Every week, “Arrow” outdoes itself in terms of epic fight sequences, game-changing reveals and intense character confrontations, but Wednesday (Feb. 5) night’s episode, “Heir to the Demon,” was in a class all on its own.
With the introduction of Nyssa al Ghul (Katrina Law) — Ra’s al Ghul’s daughter — hunting down Sara Lance (Caity Lotz) to bring her back to the League of Assassins, the stakes would have been high enough. But the show added another, more emotional level to Nyssa’s journey: She was Sara’s ex and wanted to win her heart again.
Of course, Nyssa ended up releasing Sara from her duty to the League when it became clear Sara would rather die than leave her family again. But watching Nyssa deal with the pain of that revelation was what made her one of the series’ best villains so far — a fact with which executive producer Andrew Kreisberg wholeheartedly agrees.
“It’s been pointed out that sometimes our villains get short shrift and we don’t always do right by the villains,” Kreisberg tells Zap2it and a handful of other reporters. “We just don’t have enough time for them because our show is just so dense. We’ve gotten away with casting really cool people in the parts and asking our audience to just fill in the rest.”
Kreisberg and fellow showrunner Marc Guggenheim are glad that they were able to give Nyssa enough of a backstory to make her a sympathetic villain. “I actually feel bad for her. She really does seem like this broken-hearted person who got the shaft,” Kreisberg says. “She has the advantage of having an emotional and personal tie to one of our characters. She goes on a complete journey from start to end as opposed to someone who just wants to rob a bank.”
Guggenheim is quick to point out, however, that “Arrow” can’t have every villain be like that. “If every episode had a Nyssa, and didn’t have let’s say a Clock King, when the Nyssas of the world showed up it wouldn’t have any import,” Guggenheim says. “It would lack the weight that this kind of episode has. Because some episodes, yes, it’s just a guy bombing the city, but there’s other stuff in that episode that makes it worthwhile and worth watching. If everything becomes special, then nothing becomes special.”
Law was excited to portray Nyssa, but she wasn’t expecting her to have such a rich history with Sara. “I was surprised that I was going to be a lesbian,” Law says with a laugh. “When we did the chemistry read, I wasn’t quite understanding why I was [with Lotz].”
According to Kreisberg and Guggenheim, the decision to make Nyssa a lesbian came from the idea of what it could do for Sara. “We thought of this at the beginning of the season,” Kreisberg says. “If you watch [episode] 205 there’s a reference to ‘the beloved,’ and ‘You think that’s going to keep you safe.’ We talked about, ‘Well, does Ra’s al Ghul have a son?’ And then we were like, ‘Well, can it be Talia?'”
Since Talia al Ghul was portrayed recently in “The Dark Knight Rises,” the writers decided to go with the lesser-known story of Nyssa al Ghul.
“It just felt like something new and different,” Kreisberg says. “At the same time, we didn’t do it to be salacious, because it’s a pretty chaste relationship from what you see onscreen. It just touched on a couple interesting things, like the idea that Sara found one person who treated her with love and kindness. And then for Lance to be this hardened, tough cop and probably not the most progressive guy, even he was just like, ‘I’m glad you had someone who loved you and took care of you during those nightmare years.'”
Nyssa wasn’t the only one getting action with Sara in the episode though, as it ended with her and Oliver (Stephen Amell) hooking up in the Arrow lair.
“We were anxious to have in the same episode where we reveal that Sara had had this lesbian relationship, she was also sleeping with Oliver again,” Guggenheim says. “We wanted to be sensitive and realistic. We specifically avoid using the term ‘bisexual’ because we didn’t want to label her at all. Let her be her own person, and if the audience wants to label, fine. We didn’t want to do something just to shock.”
But just because Nyssa left at the end of the episode, that doesn’t mean we — and Sara — won’t see her ex again. “This was not Katrina’s only appearance this season,” Kreisberg reveals. “Part of the reason we did this episode was to free Sara, at least for the time being, from the threat of the League of Assassins and allow her to fully be the Black Canary and come home and all the delicious implications that that brought.”
He continues, “Having this dead woman come back and the effect that would have on everyone’s lives, you got a glimpse that obviously some people are very happy and some are very upset” — ahem, lookin’ at you, Laurel — “and in the next bunch of episodes you’re really going to see how Sara’s return affects everybody.”
The big question that now looms is because Nyssa released Sara from her duty to the League — without asking her father’s permission — will we see the big bad Ra’s make his way to Starling City? “We really can’t comment on when or if you’ll see Ra’s,” Guggenheim says with a smile.
So what’s coming next for Team Arrow now that Sara’s home for good (for now)? “When we sat down and looked at these [next] four episodes, we looked at it like a comic book with chapters, and this is the Lance family chapter,” Kreisberg says. “The next chapter when we come back is really villains a go-go.”
“I’m trying to get him to not call it villains a go-go,” Guggenheim interrupts with a laugh.
“But episodes 14 through 18 are really just villain, villain, villain, great big villains one after the other,” Kreisberg continues. “You’re going to see a couple of returning favorites and a couple of amazing brand new ones.”
As if Oliver didn’t have enough to focus on with the all the upcoming villains headed his way, he’s also got some drama at home to deal with now that Felicity (Emily Bett Rickards) revealed Moira’s (Susanna Thompson) secret to him: Thea’s (Willa Holland) real father is actually Oliver’s nemesis, Malcolm Merlyn (John Barrowman).
Kreisberg was quick to reassure that Oliver’s relationship with Felicity won’t be ruined like Moira warned after she told him the brutal truth. “It’s actually going to be strengthened,” Kreisberg says. “She’s the rock.”
Guggenheim agrees. “I don’t even think Moira necessarily believed what she was saying to Felicity,” Guggenheim says. “Moira was trying to manipulate Felicity into staying silent. It would never even occur to Oliver to be angry with Felicity. All Felicity is, is the messenger. His anger was properly directed at Moira.”
That anger is no little thing, by the way. He completely dissolved their relationship, which is the worst thing that can happen to family-oriented Moira.
“This is a big thing for her in that, if you’ve watched the series up un
til this point, everything that Moira has ever done, she has done to protect her family,” Kreisberg says. “It has sometimes been horrifying and terrible and borderline evil but it’s always been to protect her son and her daughter. This is a fracture to her relationship with Oliver that is not going to be mended in an episode. This lie is going to have far-reaching implications for the characters of the show.”
Hopefully this will be the wake-up call that Moira needs to start making better decisions. “Her arc this season is really about redemption. She went to jail and kind of got away with it. She should have stayed in jail but Malcolm rigged things and she still hasn’t really paid for what she did,” Kreisberg says. “And then in this episode, she’s still paying off doctors and threatening Felicity. She still hasn’t had her ‘come to Jesus’ moment despite what you’d think would be rock bottom. That’s coming.”
Could that have anything to do with Slade’s (Manu Bennett) ominous vow to “take care” of Moira to free up Sebastian Blood to win the Starling City election? “We can’t talk about how Slade’s going to ‘take care’ of Moira,” Guggenheim says. “That’s a long tail thing that will pay off.”
“Arrow” returns to The CW on Wednesday, February 26 at 8 p.m. ET.