The last episode of "Arrow" was -- to coin an overused but entirely justified phrase -- a gamechanger: Oliver Queen (Stephen Amell) revealed his secret identity to best friend Tommy Merlyn (Colin Donnell) in order to save the life of Malcolm (John Barrowman), Tommy's father, the man who has previously attempted to frame and kill Oliver under the guise of the Dark Archer.
In the March 20 episode, "The Huntress Returns," Oliver and Tommy's relationship has "changed fundamentally," according to Amell, whom we caught up with on the red carpet for "Arrow's" recent PaleyFest panel. "The dynamic is just forever different. Tommy is sad that he lost his friend, and is having a really difficult time reconciling the fact that I kill people, even if they’re bad people, and that he saw me kill people. It’s really tough for him and it’s a really great dynamic for the show because Colin is such a great actor."
Despite the fact that Tommy is, in Donnell's words, "pissed" with Oliver, the two aren't going to be able to avoid each other, especially since this week's episode marks the opening of Oliver's club, which Tommy is still managing. "Both Katie’s [Cassidy] character and Colin’s character, I was apart from them for a long time; they were doing their own thing," Amell pointed out. "So it’s gonna be tough for Tommy, and for me: I didn’t want to [tell him], I would’ve been very happy not doing it. Forever. When he asks me, I’m telling the truth: I never would’ve told him."
The fact that Tommy is now burdened by Oliver's secret doesn't bode well for his relationship with Laurel (Cassidy), who has her own past with Oliver and a complicated present, thanks to her relationship with the vigilante. "You’ll see Tommy deal with this internal struggle ... now that he knows that Oliver’s the Arrow, he starts to realize that he’s never gonna be that good. It puts him in this position of maybe feeling even less, like he’s not good enough for Laurel," Cassidy previewed on the PaleyFest carpet. "And then I feel like, in any relationship, one of the partners withholding a secret like that is going to cause friction and tension and drama and issues. Laurel is very self-aware and very intuitive and she can read people very well. I feel like being a lawyer, she picks up on his odd behavior, and doesn’t have an answer for it. She has no idea what’s going on. She’s just frustrated at this point and we’ll see what’s going to happen. I think if anyone can forgive, it’s her, but I don’t know."
As the episode's title suggests, Oliver is also having a little female trouble, thanks to the return of his ex, Helena (Jessica De Gouw), who could throw a wrench in the works for his current relationship with McKenna (Janina Gavankar). "It’s not gonna go well," Amell laughed. "Women don’t mix well together ... Helena and I had a thing and it was short, it was dramatic, but sparks were there and I’m sure they’re still there. And even if she doesn’t want to be with me, it’s not gonna sit well that McKenna’s hanging around/trying to hunt me down."
The other major development in the last episode was the return of Laurel's mother, Dinah (Alex Kingston), who revealed that Laurel's sister -- who appeared to drown in the pilot episode -- might still be alive. "It’s certainly overwhelming and her first reaction is just ... a state of shock," Cassidy said. "Not only is her mom there, but she has this bit of information that she’s been withholding. I think that there’s going to be a lot of emotion that comes along with that. We start to explore the relationship between her mother, her father and her and the family dynamic and why it didn’t work out and where her mom has been. Her mom is also carrying a lot of information that I think the audience will be very shocked by, as, myself, reading it, I was very shocked by."
HuffPost TV also caught up with Donnell (who was absent at PaleyFest) via phone, to find out exactly how Oliver's secret is affecting Tommy, especially in regards to his relationship with Laurel, and whether we'll see further growth in his relationship with his father. Read on for more.
Oliver obviously dropped a huge bombshell about his identity as the vigilante in the last episode, so where is Tommy emotionally this week?
Donnell: He is a little pissed. [Laughs.] He’s not dealing with everything all that well and that’s where it picks up, really. I mean, with everything that he’s having to process, he’s not really processing all that well, to be honest. So you’re going to see a bit of that, and then especially the way that, all of a sudden, Oliver’s secret life is going to affect Tommy in a very real way, very quickly. I think everybody saw a little teaser of my head on the table and my arm behind my back with The Huntress, and that’s not necessarily good ...
Is his anger stemming more from the fact that Oliver admitted that he never would've told Tommy the truth, had the circumstances not been so dire, rather than the secret itself?
Donnell: I think it’s both. Especially in the last episode, we see that Oliver and Tommy’s friendship goes way beyond just being buds -- they are essentially brothers. They grew up in the same household. Everything that has been a part of their lives, they’ve experienced together, except for this. So I think part of it certainly is a feeling of betrayal, that he couldn’t be confided in. But the other part of it is the very real fact that his best friend is killing people. In the eyes of [some] people --not necessarily a lot of people -- while he’s doing good things, he’s murdering people. So it's the combination of the two. To say it’s one thing or the other, I think would belittle either one.
One positive outcome for Tommy after the last episode was that his relationship with his father seemed to have finally found some equilibrium. How do things evolve between them from this point on?
Donnell: Well, I think in the next few episodes ... there’s some stuff that happens that is going to push Malcolm and Tommy together more. Finally, he’s got a father who’s opened up to him at least a little bit. He’s been essentially absent from his life, right? And he no longer has the pillar of the Queen family to lean on, because obviously Robert Queen’s gone, so his surrogate father’s gone; now his surrogate brother is essentially gone, and absent, at least in the capacity that he once was. So you know, who’s the last person? Aside from his girlfriend, but even that, there’s a wrench in there, too. So yeah, there’s some stuff that will happen.
Malcolm was about to reveal his own secret identity to Tommy before everything went to hell. Will we see any more movement on that front between them this season?
Donnell: Anything’s possible. There are still a couple more episodes in the season that we have yet to film. But I haven’t seen that sort of stuff happen yet. I certainly think, if he was willing to show him once, I can’t imagine why he wouldn’t be willing to show him twice.
Now that Tommy knows, he's sort of inadvertently complicit in Oliver's secret. Do you think, under any circumstances, he'd be tempted to tell, or is it not even about that to him at this point?
Donnell: I don’t think it’s really about that at this point. I think he’s a man of his word, and if he says he’s not going to tell, he’s not going to tell. But just knowing is so hard ... I don’t know who he’d even want to tell, because if Laurel knew how would she react? Maybe not in Tommy's favor. She's got a pretty close working relationship with the vigilante ...
Obviously, he and Oliver are still working at the club together, so it's not as if they can avoid each other. I'd imagine that will be a source of some friction between them?
Donnell: Oh yeah. You see it right away, in the next episode. The club has been this sort of salvation for Tommy. It’s a dramatic way to put it, but it really has. It’s given him a very strong purpose, and given him a chance to really man up, and ... the club instantly becomes something different for Tommy and not necessarily the best thing. It’s going to be interesting, I think, for everybody to see how all of that shifts in the next little bit, because, like you said, they can’t really avoid each other, can they?
How does carrying this secret affect his relationship with Laurel?
Donnell: It puts a strain on it in a few different ways, really. One is just knowing, and knowing that he can’t tell Laurel. In the other maybe even more important way, it’s so distracting to him in his life that he can’t be there for Laurel, in a time when she has a little bit of stuff going on in her own life -- her mom being back, her sister maybe being alive. So there's a lot of strain there as well.
Does Tommy get to have much interaction with Dinah and that side of Laurel's storyline at all, or is he, as you said, too wrapped up in everything he's dealing with?
Donnell: Yeah, he’s pretty wrapped up in his own stuff. No, there’s not much interaction between them. Laurel’s, unfortunately for their relationship, pretty much on her own dealing with this.
You can watch the full "Arrow" PaleyFest panel below:
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"Arrow" airs Wednesdays at 8 p.m. ET on The CW.