Since the series began, Arrow has been having a lot of fun with the idea of Oliver Queen (Stephen Amell), his Arrow alter ego – which everyone pretty much refers to as the Hood, but that's okay – and the perceptions that the people in Ollie's life have of both. That concept is at the center 'Vertigo,' an episode that sees Oliver put on three personas in order to help his little sister Thea (Willa Holland) from having the book thrown at her by an overzealous judge.
First, there's the Oliver Queen that everyone knows – the billionaire playboy who was shipwrecked for five years. Next, there is the Hood (Arrow, Green Arrow, what have you) persona who has some in Starling City unsure if he's a hero or a menace. Finally, there is the Oliver Queen who is apparently a captain in the Russian mafia – someone who would kill without compunction just to prove himself the genuine article.
Other than the loathsome mafia folks ordering him to kill one of their henchmen, Diggle (David Ramsey) is (now) the only one with knowledge of Oliver's ties to such a criminal organization. Despite rolling with the punches like Oliver asked him to, Diggle still wants to take his partner to task for killing a thug who posed no immediate threat, just to get closer to the drug dealer who has been poisoning the streets of his city. Naturally, he doesn't really have to, since Oliver uses a "neat trick" to resuscitate the confounded henchman and asks that Diggle set him up with a new identity before shipping him out of town.
Normally, that kind of impossible situation would force the main character to make a sacrifice in order to achieve his primary goal, e.g., become as bad as the enemy or his lose mafia connections, but Arrow gets to have a little cheat, since it's using the incident to connect the present day thread with an island flashback. Admittedly, the whole thing is a bit of a stretch, but it does overcome two clear obstacles that had been presented in last week's 'Trust but Verify' – that of Yao Fei (Byron Mann) being in league with the mercenaries on the island and Oliver being their captive. Now, with the obvious revelation that Yao is still protecting Oliver, and that he's provided him with a map of the island, the flashbacks are open to a host of possibilities.
And that brings things back to when Ollie lightly chides Diggle for not knowing him better than to believe he'd be compelled to kill a lowly henchman at the request of another, more dangerous criminal. Although it's clear that Diggle still has no idea what Oliver is capable of from one moment to the next, the show seems to be suggesting that the closer someone gets to the real Oliver, the more muddled that perception becomes – a fact that helps explain why he goes to such great lengths to cultivate the persona he's best known for.
Although 'Vertigo' somewhat validates the dead henchman moment with the island flashback and Oliver's relationship to Diggle, the same can't really be said of Arrow's confrontation with the Count. Seth Gabel (Fringe) cranks it up to eleven in his performance that's more than a little reminiscent of Cillian Murphy's Dr. Jonathan Crane, with an introductory scene that again sees a lowly henchman being disposed of to make a point. Gabel gleefully dances around one of his dealers after giving him an overdose of vertigo – which convinces the man's brain that he's in excruciating pain – offering him a gun with a single bullet that can be used to exact revenge or end his agony.
Instead of playing up that scene in confrontation between Arrow and the Count, the (temporary?) end of the villain is actually used to further the already negative opinion Det. Lance (Paul Blackthorne) has of the vigilante. Before Oliver can inject the Count with an overdose of his own, Lance tells him he's not the hero some think him to be – he's a killer just like the Count and everyone else who has been unlucky enough to end up on the business end of an arrow. It's interesting to use the villain to further Arrow's interaction with Det. Lance and hopefully, it will pay off somewhere down the line. If anything, seeing the horrific condition of the Count after Arrow is done with him renews Lance's opinion that the vigilante is more menace than savior.
Like 'Burned' and 'Lone Gunmen', 'Vertigo' shifts the focus away from the episode's antagonist and places it firmly on the main characters. While that leads to some soap opera-y moments, maybe they, too, will pay off in the long run since Arrow has begun sewing the seeds of what limits there are to Oliver skating by on the perception most people have of him. It's clear the excuses are beginning to wear thin, and while Felicity Smoak (Emily Bett Rickards) finally calls Ollie on his weak explanations, the momentary relief that the two now have some sort of unspoken understanding is undermined by the revelation that Moira (Susanna Thompson) was in possession of a notebook like the one he took from his father.
Hopefully, that eye-opener will push the series' storyline into whatever plans Malcolm Merlyn (John Barrowman) has for Starling City.
- Tying Thea to Laurel (Katie Cassidy) for the foreseeable future should be a good way to streamline Oliver's non-Arrow interactions with those in the supporting cast.
- The post-Felicity Smoak exchange between Diggle and Oliver did a nice job of hinting at the encounter at the end of the episode. Diggle: "Your B.S. stories are getting worse." Oliver: "Well aware."
- With any luck, the arrangement between Oliver and Felicity will begin to see her brought into the fold with him and Diggle. Rickards' often provides an episode with its most memorable lines (as she did with the off-handed story of a cat being tazed by a guard) and it'd be great to have her as a more integral part of the series.
- Again, the interaction between Arrow and the villain of the week is somewhat lackluster. At least the Count stands some chance of making another appearance sometime down the road.
Arrow continues next Wednesday with 'Betrayal' @8pm on The CW. Check out a preview below: