Review: ‘Arrow’ Gets ‘Taken’ With Live-Action Vixen, Walks Back Felicity Twist
Bringing in Constantine was a bad move. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for fan-service, and that sort of inter-network crossover probably had a hand in greenlighting the upcoming Supergirl-Flash jaunt, but “Haunted” mostly used Constantine as a distraction from the ugly task at hand, glossing over some magical mumbo-jumbo to get Sara back to herself, and shiped off to another series. “Taken” might just as easily have fallen into that trap, straining to bring Vixen out of live-action, but mercifully required much less reach for a backstory readily available to stream. The use of magic is relatively new to her as well, something that often left Constantine feeling inaccessible to viewers.
It also helps that “Taken” doesn’t have quite the same dirty work to cover with Vixen’s appearance, but rather a narrative thread that, for good or ill, at least has a steady foundation over the last few seasons. No one would exactly point to Samantha and Oliver’s bizarre deception as a paragon of relatability, but kidnapping William was probably the best way to lay every card on the table, and I like that Arrow wasn’t afraid to overturn every side of that particular bombshell.
Obviously at the heart of all these interpersonal revelations, there’s still a missing child to deal with, and no one quite loses sight of that. What “Taken” does get to play with are the different ideals of fatherhood, and to the hour’s credit, Stephen Amell holds an incredible amount of conflicted emotions together in recording a video explanation for William’s 18th birthday, taking Vixen’s advice to leave his son behind. It’s a move loaded with irony against his own father’s confessed life of secrecy, and perhaps not the right choice for Oliver, or even the series to place a button on this particular storyline yet, but “Taken” admirably never judges the suggestion.
On the one hand, Diggle makes a strong point about Oliver needing to be there for his son, not solely as protection, but as a daily presence in his life, yet the decision to preserve a more innocent childhood feels like a valid one, given the confidence Megalyn E.K. brings to Mari having grown up in foster care*, and turn out just fine. Arrow’s prior insistence that Felicity grew up broken without a father seemed at least a little tone-deaf, but tonight felt very much like an active attempt to give all sides a place in the conversation. Finding space for Laurel’s grief with Oliver cheating on her, or the respective relationships between her father, as well as Thea and Malcolm’s vitriol, all offered a nice balance too.
*Shoehorning in an “animated” backstory went far more smoothly than Constantine’s, but not for lack of trying to regurgitate every relevant detail toward a potential Vixen spinoff.
The bigger piece of the puzzle to fall into place tonight was Felicity literally walking* out on Oliver after all was said and done, itself also given due representation. There isn’t an indiscriminate bone in Felicity’s body, broken or otherwise, and it isn’t as if she made anything of the ordeal about her, or the impossible situation Samantha put him in to lie. She’s right, though, Oliver’s first instinct has been to resume a life of secrets (a line repeated from the earlier crossover timeline, even), and while a full breakup isn’t made explicitly clear, it needed consequence. It’s odd, “Taken” feels like the rare instance of emotional balance keeping more in check than the action itself.
*In earnest, it was always unlikely Arrow would keep Felicity’s paralysis permanent, but if we’re to accept Curtis’ implant magically clicking on in time for her to walk out (apparently, atrophy isn’t a thing in this universe), I’m a little comforted by Emily Bett Rickards acknowledging the brevity to TVLine:
I talked to a woman who had become paralyzed in her 20s in a snowboarding accident, and that conversation was really eye-opening. She was very generous and giving with all of her experience and information.
It made me upset that we didn’t have more time to show what [the acclimation] would be like, because that’s not what our show is about. It made me feel apologetic [because] this takes over your life and we were only able to show that in a minute.
I mention the emotional beats outweighing action in light of the fact that Vixen’s particular powers were never going to translate to live-action easily, and it’s not entirely surprising that so many of the fight sequences felt a bit static (I’m not sure I ever recall Damien Force-choking anyone, let alone using it for every move tonight) as a result. These shows aren’t made of money, and who knows how much mutual budget went into Flash fighting a giant shark, atop the fact that Arrow already used up so much of its stunt credential with James Bamford last week.
If nothing else, Vixen succeeded in depleting Damien Darhk’s abilities by destroying the totem, which very much changes the game going forward. Hell, even Damien acknowledged his boredom winning the fights, and “Taken” kept a strong enough handle on Vixen’s overall confidence that the visual panache seemed forgivable.
Arrow may not have given us any developments on the grave mystery to chew on until March 23, the way Flash unmasked Zoom, but “Taken” certainly could have accomplished less. That’s not ringing praise, granted, but Arrow bungles emotional beats more often than anything else these days, and I liked that almost everything fell neatly into the prism of fatherhood.
AND ANOTHER THING …
- WE ARE NOT MAKING A BIG ENOUGH DEAL ABOUT CURTIS CURING PARALYSIS. THE PEOPLE IN THAT PHYSICAL THERAPY GYM WOULD PERHAPS BE INTERESTED TO KNOW ABOUT IT.
- Come on, Damien still hasn’t put Oliver’s identity together?
- Cool flashback, bro. Possessed Zombie Conklin, glowing tattoo and a cave. Got some Last Crusade vibes goin’ now!
- Grave theory time! It’s almost certain Malcolm is the “him” Oliver intends to kill, and Samantha and William are safe, so is the target back on Thea?
- I never expected Arrow to follow through on Oliver’s bid for Mayor, but if we are setting that storyline aside, Season 4 needs a better replacement than another nameless politician to kill. I vote Quentin! I vote Quentin, if it means they don’t kill Quentin!
- I like that Vixen got an almost-verbatim Batman Begins introduction, just as Oliver did in the pilot.
- Maybe Zombie Conklin’s “We” somehow pertains to HIVE?
Arrow Season 4 will return March 23 with “Broken Hearts”, airing at 8:00 P.M. on The CW.
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