The Flash‘s “Time Bomb” was an interesting episode in that, by itself, it wasn’t terrible. It wasn’t great, either. It was kind of middle-of-the-road. The episode did finally introduce an emotional stake into the major conflicts of the season. But in doing so, it highlighted the overall flaws of the season to date.
The final scene of this episode had Barry locking Nora in the pipeline after discovering (thanks to Sherloque and Cecile and in front of the whole team) that she’s been working with Reverse Flash all this time. Nora’s sobs and Barry’s pain were emotionally compelling. However, the fact that we now – finally – have some possible stakes really highlights that they’ve been largely missing from the season so far. For the majority of the season, what have the stakes been? And why should we care?
What does each character want this season? Let’s break it down:
Cicada 1.0 – To kill every meta because he blamed them for his niece’s condition. He didn’t want to kill Flash in particular, necessarily. Or anyone else on the team. Except to the extent that they kept stopping him from killing other metas.
Cicada 2.0 – To kill a particular meta that she blames for her parents’ deaths. Even though it was an accident. And then to kill every other meta because it’s what Orlin wanted. And she loved Orlin. Except, you know, she killed him. So I guess she didn’t love him that much. But she loved him enough to want to continue with his mission. For reasons. Again, it’s not personal against Flash or any other person on the team. She just wants to kill people and they’re rather inconveniently in the way.
Barry – To stop the Cicadas from killing innocent people. Also to get to know his daughter, but he accomplished that pretty early on. Theoretically, he wants to not die, too. Except does he? When’s the last time he mentioned that? When’s the last time he seemed to care about that? He seemed to care more about the fact that he was getting his “first moments” with Nora out of order than he’s subsequently cared about the fact that he may not get those first moments at all. And that’s just weird. Also, if he doesn’t care about his own death (and few people seem to care on his behalf), it’s really hard to see it as that pressing or worrisome of a threat.
Iris – To get to know her daughter and repair that relationship. To start a newspaper. Both of those things, she’s well on her way to doing. To…save Barry? I guess? She has mentioned it. Like twice. In 17 episodes. So I suppose that’s a desire for her. But as often as the writers seem to recall that this is a pressing concern, Barry’s imminent death barely seems to warrant D plot status.
Nora – To…save her dad? That’s why she’s working with Reverse Flash, right? For most of the season, the audience was left to infer that this was why she was working with him. Now I suppose that’s been confirmed. However, I’m still a little unclear on why Nora has decided that this is the only way to save her dad. Or even what the connection is. Other than a rather theoretical “if I change this one thing about the future, other things may change too.” But beyond that, it still leaves Nora as the only character who seems concerned with the fact that Barry is going to die. If the man in question (and everyone else we’ve emotionally connected with for years) isn’t all that concerned, why should the audience be?
Cisco – To create a cure. Which they will only use if the serial killers agree. We’ll get to that. Again.
Caitlin – To…give Killer Frost a mental hug, I guess. And to…um…well, maybe something about her dad? Eventually? When they remember that was a plotline they picked up and then dropped and forgot about immediately?
Joe and Cecile – I’m putting them together because I don’t know that they have motivations separately. They both want to investigate together. I suppose. And presumably something something new parents something. Joe was missing for a large chunk of the season. If he lacks a strong character arc, he at least has some excuse.
Ralph – Um. He wants…um. He…he wants a Spider-Man at the lab?
Sherloque – Well, he was damn determined to reveal Nora’s secret. His investigation of Nora was supposedly supposed to be derailed for a time by his wife in this universe. Only that didn’t happen. He wanted to investigate Nora because…um…he likes…mysteries…I guess? He was pretty single-minded about wanting to do it, but specifically why he was so obsessed wasn’t really clarified that I recall. So I’m going to just say it. He was determined to reveal Nora’s secret because having him investigate Nora gave the writers a reason to keep Tom Cavanagh on the show. And having him reveal her secret dramatically in front of the team gave him a moment to shine and an excuse to make that his entire purpose this season.
But ultimately, all snark aside…where are the emotional stakes this season? Why should the audience care about the main threats? We know Cicada doesn’t kill Barry because Barry’s still alive in the future. But beyond that, Cicada doesn’t seem all that interested in our titular hero anyway. Killer Frost is supposedly the only one who can stop the villain. However, Cicada has knocked her out and even killed her before. And even if she weren’t, there’s no emotional stake there, either.
There is admittedly a potential emotional stake in the revelation that Nora and Reverse Flash are working together. To stop something that Nora’s the only one to have been terribly concerned with anyway. And, again, I want to reiterate that Gustin and Kennedy both nailed the emotion of that final scene. However, Barry’s utter betrayal (and subsequent locking his daughter in the pipeline) is a little undermined by the fact he told her that he believes Reverse Flash is good, deep down. Isn’t it? By the fact he asked Reverse Flash for help before? By the fact he let Reverse Flash go last season?
I’m not saying that I don’t understand why he’s so angry on any level. Or that I think he’s wrong to feel so betrayed. But I have had 16 episodes without cause for emotional investment in the season-long threats, and so it’s going to take more than one scene to pull me in. And there just aren’t enough episodes in the rest of the season to make that payoff seem worthwhile.
My feelings on this episode more or less sum up my feelings about much of this season as a whole. With the previews, there was a lot of excitement and anticipation going in. It started off strong enough. I had hoped that I would care more about Grace’s Cicada than I came to care about Orlin’s. (I don’t.) Some muddled action happened in the middle, including more stupidity revolving around the cure. And the emotional stakes and reason to really invest in the story was held off until the very end, when the story as a whole could have been stronger if that had just been carried throughout.
Maybe the next episode will really bring back the heart of the show and give us a reason to connect to the conflict. Like we did in season one, when we weren’t just told of Barry’s grief at what happened to his parents but we saw it and felt it along with him. Or like we did in season three, when we weren’t just told that Iris was going to die in the future but we saw and felt the impact of that along with Barry. Maybe the next episode, the show will remember to show, not just tell. In the meantime, we’re still left with…
Cotton Candy Morality
I’ve talked about the stupidity of this cure plot on more than one review. I don’t particularly want to belabor the point again. However, the main plot of the episode revolved around Grace, who travelled to the present from the future to hunt down the meta who (accidentally) murdered her parents. She expressed her determination to finish what Orlin started. Before deciding to just finish him and go from there, at least.
Of course, the question of the cure arose in the course of the episode. And, of course, it was decided that they have to give Grace the choice of whether or not to take the cure.
Never mind that Grace is still a little girl today, and Orlin, her legal guardian (thus responsible for making medical decisions on her behalf) had given consent to give her the cure. The cure that would wake her up from her coma. And perhaps stop her from becoming a serial killer in the future. But I suppose there was a throwaway line that her condition was too “unstable” to give it to her at this exact moment. That didn’t seem to matter, in the end. The team decided they needed Grace’s consent to administer the cure anyway. (Presumably the future version of her.)
Okay, I get that the show wants to establish that our heroes are not without ethics. (Though this is mildly undermined by the fact they’re willing to lock up metas in the pipeline whenever they choose. But I digress.) But this ethical dilemma over the cure is so poorly handled and so superficial that it might as well be cotton candy. And that’s even if you put aside the ridiculousness of how it came about.
Because while they’re all in on the idea that they must get permission for the cure, there are important related ethical conversations they aren’t having. Like what do they do if Grace says no? How will they stop her? And if they don’t have another way to stop her (or haven’t thought of one yet), what is their obligation to stop her from killing people in the meantime? If they don’t give her the cure when they can and stop her murder spree, do they bear any responsibility for subsequent deaths?
Which is the greater ethical quandary? Giving someone a cure (against their will) to stop them from using their powers to murder innocent people? Or letting innocent people die when you could save them by giving a serial killer the cure?
This entire cure has been an attempt to pretend to inject some Great Moral Question into the show. But this plot has been sloppy at best. The writers haven’t addressed the pretty obvious freaking questions and flaws with this plan, so it’s superficial at best. It isn’t a great moral question. It’s a stupid subplot that makes no sense. Worse, it makes the characters themselves look terrible for not asking those obvious next questions. What do we do if the villains don’t want the cure? Is letting more innocent people die a greater moral dilemma than giving a meta a cure they don’t want for their powers?
How many lives make that an equal exchange? If Grace goes on to kill three people because she doesn’t want the cure, is Team Flash okay with that? Is six too many? How about twelve? Twelve and a puppy? Eight if at least one baby is involved, but maybe fifteen if we’re only talking about adults? Where is the line?
That isn’t an easy line to draw. Of course it isn’t. And it would be understandable if that was a question they all struggled with as they carried forward. But the problem isn’t that they’ve struggled with it without coming to a consensus. It’s that they haven’t even struggled with it at all.
And doesn’t seem like a pretty major oversight for a group of supposed heroes to have?
Other Points of Interest
- I’m here for the Iris/Kamille plot, as it will hopefully move the journalism plot forward. Also, can we please have some healthy female friendships on this show for a change?
- I suspect that the show is using the cure to hold off until one of two things happen (or both): 1) They don’t give her the cure when they get the chance and someone on the team dies because of their inaction, leading to the climactic battle, and/or 2) It explains why they haven’t neutralized Cicada so she’s still a threat to give Killer Frost her moment to shine and take down the bad guy. Lip service if nothing else suggests that Cicada is more of a villain for Killer Frost than for Flash…which is one more reason to suspect this plot might be a parting gift for that character.
As an episode on its own, it was rather middle-of-the-road. I don’t think it was fantastic enough to be on any Best Of lists, but it also wasn’t the worst episode of the season. Still, it highlighted some cracks in the show and the season’s recent lack of heart and emotional stakes. I’ve almost forgotten to tune in more than once lately. This episode really made me realize why. If the characters aren’t emotionally invested in their story, why should I invest on their behalf?
(New) Questions of the Hour
- The Flash has gotten mileage from Cisco/Ralph scenes several times this season. If Carlos isn’t leaving, will that be the primary teamup for his character next year? I have to confess I’ve enjoyed that interaction more than I came to appreciate his role as Harry’s babysitter last season. Still, if he is sticking around, could they give him a stronger overall story next year?
The Flash returns April 16 at 8/7c on The CW.