My own accidental first impression of the character beside 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
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. Starling City
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
were all, to some extent, a charity that he simply had no choice but to accept. Laurel
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 had 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 he 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 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.
‘Malcolm Merlyn’ is an extract of a larger article taken from Tamie’s wonderful Wordpress account. To read it in full, go to: