Last week Arrow left off with Thea (Willa Holland) arrested for driving under the influence of Vertigo, Starling City’s newest party high, bringing the drug and its nefarious dealer, The Count (Seth Gabel), center stage. It’s another neat twist on DC lore turning the austere Count Vertigo into a drug dealer peddling a substance that when over imbibed leaves the user suffering from some dizzying effects. With Thea facing jail time because Judge Jerkface wants to see her made into an example for the drug-addled youth of Starling City, Ollie (Stephen Amell) sees his only option as bringing in The Count to take the heat off Thea.
Since it’s his sister on the line, Ollie uses every available means to hunt down The Count. As Oliver Queen he visits an old flame from his partying days, McKenna Hall (Janina Gavankar), now a vice cop, who provides him with a couple leads including “The Count” alias. And do you want to know how he earned such a moniker? You sure? Because I’m sorry, it’s pretty dumb. See, Vertigo is a very potent substance and required quite a bit of testing before it was street safe. Testing done on homeless bums and destitute prostitutes. When those poor souls were found overdosed there would be two puncture marks on their necks from the syringe. Vampire bites, get it? Vampire bites, The Count, isn’t that funny!? Yeah … umm, clever.
Anyway, with the tips Oliver Queen learned from Hall, Ollie the captain in the Russian mob – a story I’m sure hoping we see someday – seeks out connections in town who will set up a meeting between him and The Count. In order to prove himself loyal to the Bratva, Ollie’s asked to kill a man in cold blood who’s displeased the boss. A task Ollie doesn’t even bat an eye over doing, to the shock and horror of Diggle (David Ramsey). Oh, he of little faith. Though, I’ll admit I too believed Ollie offed the guy, it’s not as if he hasn’t killed before. But surprise! He used some sort of fake death sleeper hold and later revived the dude with a gentle caress under the chin.
It’s silly, I’ll admit, but what it does is tie in the events of the present with those of the past on the island. If you’ll remember last week Yao Fei (Byron Mann) was outed as a double agent who’d been working for Fyers and the mercenaries all along. While Oliver’s locked up the men let off some steam by beating each other to death, like ya do, but it’s kind if cool when it provides a nice little showcase for Deathstroke. Yao Fei brings Ollie into the ring and “kills” him in front of everyone. And now it all makes sense, Yao Fei is actually a double, double agent and he put Ollie in that same fake death sleeper hold. When later disposing of the body he brings Ollie back to life, plants a map of the island on him, and send him on his merry way. Sure, it’s all done by tossing him off a cliff and into a river, but the point is Ollie needs to learn to survive.
Once proven to be a tough and trusted thug of the Bratva, Oliver gets his meeting with The Count. And, y’know, I really wanted to like this villain. I thought it was a neat premise and would play well into the already present drug problems of Starling City, but I just couldn’t buy it. Sure, I don’t hang with a lot of drug dealers, but something about Gabel’s performance came off as forced and over the top. In fact, during an earlier scene where he’s making an example of – funny how that keeps coming up – one of his underlings The Count acts sort of maniacal in the way Heath Ledger played The Joker. Only, not nearly as impressive. It was like a watered down version of that performance, stripped of the intensity, and left The Count coming off like a weirdo with a cool coat. I don’t know, maybe it’s what they wanted, but it seemed cartoonish and out of place for the more grounded “reality” of Arrow.
I mean, just look at him leering over his minions while they cook up some Vertigo. And what’s with the plastic bags and underwear only look? This isn’t Breaking Bad.
But before we get there, Ollie’s initial meeting ends with a police bust and The Count doses him with an almost lethal amount of Vertigo. Needless to say, it makes him whig. And the after effects linger for a while, making the job harder for Ollie’s final form, The Hood, to take out The Count. He goes in sans bow and arrows since he can’t shoot straight – let alone stand straight – but finds little resistance with taking out any of The Count’s men, or really The Count himself. It’s a pretty cut and dry job actually, that is, until the cops bust in again. This forces the real altercation to become clear. This hasn’t been about The Hood hunting down The Count in order to save his sister, though that’s part of it, it’s more about the continuing grudge match between him and Detective Lance (Paul Blackthorne).
In the last episode we saw Lance bugged the secret vigilante iPhone because he still doesn’t trust him or think he’s a hero. Finding The Hood at the scene holding a syringe with a lethal dose of Vertigo to The Count’s neck does nothing to convince him otherwise. Ollie sticks The Count and flees the scene, not helping his appearance as a madman vigilante at all. When we see The Count again he’s batshit, strapped to a gurney and practically frothing at the mouth. As Lance watches them wheel him away it’s clear as day he’s pissed, now more determined than ever to bring in The Hood.
On the flip side, the B plot for this episode is more whining and accusations from Thea – oh, who isn’t getting jail time but rather is serving 500 hours of community service at Laurel’s (Katie Cassidy) legal aide office – that her mother, Moira (Susanna Thompson) is a liar and cheat. Funny how she’s closer to the truth than she realizes. And on that front Felicity Smoak (Emily Bett Rickards) finally begins calling Oliver on his bullshit. She approaches him with the book Walter was having her look into before he disappeared, y’know, THE LIST. Ollie does his best, oh sorry, I mean worst at concealing his surprise she’s also got a copy. Felicity reveals Walter got it from Moira, and Dun, Dun, DUN!, Ollie’s given good reason to be suspicious of dear, old mum.
It’s these last moment twists and reveals that have kept me interested in Arrow. I can’t tell you how many time during an episode I’m think, man, this is stupid, only to be pulled back in at the end. Whatever mystery their spinning, they just keep reeling me back in, and boy will I be pissed if it doesn’t pay off.
Next week Once Upon a Time‘s David Anders guest stars as a weekly villain who may actually pose a real threat to The Hood, plus Manu Bennet finally debuts as Deathstroke! Arrow airs Wednesday nights at 8pm on the CW.