Arrow presented some important, niggling, terrifying questions in its Season 4 premiere flash forward. At the top of the list: Who’s in the grave?! Though much Tumblr speculation and digital ink has been spilled over that question, I think we’re missing out on debating the potentially more intriguing question: Who is the man responsible for the death of the person in the grave? More broadly: Who is Season 4’s true Big Bad?
For most of Season 4, Arrow has presented Damien Darhk as the person responsible for every murder, coercion, and kicked puppy in Star City, but I’m increasingly confident this is a bait-and-switch. Is Arrow’s true Season 4 Big Bad Malcolm Merlyn? Here’s the evidence:
Oliver’s phrasing in the grave scene.
If you go back and watch the grave scene, you’ll notice that, when Oliver references his feelings of responsibility re: the person in the grave, he says: “There’s a time when I would have thought this was my fault, that I brought this darkness upon us. Now, I know it’s not my fault. It’s my responsibility … I’m gonna kill him.” God bless Oliver Queen and his semantics.
Upon first watch, it seems like Oliver is vaguely referencing his past tendencies to take the weight of the world on his shoulders, as is his wont. But what if it isn’t vague at all? What if, when he says, “there [was] a time,” he is specifically referencing his first major clash with Malcolm, back in the broody days of Season 1?
At the end of Season 1 and throughout Season 2, Oliver felt mondo responsible for the destruction of The Glades and Tommy’s death — both a direct result of Malcolm’s actions. This phrasing suggests he could be falling back into this shame spiral — excuse me, responsibility spiral.
We know how far Malcolm will go for vengeance.
Speaking of Season 1 (and, you know, everything Malcolm Merlyn has ever done), we know what Malcolm is capable of. This is the dude who bought not one, but two earthquake machines to take out an entire section of the city because his wife happened to be murdered in it. (Because using your extensive resources to alleviate the poverty and desperation that can lead to crime is harder than logging onto villains.com and cashing in your “buy one earthquake machine, get a second one free” Groupon.)
We’re talking about a dude who drugged his own daughter into killing a friend as part of an elaborate scheme to avoid a League of Assassins assassination. This is the dude who, rather than hand over said League to save the life of his one and only surviving child (because he inadvertently killed the other one) tried to haggle. I also heard he once shot a man in Reno just to watch him die…
Malcolm hates Oliver.
Not only is Malcolm straight-up merciless when it comes to achieving his goals, he doesn’t try to fool anyone about it — and often makes his nefarious goals crystal clear before the fact. (One of his Pinterest boards? “A Wishlist of Ways to Make Oliver Queen Suffer,” probably.) After Oliver, um, chopped off his hand, Malcolm told his surrogate son-emy that he will “repay [him] with a fate worse than death.” I don’t need to break that down for you, right?
Malcolm: “Death would be a mercy compared to the debt I now owe you.”
Oliver: “Don’t you dare threaten me, Malcolm.”
Sounds like someone is going to be spending some extra time staring at his vision board tonight…
Thea officially cut ties with her father.
Malcolm pretty much does whatever he wants/thinks is best, but Thea did have the occasional modicum of influence on her father… when the wind was blowing the right way. In the latest episode, however, Thea officially cut ties with her biological father in an epic row. To which Malcolm responded: “I would rather you hate me and be alive than love me and be dead.” Sounds like some serious foreshadowing of the grave-related variety to me. (Though it also pretty much confirms that Thea isn’t the one in the grave.)
Felicity has never been his biggest fan.
The latest addition to the flash forward timeline we’ve gotten includes true superhero of Arrow Felicity Smoak. In her words: “You know what you have to do, right? You have to kill the son of a bitch.” Guess who hasn’t always been Malcolm Merlyn’s biggest fan? The Smoak Monster. (Yep, that’s a thinly-veiled Lost reference.)
Felicity hardly ever advocates murder. On of her (many) roles upon first joining Team Arrow was to lock Oliver out of his own lair until he agreed to not kill people. But she has always been Team Arrow’s biggest anti-Malcolm advocate and seemed honestly OK with Oliver potentially killing Malcolm to save Thea just a few episodes ago. With the murder of whichever loved one is presumably in the grave, it’s easy to see Felicity making the jump from “yeah, I guess it would be OK to kill Malcolm Merlyn given the circumstances” to “kill the son of a bitch.”
The Slade Wilson formula.
Arrow’s best villain arc thus far has undoubtedly been its Slade Wilson/Deathstroke slow-burner. The show has never been as good at developing the relationship between Malcolm and Oliver in any consistent, relatable way — after all, Malcolm watched Oliver grow up, and Malcolm is one of Oliver’s few remaining father figures — but they definitely have a long, complicated, personal history. With the failure that was the R’as al-Ghul storyline in Season 3, it’s not hard to imagine that the Arrow writers room would choose to return to a relatively safe, proven formula of the personal villain (i.e. Slade and Malcolm) vs. the random dude (i.e. R’as and Damien Darhk) in Season 4. In other words: Watch your back, Oliver Queen. The Dark Archer rises.
Arrow returns Wednesday, March 23rd on the CW.