On this week’s episode of The Flash, a talking shark in pants took on a psychic gorilla. Meanwhile, Joe West returns looking refreshed and rejuvenated to have some wonderful moments with Cecile and Iris, S.T.A.R. Labs becomes a little Shape of Water, and Barry apologizes for destroying Cisco’s lifelong dream of being eaten by a shark. It was…certainly an episode, I’ll tell you that.
The primary plot of this week’s episode dealt with the showdown between King Shark and Gorilla Grodd. I could go into the details of what led to the fight, with Grodd wanting Sharky’s psychic device to amplify his own powers. Blah blah blah A.R.G.U.S. Blah blah blah mind control. Blah blah blah science in S.T.A.R. Labs. Blah blah blah this shit is bananas, B.A.N.A.N.A.S! Oh, sorry, got a little lost in the acronyms there.
Look, it really doesn’t matter what led to it. The writers wanted to write a showdown between a shark and a gorilla and they did what they had to do to get there. That’s pretty much all you need to know.
As far as the showdown itself, it’s exactly the kind of wacky plot that could only come from a comic book medium. So it should be right up my alley, since I normally love it. I didn’t dislike it, but I also can’t say I’ve spent the last several years pining away with the hopes of ever seeing that showdown on television. Particularly on a CW budget. But, hey, a shark fought a gorilla and you just don’t see that every day.
Or, if you’re Iris, you apparently don’t see it at all.
Iris was out of the action this week, spending time with her long-absent father, instead. Fans were understandably concerned about Jesse L. Martin at the start of the show, since he was often visibly in pain. He returned this week looking refreshed, rejuvenated, and happy. It was definitely good to have him back.
It was doubly so because it opened the door for some father/daughter bonding and character growth on Iris’s part. The Flash has established a troubling habit in the treatment of Iris’s character, particularly when it comes to her emotional pain. Laugh and the world laughs with you, but if your name is Iris West, you’re going to have to grieve alone. This week, she opened up to her father about her residual trauma and fear, following the attack by Cicada. (Or, rather, repeated attacks, but due to time travel, she’s forgotten most of them. Much as I fear the writers will do when it comes to consequences for Nora’s Groundhog Day loop.)
It was wonderful to see Iris expressing her pain. The concern is that the show is so lopsided when it comes to who she’s allowed to express it to. Barry has – understandably – had to shoulder a lot of grief and pain over the past few years. Inasmuch as Iris has been allowed to be involved in the show at all (season 2A, I’m looking at you), she’s almost always been a shoulder for him to lean on. Providing him comfort and support and recognizing his pain.
The writers have not always been reciprocated this courtesy. If her pain is recognized or acknowledged at all – and it isn’t always – she is often not allowed to share that pain with Barry. It happened earlier this “season” when she confronted Barry’s death in the future. It happened in this episode.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I think it’s wonderful that Iris and Joe had their time to bond over shared trauma left by Cicada. But ultimately Barry is her husband, and it’s troubling that we don’t even know if he’s aware of traumas such as this. Let alone that the writers do not let him reciprocate the comfort and support in these moments she so often gives. From a character perspective, it’s also incredibly odd because it seems unlikely that Barry would just turn a blind eye to the pain of his family, particularly given how family oriented he is.
I enjoyed the Iris and Joe scenes (and loved watching her box, calling back to the flashbacks that established Joe taught her how to do so as a child). I’m sure Candice Patton was thrilled to have Jesse L. Martin back, since she’s admitted they’re close. But not only was Barry once again absent from scenes of Iris dealing with her personal pain, they didn’t even share a single scene this entire episode. That has to be first for the series.
I’ve written before about the weird way the writers have handled this newly married couple. Yes, they’re “new parents,” but they’re also relative newlyweds and deeply in love. So writing them like romance has taken a back seat to diapers and late night feedings is just weird. Particularly since their child is an adult. Separating them entirely this episode to the point where we don’t even know if Barry’s aware of her fear – and she somehow missed out on a shark versus gorilla showdown in the heart of the city – is just weird.
I find I really must ask the writers…you guys okay? You need some marriage counseling or something? Talk it out. Love doesn’t mean never having to say you’re sorry. But it definitely means never having to say “oh, were you incredibly traumatized and it didn’t even occur to ask you about that? My bad.” (Not that he actually said that, because that would have required they share a scene for even five seconds. Which they did not.) That’s unfair to Iris, and it really isn’t fair to Barry either. The man they’ve otherwise established Barry Allen to be just wouldn’t be that oblivious or seemingly uncaring.
A Touch of Romance
Barry and Iris might as well have been on different continents this episode, but that doesn’t mean the episode was without romance. Joe’s return meant a sweet scene with Cecile, which was lovely to see. There was also some Shape of Water romance going on between Earth 2 King Shark and his Earth 1 widow. Assisted by Sherloque. I…honestly don’t care about that story-line. Let’s move on.
And One Hot Freaking Mess
Every week lately, I find myself hoping against hope that this “season” is turning it around. That it’s getting back on track. Sure, we’ve had some “meh” episodes, and some episodes that don’t make a lick of sense, but surely the show will pull it together and salvage everything.
This episode really brought home for me what may be the biggest problem of the “season.” It isn’t really a season at all.
Oh, sure, it’s a collection of episodes. The episodes are loosely tied together with references to the same Big Bore – I mean Big Bad. They have the same recurring characters. And they are all numbered in chronological sequence as seasons are. But they aren’t really a season.
What do I mean by that?
Even the best shows can fall prey to out of character moments, scenes, episodes, or even minor arcs on occasion. The Flash has certainly carried its share, even in the first season. In Crazy for You, both Caitlin and Barry stumbled out of character for an episode. Caitlin had been grieving the love of her life all season. However, she suddenly decided she wouldn’t even try to help him. Moreover, she’d be damned if anyone else even thought about doing so. Genuinely nice guy Barry became a “Nice Guy.” Both things happened for a single episode, and they happened to justify a ship bait plot.
Now, it’s clear that these moments were out of character for both Caitlin and Barry. Her entire characterization up to that point hinged on grief. In fact, her plot arc revolved around how much she’d loved Ronnie and how losing him had changed her. Her plot following this episode revolved around her love for him and her desire to help him. As for Barry, while he certainly recognized his feelings for Iris and occasionally toed the line of appropriate behavior, never gave the indication that his friendship with her was an elaborate setup to make her fall in love with him. He’d never indicated as much before and, thankfully, never so much as hinted as much again.
Those moments are out of character because they went against firmly established stances. Their behavior was otherwise largely consistent before and after. In this episode, their behavior was aberrant to the norm.
Which brings us to this season and the godforsaken cure storyline. To recap: Killer Frost is a Very Special Snowflake who is not a typical meta. The writers established this fact repeatedly. She is not affected by Cicada’s powers, and she has no dark matter in her system. The entire plot of her being the not-so-secret weapon depends upon it. Then Cisco decided on a cure utilizing Cicada’s cure and dark matter. All of a sudden, Caitlin and/or Frost were deeply concerned that this cure would take her powers away. They got over it – not because that is a stupid thing to worry about when it isn’t physically possible. Because Caitlin and Frost shared a mental “hers before cures” hug.
Caitlin and Cisco agreed (amongst only themselves, mind you) that they would only use the cure on metas who wanted it. They hugged. Then Barry decided to use the cure on Cicada. Group hugs all around, as they all decided it was a fantastic idea! Well, Caitlin did at least in Goldfaced. I assume they texted Cisco their excitement while he was freezing his ass off in the Arctic. It had been Caitlin’s reservation, after all, but she was all in on this shiny new idea.
Which brings us to this week. Barry used the cure on King Shark to stop him from biting Cisco’s head clean off. Which led Caitlin and Cisco to decide that, oh wait, Barry’s an utter piece of shit for not asking first and how dare he save Cisco’s life like that? And did I mention Barry’s a piece of shit? Because suddenly everyone decided to pretend that Barry agreed with them that they’d only give the cure to people who asked for it. Never mind that we never actually saw him agree to that. What we saw was them agreeing in private before he walked in and declared he thought giving it to Cicada was a damn good plan. Which, two weeks ago, at least one of them also agreed on.
The episode ended with Barry apologizing…for taking a drastic measure…to save Cisco’s life…that the subject of the measure genuinely did seem quite pleased about, thank you very much. He announced that they’re all going to ask Cicada if he wants the cure before they give it to him. (Will they ask Cicada very kindly if he would let them escort him to jail, while they’re at it? He seems a reasonable chap. I’m sure it will go fine.) Even though, again, at least two-thirds of them were very much on board with the “shove the cure up Cicada’s ass” plan two episodes ago. And Cisco hardly expressed doubts about it upon his return.
All of this leads to my main point and one of the biggest problems of the season. Which of these behaviors is aberrant? Which behavior is the outlier? Has any particular opinion on this cure been established for literally any of these characters with enough consistency to declare what is in character and what is out of character? This isn’t a throwaway line or two. This is a key plot point for the major villain arc of the entire “season.”
At this point, it really isn’t a season. Calling it a season implies a cohesiveness and somewhat logical plot progression. This is mostly a string of episodes, chronologically numbered. The villain and Nora’s presence loosely connect the episodes. However, in some very key ways, they hardly seem to relate to each other at all.
Other Points of Interest
- Joe’s back! Yay! I know I said it above. It bears repeating.
- Caitlin and Frost talking to each other never stops being ridiculous to me. I just can’t get over it. Definitely one of those things that works better in print form.
- Since the last episode aired, rumors have circulated that Carlos, Danielle, and Tom are all leaving the show. Of course, nothing is confirmed. These are all just rumors – and some of them have very dubious sources. That said, in Danielle’s Facebook Live this week, she shot down the idea of directing more episodes this season. However, she said she’s crossing her fingers they “let [her] come back” and direct another episode next season. Come back from where? It’s not definitive, but I’m adding it to on my ongoing list.
- Meanwhile, Carlos dodged the question of whether he is leaving. Slightly less suggestive, but it’s also going down on my list. Readers of my reviews may remember that I’d recently started to wonder if they both might be leaving this season. My suspicion on that point only grows.
A talking shark fought a psychic gorilla, and it was the part of the episode that made the most sense. What do you want from me?
(New) Questions of the Hour
- Can someone put little Post-Its up in the writers’ room to keep track of how their characters feel about key plot points? It would probably help.
The Flash airs Tuesdays at 8/7c on The CW.