This The Flash review contains spoilers.
The Flash Season 5 Episode 14
Is it wrong that I actually pumped my fist in the air the moment that it appeared that Killer Frost had died? Wait, I’m getting ahead of myself…time to rewind time.
The Flash Season 5, while certainly better than the plodding, tonally inconsistent season four, has been a weird one, hasn’t it? The strongest start in the show’s history, a promising introduction for Cicada, a wonderful new character with Nora (and the terrific mystery that she and Thawne bring) have been tempered by the fact that Cicada has failed to sustain any kind of momentum, the possibly irreversible destruction of Caitlin Snow/Killer Frost as an interesting ongoing proposition, and the absurd naivete of Iris turning her blog into the Central City Citizen. When “important” episodes like “Memorabilia” are outshone by ostensible fillers like “Goldfaced” something might be wrong.
But then again, how wrong can things be? This season has been about Nora from the start, and Nora remains thoroughly compelling. And “Cause and XS” is all Nora, all the time. It’s a Groundhog Day scenario, the kind of thing we’ve seen play out on Star Trek: The Next Generation (and even season one of Star Trek: Discovery), and a well that I’m surprised The Flash hasn’t gone to more often. But rather than letting the gimmick drive the episode, “Cause and XS” manages to be one of those hours that comes around a few times a season that reminds you how good this show can be, even when it doesn’t seem to be trying all that hard.
The effortless feel of “Cause and XS” was apparent right from the opening moments. Kicking things off with Cisco being wistful before transitioning directly into an effortless “Cisco doing science for the team” bit was both a great bit of writing and a perfect showcase for Carlos Valdes. In fact, while all the actual superhero elements of this episode focused on Nora and her ability to rewind time, all of the important human elements were focused on Cisco and his ridiculous, Groundhog Day-esque attempts to impress his date. It’s simple stuff, all carried off by Valdes’ effortless charisma and timing (with the occasional assist from Hartley Sawyer’s Ralph, a character who continues to come into his own week after week, and this was definitely the best of all their buddy routines).
But it’s amazing how much a series of well played scenes in Jitters does to balance out this show. Keeping the focus squarely on Cisco means there’s no time for the other elements that have been dragging this season down (like the Caitlin/Killer dynamic and the Central City Citizen nonsense) to rear their heads. With rumors swirling about Valdes’ departure from the show at the end of this season, and with the show itself making it a point to spotlight Cisco’s desire for a more normal life, well, this was a little bittersweet. Valdes has long been this cast’s secret weapon, and Cisco’s ups and downs have been such fun to follow. Hopefully this is all just a bunch of static, because right now, I’d rather not imagine a Team Flash without Vibe.
But it’s great that this is a proper Team Flash episode, one uncluttered by too many of the increasingly needless b and c stories everyone has been saddled with this year. It breaks my heart when I have to roll my eyes at Iris or Caitlin, and without these unnecessary contrivances that keep getting bolted on to their characters, they still have plenty to do. I especially loved the “you’ve been reversing time” intervention they pull on Nora in the final act, right down to Iris’ “I’m not mad, I’m just disappointed” motherly stare. See also: Sherloque quietly putting it together in the background that Nora is up to something by her first reversal. Some of that is his general suspicion of Nora, but I kind of liked that slight change in him the first time she comes back. Sherloque was the one character I was most worried about even during this season’s early, exceptionally good episodes, but he has become a joy. Basically, there’s no one big moment I can point to in this episode, but rather a culmination of getting little things like that right, scene after scene, that carry it so well.
TV is often a writers’ game, but I have to wonder just how much of these little moments were helped along by having Rachel Talalay directing. This is her fourth episode of The Flash and by my recollection, the best one she’s directed. For an episode that could have almost been an XS backdoor pilot (well, maybe not, but it was cool how they got Barry out of the way for most of the episode), I feel like there was a little more room for a director to breathe than there might ordinarily be on a show like this.
Cicada remains a problem, though. I feel like after this episode, we’ve reached the absolute limits of what can be done with this guy and his particular power set. Hell, you can probably argue that we reached that limit six episodes ago. But with all the character’s mystery removed, and with nothing left now but a kind of plodding inevitability to his appearances, I’m left hoping that whatever Thawne’s grand scheme is frees us from this burden long before the season finale. The big bad problem seriously needs to be fixed when season six rolls around.
Now, as for what exactly the team did to defeat Cicada at the end? Incomprehensible nonsense even by superhero show standards. But when everything else surrounding it is this good, and when you come away from it feeling a little big closer to characters we’ve already spent so much time with, chalk that up as a win for the good guys.
– It may or may not be intentional, but a lot of this episode reminds me of Booster Gold #5 by Geoff Johns and Dan Jurgens. That issue saw Booster returning repeatedly to a fixed point in time, trying to prevent Barbara Gordon from being paralyzed during the events of The Killing Joke. Also, if you haven’t read that entire series, fix that. It’s brilliant, it feels like a Legends of Tomorrow comic, and it’s available on DC Universe.
– Nora trying to prevent the events of this episode 52 times is, well…you know the DC magic number at this point. I don’t think I need to explain it to you again.
– Barry’s lesson to Nora about the timeline was taken almost directly from a speech Jay Garrick gave him in season three. I love seeing that pop up here in the same way.
– The first time that Nora notices the time as 8:07 lined up exactly with the broadcast time at that moment, which is great. I love when these shows lean into the roughly “real time” way in which they take place week to week. The other two important times, 8:27 and 8:52 didn’t line up with “real time” though. 8:27 came closest, but was two minutes off.
– While it’s not used in the same way it is in the comics, it’s always nice to see a bottle of Gingold make an appearance, and Ralph’s frustrated “last bottle” is the kind of thing he would have said in the comics back when it was the source of his powers.
– Cisco attempts to pull a “Jedi Mind Trick” with Ralph’s photos. Kinda. Sorta.
– “It’s a first date, Sun Tzu, not an incursion.” Bless this show. And when we return, we’re getting King Shark vs. Gorilla Grodd. Seriously, bless this show.