The Flash 3×11 Review: 'Dead or Alive'

There are times when an episode of The Flash can feel like it drags on with the plot. That was the case with “Dead or Alive,” where a bounty hunter named Gypsy came to Earth-1 to collect H.R. The story felt like it was dragged on forever. But the way that The Flash manages to redeem itself within episodes like that is with strong character arcs, as was the case with Iris and Cisco.
These superhero shows don’t thrive solely on the superhero action that makes us go, “whoa.” No, these shows thrive on the characters that live in these worlds to the degree that it feels like this could be a town a few states away from us. Especially with shows like The Flash. When a superhero show can make you believe that a world like this is realistic it’s something special. And that’s a real testament to these characters and how they react and interact in this world that makes it feel so very realistic.
The title “Dead or Alive” basically summed up the episode in two regards: The plot (which involved a bounty hunter coming for H.R.) was “dead.” But the character storylines in between the plot was what made this episode feel “alive.” I’m sorry, but it just felt like this episode that would never end. And, to be honest, I wouldn’t have minded if it never ended if it meant more of these amazing character moments for Iris and Cisco.
Let’s break this down:

Can You Alter Fate?

Much as The Flash’s new introduction reminds us, the second half of the show’s third season finds Barry and Team Flash focused on saving Iris from being killed by Savitar. But more than that, this back half of the season finds the team trying to solve one question: Can you alter fate?
Now, as we’ve seen before, time travel is nothing to be trifled with. There can be serious consequences, as Barry has learned on more than one occasion this season. You can’t just want to change the future and accomplish it in the blink of an eye. No, it’s not that simple. In fact, you have to wonder if there’s something short of a catastrophe (yep, looking at you Flashpoint) that ultimately can affect something so grand. But regardless, that’s what Barry and Team Flash are trying to accomplish.
But I’ll be damned if Barry didn’t just figure out how to save Iris. For so long Barry had been focused on the fact that he couldn’t save Iris; that he couldn’t get to her in time. But Barry isn’t doing this alone. He’s not the only one with powers. He’s not the only speedster. So when the lightbulb finally clicked for Barry, he went to Wally with the big reveal that had me applauding Barry for the first time in over a season for coming to a solution that was smart. Barry isn’t going to be the one to save Iris. Wally is.
When you think about it, fate is determined by choices that we make and events that happen as a result. Team Flash has been trying to find a way to alter the future but to no avail. Barry was trying to find a way to get fast enough so that he could get to Iris in time before Savitar killed her, but also to no avail. So what’s the one thing – or person – that can defy both of those things?
Wally West. Kid Flash. Iris’ brother. The speedster that continues to show massive speed increases over short periods of time. Perhaps he can get to the speed that is required to save Iris before Savitar kills her? And Barry recognized that it’s not him but Wally that is their best chance at saving Iris. And here’s the thing, this isn’t about who’s the hero and who gets to save the day. This is about saving Iris’ life before it’s ended far too soon and by a despicable villain that thrives on Barry’s pain. It doesn’t matter who the hell gets to save her. If you need it to be Barry who saves Iris in the end then you’re watching the wrong show. The Flash is about family. All kinds of family. Barry and Iris. Iris and Joe. Iris and Wally. And etc.
I really think this is going to be the solution to this whole problem. But just because you have a proposed solution doesn’t mean that everything’s set in stone. Things need to happen, speedsters need to be trained in order to get the desired results. You have the current conflict that involves getting Wally to the level that he needs to get to before May 23. Sure, he’s fast. And getting faster. But he’s going to need to be trained in not only acquiring that target speed, but he’s going to need to learn from Barry exactly what needs to be done. This is a sensitive matter. There’s only one chance when this ultimately comes around. There are no do overs. There are time outs. There is only the moment and Wally needs to be ready or everything will go to hell.
But with that said, I believe that he’ll get there. And I believe that Iris will be spared.

Leaving Her Mark

Something I cannot stress enough in this DC television world littered with heroes – male heroes with superpowers – is the importance of strong female heroes within this world. And I’m not talking only female heroes with powers or superior physicality. No, I’m talking about ordinary heroes, like you and me, who have just as much desire to leave a lasting impression on the world they live in.
That’s why it’s so damn satisfying to get to see Iris West cement her desire to want to be more than the daughter, more than the sister, more than the love interest.
Something I’ve admired about Iris, among a slew of other things, is how she’s chosen to handle this situation. She’s heeded the warnings; knows that it’s possible that in four months her time might be up. So in a way it was a wake-up call; a call to action for Iris to really do what she wants to in this world. Sure, that involves being in a relationship with Barry. But let’s not forget that long before she was the Flash’s girlfriend that she was the budding reporter with dreams of making a difference. And she’s still that person. Only that person has gotten lost in the midst of all of this Flash stuff.
But it’s funny how essentially seeing your life flash before your eyes – knowing that your time might likely be up in a few short months – that’s enough to wake you the hell up and start living your life, start doing what you want to before it’s possibly too late.
Being confronted by this shocking revelation that there’s a good likelihood she might die (though I’m not buying it) has forced Iris to think about her legacy. For Iris it wasn’t about being afraid to die. It was about being afraid of not leaving her mark on the world. Of not being remembered. And I think that’s something we can all relate to. It’s human nature to want people to remember us after we’re gone. It’s also human nature to want to feel like you’ve accomplished something meaningful in your life. But a legacy isn’t solely based on your professional accomplishments. You know, the accomplishments that get your name engraved in stone. A legacy is about how you’re remembered.
To quote Hamilton, “Legacy is planting the seeds in a garden you never get to see.” Your legacy is about how you are remembered. It’s how people remember you. You ultimately get to choose how people remember you even when you’re not around to see it. How they light up when you say their name, when you look at an old photograph and reminiscence about certain moments in time. You don’t have to do the impossible or be a superhero or a name that everyone on Earth-1 knows. All you need to be is yourself.
But I’m really glad that Iris has decided that part of the legacy she wants to leave (which is hopefully many, many, many years down the line) is something that is important to her. It’s something that’s important enough to her for her to risk her life for. Because while legacy might be about how people remember you after you’re gone, there’s still the matter of today. Today, how are you going to choose to be remembered in this world?
There was also a level of cockiness to Iris as she’s been set in her head that we all have a time to go. And that’s true. We don’t know when that moment might be. But Iris does. Or she might. It depends on these coming months. So that gave her a certain cocky arrogance and strength when she confronted one of the arms dealers. It was a feeling of dramatic irony as she knows that it’s not yet her time to go. She knows that in order for her to die in four months she has to make it there. I thought that was interesting.

Look, I understand this innate desire to want to protect Iris. Barry wants to protect Iris; Joe wants to protect Iris; Wally wants to protect Iris; I want to protect Iris. But baby girl doesn’t need any of those people to protect her. Sometimes you’ve got to be your own hero, as she’s said.

Good Vibes

While I wasn’t a fan of the plot of it all, I really liked how this episode really focused on Cisco’s confidence when it comes to honing his skills as Vibe. Cisco hasn’t really had too much time to focus on honing his Vibe abilities – what with an evil speedster set to kill his friend in four months. But this episode actually forced him to fast track the process. So perhaps it wasn’t that bad after all.
Cisco is one of those characters that feels like he could walk right out of the television and be the best friend you’ve always wanted. And if you already have a best friend, well, you wouldn’t say no to Cisco, would you? Most of the time we associate him with being this jovial guy who’s got a quip or reassurance at his disposal. When we think Cisco, we think humorous hero.
But “Dead or Alive” wasn’t about Cisco being the comic relief. It was about Cisco being the hero. When you’re on a team with The Flash – and now Kid Flash – it’s easy to get lost in the hero shuffle. Sure, Cisco’s valuable skills exist apart from his Vibe abilities. But he does possess these abilities and these abilities have the power to defend and/or attack.
Cisco is a good guy. Anyone with half sense can see that. So there was never a question as to why he was willing to risk his life to save H.R., a man that he doesn’t particularly care about. There was also something deeper than the surface. This face – the face of Harrison Wells – was staring back at Cisco only it was unlike any other Wells he’d known before. As he tells H.R., the other Wells were geniuses and they relied on them. But now the roles were reversed. Now it was H.R. (Wells) that depended on him, Cisco. Wells has always been there for Cisco, and now he wants to be there for Wells.
So Cisco volunteered to compete against a flawless bounty hunter named Gypsy in a trial by combat, which is to the death. As in, one of them was going to die. And we all thought it wasn’t going to be Gypsy. So essentially that forced Cisco to step up in his training game. Obviously there were plenty of kinks to work out, but Barry and co. were supporting Cisco the whole way. That is until Barry and H.R. decided to go behind Cisco’s back and try to catch Gypsy and not force Cisco to compete in what they assumed would be his death.
When Cisco learned what Barry had done he took it as a betrayal because in Barry deciding to take care of it himself, Barry was telling Cisco that he didn’t believe he could do it. This was Cisco’s battle. And he intended on finishing it. With the help of Julian, who found Gypsy’s weakness, Cisco was able to defeat Gypsy, save H.R., and get a near kiss from Gypsy before she returned to Earth-19.
I’d count that a win for Francisco Ramon.

Five Things…

  1. Dare I say it, but I think Barry might’ve found the way to save Iris. And it’s not going to be him saving her. It’s going to be Wally. Barry has been trying to find a way to change the future that he’s seen and everything has told him no. But this might be the answer. Kid Flash to the rescue!
  2. I love how despite the danger of the circumstances that Barry hasn’t chosen to push Iris away. He’s not choosing to stay away from her to protect her like another hero we love. But every person is different in how they deal with things based on their past experiences. But I still love that Barry is choosing to hold Iris even closer than before given the possibility that this could be their last four months together. There’s something really special about that. Living like you’re going to die soon. Choosing to live life to the absolute fullest. Choosing to stand up in the light instead of choosing to hide in the dark.
  3. Iris West is my favorite character on The Flash. The way that she’s handling her current situation – the grace, the dignity, the courage – is all kinds of inspiring. She’s choosing to live these next four months as if they’re her last. She’s choosing to find a way to leave her mark. She’s going to make damn sure that people remember her name. God I love her so much.
  4. Can someone tell Joe about what might happen to Iris before he learns about it himself? Like this whole keeping secrets thing has never – I repeat, never – turned out well for anyone. I get that they’re trying to protect Joe – both mentally and physically – but he needs to know. If he finds out in a different way it’s only going to make things worse.
  5. Julian fits in quite nicely with Team Flash. While I continue to remain cautiously optimistic about Julian not being an eventual traitor, I enjoyed watching him interact with the team and the unique personality and skill set he possesses. And his quirky one-liners are becoming one of my favorite things.

The Flash airs Tuesdays at 8/7c on the CW.

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