Character Review: Arrow’s Malcolm Merlyn

Arrow Season 1
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A portion of this review has been reposted, with permission, on Project Torchwood. Check out their site and see what other Whovians have to say!
*End Update*

Actually, this one is part “TV show review” and part character review.

First the show:

Arrow Season 1

I am not big on superhero storyverses. Or at least not the DC ones, apparently. Heck if I know why.
I like the X-Men movies, and I especially like how the more recent Marvel universe movies have that interconnected thing going on (guess I’m a sucker for underlying story arcs 😉 ) but if any of the series just up and vanished, I’m sure I wouldn’t miss them.
And I’ve never really gotten into Batman and Superman and all the other DC and Dark Horse and whatever else is out there.

So when I first started seeing previews for the show Arrow, it was something of a surprise to realize that I really wanted to see it.
The more I learned about it, the better it seemed.
I think I can explain part of that: as unrealistic as some of Oliver’s skills might be (nearly catching a speeding motorcyclist while running on foot), the fact that his “powers” don’t rely on mutation or otherworldly sources or even the gadgets he carries, but instead were based on how he had to train himself just to survive–and likewise for most of the villains’ “super” origins–made it an entirely different sort of superhero show. But that’s my only theory.

Problem is, Arrow came on at a time when, due to homework, and focusing on my writing, and just a general lack of interest in most TV, I didn’t watch a whole lot of prime time television.
And either Arrow wasn’t advertised that much, or else I just didn’t really bother with the CW around that time. Or both.
So when Season 1 finally aired, I didn’t watch it because… I’d simply forgotten about it.

It took an off-hand mention on John Barrowman’s FaceBook page (since he plays Malcolm Merlyn) to remind me that the show existed, to make me think “Oh, yeah, I was going to watch that,” but by then, Season 1 was nearly over.
I think the first episode that I’d seen even part of was Episode 21 “The Undertaking,” during the flashback scene in which a then-still-alive Robert Queen is arguing against Malcolm’s plans to destroy the Glades. (Not the best first impression, there, eh, Malcolm?)

Life happened, many an episode was either no longer available On Demand or required a rental fee, and I still never got around to watching Season 1… until shortly after Season 2 finished. Specifically, I started watching it the week after I saw John at the Motor City Comic Con and got his autograph on my copy of Hollow Earth.
And I only watched it then because I happened to find a DVD set at Walmart for about $15. No such luck finding Season 2 for that price, not yet.
Needless to say, I haven’t watched Season 2 just yet; I’m recording Season 3 so I don’t actually miss it while waiting, and hoping, to get my hands on a copy of the Season 2 DVDs (if I have to pay for them instead of watching on regular cable, I’d rather DVDs than downloads) before the show gets much farther.

All that being said, following John’s FaceBook and other online feeds makes it kind of hard to avoid spoilers when I’m that far behind on the show, so while I may not have watched specific episodes and thus cannot review them, I do know about certain… revelations that have occurred.

And now the character:

Malcolm Merlyn

My own accidental first impression of the character besides the point, we see Malcolm as a business-savvy and extremely charming man–how much of that is John’s natural charm coming through and how much is the character, we’ll probably never know–but with a terrible secret hidden beneath the charm.

Malcolm the family man

Officially, our first time seeing Malcolm with his son shows us that either he is a total jackass with his family… or is so much the business man that he doesn’t have the slightest clue how to show that he cares.
Given later scenes, in which he is shown gazing at a photo of his son and we, the viewers, are the only witnesses to that oh-so-tender expression, or the knowledge that it was his wife’s murder that broke him and turned him villain, I would lean towards the second theory, that he hasn’t a clue how to act with his son, but crossed quite a bit with the Tough Love approach.

Case in point:
Revoking every possible source of finances from Tommy in their very first interaction, under the guise of forcing Tommy to grow up and take responsibility for himself. Now, I don’t know how the economy works in Starling City, but here in the real world, not having things like a permanent residence or reliable transportation tends to count against you in finding a job, unless you can wrangle some kind of government assistance.
Tommy might’ve been given the chance to earn his wages at Oliver’s bar or in Malcolm’s company later on, but that doesn’t change the fact that both those jobs, and moving in with Laurel, were all, to some extent, a charity that he simply had no choice but to accept.
Although on the flip side of that: why do people who need money reject job offers simply to refuse charity? Sure, the offer was made to help that person, but it isn’t free money; it’s a chance to earn that money–and at least one instance had the job offered to someone who the qualifications anyway–and yet, the rejection is there.

And then, following that financial fiasco, we see Malcolm actively trying to get in Tommy’s good graces (and even having a good motive for closing down the mother’s clinic if you can ignore the source of that motive), and trying to protect Tommy when running from a sharpshooter.
So in this context, I deem him someone who genuinely cares about his family and is absolutely terrible at showing it.

Malcolm the villain

As mentioned before, Malcolm Merlyn can be a very charming man when he wants to be.
We the viewers could see, almost immediately after his introduction, that he is a bad man, but most of the characters he deals with (and some of the viewers, in fact), can be forgiven for being lulled by his behavior and believing that he’s one of the good guys.
In fact, though his willingness to murder thousands of people whose only “crime” was living in the same area as where his wife had been murdered is more than a little unsettling, it’s made quite clear throughout the first season that his ultimate plans for the city are effectively good intentions with a horrible application.

And that makes him one of the most dangerous kinds of villains: the kind one can sympathize with, the kind that seems to make sense in his own way.
The kind that truly believes, himself, that what is doing is for the best for everyone else.

He is even more dangerous when you realize that, had he not broken, he and Oliver would have been on the same team.
Malcolm’s original plans to “clean up” the city were exactly what Oliver began as the Arrow, and it was the combination of grief at his wife’s death and frustration and anger at how long it was taking that persuaded Malcolm to take other steps. And yet those “other steps” turned him into the very corruption he sought to cleanse, the very corruption that Oliver was succeeding at cleansing, prompting Malcolm to try to eliminate the Arrow before he could be targeted himself.

And yet, for all that we know that about him, the charm remains.
We see him as much through the other characters’ eyes as we do through our own, and he does a very good job at persuading people that his plans are justified, or even simply misunderstood.
It isn’t until the end of Season 1, in what I personally (for reasons that are totally insignificant, more on that in a bit) find to be the most frightening display of his character, that he drops the charm… in front of his son… displays just how badly he’s lost it, right before he takes the final steps to put his plans to murder thousands of innocents into motion.

The Fright Factor

Why do I find that scene so frightening?
Well, the obvious explanation, which could apply to any viewer, is the simple matter of this oh-so-charming man dropping the act and shouting about how these people deserve to die. That’s pretty scary by itself.

But my “insignificant personal reason” for finding it extra frightening is simply this: the extremely small age gap between myself and the character of Tommy, and the effectively lack thereof between myself and Colin Donnel who played Tommy, makes it so much easier to imagine myself in Tommy’s position, watching “my” father finally losing his last grasp on humanity.
A meaningless coincidence, certainly. It’s just one of the type that I normally find amusing (I have a weird sense of humor), and that just happened to add up to a frightening thought rather than an amusing one this time around.

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