Arrow "Vertigo" Review: This Episode Wobbled, But Didn't Fall Down

By Noel Kirkpatrick

Jan 31, 2013

Arrow S01E12: "Vertigo"

In the comments of these reviews, we’ve often discussed the villains on Arrow. They either die or are non-entities, and it’s been frustrating. One of the delights of the superhero is the rogues’ gallery, and the series has shied away from really building one for Oliver. Sure, China White’s lurking about (maybe), Deathstroke’s on the island, and there’s Malcolm Merlyn and his Dark Archer persona, but they’re a part of a criminal organization (the Triads), stuck in flashbacks, or they’re playing a long game regarding Starling City.

So the Count, inspired by the comic book character Count Vertigo, represented a big move for the series. Along with Merlyn, Count Vertigo is probably one of Green Arrow’s most threatening foes. In the comics, he uses a device that corrects an inner ear problem to induce the vertigo effect, and against a character like Green Arrow, where aim is everything, you can see how that sort of an ability would make him a dangerous adversary.

Arrow opted to change things a bit, and I generally like its idea of a drug dealer selling the hot new thing. It updates the character, allowing him to be younger than his comic book counterpart tends to be and to fit into the urban crime vibe of the series. His drug is his weapon of choice, not only in terms of making money and obtaining power in Starling City, but in ensuring that he has a last line of defense should all his goons get shot.

But it didn’t completely work for me. While I didn’t dislike Seth Gabel’s performance as the Count since I do enjoy this type of scenery-chewing villain (and boy does he chew that scenery), it was a real departure for the series, as it highlighted someone who not only had that manic energy but who reveled in causing suffering. As Gabel said in a recent interview, though, the character was pitched to him as being Joker-esque, particularly in a The Dark Knight vein, and we saw shades of that as the Count played a Vertigo-infused round of “One bullet left!” with a drug dealer and as he attempted to justify his actions as a public service, of sorts, during the big showdown.

I appreciate the desire to create a big, brash nemesis for Oliver to square off against, and goodness knows I think the show could benefit from that, but I think the writers tried a little too hard to create a Joker-esque character in the Count, especially since we found out at the end of the episode that he’d survived the dose of Vertigo, but may now be, well, insaner. That, or he’s going to come back with superpowers. Maybe both?

Speaking of unstable characters, let’s talk about Thea. I’ve defended Thea from time to time, both in reviews and in the comments, as a girl who's struggling to come to grips with loss and isolation and who lacks the support system necessary to overcome those issues. While I think the show wants that aspect of her character to be the motivating cause of her behaviors, it doesn’t always work in that regard, and it didn’t work here. Wanting to go to jail to punish Moira for cheating on her husbands? Not even in the most self-centered of teen angsty minds would that idea make sense, and it didn’t make a hell of a lot of sense here. Apart from the need for dramatic conflict in this subplot, it’s just silly for her to reject 500 hours of community service, two years of probation, and having to be Laurel’s intern at CNRI.

The resolution of that particular plot, as Thea accepted the fact that it was Moira who stayed true to Robert, felt rushed and generally unmotivated. She didn’t buy it from Oliver, but Moira and Oliver discussed it and she was suddenly all game for the notion? Whatever. If this manages to push the Queen family stuff in a more productive direction because the tensions between Moira and Thea have been lessened, I’ll take it as a narrative shortcut and I’ll just repress the parts I didn’t like.

On the upside, Thea seeing the truth about Robert, or at least that version of it, gave Felicity handing over the notebook to Oliver a nice bit of symmetry, as Oliver is now on the path to finding out the truth about Moira. While I certainly miss Walter, I’m all in favor of the show bringing Oliver and Felicity into more direct cahoots with one another, as opposed to the self-reflexively acknowledged and increasingly lame “B.S. stories.”

The island flashback was fine. I was a bit disappointed in Yao Fei’s reversal as I wanted the impact of that twist where he was a bad guy to carry through for a bit. However, he turned out to be an okay dude who beat the crap out of Oliver to save him from Fyers’ clutches. And so that journey continues.

As does our own with Arrow. We have eleven episodes left in the season, and I still feel almost the same as I did even after the four-episode test back in November: I like the show, and I see a lot of potential, but it’s not setting my world on fire. I’m hoping that as we enter the back half of the series where the full-season pickup would have been announced, that the series starts tightening itself up a bit.

For most of you, that would likely mean minimizing or outright excising the supporting cast, save for Diggle and possibly Felicity. For me, it means giving Laurel and Tommy and Thea and Moira stronger stories, and could possibly even mean episodes where there’s no crime-fighting at all, in order to focus on building up those character connections. The struggles of the hero having a dual identity and having to juggle the lives that surround the hero are a part of superhero narratives, and I don’t want to see that aspect eliminated from Arrow; it just needs to be improved upon. I’m hoping we see that improvement as we move forward.


Notes & Quotes


– Count Vertigo in the comics is also royalty of an eastern European country, though he’s often not ruling it or has been ousted, hence the life of crime. The character’s also made appearances in Batman: The Animated Series, The Batman, and Young Justice. He’s a pretty high-profile villain, as they go.

– “The Count? That’s worse than the Hood.” But is it lamer than Green Arrow?

– Fun comic book fact: Green Arrow actually had a Joker-esque villain named Leapo the Clown, though he went by the name Bull’s Eye.

– I’m not going to lie: I really didn’t think we’d see Oliver’s Russian mob contacts again.

– “Fantastic. Looking forward to my new and exciting career as a drug dealer.”

– Mansions! Great for hiding just outside of rooms in order to overhear the conversations happening within them before making a dramatic entrance!

– Oh my. Oliver shirtless and he’s handcuffed to a table. I do believe that Diggle has been reading my fanfic.

– Promo for next week seems to be pretty Laurel heavy. So, you know, spend the interim preparing yourselves.


What'd you think of this week's episode?

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  • Thanatos360 Feb 12, 2013

    So did Arrow rip off Xena's neck pinch?

  • smithinjapan Feb 03, 2013

    I'm assuming the Count will be back and pretty much insane, so I hope they improve on him the second time around because as far as villains go I thought the character was utter crap and I couldn't take him seriously at all (and sorry, couldn't shake Lincoln from my head when I saw him -- too soon after the end of Fringe for me. I guess a guy's gotta work, though).

    Also, what's with everyone on the show starting to speak like they have gobstoppers tucked into their cheeks as they take a break to talk? First it's Laurel's dad talking like that, and in this episode Thea.

  • CarolinaPiazz Feb 06, 2013

    Yeah, during the show I was all like "Hey Lincoln, does Olivia know you are being a drug dealer and shit? Go back to the FBI, man!"

  • KayWatkins Feb 03, 2013

    While watching I just kept thinking "oh Lincoln, what have they done to you? They've made you a cheesy villain!" I was torn between just seeing him on my tv screen again vs. the ridiculously over the top character they had him play. Ah well.

  • bleumystique Feb 02, 2013

    Yes to this review! Just yes!
    -The Count. yeah. That's exactly what he felt like, a combination of Sesame Streets Count and the freakin Joker. He was too cartoonish. It made me cringe. He didn't strike me as particularly menacing or anything of the sort, he just bugged me. i had the urge to pull out my nerf gun (yes I am a grown woman with a nerf gun) and pelt him in the face with spongy orange arrows of my own.
    -You know what it was about Thea? She does not act her age. She has moments where he seems insightful...rare moments, but then when you think about the fact that she's supposed to be 18 but spends most of the time behaving like a 14 year old at best, even those sparks of insightfulness came off wrong because in my head I'm thinking, she's supposed to have a reasonable thought process at this age, that isn't insightful. That's supposed to be normal. I mean really? Going to jail to punish your mom? Damn it sucks that she's 18 because at this point I'd suggest getting her evaluated.
    -I love Felicity. I love that maybe, just maybe, now this means that they'll use her even more. That she'll be more involved. I love that she finally acknowledged that Ollie's stories suck, that she never buys them, and she just goes along with things because her gut and instinct tells her that she can trust him. I honestly wouldn't be surprised if she knows who he is and just isn't saying it. Basically, Felicity, like Diggle would be a fantastic ally to have. The thought of those three working together would just make this series for me. Plus she's so adorable and awkward and I love her, when she got all weird and rambled on about Ollie's physique I felt like I was watching a kindred spirit. Nerdy chicks FTW.
    - Diggle has the best lines. Love him. And shirtless Ollie. Love those two.
    -I did like Janina G's detective character. She had more presence, depth, and chemistry with Ollie in one episode than Laurel has mustered up in many. I keep feeling like Laurel falls short as a character most of the time. I don't see her as the love of Ollie's life so to speak, I don't feel any love triangle thing (thank God!), she leaves me feeling indifferent most of the time. So maybe she, Tommy, Moira, and Thea do need stronger storylines, or character revamps or something.

  • ReneeQuintero Feb 02, 2013

    i really liked this episode, don't if i was overly excited to see Seth Gabel, since Fringe is over so...but really love is character and happy he is not dead, but hopefully can be repair what ever damage even if he's insanier (if this makes any sense), and also looking forward to the effects of the drug on Oliver...

    Really enjoying the series so far..always room for improvement..so lest hope for the best

  • Draconax Feb 02, 2013

    I honestly keep waiting for Felicity to literally jump Oliver. I absolutely adore the way she stumbles over herself talking to him, and constantly puts her foot in her mouth. It's pretty obvious that she's into Oliver, and who wouldn't be? Stephen Amell is so hot, I almost wanna have sex with the guy. She needs to jump his bones, asap.

  • kwanschura Feb 05, 2013

    I'm right there with you. I love Felicity, and hope we see more of her character and her interaction with Oliver!

  • TomWayne Feb 01, 2013

    I was waiting for it, and it finally happened. Did you catch it?
    The acknowledgemetn of Felicity as the show's version of the Nolanverse Lucius Fox--her insistence that she is not an idiot is a ref to the Batman Begins line by Lucius, "But don't think of me as an idiot" when he got tired of Bruce's bloated fibs as much as Felicity has of Oliver's. She hasn't quite acknowledged that he's the Hood, but I'm sure that's coming. (Although I hope they'll continue to use the same approach, with the lame stories being delivered with knowing grins.

    And, as much as I love Morgan Freeman's work (and fully acknowledge that he's a far greater actor), Ms. Smoak is easier on the eyes, and that whole harassment-awkwardness humor just wouldn't have flown between Freeman and Bale.

  • Televisioneer Feb 03, 2013

    My sentients exactly. I've been waiting and waiting for it, wondering when the writers would get around to this central bit of the storyline instead of leaving it hanging episode after episode. I was really satisfied when it finally happened, and by how it happened, because it left me anticipating how this relationship will proceed next.

  • abdulay31 Feb 01, 2013

    The episode is filler and a major let down with clumsy writing, Ollie exposing himself to the SCPD, fighting on despite the effects of Vertigo, The heart stopping stuff, and the villain were major no for the episode and i hope the show gets back on track.

  • docspector Feb 01, 2013

    If the Count comes back from an overdose of experimental artificial drugs with the ability to throw knives made of light and teleport, who sues who?

    Should Vertigo get together with Jervis Tetch and Crazy Quilt to start a band?

  • prowly Feb 01, 2013

    "Oh my. Oliver shirtless and he's handcuffed to a table. I do believe that Diggle has been reading my fanfic."

    Okay, that was hilarious!

  • noelrk Feb 01, 2013

    I am unnecessarily happy with that bulletpoint.

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