- Emotional connection is the name of the game, and' The Flash' delivered this week in an unexpected way.
- The show got meta! And not as in ‘metahuman’!
- Intentionally or not, the episode addressed the show’s bizarre tonal shifts this season and seemed to come to a compromise.
- A bit of a filler episode.
- Playing it safe -- there were little to no consequences for anything that occurred this week.
Comedic and emotional, The Flash’s return proves that sometimes, you really can have it all
There’s no denying that The Flash played things safe this week. A lot went down with not a whole lot of consequences. Aside from Cisco’s job offer, we are pretty much in the same place at the end of this week’s episode as we were at the beginning, but we aren’t mad about it. The Flash delivered such a solid hour of television — from the acting, to the writing, to the effects — that we can forgive a little lack of plot progression.
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This week, Barry (Grant Gustin) and Ralph (Hartley Sawyer) disagree on a key part of their approach to defeating DeVoe. Ralph, ever the jokester, just will not stop with the zingers. Meanwhile, Breacher (Danny Trejo) visits Earth 1 and demands Cisco (Carlos Valdez) and Caitlin’s (Danielle Panabaker) help in the case of the mysteriously disappearing powers. In the darkest corner of the episode, Marlize DeVoe discovers that her husband has been drugging her.
In a dispute which we imagine mirrors this season’s writers room, Barry and Ralph disagree on their approach to superheroism — should it be comedic, or serious?
A quick scan through our The Flash tag will remind you that on this season of The Flash, tone is the hardest thing to nail down. One week, everything is a joke. The stakes are low, the jokes high, and the show feels like a silver-age comic book dream. The next week, Barry finds himself in jail for murder. It’s certainly enough to give even the most casual of viewers whiplash, never mind those of us who have an uncompromising dedication to our televisions every Tuesday at 8/7c.
This week, there’s compromise. In the episode itself and its tone. And in what may be an intentional meta-reference (this week is littered with them) or, an unintentional but solid metaphor, the show’s characters debate the very thing us critics have dissected all season long — should a superhero, such as The Flash, be surrounded by lighthearted jokes and silly gags? Or, since the very act of heroism implies danger, should a hero’s life be staunch, serious, with a fixed focus on saving lives?
“This isn’t standup comedy!”
Ralph thinks that life should be infused with fun, and Barry gets frustrated with this attitude. After all, defeating DeVoe is a serious matter — is there really time for turtle jokes? Barry demands focus, and rightfully so, but the solution, it seems, lies in compromise. As Ralph explains to Barry, humor is a coping mechanism. Ralph has used humor to deal with things since childhood.
We, like Ralph, love a little humor infused in our drama. It helps us deal with the constant danger our favorite characters find themselves in. And this episode, ironically, struck the perfect balance. It was humorous but focused, it drove the story forward without compromising on fun. Barry and Ralph would likely both approve.
This week, meta jokes win out over metahumans
The metahuman of the week is… unremarkable, at best. But then, she isn’t really the focus of the episode. Instead, she supplements more important plot lines, like Barry and Ralph’s conflicting ideologies and Cisco and Caitlin’s adventures with Breacher. A weak metahuman does not necessarily equate with a weak episode, and this week, it works. Null’s development is sidelined to make room for our major plots and, delightfully, some clever little nods to The Flash’s dedicated audience.
The first of these quips occurs in the earliest moments of the episode. Ralph suggests that Team Flash start an improv group, move to Washington, and call themselves “The DC Comics.” Okay, so that joke took a lot of setup. And yes, it’s cheesy, and lame, but we love it anyway. It feels like an inside joke, although it’s unlikely that anyone watching The Flash isn’t aware of its roots, so it’s an inside joke that everyone can enjoy.
“We’d make a fortune. And improv group made of superheroes? We can take it to Washington. We’d be the DC Comics!”
On the less mainstream side of things, fans of Jay and Silent Bob were treated to a very overt reference in the form of a Kevin Smith and Jason Mewes cameo. Although the two security guards in this week’s The Flash weren’t actually Jay and Silent Bob, they basically were — enough that the canon of the original isn’t compromised while still giving fans a fun treat. Smith, who directed this week, loves witty jokes, and that’s entirely apparent in the episode — whether or not Smith is actually on screen, his presence is felt through is unique style and the comic touch he puts on all of his work.
Is it character development if the character doesn’t remember it?
We’ve known for some time that DeVoe was drugging Marlize. However, we haven’t seen the extent of it until this week’s episode. This week we, along with Marlize, learned that Clifford has been drugging his wife with weeper tears pretty consistently for the majority of their relationship. The tears make her more compliant, more loving, and, most horrifyingly, rid her of her morality — the human side of her which would prevent her from allowing Clifford to continue along his villainous journey.
In an Oscar-worthy twist, we learn that this isn’t the first time Marlize has discovered Clifford’s deceit. In fact, this has happened countless times, and Marlize is unknowingly trapped in a seemingly inescapable loop. When she attempts to leave herself a video warning, saving it under the name “New Lemonade Recipe” (because Clifford, a supervillain, certainly doesn’t care about such mundane things) she discovers that the file already exists. She’s done all of this before, and she likely will again. Clifford violently erases her memories, sending her back into a blissful, albeit abusive, ignorance.
“Please don’t forget. He’s lying to you… he’s drugging you… he’s a monster. You must escape.”
There’s something really poignant about the moment in which Marlize collapses. We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again, Kim Engelbrecht is a downright phenomenal actress. And her emotion in this scene is so real — almost achingly so. Although most women (okay, all women) will never experience the exact situation Marlize finds herself in, spousal abuse (emotional and physical) is all too real and all too common. This dramatized and fictionalized version of it serves to illustrate the very real feeling of being incapable of escape, trapped in a relationship that is quite literally killing you.
We predict (and certainly hope) that Marlize will escape Clifford’s clutches by the conclusion of this season. And boy, we cannot wait. Aside from the satisfaction, DeVoe’s defeat will bring us, it will be so empowering to watch Marlize, an intelligent, powerful woman, escape her abuser and seek a better life for herself.
Final Verdict: The Flash’s return plays it safe, but we are anything but annoyed
The major, lasting consequence of this episode is hard to define. We learned a crucial detail about DeVoe, but with all outside knowledge of his operations gone, it doesn’t technically advance the plot much. In fact, the episode could easily be categorized as a filler — but that doesn’t mean it’s one to skip on your rewatches. On the contrary, this episode exemplifies every hope we’ve had for The Flash — human characters, silly jokes, real suspense, and that comic book tone that we truly love so much.
The thing The Flash does best, underneath the superspeed, science fiction, and big-bad villains, is connect. We connect with Barry, Iris, Cisco, Caitlin, Joe, Harry, and even, sometimes, Ralph. This week, we connected with Marlize. The Flash, despite its complete distance from reality, feels real because of its characters. Through the lens of metahuman ability, they deal with very real issues — Breacher is growing old, something we all have to deal with; Marlize is trapped in an abusive relationship, something that too many have to deal with. Underpinning all of these dynamics is the solid and constant relationship between Barry and Iris — never loud, not always the show’s focus, but ever-present — functioning much like a real marriage does, and serving as, perhaps, the show’s realest dynamic of all.
The Flash is simultaneously real and yet just enough removed from reality for us to enjoy it as both a means of escape and a form of therapy through which we deal with real life. And that’s why this episode works, and works well.
Questions, Comments, and Concerns (about Harry!)
- Okay first, I’d like to formally apologize to Barry Allen and Iris West, because I have definitely written about their relationship paralleling that of Marlize and Clifford in a past review and I was wrong. And I am so sorry, WestAllen.
- Ralph vs. Barry, Arrow vs. Legends, DC vs. Marvel — should superhero shows be lighthearted and fun or dark and serious? Chime in!
- The “two Flashes” plan… not great. We can do better.
- That party was totally in National City… I’ve seen that set before!
- So much to discuss, we didn’t even get around to Cisco. Will he take the job? What do you think?
- What the heck is going on with Harry?! We are not getting another Wells twist, right?!
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The Flash Review: [4×17] “Null and Annoyed”