Summary: The finale of the Vixen webseries showcases the strengths of the title character and the weaknesses of the webisode format.
Mari awakens in the desert surrounded by animals and spirits of both her ancestors and her foster mother. They tell her that she was destined to have the totem, and her mother took her and the totem out of the village instead of her sister because of that. Mari embraces her destiny and, accompanied by the animals, fights her sister and uses spider venom to release the totem. She accepts the power of the animal spirits and decides to become the protector of her village, Detroit, finally accepting it as her home and Chuck as her family. After creating a superhero outfit for herself, she’s visited by Arrow and Flash once more, who offer to train her before she goes out to be a superhero all on her own. However, she says she knows who she is now, and is ready to be a hero: Vixen.
It’s easy to see why many outlets chose to review the Vixen series as one complete piece rather than episode-by-episode. Beyond the short runtime (I guess it’s sort of a talent for anyone to wring out about 800-1000 words a week from five minutes of video), most of the same strengths and weaknesses persist throughout the series. This final entry is as strong as expected, but definitely showcases the ever-present problems with its webisode format.
As usual, we have fluid animation and direction with mostly solid designs, while the snappy dialogue and wit is present and on-point. Megalyn Echukinwoke continues to be spot-on in the role, and Mari a likeable, well-rounded character. But we also have the same problems as always — the time crunch resulting in an anticlimax, lots of rushed exposition and unearned reveals, and some potentially emotional moments and wins blunted by our lack of investment. Sounding like a broken record here, but even with a fairly simple plot, the story of Vixen is simply too big to fit into this short runtime.
The biggest offender is the main conflict between Mari and her sister. Now, first off, the fight sequence is awesome, with quick and elaborate movement and fight choreography surrounded by a chaotic man vs. animal war in the background. The final fight is way too short, but the solution — Mari using the spider on Kuasa — is clever and earned. On paper, that sister-nemesis dynamic is a fantastic idea — it’s a spiritual power rooted in legacy, so having it cause a schism in that family is rather inspired. The way it plays in Vixen at times parallels realistic family tiffs about inheritance and tradition; some siblings feel more deserving than others, some want to carry on old traditions while others might view them differently, etc. Vixen’s main villain is interesting because she has a good reason to believe she’s the rightful owner of the totem — she was literally chosen to be as a child and has remained in the village she was sworn to protect — but whatever bad things happened to her have warped her mind and motivations to a detrimental extent.
Or, well, that’s what you can infer from all of it. What actually happens in the episode is that Mari is just told straight-up by a bunch of animals and spirits that her sister can’t have it, because that would be bad. It’s never really clear what’s up with Kuasa – who the episode still doesn’t even bother to name, as far as I can tell – other than that she apparently made lots of deals with bad guys and maybe dead people, and her henchmen have creepy yellow-in-black eyes. You could infer that she has her hand in the black arts, and that’s how she’s amassed so much power and knowledge, so the totem is no longer a fit for her. Except the animal spirits tell Mari her mother rescued only her and the totem because she was always destined to have it for real, apparently. It doesn’t make a lot of sense, but doesn’t seem like a plot hole so much as a major missing piece in the puzzle.
There’s room in here for ambiguity, and some mystery ought to be left open for potential future Vixen installments. But much of what’s been left up to interpretation or inference is exactly the kind of material that would make Vixen even more engaging and unique. And that’s not to say what we’ve gotten hasn’t been engaging; Mari’s likeable presence has held this endeavor together from the start. But there’s an even better story here about the mythology, how Mari and her sister grew to be so vastly different, and why the legacy is better carried out by Mari, other than the easy “destiny” answer.
Of course, shades of all of those concepts are present here, even if they aren’t utilized as well as they ought to be. For example, the animals and spirits awakening and empowering Mari is the best scene of the episode, nonsensical “it was your destiny all along” reveal notwithstanding. It doesn’t have the triumphant oomph it should, but given Mari’s torturous journey, it’s earned and fitting as an ending. What’s striking about it is that the spirits are of her blood ancestors and her foster mother, subtly implying that it was both nature and nurture that made Mari capable of being a hero more than her sister. It’s hammered in further when Mari calls Chuck “dad” and tells her she loves him; she doesn’t have to forsake her current family and home for where she came from or vice versa, her identity is the sum of all her parts. Ultimately, they’re all her family, and her identity of Mari McCabe is the person she was both destined by legend and raised by loved ones to be.
That’s a really nice way to bring the series full-circle, and ties in how family-oriented Vixen’s story and mythology are. The missing link here, though, is how that would lead Mari to putting on a brown leotard and fighting crime. Again, there are shades of it – the totem is about protecting the village, Mari has no issues stabbing a guy with a pen when he’s being terrible, and a fashion designer would have a field day putting together a swanky new superhero outfit. But Mari has been notably reluctant about her heroics, and while the episode takes strides to make her embrace responsibility for the totem, it’s a big leap to devote your nightlife to being a costumed crimefighter. Little really leads her to that decision on screen, and that makes big final conversation among the potential DCwU Trinity feel somewhat disconnected from the rest of the episode.
But it’s a fun conversation nevertheless. James Tucker’s direction throughout this project has been notably solid, and this scene is perfectly framed with the newly-christened Vixen standing in the moonlight, towering over her predecessor heroes. Vixen is presented as a middle ground between the grim darkness of the Arrow and the bright whimsy of the Flash, and the crossover and contrast of personality yields a fun dynamic among the three. If there’s any reason Vixen ought to team-up with them in live-action, the spit-fire wit and charisma present in the scene (and better voice acting from Stephen Amell and Grant Gustin than earlier appearances) sells it.
As a whole, Vixen feels more like an experiment or trial run than a true jumping off point. It’s admirable for the writers to have tried to cram all the complexities of a Vixen film or pilot episode into a 30 minute mini-movie, but in the finale especially, it too often feels like vital scenes or lines were cut for time. The biggest win for Vixen is that it presents a lesser-known hero as a charismatic character with personality that we’d love to see in a leading role, and hints at a rich mythology to be explored. As a taste for what the character can be, it works well enough. But as its own series, Vixen could have used much more room to breathe.
Odds & Ends
- Interesting bit of trivia, the Smallville finale played similar beats about being the sum of two kinds of heritage to be a better hero, and even had a variation of Vixen’s “I know who I am” line in the promos.
- Would any spider bite cause Mari to disconnect from the totem, or does it have to be that specific breed? Either way it’s a really interesting superhero weakness.
- Barry freaking out about Cisco is genuinely hysterical.
- So, this is where Oliver learned Barry and Felicity kissed?
- “I’m pretty sure you’re the history of mental illness in my family.”
- “I’ve always heard of older sisters stealing their younger sisters’ stuff!”
- “I know he seems cool and off-putting, but once you get to know him…well, then he’s definitely cold and off-putting.”
- “And…what’s wrong with brown?”
- “You think ‘the Arrow’ is cool?”
“Keep talking, Flash.”