“I don’t know who you are. I don’t know what you want. If you’re looking for ransom, I can tell you I don’t have money… My fiance does! But I don’t anymore. What I do have are a very particular set of skills. Skills I have acquired over five years in hell, mostly on a weirdo island in the South China Sea. Skills that make me something else. If you let my son go now, that will be the end of it. Well, not the end of it because you’re still failing this city. But for sure if you don’t, I will look for you, I will find you… and I will kill you. Well not kill you because I don’t do that anymore. You know…”
Yes, this week’s episode of Arrow was called “Taken” and it was far too serious an affair for any Liam Neeson references or jokes (not that the characters know the episode title anyway). After snatching Oliver’s son William at the end of last week’s episode, Damien Darhk issued Oliver an ultimatum: leave the mayoral race or you don’t get his son back. Smartly, almost uncannily so, Team Arrow realizes that Darhk has a long history of never keeping his side of the bargain, so they bring in a ringer: Vixen.
Why is that name familiar? Well, like Green Arrow, she’s a superhero and occasional member of the Justice League. So where the heck does she come from in the DCTV Universe? You’re apparently not a fan of CW Seed, where the adventures of the Detroit-based superheroine are chronicled in animated form and are a recognized part of Arrow/Flash/Legends of Tomorrow canon. They even brought in the same actress that voices Mari McCabe on Vixen, Megalyn Echikunwoke, to play her in real life. Echikunwoke has proved herself a skilled and capable actress, perhaps best remembered to the nerd core as the uber-powerful Isabelle Tyler on The 4400, so you know going in that she’ll make a formidable addition to Team Arrow’s already stocked quotient of Girl Power.
Bringing in Vixen was good call because as Diggle wisely points out, going up against Darhk directly has taken Team Arrow no where fast. With Constantine out of town – in Hell actually, which is a story dying to be told – Oliver calls up Vixen, whose powers that simulate any animal are also driven by magic, a talisman passed down to her from her parents. It gives the gang an idea: What if Darhk has a talisman too? And that makes Capt. Lance say, “Oh yeah, I totally saw Darhk with something like that.” Darhk’s talisman is destroyed, his power is zapped, and sadly despite being a former member of the League of Assassins, Damien Darhk just isn’t able to stand up to Green Arrow in hand-to-hand combat. William is saved; the mission is accomplished.
Seeing how easily that all came together only makes you wonder why Team Arrow didn’t stop and do the due diligence in the first place. One wonders how much they might have been able to upset Darhk and H.I.V.E.’s program by asking a couple of simple questions with someone in the know about how Darhk got his power, and how they might have usurp it. Darhk’s fate is left kind of open ended at the conclusion of “Taken”, but Darhk presumably has more up his sleeve than just one totem, and failing all that he still has his H.I.V.E., which may see the loss of his magical powers as another reason to doubt the mission in Star City.
On the bright side, Neal McDonough was in fine form as Darhk this week. From Darhk’s amusement about Vixen’s arrival, to his bemusement of her stealing his totem with a “Well, that happened,” to his utterly smarmy episode opening showdown with Oliver, who warns Darhk that there’s more to Oliver Queen than meets the eye. “I suspect that’s true,” Darhk remarks with a pregnant pause that says, “Yeah right.” The look on McDonough’s face was priceless, but I have to wonder why such a tuned in guy like Darhk doesn’t consider the possibility that Oliver and the Arrow are one and the same considering all the times he’s gone after Queen and gotten the ire of Green Arrow?
That’s one of a couple of conundrums left over from this week’s show. Malcolm Merlyn turned up again for his version of father/daughter bonding, denying Thea’s correct presumptions that Malcolm was the one that spilled the beans to Darhk about William. Malcolm denied it, but William identifies a one-handed man as his abductor, and despite the weirdness in Star City, there remains only one one-handed villain with a background in kidnapping. When Thea calls him out, Malcolm’s indignation is as nonsensical as it is hypocritical. I think when you use your daughter as a robo-assassin, starting a personal vendetta that nearly gets her killed several times, you lose the moral high ground over doing what it takes to “protect her.”
Also losing the high ground this week, despite a fierce effort to take it, is Felicity. Her reaction to finding out that Oliver has a secret son was utterly predictable, though that’s not to say that it wasn’t justifiable, but when both Oliver and Samantha tell her that secrecy was the caveat for allowing Oliver to see William, Felicity still made it all about her. In the end, she breaks off the engagement because Oliver didn’t include her in making a decision about Samantha’s ultimatum, which he couldn’t tell her about, or about sending his son away, which doesn’t concern her because a) Samantha and William are the ones in danger, and b) they are not her family.
Basically, it seemed like a cheap way to throw drama into the romantic subplot of Oliver and Felicity because otherwise it all was going pretty good. Yeah, Oliver has a past. A dirty past with cheating on girlfriends and ill-legitimate kids, but it’s not like she was the one being cheated on. That was Laurel, and she was a heck of a lot more warm and supportive of the woman Oliver cheated on her with than Oliver’s current girlfriend to whom he’s utterly devoted to. Felicity’s anger by comparison seems more impetuous than justifiable, especially since her lack of support in her partner’s moment of emotional turmoil is a complete 180 from his support for her physical rehabilitation. The fact that Felicity’s magic chip kicks in seconds after breaking up with Oliver is another proverbial slap to the face. And incidentally, how great was Stephen Amell in that scene making a video for William? His loving delivery made me wish I was Green Arrow’s son.
In actuality, sending Samantha and William away for their protection was the most mature thing that Oliver’s ever done. Amell and Echikunwoke shared a great scene where Mari describes her gratitude to her birth parents for giving her up, and allowing her to have a normal life and then deciding as an adult whether she wanted to take up their mantle. Sacrifice, she says, is what being a parent’s all about. Diggle may advocate holding your children close, but perhaps that’s a privileged earned. Part of holding something is knowing when you have to let go, and Mari’s logic given the circumstances makes sense. It made having Echikunwoke, and Vixen, on the show more than a bit of fan service.
Given the fact that this is the last Arrow for a couple of weeks, it seemed weird that it didn’t end in something more a cliffhanger, or failing that we could have been given another graveside tease. One might say that Felicity breaking up with Oliver is a cliffhanger or sorts, but the show has been mostly careful to avoid dousing their relationship with this kind of melodrama that the only cliffhanger here is what the hell are they thinking? Hopefully, this isn’t a development that’s resolved with a sudden, personal death that makes the breaker realize how much they love the breakee. I guess we’ll find out in a couple of weeks.