This week’s episode of The Flash, titled “Cause and XS” had a marked lack of Barry and filled the time with a little Groundhog Day inspiration. (As I understand it, filming happened around the period of Grant Gustin’s wedding.) Rumor has it that if Nora sees her shadow, we’ll have six more episodes before Cicada is stopped. Well, strap in, folks, because it looks like we’re in for the long haul.
One thing I love about comic book shows is that we get to see things we simply wouldn’t see in any other genre. ‘Cause and XS’ was one such example. For reasons having to do with TV science and a real-world wedding, Barry runs into the speed force for an hour, leaving Nora to handle all speedster-related duties. However, after Iris gets kidnapped and Killer Frost gets killed by Cicada, Nora runs back into the past to try to change things. Only to find that sometimes the speed force just wants someone to die.
It’s an interesting premise, in that it is something you’re just not likely to see in other genres. Nora lives out the same half hour or so time and time and time and time again (over 50 times, by the end). And each time, someone dies. Determination becomes desperation becomes despair, until she finally confesses all to the team and they help her solve the problem – not by going faster but by slowing down. Working together, they manage to injure Cicada (again). Only for him to escape (again). And then Barry returns to give Nora a little lesson about life: sometimes you just have to let a friend die.
Chip off the Old Block
I know fans have been frustrated by Nora’s impetuousness – making one wonder how they’d manage to stand the future speedster so impulsive that he carries the name. And I will agree that in many ways, the way Nora has been written would work better for a character ten years her junior. The Flash has not always been the best and writing adult women as adult women (Patty Spivot, anyone?).
But two things occurred to me as I warred with my own frustration with Nora this episode, at one point yelling at the screen for her to JUST TELL THE TEAM ALREADY!
The first is that Nora has only had her powers for an (undetermined and somewhat internally conflicting) period of months. Even if we assume that she had her powers a few months in the future before returning to the past, she has been a speedster for less than one season of show. Thus, she’s had them for less than a year.
It is easy, I think, to grow frustrated with Nora when comparing her actions to what Barry would do today. Or what one hopes he would do today. However, in watching this episode, I was reminded that the Nora that we have in Season 5 is more equal to the Barry we had in Season 1. And that, for good or ill, is not the Barry of today.
It took longer than one year for Barry to learn not to be so impulsive and to learn from his mistakes. It took longer than one year for him to learn not to trust admitted villains – and, in fact, since he has openly embraced having one on his team without so much as a “pinkie swear you’re good now,” I’m not entirely sure he has learned that lesson. Like his daughter in many ways, he is prone to lose himself in his emotions, rather than taking a moment to consider the situation rationally.
I also have no business yelling at Nora to just tell the team already, damn it! Not when I’ve been asking why Barry isn’t allowed to handle his problems more often. And why they so frequently have to dumb him down to justify someone on the team telling him what to do. Barry is a speedster. Chances are likely what he needs to do is to run at some speed that is either greater or lesser than what he was running a minute before.
So you do you, Nora. Try to figure out your own problems for a while before you turn to the team. Even if you fail, I’ll appreciate a hero being given the effort (even as I wish that hero were Barry more often than not).
It is easy to judge Nora, with less than one year of experience, by the standard of what Barry has learned over the past five years. And, in so doing, to find her lacking. It is also true that, for the audience, it can be exhausting to see the same mistakes play out that we have watched our hero learn from before. Even if it’s a different person making them. But it does propel Barry into that next step – from student to teacher. And that is a progression we see once again in this episode, as Barry gives Nora the exact same lesson a hero wearing his father’s face once gave him.
As you change time, you fracture it, and things cannot always be put right.
And, I guess, you may find that it would have been better if you’d let one of your friends die. (Seriously, Barry handled the question of whether she should have let someone die with a surprising amount of nonchalance. I get he had a bigger lesson to impart, but he practically shrugged it off. I guess sometimes you have to pick the friend you like the least and let them go.) It sounds harsh, but I suspect in the end, Nora will find out that the consequences of her actions mean that her attempts to save Caitlin (and then apparently just about everyone else) may lead to something worse.
The Love Guru
There has been speculation this week, spreading from one site to another due to unsubstantiated rumor, that Carlos Valdes is leaving The Flash this year. I can’t say this would be entirely a surprise. I’ve speculated in several articles that either Cisco or Caitlin (or both) are not long for this world. I’m still not convinced we have our answer – or that only one person is leaving.
However, if this is Cisco’s last season, it is even more frustrating that they gave him so little to do. Of course, that would undoubtedly be the reason why he would want to go, so it’s also not a surprise. But it is frustrating. He hasn’t had a proper arc of his own in years. Every time they move him forward on the cure arc this season, he mysteriously goes missing the episode after. Though his plot occasionally seems promising, there is no follow-through for his character.
My problems with his treatment aside, Cisco was a joy to watch this episode. He and Ralph make a good pair. Cisco’s heartache has brought out Ralph’s sweet side – something that was utterly missing last season. Along with every other shred of likability. Though misguided in his advice, Ralph’s heart is in the right place as he tries to help Cisco prepare for his first date. And Cisco, still reeling from his breakup with Cynthia, blows it time and again. It takes a few tries, but he finally learns that all he has to do on his date with Kamilla is to be himself.
I have always loved Cisco. This episode, I found myself wondering how Ralph will be in love in the future. (I can only imagine he will be an endearing mess, at least until someone burns his book.) At this point, I’m just going to have to pretend this is Ralph from Earth 32. It’s the only way I can ever stop torturing myself with the question of how I can go from loathing a character so incredibly much and then find myself finding him endearing and downright likable in less than a year. Full credit to Hartley Sawyer, because I didn’t think it was possible.
I have enjoyed the Cisco/Ralph scenes this season more than I expected. I’ve also enjoyed them more than I enjoyed Cisco’s scenes with the various versions of Wells lately. From the father/son dynamic of the first season, they too often shifted to make Cisco the babysitter for subsequent versions of Wells. It as a gross underutilization of Cisco as a character and of Carlos’s talent.
Carlos has brought both heart and humor to the show in the past. I think the team has been over-utilized for years. However, I’ve always longed for the friendship dynamics to be better explored. It will be a shame if this is the last we get of Cisco. But given how long it’s been since he’s been given something meaningful to do, I can’t say I would blame him for bowing out.
Which ultimately brings us around to the question of what ramifications Nora’s actions will have. She didn’t just change time once; she changed it over 50 times. By the show’s own logic, there should be a price to pay. A hefty one, at that. The series isn’t always great about follow-through, but one can hope this isn’t just forgotten. Will someone die in Caitlin’s place? Or, given the number of times Nora changed time, will the price be more than one life?
Other Points of Interest
- Was it relevant to the plot that Iris shamelessly stole Ralph’s brownie? Nope. But it was still a favorite moment of the episode. Which is why I desperately hope it was an ad-lib by these two. I am down for more of these moments, please and thank you.
- Once again – for the fourth time, by my count – the team could have neutralized Cicada this episode. If only they’d taken action instead of standing around staring at him until he could get away. For a villain who can supposedly only be stopped by Killer Frost, he’s been stopped by everyone else fairly easily. (And, in the original timeline of this episode, Caitlin/Frost would have been dead right now. With very little effort on Cicada’s part.) It isn’t lack of ability but lack of follow-through getting in this team’s way. But it’s a reminder of why he should have been defeated in the mid-season finale. The show should have introduced Reverse Flash or another villain for the back half. There are only so many times the plot can be contrived to justify Cicada’s escape without making the team look like idiots for continuing to let it happen. There are only so many times the villain can be mostly neutralized before he stops being a threat. We passed that threshold at least two takedowns ago.
- I got the feeling that Reverse Flash telling Nora that he’ll help save her dad once she stops Cicada was supposed to be an “aha!” moment for the audience. Explaining why she’s working with him, if nothing else. Except of course she’s back in the past to save her dad. And of course Reverse Flash is using her dad’s death to manipulate her. What I don’t understand is why she’s falling for it – or why she thinks he’d help her at all. Even before she knew that he murdered her grandmother in order to kill her father, she had to have read the article and known he was the reason Flash disappeared. Once again, this is a plot that might have worked better with a character a decade younger.
- Iris is team leader and founder of a future journalism empire? Love it.
- After a full season of seeing Iris die time and again, I was thrilled that she seemed to be the one character to escape death at Cicada’s hand. Maybe the show wanted to give her fans a break. Or maybe they just knew nobody would believe Iris would fall at his hands, given how easily she owned him when armed with nothing but a pen. Once again, you don’t mess with Iris West-Allen! Deal with it.
- Carlos Valdes had fun with different versions of his character. I know I wrote this above, but it’s worth repeating: they have criminally underused his character and talent from the very start.
Knowing this episode would be Barry-light, I had managed my expectations. It wasn’t perfect by any means. However, I asked for an episode that I wouldn’t get in almost any other genre. I also hoped for Carlos to have some fun, after missing several episodes this season. And after not having been given much of a plot. On those measures, the episode wasn’t perfect, but it was exactly what I expected it to be.
(New) Questions of the Hour
So Sherloque (who is still farting around with the speed force language), who is neither a speedster nor a scientist, knows more about both science and the speed force than anyone else on the team? And yet, he hasn’t gotten a tenth of the hate for this than Iris gets for knowing basic high school biology. Gee. I. Wonder. Why.
The Flash returns Tuesday, March 5 at 8/7c on The CW.