Arrow has promised big changes since the season 3 finale ended with Oliver and Felicity literally driving off into the sunset. A lighter tone and exploring the greater DC comics universe, such as its mystical elements, were both promised. So far (as much as they can be in one episode), those changes appear to have been met.
In the season 4 premiere, the writers delivered on changing the extraordinarily bleak tone of season 3. The perpetually brooding Oliver Queen is now genuinely happy. Overall, the newly included light moments are balanced with the dark -- which comes with the introduction of this season's big bad, Damien Darhk. The character is described as being possibly the most evil villain Team Arrow has ever faced -- but according to Neal McDonough, who plays the villain, he didn't start out that way.
McDonough said in an interview with E!News that:
"Halfway through the season, you find out something about Damien: that he actually does have a soul. We'll go into why Damien turned into who he is. We're flashing back to why Damien's so evil and so determined to crush the world. He does have some heart in there somewhere. You haven't seen it yet, and you don't see it for a good third of the way through the season, and then once you do see something that he does love, then that sets him off, and he'll want to kill anyone who does mess with the thing that he does love."
So, Arrow will be sticking to their formula of having bad guys be a little more complex than just bad guys. Past antagonists like Malcolm Merlyn (John Barrowman) and Slade Wilson (Manu Bennett) had sincere motivations for their villainy -- each motivated by personal tragedy. Both have been as grounded as they can be within the scope of a superhero show. What's really different about Darhk (aside from the superpowers) according to McDonough, is that he specifically tries to infuse Darhk with a sense of comic book evil. He compares his take on Darhk to Jack Nicholson's Joker and Gene Hackman's Lex Luthor:
"You can't wait to see Damien come back on the screen, because he's just going to be crazy. There are times where I'm just enjoying punishing people so much and then there are moments that I have to get it done because I'm getting impatient, and I just want to throttle people. "
McDonough also went on to say that even with Darhk's comical side and human motivation, he's definitely evil, manipulative, and has a hand in everything bad that happens in Star City in season 4. Having a heart gives him motive to be terrible -- and when Green Arrow messes with something he loves you'll get to see him go crazy, McDonough promised.
The way McDonough describes Darhk -- and what's to come on Arrow -- is exciting, to say the least. He makes it sound like the show won't fall back on the too dark tone anytime soon. But McDonough has also made it clear that Darhk will offer some heavy threats -- which is great. Gritty has been part of Arrow's identity since season 1 and no one wants the show to go full sunshine. Incorporating the playful comic book feel that has made its sister show The Flash so popular with the larger-than-life threat of Darhk is exactly what Arrow needs.
Arrow airs on The CW Wednesdays @8pm.