Friday, 26 February 2016

Review - 'Arrow', S04E15 - 'Taken'

As someone who never did get around to watching the Vixen animated series that was released online last year, I can't really say that I felt the sense of anticipation about her live-action debut that the creator's probably wanted me to feel. But, even still, I do have to admit that the idea of this take on the DC universe being broadened to include more magic does hold a certain appeal, to me - and, that is, of course, exactly what happened, here.

With Damian Darhk recently learning of the existence of Oliver's son, William (Jack Moore), he is obviously eager to make the most of the opportunity that this new knowledge provides. The previous episode ended with the reveal that Darhk had already put his plans into effect - snatching up willing under the pretence of being a friend of his mother's, and keeping the boy securely tucked away with his own family. Here, Darhk seems to take his usual manic glee in revealing all of this to Oliver - confronting Oliver and Felicity, and demanding that Oliver end his mayoral campaign in exchange for his son.

Oliver is, of course, quite willing to consider stepping down, if it means that the boy will be returned unharmed - but, he has no reason to suspect that Darhk will actually keep his word. The last time that Darhk had managed to put Oliver into a position like this (when he forced Oliver to exchange his own life for his friends), after all, Darhk had almost immediately gone back on his word and tried to kill them, anyway. So, now, despite making a public show of relenting to Darhk's demands, and ending his mayoral campaign, Oliver knows that he will still need to work in secret to come up with a plan to rescue William.

The problem, though, is that Oliver, and his team, have had almost no success in his battles against Damian Darhk - often themselves almost always out-matched by the resources that he has at his disposal and, in particular, the mystical powers that he is able to wield against them. So, Oliver makes the decision to call on an old friend, in the hope of fighting magic with magic.

While it was clearly the obvious choice, though, it turns out that John Constantine isn't really an option (in an off-hand comment that is both fascinating and hilarious, it is casually revealed that he is, literally, in Hell - and, is in no position to help them). Instead, Oliver reaches out to Mari McCabe (Megalyn Echikunwoke) - a woman in possession of a magical talisman that allows her to call on the powers of different animals, and who has taken to calling herself 'Vixen' in her own crime-fighting activities in Detroit. The two (in another hilariously off-hand comment - this one with an obvious 'meta' edge), met during a rather 'animated' adventure a year ago - and, she is perfectly willing to help.

But, of course, that simple fact leads us directly to the major issue I had with this episode. As tense and as dramatic as the circumstances should be, there was a distinct lack of any real tension to anything that happened, here - and, as much as I did enjoy the character's time on-screen, it feels like I do have to attribute that fact to Vixen, herself.

Her presence throughout the episode simply seemed to make things a little too easy. She was perfectly capable to tracking William down, using nothing more than the boy's favourite action figure. She was powerful enough to resist to pose a significant challenge to Darhk's own magic. Her own knowledge of magical artifacts allowed her to quickly identify the true source of Darhk's power. She was fast enough to steal that source of power right out from under Darhk's nose. And, ultimately, she was strong enough to destroy it - leaving Damian Darhk, effectively, powerless.

I just have to hope that there is more in store for Damian Darhk, in future episodes - because, being demolished by a character who could, effectively, count as a walking deus ex machina, during her one-off appearance on the show, would be a very disappointing end for such an entertaining villain.

Sure, you could make the argument that this episode was always intended to show-case Vixen's powers and abilities (and that, therefore, it made perfect sense for her to be so integral to the team's victory) - but, still, it felt like a shame for this to occur at the expense of a villain who had been carefully developed into a genuine threat over the course of the season. Honestly, I think I would have preferred it if Vixen had been called in to help with a one-off villain.

All that being said, though, Megalyn Echikunwoke was still very entertaining in the role - playing the character with a straight-forward confidence that felt very fitting. I would definitely like to see more of her - but, I just hope that she is used a bit more carefully, in the future.

Of course, while the focus of the episode may have been the rescue of a kidnapped child, the circumstances did create plenty of room for more subtle character drama. With the safety of the son he has barely had the opportunity to know already in question, William's mother, Samantha (Anna Hopkins) and Felicity are bot there to play on his lingering sense of guilt, in different ways - placing Oliver in a very difficult position, emotionally.

The entire situation, concerning William, had seemed absurd from the start - so, I can't honestly say that I was thrilled to see it become the source of more conflict, here. Samantha's ultimatum that Oliver could only see his son if he agreed to keep their relationship a secret from everyone had struck me as being a bit too melodramatic when it occurred - and, Oliver's willingness to go along with it, even if it meant keeping William's existence a secret from the woman he intended to marry, had seemed absurd. It was painfully obvious, right from the start, that this would all, inevitably, be the source of a great deal of conflict and emotional angst - but, it just wasn't something I was interested in seeing.

Given how little interest I had in this plot-thread when it began, I suppose it makes sense that I didn't feel particularly invested as it all come to its dramatic resolution, here - though, that being said, the episode's final moment between Oliver and Felicity (with Curtis Holt's technological cure for her paralysis taking effect just in time for her to walk out on Oliver) did manage to be a suitably dramatic moment - as was Oliver's recorded message for his son. Honestly, the cast was a good as always in selling these moments - it was just the circumstances that made it difficult for me to feel invested.

So, in all, this was an episode that simply wasn't as entertaining as I had hoped it would be. Vixen's role throughout the episode was entertaining (combining a great performance, with some impressive special effects) - but, it felt as though she was used as a cheap victory over Damian Darhk, which is something that I didn't really appreciate. All I can really do, at this point, is reiterate my hope that the show still has plans for Damian Darhk, and that he wont simply fade into the background.

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