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

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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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