Summary: A fun and flashy action-heavy episode is only marred because of its time constraints.
The Arrow and Flash pursue Mari, who is using her powers to consistently evade them. Circling back to the opening of the first episode, Mari is chased off the roof of a building, and Flash struggles to catch her. However, she utilizes the power of a bird and is able to fly. The Arrow convinces her that they aren’t there to throw her in prison but that they just want to talk so STAR Labs can help her navigate her powers. She refuses, still not quite believing them. She returns to Dr. Macalester to again ask him to help her learn about her powers, but he reveals his treachery. Armed guards and the mysterious woman Macalester was working for enters and threatens to capture Mari.
At this point, it’s inevitable that the biggest complaint with Vixen will be its format and running length. And that’s not meant to be damning it with faint praise — it’s a very competent webseries in its own respect, its high-quality animation and top-notch direction from James Tucker rising way above usual supplemental material. There’s a noticeable effort to make Vixen feel like a series worthy of the hype it’s been given, not just a web-only endeavor. Production-wise, it’s been of exceptional quality for what it is. The double-edged sword, evident in the fourth installment, is that the series is always encroaching on being just a little bit more, but it doesn’t have the time to do it.
That’s mostly evident in how the plot, or what little there is, has progressed. The first half of the series has basically only been exposition — fair, since the first 15 minutes of pilots often are — but now we’re over halfway done. It’s unlikely Vixen will end feeling satisfying, only a tiny taste of what we wish we could see more of. As a tease for more Vixen material, I expect it will succeed. But it makes it tricky to assess what we have here when we know it’s not going to be as complete or dense as any episode of Arrow or The Flash. At this point, the plot of the series involves Flash and Arrow trying to catch her, then someone else trying to catch her. Those are components that could yield some fun action, but thirty minutes is hardly enough to satisfyingly utilize them and introduce all the concepts.
As it stands, our major twist is “Mari talks to a professor and then talks to him again but he’s actually bad.” Had this been played over a longer period of time, it would have allowed for Macalester to become a fleshed-out character and deeply earn Mari’s trust, only for a cutting betrayal. It’s good set-up for the final battle, but the journey getting there in Macelester’s two brief expository scenes isn’t exactly riveting. It has the feeling of the twists and betrayals of Arrow and The Flash, but without the time expound on them, it’s very much paint by numbers.
It’s a shame that Vixen had to be relegated to this format, then, because we again have a very entertaining, witty installment that deserves better. In particular, we have the most predominately action-heavy episode thus far, and it’s fantastic. There’s a headspinning (in a good way) quality to how quickly the stakes shift, similar to the slam-bang battle with Reverse-Flash in “Rogue Air.” If Vixen is to fit into the DCwU, it’s got to have the adept choreography of Arrow and the well-produced effects of The Flash, and it has the animated equivalents in spades.
The banter between the Arrow and Flash is exceptional, mirroring the fun relationship we’ve only seen bits of in last season’s major crossovers (with the best quotes in the “Odds & Ends.”) Mari’s chemistry in the universe is sold here, too — where Oliver Queen is on a righteous mission and Barry Allen just wants to do good, Mari is an edgier, reluctant hero. She’s very self-aware, cheekily making fun of the Arrow’s “You have failed this city” mantra. That’s not a type of hero this version of the DC universe has done yet, even if it’s not uncommon in comic book herodom, but it suits her. And let’s not forget that she threatens to disembowel the Arrow and Flash like a lion, which is awesome.
With that wit and self-awareness comes a whole slew of coy references to both shows — Felicity even mentions the ubiquitous Arrowcave fern, which is absolutely catered to the fans — and the newness of Vixen is an understandable place to do that. Those types of references tie it tighter into the live action world, and basically gives fans of everything a treat for watching. The downside is, again, the episode length — all these references are jammed together one after the other to fit in the single action sequence, and their combined density just comes off as too heavy-handed. They’re all funny, but too many winks so close together gets grating.
Much as I’m being down on the series here, it’s mostly out of disappointment that we don’t have more. Mari uses creative powers like the chameleon’s camouflage (which Barry hilariously thinks is teleportation,) and that she’s mastered flying already makes her one of the most powerful people in the DCwU. The rendering of the animal powers is flashy and fun to watch, and the action these shows are known for translates perfectly into the animated format. But, man, this show really ought to be full-length.
Odds & Ends
- Emily Bett Rickards is barely in this episode, but she handles the line readings a bit better than most of her Flash and Arrow counterparts. Even at their best, none of them seem to have the same energy that they carry in live-action, though, which is disappointing.
- “I kinda have a repertoire with metahumans.”
“You throw them in your pipeline prison!”
- “Usually when I meet a metahuman for the first time, I get beat up a little.”