I would like to see the series end.”
But Amell does believe Arrow has reached a crossroads. “I do really believe that this season is sort of a throw-down-the-gauntlet year for us, where we’re either going to do what we do and do it well or it’s the last year,” he says. “If we find that magic formula — which is not magic, it’s just hard work and playing to your strengths — then the show could go on for a really long time.”