In this week’s episode of The Flash, villain Ramsey Russo brings the Halloween vibes, Cisco and Joe bring the emotion, and the writers bring up Iris’s impending loss without giving her room to address the cruelty of Ralph’s grief-inspired attack.
Cisco Takes the Spotlight
I still remember the moment in the first season when it became clear that Carlos Valdes was underutilized as comic relief. (For the record, it’s when he broke down during the confrontation with Reverse Flash.) It’s sad to say that the show has never really stepped up to use Valdes to his full potential. For too long, he’s been relegated to the background – to comic relief, babysitting duties, and as a supporting character for other supporting characters’ stories.
I’ve been hoping to see him get a worthy story arc outside of his love life. (Preferably a story arc that remains his own, unlike the cure plot from last season.) So I was really happy to see him take the spotlight this episode, to explore his feelings about Barry’s supposed imminent demise.
I’ll admit that the story didn’t entirely work for me. I know that Barry’s the hero, and it’s so wonderful to see how much he’s grown as a hero over the years. I loved him as the excitable puppy in the first season, but his gravitas is hard-won, and I do enjoy seeing him in a mentor role. However, in this case, teaching Cisco what it means to be a hero – or even a leader – didn’t entirely make sense to me. Cisco isn’t a babe fresh from the woods, and he isn’t a newcomer on the scene. Of course, as the titular hero, Barry has been the one tasked with making the lion’s share of the hard decisions, as well as the sacrifices.
But at times in this episode, I felt like the plot was acting like Cisco hadn’t been right there with him, every step of the way. Like Cisco hadn’t faced his own share of loss, in losing his brother and having to come to terms with the fact they couldn’t travel in time to get him back. Like he hadn’t faced his own mortality and possible death (even at the hands of a friend, since Killer Frost was more than ready to kill him in the past). Even like he hasn’t faced the prospect of losing Barry before – or lost him for several months inside the speed force.
I found Cisco’s denial and determination to change destiny to be very much in character. However, the “this is what it takes to be a hero” message was a little heavy-handed. Maybe if Barry had been talking to Cecile – or even Ralph – it would have made more sense to me. But whether or not Cisco is ready to take on the mantle of being a hero, surely he’s well aware of the sacrifices it takes. He may not have been the leader, but he has been a hero in his own right for a few years.
A Good Man Falls
Ramsey Russo’s story is what put the Halloween in this Halloween episode, as he made his final descent into evil. And created a few blood zombies along the way. It cannot be understated how good of an actor they landed with Sendhil Ramamurthy. He spent most of his scenes alone, and yet he was no less compelling for it. I also appreciated the brief flashbacks with his mother, showing what he’s lost and how far he’s fallen. Ramsey may be one villain I’ll be sad to lose, but I’m on the edge of my seat waiting to see how much further this once-good man will fall.
I still do not understand how you have an entire Halloween episode and don’t have a single ounce of fun with it. No costumes. No party. Nothing. I know they have a lot going on, but it didn’t stop them from giving Frost an un-birthday party filled with human traffickers and gun smugglers last week. The show couldn’t give the characters a moment to enjoy one of the most fun holidays in the year? Come on. Even a brief scene of pumpkin carving would have been a nice, lighthearted break.
Interdimensional Man of Mystery
The various versions of Wells have been increasingly difficult for me as we get more and more iterations. I won’t pretend I’m terribly invested in this version as a character at this point. However, there was an intriguing moment in this episode as he went into the sewers and found what appears to be the Monitor’s lair.
What does he know about the Monitor? And how? What is he really after? Reports indicate that Cavanagh will play Pariah in Crisis. Before the season started, I wondered if he would play that character all season. With the introduction of Nash, it didn’t seem entirely likely…but since he knows about the Monitor, maybe that wasn’t off-base after all.
Father (Figure) Heart-to-Heart
The biggest flaws with the heart-to-hearts this episode was that they would have had more impact if Joe and Cisco had been allowed more meaningful scenes with Barry over the last few years. Obviously, there’s nothing show runner Eric Wallace can do to fix the mistakes of the past. But whatever the flaws in writing over the last few years, Jesse L. Martin brought his A game to the final scene in this episode.
The actual conversation had some questionable lines. (I understand what they were going for, but I think they could have been a bit more clear in how they came across.) But putting those “huh?” moments aside, Martin’s depiction of Joe’s grief was devastating. The West-Allen family is and always has been the heart of the show. And with Barry’s impending death, that heart is breaking. If Joe’s grief was wrenching, then Iris’s will be devastating…eventually.
A Few Stumbles
While there were some strong moments in this episode – and the season has made a few positive changes from years past – it is not without its flaws. I understand the idea behind giving every member of the team an episode to process Barry’s impending death. And I want to make it very, very clear that I’m glad Cisco finally got a moment in the spotlight. He’s been underutilized for too many years.
That said, this “one at a time” approach has been a little too “all or nothing” in its treatment of the characters. This has been particularly glaring with the treatment of Iris, though it was a bit jarring to see Frost go from lamenting the missed opportunity for ice cream last week to pouring drinks and advising Cisco that some people can’t be saved this episode.
I was glad to see Cisco’s feelings explored, and Jesse L. Martin’s acting chops should never be understated. However, it was definitely off-putting that, once again, Iris was given very little room to express her own feelings about what is to come. Barry is not only her husband, he’s her best friend. She’s known him almost her entire life, and he’s been one of the most important people to her for much of that time. Her lack of voice would have perhaps been less glaring if there hadn’t been an obvious point at which her grief should be acknowledged. However, when Ralph blew up at Iris and told her he would think she would want to spend more time with the husband she’s about to lose, she wasn’t given the room to respond.
Ralph has been an odd character to me. I detested him in his first season, but he grew on me a little last season. In this episode, he definitely crossed the line in his own grief. People – and thus characters – are not always their best selves, even when they aren’t grieving. To that end, that he behaved poorly may not be considered a failing of the show so much as a realistic reflection of human frailty. That the show did not allow Iris a voice in this episode in response most definitely is a failing on the show’s part.
I imagine Iris would prefer to spend time with the husband she’s about to lose. Particularly since she’s still reeling from the loss of her child from the future. Instead, she has to be strong and hold everyone else’s hands as they deal with their feelings and ignore hers. It’s a fact that Ralph might forget while wrapped up in his feelings, but it’s absolutely something the writers should not have forgotten in their own writing. Yes, they allowed her a moment to fight back tears earlier in the episode, but this direct attack on the way she is more or less forced to cope with her imminent loss warranted allowing her a point a view. At the very least, if she wasn’t given a voice to express her own feelings at his initial moment of lashing out, she should have been allowed a voice in the later scene when he admitted he was wrong. Instead, the focus remained on Ralph and Iris remained mute.
It’s not a good look. I know that the show is likely building to an emotional meltdown for Iris in the last couple of episodes before Crisis. Since she stands to lose the most, her grief will be the most gutting. But there’s a difference in holding off on the big emotional punch until the end, to give it the most impact, and in ignoring Iris’s feelings in key moments leading to that scene. Particularly when the subject is directly addressed, and especially when it’s addressed as a character implies that those feelings don’t exist. Even denial and avoidance on her part would have been better than silence. For all that Iris was allowed a voice after Ralph’s direct accusation regarding her looming loss, he might as well have said, “I’d think you’d want to take a walk outside before it snows later this week.”
I don’t want to make it seem that they haven’t shown Iris grieving at all, because that’s not true. However, it was glaring that they did not allow her to acknowledge or address her feelings in those scenes.
As a final note, it is still annoying that the show gives Frost access to Caitlin’s medical knowledge every week, making the latter character apparently redundant. (She also got Caitlin’s bartending skills this week!) Once again, it’s a mystery whether Caitlin even knows about Crisis – or if she knows and inexplicably just doesn’t care. This focus on Frost at the expense of Caitlin is blurring other lines, as well. As Frost grows “softer,” Panabaker is increasingly playing the character like Caitlin in a white wig. I suppose that’s the show’s way of having their cake and eating it too?
The Flash airs Tuesdays at 8/7c on The CW.