Arrow Ep 1.12 ‘Vertigo’ shows signs of improvement away from the hood

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Arrow Season 1, Episode 12 ‘Vertigo’

Directed by Wendey Stanzler

Written by Wendy Mericle & Ben Sokolowski

Airs Wednesday nights at 8pm ET on The CW
Arrow‘s been a bit of a frustrating watch through its first season: for every moment of tautly shot action or great character interaction, there are melodramatic scenes filled with contrived plot twists, broad characterizations, and pointless antagonists. ‘Vertigo’ continues this trend, finally making some positive movement with a few characters, but completely swinging and missing when it came to the villain of the week material.

Like many freshman shows, Arrow is still searching for a tonal balance – at times, ‘Vertigo’ feels like a show confused. There are multiple moments in ‘Vertigo’ where it feels like the writers want to take things in a darker, grittier direction, but ultimately resign themselves to taking the shallower, less morally complex route.

It’s most evident in the scene where Oliver is reporting to his Russian mob colleague and strangles a man under his command. But he wasn’t really dead; somehow Oliver learned a trick to fake kill someone after having it done to himself on the island. It’s a big cop out: had Oliver really killed that guy, not only would it put his relationship with Diggle in an interesting position, but would show some moral degradation the show’s only hinted at thus far (always justifying his violence as “taking out bad people” or self defense). Choking a stranger to protect an identity is some dark shit, but Arrow only appears to be interested in violence for action and occasional shock factor, which we get in the introduction of The Count.

The show’s set a pretty low bar for bad villains, but The Count easily wins for dumbest name (he stabs his victims with two needles, “like a vampire does”, a cop explains), and is a solid challenger with the fire bug as the worst villain overall. Seth Gabel’s unhinged performance is such an empty Joker imitation, it leaves his character with absolutely no personality except “he’s batshit crazy!” – and clearly doesn’t present any kind of real challenge to Oliver at any point. The Count manages to inject him with Vertigo, but it only leads to him swaying around a bit while he’s kicking ass later on, ultimately returning the favor to The Count, who is last seen being pulled away on a gurney to a psychiatric institution (just like…. yup, you guessed it).

But away from the Hood’s crusade against drugs, Arrow finally started to give their ancillary characters something interesting to do. Getting Thea to reconcile with her mom and be nice to Laurel took a lot of kicking, screaming, and Thea being immature, but finally getting her out of that mold a little bit gave us a reason not to want to kick her down the Queen’s massive stair case for once. Plus, the show gives us a major wink, wink to what’s coming: both Oliver and Laurel call her by her nickname, Speedy – which comic book fans will remember as the name of Green Arrow’s sidekick. As we move through the back half of the season, I’m hoping Arrow continues its focus on her character, and maturing her into a woman capable of teaming up with Oliver next season.

‘Vertigo’ isn’t a great episode, but it’s a step in the right direction for a show still trying to find a harmonic balance of gritty realism and comic book coolness. Better material for its secondary characters definitely helps, and once the big season baddies come back into play, hopefully the show can blossom.

 

Other thoughts/observations:

– the entirety of this week’s flashbacks: Oliver gets the shit kicked out of him by Yong Fei, and then gets thrown off a cliff into a creek and wakes up.

– at least Diggle isn’t an idiot: “Your BS stories are getting worse,” he warns Oliver.

– Quentin is such a hard ass… until you mention his daughters.

– only one end-of-scene deep breath by Laurel tonight; usually she’s good for three or four.

– let’s take a step back here: Thea was going to jail for getting high once. Let’s be serious.

– Everybody wants a piece of Oliver Queen: old party friend/current cop, Felicity, probably Laurel…

– Uh oh: Tommy works nights and Laurel works days. Drama to come!

– Laurel never spends any time with Thea, but dead her sister lives vicariously through her. More than a stretch.

– Thanks Windows 8: you pull up news articles about upper-class teenage drug users faster than anyone.

– Vertigo is measured in lives: since it killed 56 people, that makes The Count the drug Joe DiMaggio.

 

Randy Dankievitch

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