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Arrow 1.12 "Vertigo" Review: Perception is Everything

           Once again this week’s Arrow, “Vertigo”, managed to carry its theme, one of disorientation and loss of balance, throughout the episode. This week’s writing team of Wendy Mericle and Ben Sokolowski also wrote episode five, “Damaged.” Interestingly, both the episodes revealed something of Oliver’s (Stephen Amell) relationship to Yao Fei (Byron Mann). The episode was directed by Wendey Stanzler. The tight close-ups during the tense emotional scenes and the nice long continuous takes for the action have me hoping they bring her back.
            The episode focused on perception and understanding. It was an interesting touch to have too much of the drug Vertigo cause intense pain rather than the pleasure of disorientation that drugs are supposed to seduce you with, just as continuing to delude oneself instead of facing the truth can also be painful. The episode begins with the court’s perception of Thea (Willa Holland) – is she an adult or a juvenile? Is she simply a spoiled rich brat or a troubled young woman who needs to be helped? The episode also saw Quentin (Paul Blackthorne) and Laurel (Katie Cassidy) having to reassess how they viewed Sarah. The flashbacks make us question whether Yao Fei is a good guy or not. Oliver is forced to destroy Thea’s perception of their father in order to get her to look out for herself. And both Thea and Oliver have their perception of their mother challenged. 
            One of the things I like best about Arrow is that it can incorporate humor to lighten the tension in an episode without it breaking the rhythm of the show or becoming corny. In fact it is even able to poke fun at itself and some superhero conventions. I loved that they made fun of “The Count” being as lame an alias as “The Hood”. My favorite scene in tonight’s episode may have been when Oliver dumped the body – that he had supposedly killed – perception again! -  into the trunk and then revived the guy and knocked him out again. Diggle (David Ramsey) immediately responds with, “Whoa! That’s a neat trick! You gonna teach me that one day?” And Oliver immediately shuts him down with a terse “No.” The scene continues and ends with Diggle muttering about becoming a drug dealer as he gets into the car to drive. Later, Diggle tells Oliver: “Your B-S stories are getting worse” when Oliver tried to tell Smoak (Emily Bett Rickards) that he put the “energy drink” in syringes when he ran out of old bottles. Ramsey and Amell continue to have amazing chemistry together, and I like that neither is totally the alpha in their relationship. When it comes to the super hero business and fighting, Oliver is definitely in charge, but Diggle is still able to be a wonderful mentor to Oliver. 
            Another mark of how well crafted this episode is is the transition between Oliver choking out the guy for the Russian mob and the flashback to when he first encountered the move on the Island. Oliver says to the mobster (played once again by the wonderful Eugene Lipinski) “What are friends for?” In the flashback, we are wondering whether Yao Fei is friend or foe. When he chokes Oliver out, it looks like he’s killed him, when in fact, he’s set him free and planted a map on him to take him to a rendez vous point. Diggle, in the present, is wondering if Oliver is friend or foe until the bad guy wakes up in the trunk. 
            Another highlight in this episode is the scene between Laurel and Quentin. Laurel asks her dad to help Thea and tells him that Thea reminds her of Sarah. Quentin says he doesn’t remember Sarah that way. Laurel tries to get him to see that Sarah’s death is at least partially Sarah’s fault and isn’t Oliver’s. Quentin does begrudgingly agree to help Thea. Blackthore and Cassidy and both terrific, but Cassidy, in particular is just fantastic in this scene, which was particularly well-shot.
            Amell and Holland shine in the scene in which Oliver is forced to tell Thea the truth about their father. Oliver is clearly still tortured himself over his father’s fall from grace and it hurts him to have to hurt his sister. When Amell lets the emotion spill out in his eyes in scenes like this, it really highlights how much he holds in as Oliver on a regular basis. It highlights how guarded he plays Oliver and how easily that could be mistaken as a wooden performance without these moments of contrast. I have to tip my hat to Amell for being so very patient in revealing more of Oliver to us.
            Holland continues to impress. Her scene with Moira (Susanna Thompson) was fantastic as she tries to understand why her mother hadn’t tried to defend herself when Thea accused her of cheating on her father. I think that we may find that Moira didn’t defend herself at least in part because she knows she’s not innocent. I did find Thea was a bit all over the map in this episode. She was scared and worried before the first court appearance, then a raging bitch when Oliver and Laurel present her with a way out, and then completely grateful at the end.
            This wasn’t a perfect episode for me. I also found some inconsistencies in the Detective Hall (Janina Gavankar) story line. Who exactly was her CI at the drug bust? And how did she see Oliver? Also, there is no way she would have let Oliver walk out of the police station with a file. A copy maybe, but they never made one. The character, however, is an interesting addition to the cast, and it seems she knows more than she’s letting on. 
            I was looking forward to Seth Gabel’s guest appearance as the Count because I enjoyed him so much on Fringe, but I have to say that I wasn’t completely sold on his performance. I’d heard that he patterned his performance on the Joker. When we see him wheeled off at the end, obviously driven insane by his own drug, I could see him coming back in a very Joker-like persona – and I have no doubt we will see him again, but I thought that pre-overdose, his performance was perhaps a little too flamboyant. In any other super hero television series, I think his performance would have been spot on, but Arrow, for me at least, has been a bit more subtle, for all that it does like to wink at itself occasionally.I still think Gabel is a terrific actor, I just think that the tone of this characterization didn't seem to mesh with the tone of the series.
            Given that the drug made one thug kill himself and drove the Count insane, I wonder if it will, in fact, have any long term effects on Oliver. Hopefully his cure-all from the Island will prevent it.
          Two final thoughts. I really liked that it was Detective Lance’s taunt that the Hood was about to prove himself the killer Lance had been saying he was that actually made Oliver drop the syringe and not kill the Count outright.
            And my final thought is saved for Felicity Smoak. I just adore her geeky, adorable, social ineptitude around Oliver. Amell and Rickards have great chemistry. I love that Oliver spares her by simply pretending not to notice. The final scene with her deciding to come to Oliver with the book and trust him was terrific. I have to confess that I was really hoping she was going to tell him that she’d put all his lies together and figured out he was the Hood... she’s clever after all! This scene was also the final shift in perception in the episode. Oliver now has to re-think how and what he thinks about his mother. There is no good way for her to be in possession of that book.
            What did you think of the Count? Do you think Detective Hall is going to play a big role going forward? Do you think she may have a hidden agenda when it comes to Oliver? How do you think Oliver is going to handle the Moira situation? Sound off in the comments below.

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