Improbably as it sounds though, “Vertigo” continues Arrow’s 2013 winning streak, despite the presence of a flash in the pan villain, because the direction is uncharacteristically strong. The success owes a lot to the opener, which has Oliver chasing down a dealer near the harbor, pumping him for info on who’s been supplying vertigo to wholesome socialites like Thea. It’s a scene the show has already done at least a half a dozen times already, but director Wendy Stanzler, who’s credits cover everything from Parks and Recreation, to Pretty Little Liars, shoots it better than anyone else has thus far. The use of a thunderclap, and slow-motion puddle splashing might be a bit rote, but it is effective and energetic, which are two qualities Arrow sorely lacks some weeks.
As I alluded to in my review for FX’s new drama, The Americans, first impressions matter for a show, both on an episode, and series level. When Arrow puts its action-heavy, conflicted vigilante foot forward, and then makes it the main thrust behind whether or not Thea, a character I don’t really care about, winds up in jail, the show becomes more cohesive, and less like an awkwardly bifurcated mix of Batman imitation, and teenage lifestyle porn. This is arguably the best directed episode of the season thus far, featuring the kind of clean, brutal fight choreography memorable Arrow episodes usually aspire to, as well as a much livelier momentum when moving through, and transitioning between dialogue scenes.
The writing doesn’t always inspire quite so much confidence as the directing, mind you. The show still struggles frequently on both a micro and macro scale in this regard. It’s great that we’re moving away from purely comic relief characters, and guys like Digg and Oliver can be funny when appropriate. That Arrow needs to hammer these jokes home with a mallet at every other turn isn’t as welcome. Meanwhile, the newly introduced Detective Hall seems like a potentially intriguing new love interest for Oliver -and it’s nice to see Detective Lance isn’t, in fact, the only plainclothes in Starling City’s police department-, but her appearance is purely a function of plot.
And while I’m glad Thea ends the episode in character development rehab, the resolution of her bickering with Moira is kinda bungled. Newly adult children dealing with seeing the truth behind their parents is a complicated, relatable angle, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find a viewer who sympathizes with a teenager willing to go to jail to spite their mother. The plot resolution to the jail story is fine, but emotionally, it’s over-simplistic (and weirdly paternalistic) that Moira would take the heat for her husband’s indiscretions because Thea’s her daughter. Worse, it undercuts a potentially nice parallel in the big reveal at episode’s end.
Smoak, the queen bee of plot-moving side characters, approaches Oliver with the list she and Walter stole from Moira shortly before his kidnapping. Amell plays the moment with an appropriate amount of attempted cool, and barely contained confusion. Not only has Oliver’s belief that he has one normal parent just gone out the window, but the validity of the list, the thing that he’s dedicated his life to, is now in question. With Walter MIA, Thea busy doing paperwork, and Tommy off doing whatever Tommy does, Arrow’s attention is wisely focusing in on the key players, and the closer we get to the endgame, the more excited I am at the potential the show has to stick the landing. I’m not saying it will, but “Vertigo” is another episode showcasing how parts of Arrow have a higher ceiling for quality than most weeks let on.
- Stray Thoughts
-Island update: Oliver “escapes” Fyres’ prison camp, with some help from Yao Fei and his nifty Vulcan neck pinch. And now he has a map telling him to go somewhere. I’m still unsure of how they’ll explain last week’s dramatic reversal, but I’m growing to enjoy the flashback sections more and more.
-Speaking of which, the gladiator fights were perhaps a nice nod to Manu Bennett, star of Spartacus, being cast as Deathstroke. Much like that show, his outwards appearance belies some very strong talent.
-Laurel has as close to a standout episode as she’s ever had. Katie Cassidy sold her family scene with Paul Blackthorne better than any of the others the show has attempted. What are the odds the files from March 2007 she has Thea digging up are related to the yacht accident five years ago?
-While Stanzler’s direction can make hay out of your typical “villain kills the snitch” scene, there’s only so much she can do when showing Laurel’s home life as a living, breathing Window’s Surface advertisement.
-No trick arrows or ab-tastic workouts this week, unless you count Oliver convulsing violently from an overdose on hallucinogens. In which case, eww.