Character Profile: Malcolm Merlyn

The Character Profiler

You know those guys on the crime shows (and books, and real life), the criminal profilers? They look at how these guys commit crimes and figure out stuff about them. Well, that’s what I do, only I deal with fictional characters rather than criminals.

I decided to write this essay on Malcolm Merlyn from Arrow because… well, just because I find it rather fascinating. If you haven’t watched Arrow Season 1 yet, this will contain spoilers. Either that, or you will have no idea what I’m talking about. :X But really, you should try to watch the first season without spoilers, because half the fun is wondering about these people, what they’re doing, and why.

And just who the heck Malcolm Merlyn is. Because you don’t find out anything about this guy until like the last three or four episodes.

Meanwhile, all my profiling is mere speculation, and should not be taken as canon. Except, of course, in my own fanfic where I do use it for character development. Yes, shameless plug for “Green & Black”!

Let’s cover the basic triumvirate of a character’s definition: What he likes, what he hates, and what he wants the most.

What he likes:

This is the most difficult to figure out. He doesn’t really seem to have much fun. :X

But I’m going to say that he likes being in control. He likes knowing what is going on, and being able to predict what people will do. He’s very smart, and he’s a very crafty manipulator. He’s not like David Xanatos (of Gargoyles), who is a very bored rich man and likes to play intricate games where he makes people jump through hoops. Malcolm is like a predator. He likes to know where his prey is and what it’s going to do. He likes to plan out his attack, and then strike at the right moment.

What he hates:

Betrayal is his one big hot-button.

He’s very reserved, and appears cold and emotionless, but this is mainly a defense mechanism. There’s a wall there. He does not quickly or easily let people into his trusted zone, but once he does, he is an unfailingly loyal friend to them. The problem, of course, is that he expects the same from others, and they rarely have the same commitment.

Now, if this is true, how did he end up murdering his best friend, Robert Queen? Robert opposed the Undertaking scheme, which I doubt is a unique incident. I’m sure they had discussions and differences of opinion on many aspects of the group’s projects. But in this instance, Robert went behind Malcolm’s back to try to thwart him, which made him Malcolm’s enemy. As soon as you betray his friendship like that, that’s the end of it. You do not get a pass, no matter how many years you’ve been friends.

You can also see his anger when he suspects a traitor in the group trying to assassinate him. He asks Moira, his faithful friend, to uncover the traitor, and she hands over their friend and associate, Frank Chen. Malcolm not only slays Chen, but wants to go after his family and kill his wife and daughter as well. Fortunately, Moira talks him out of it.

Then, of course, when Moira betrays him on live TV, Malcolm totally loses it.

When he’s fighting, and about to kill Oliver, he tells him that his mother and sister will be joining him soon in death. I don’t think he’s planning to kill them in retaliation for Oliver and Diggle fighting him and trying to thwart his plans. They’re opponents, they fought. He can handle that with a certain aplomb. But Moira’s utterly unexpected betrayal is what set him off. He wants to punish Moira by killing her and her children.

What he wants:

It’s clear that Malcolm’s driving force is to seek revenge for his wife’s murder — or justice, depending on how you look at it. His goal is to reduce crime in the city, and to do this, he’s willing to wipe out thousands of people who happen to live in ‘bad’ neighborhoods. But that is not what he wants. In the words of another famous profiler, “That is incidental.”

What he wants is to feel forgiveness from his wife, Rebecca.

His problem — his tragic flaw — is that it is impossible for him to actually achieve this.

From what we know about Rebecca, she is a caring, giving person; and the two of them were very much in love. So it stands to reason that she would forgive him. But she’s dead, so she can’t actually tell him this.

In order to be able to feel that she forgives him, what actually needs to happen is for him to forgive himself. He’s not as capable of this as she is. First of all, he’s a rather vengeful person, and not prone to forgiving people who’ve wronged him. Secondly, he still has guilt.

It’s easier to forgive someone else who has aggrieved you, because you do not feel their guilt. When you’re guilt-ridden, it’s very hard to just let that go and pretend you have a clean slate. So he can’t forgive himself because he feels guilty, and he can’t stop feeling guilty until he forgives himself.

Now, since it is impossible for him to achieve this state of forgiveness within himself, he turns to external avenues. Obviously, if he could get revenge/justice on the man who shot Rebecca, he could feel as if he had atoned for his mistake and carry on with his life. I don’t know how they handled it in canon, but in “Green & Black,” they never caught the guy. He’s a ghost. After so many years, he’s probably not even still alive, but just another criminal/junkie who ended up face-down in the gutter in the Glades.

His next logical target is to prevent what happened to Rebecca from happening to anyone else. This is how he ends up in the group whose purpose is to aid the police force and the justice system. But no one can ever eliminate crime altogether. Malcolm will have to settle for a goal of reducing crime in the city. But as any of those professional self-help plan authors will tell you, having a vague goal is worse than having no goal at all. How can he reach a point in time where crime is reduced? Reduced by how much? It can always go lower.

This vague goal ends up frustrating him, because he can never definitively achieve it. He can never feel his job is finished, and thus he can never attain this feeling of forgiveness.

Lastly, he turns to a more drastic plan, the Undertaking. With this plan, he moves away from the single target of the man who is truly responsible for Rebecca’s death, and further from the concentrated target of criminals in general. He turns to basically just everybody. He’ll wipe out everybody and everything in the Glades and then build something new and better on top of the ashes (or rubble, as the case may be).

It’s clear to anyone else that this couldn’t possibly help him achieve his goal. Rebecca was dedicated to helping the poor unfortunates of the Glades. If she knew he was slaughtering innocents, she would be horrified and never forgive him. Nevertheless, he pursues this plan with single-minded vehemence. He can justify this by turning his guilt outward and projecting it as rage — which he learned on his sojourn to Nanda Parbat. It was the innocent bystanders (or not-so-innocent) who failed to come to Rebecca’s aid as she lay bleeding in the street.

These people are his surrogate. Just like them, he didn’t heed Rebecca’s cries for help. He ignored her and let her die. He can’t kill himself, he has too much responsibility. He runs a multi-national corporation with hundreds of thousands of employees (not to mention the investors) who depend on it for their livelihood. And there’s his son, Tommy, whom he has to make sure is taken care of. But he can kill these other people, and he will, with a vengeance.

He counted on Rebecca as his moral compass when she was alive. Since she’s died — it’s not that he no longer has a moral compass, but worse: he’s now using Moira in this capacity. Moira, of course, has no idea the kind of power she holds over him. Instead, she believes it is the other way around, that he has the power and that he is victimizing her. She believes — with good reason — that if she opposes Malcolm’s plans and ideas, that he will kill her, just as he’s killed Robert.

Even when Malcolm starts to doubt himself, which he confesses he does, Moira doesn’t dare voice opposition to the Undertaking. And because he trusts her implicitly, he believes that she is leading him to do the right thing. He believes she represents the same morality Rebecca would have, were she still alive.

What I find interesting to speculate is, if Malcolm’s plan had gone ahead unhindered (and he had survived), how long would it be before he realized he’d made a terrible mistake. Would he even realize it? He knows that thousands of people will die, and he claims all he will feel about it is a sense of accomplishment. But I think he is still thinking in the abstract. He’s thinking about the faceless bystanders who let Rebecca die, and thinking further into the future, after the Glades have been rebuilt.

But there is no doubt that the earthquake Malcolm has planned for the Glades will be quite messy. Many people will die, and a great many will be injured, some crippled for life. Families will be torn up, children will be orphaned. There is sure to be a great deal of news coverage of the disaster, focusing on the tragedy and losses. Would Malcolm Merlyn be able to look at these images, to listen to these stories, and not realize how Rebecca would feel about them?

It may be possible for him to sublimate that, by concentrating on the end goal of a rebuilt city. And then, years from now, when that project is complete, would he finally be able to feel that he has made up for the wrongs he has committed? Or will his feelings of guilt persist despite everything?

I suppose we’ll never know, now…


Though the further thought occurs to me…. That Malcolm might be able to achieve his goal, if Tommy can forgive him. Well, that’s not possible in canon, but it still exists as a possibility in “Green & Black.” The problem there, however, is that Malcolm feels too guilty about Rebecca’s death to tell Tommy the truth.

You’ll notice in the television series that when Malcolm shows Tommy the recording he has saved of Rebecca’s last words, he tells a different story than he’d previously told Robert. He tells Tommy that he didn’t know Rebecca had called; that he only found her messages when he awoke the next morning. This has confused some people, but let me set that straight: Malcolm is totally lying.

He can’t face the thought of admitting to Tommy that he is responsible for his mother’s death. Tommy already hates him for what a horrible father he’s been throughout Tommy’s life. For Tommy to know this horrible crime Malcolm has committed would just destroy any chance for them to ever reconcile.

Yet, if he doesn’t admit it to Tommy, Tommy will not be able to forgive him for it. And again, Malcolm’s goal will be impossible to achieve.


Bonus: The Dark Archer’s Martial Arts Style

I also want to share with you what I’ve learned while looking up martial arts styles of India and Tibet. I discovered the Tibetan White Crane style which matches perfectly with the Dark Archer’s character.

Also known as Lama Pai, Hop Gar, and Lion’s Roar, the Tibeten White Crane style was purportedly inspired by a fight between an orang utan and a crane. While the orang utan tried to seize and strangle the bird, the crane struck with its beak at vital joints on the ape’s body.

The base theory of this style goes: “Strike the place that has a pulse, never a place that has no pulse, and stretch the arms out while keeping the body away.” This is a lyrical description of the style, which focuses heavily on striking vital points (places that have a pulse).

The four precepts I think you will find define the Dark Archer and Malcolm Merlyn quite well.

Chan – ruthlessness. The fighter does not pull any punches, but always strikes full force, completely dedicated to the blow. Each hit is designed to maim, cripple, or kill. Whether kicking the crap out of the Hood, or making sure to protect his business assets, Malcolm Merlyn is ruthless.

Sim – evasion. This style advocates dodging incoming blows, rather than blocking. I’m not in complete agreement with this philosophy, as I think it’s more fatiguing to move your whole body out of the way than it is to block an incoming blow, but that’s just me. You’ll notice both archers are capable of dodging projectiles.

Chyuhn – piercing. The primary goal of each strike is to pierce a vital point. Like the crane, the practitioner picks his foe apart with precisely calculated strikes.

Jit – interception. If you cannot dodge a blow, you should of course block it. But don’t just block it. Each block should also be an offensive strike, and destroy the attacking limb. This returns to the idea of ruthlessness. If they attack you, do not hesitate to utterly destroy them in return.



2 Responses to “Character Profile: Malcolm Merlyn”

  1. Astra Says:

    Just found this by accident (google *g*) – what a great write up on the character! Some very helpful insights. I feel a bit better now knowing that there were more like me confused about the different ways he described the events of that night.
    Aw, I’m sure he was a great guy once. Things like that can either destroy a person – or make them stronger, or totally change them.
    I have to wonder though why you are so convinced that he is dead in canon. I am doing it like Jack O’Neill, putting my fingers into my ears, going “Lalala…” While I was totally shocked at the scene, I really think he will be back, and not just in flashbacks. That just can’t have been it already. It doesn’t make any sense, especially with Tommy’s death. And they did not really show him die, it was too quick for that.
    Plus, if I step out of the fandom world for a moment, they totally know what they have with John Barrowman and how much the fans love him. I hear it is what made them change what they originally had planned, whatever that was. So, hear my words, he will be back, someday, somehow. And then you will hear the loud scream all the way over the ocean!

    Good night

    • bloodsong Says:

      hey, astra! ::waves::

      hahaha, that’s funny; i haven’t even mentioned on ffnet that i posted this yet! i’m glad you liked it.

      did i say he was dead? yeah, for now, he’s dead. OR IS HE? i don’t think i said he was DEFINITELY dead. i’m sure i just reported it as the show had it. ;)

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