It takes someone pretty powerful to frighten Ra’s al Ghul, but as viewers who tune in to tonight’s Arrow season premiere will soon discover, Damien Darhk has power to spare. Embodied by actor Neal McDonough on Arrow, Darhk possesses powers and abilities derived from the world of magic and mysticism, something not yet seen in the “Arrowverse.”
“It’s funny because we started out with a clear intention of doing a very grounded show—no super heroes, no metahumans, no powers, no magic,” said Executive Producer Marc Guggenheim. “And then Warner Bros. and The CW said, ‘Yeah, we really want you to spin off Flash.’”
Arrow’s hit companion series introduced the concept of super powers and metahumans into the universe, which opened the doors to some of the mysticism that Season 3 hinted at, and the full-on magic that we’ll see Darhk wield against Oliver and his team tonight in a series of dramatic confrontations that set the stakes for the episodes ahead.
“One of the things we really wanted to explore this year was seeing a ‘Big Bad’ from the get-go and giving him a lot of room to really challenge Oliver and the team,” explained Executive Producer Wendy Mericle. “We’ve done a lot of gradual reveals of the Big Bads in previous seasons and by frontloading it, we felt like it presented a challenge both to us as writers and to Oliver’s team. We’re intrigued to see where that takes us.”
As a primary antagonist, Damien Darhk is an intriguing choice. Not as well known as Deathstroke or Ra’s al Ghul, Arrow’s previous two baddies, Darhk is largely known in comics as a Teen Titans villain and a founding member of the criminal organization known as H.I.V.E. (a syndicate that will be appearing on Arrow as well). Possessing a youthful, almost childlike appearance, and a genius-level intellect, Darhk has access to high tech weaponry and a thorough understanding of advance technology, but not much is really known about him beyond that. He doesn’t arrive with the sort of expectations that a better known villain may carry, allowing the audience to be surprised as his story unspools. But one thing you shouldn’t be caught off guard by is his ruthlessness. Darhk is about as close as you can get to evil personified.
“The thing we said to Neal is that you’re not only evil, but you enjoy being evil,” Guggenheim elaborated. “There’s a real glimmer in his eye whenever he’s putting the screws to somebody. It’s something we haven’t seen on the show before and that’s one of the reasons we wanted to go in this direction. In Malcolm, Slade and Ra’s, you had bad guys who all thought they were doing the right thing. They had their own nobility. Not so much with Damien. Damien really could give a f--- whether or not you think he’s noble.”
Mericle puts it far more simply: “He has no conscience whatsoever.”
Dahrk isn’t over-the-top. He’s not a villain who uses humor and steals every scene he’s in. He delivers his wishes in a straightforward, matter-of-fact manner. Yet he still manages to elude some sort of charm. He commands attention when he makes an appearance, something that the Arrow team credits entirely to McDonough.
“Neal’s really enjoying having no conscience,” said Guggenheim. “It’s very freeing for him. There are not a lot of actors who can pull that off and make it compelling and interesting to watch every week.”
It’s a good thing too since McDonough will be on the show a lot. The producers have vowed to continue Season 3’s trend of fewer villain-of-the-week episodes.
“It’s not Team Arrow vs. Damien every week because that would get really stupid and repetitive, said Guggenheim. “But we’ve found all these really interesting ways to keep the character of Damien involved in the drama of the show and that’s really to the credit of Neal and us knowing that there’s nothing we could write for him that he can’t pull off.”
That said, don’t expect Damien Darhk to be Ollie’s only antagonist this year. After all, there’s also the new Ra’s al Ghul. Malcolm Merlyn is still very much in the picture, and now he has the entire League of Assassins at his beck and call. What he’ll do with it still remains to be seen, but it probably won’t be too long until we find out.
“You’ll see him early,” promised Mericle. “His arc for the season is really revolving around Thea and trying to be a good father while also being the very evil, badass Ra’s al Ghul. We want to restore him to more of the Season 1 Malcolm, who’s going around and messing up Oliver’s plans and anybody else he can cross paths with.”
New costume, new name, new outlook on life… But it sounds like Oliver Queen will also have a whole new set of problems.
Arrow's Season 4 premiere, "Green Arrow," airs tonight at 8 p.m. (7 p.m. CST) on The CW.