The Flash Season 5 Episode 16 Review: Failure is an Orphan

Despite a big Cicada twist, The Flash "Failure is an Orphan" feels like it's running in place.

This The Flash review contains spoilers.

The Flash Season 5 Episode 16

I don’t know what made me think that this was going to be the episode where things really turn a corner. There’s just been so much talk of the cure since it was perfected (and at least we’re done debating the implications and ethics of it), and the last few episodes have been so good, that I really thought The Flash had figured it all out, and that they were ready to do some kind of rug pull and change the perceptions surrounding the season this week.

Holy moley, was I wrong.

There’s just no getting around it anymore: The Flash season 5 can’t outrun its lousy villain. And let’s be real, Cicada ain’t working. It’s not us, Cicada, it’s you. Any suspense, mystery, or drama surrounding this character has been gone for weeks now, and there’s no regaining any of that goodwill. Attempts to make him more sympathetic have crashed and burned, attempts to solve him as a threat continue to come back to the same points (breach in, have Killer Frost make a half-hearted attempt to do something while Barry gets his ass handed to him, cut to STAR Labs where everyone else looks on with helpless concern, repeat ad infinitum) are now enshrined in the Flash Museum as some of the most tedious wheel spinning in the show’s history. And any marginal forward progress is always immediately nullified by Cicada’s dialogue, some of the worst in the history of the Arrowverse, delivered with grating, halting phrasing that grinds everything to a halt.

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I don’t understand how last week’s “King Shark vs. Gorilla Grodd,” essentially a stopgap novelty episode (but a damn fun one) managed to get more actual story advancing work done than this week’s episode. My thought at the end of “King Shark vs. Gorilla Grodd” was basically, “wow, if this is what they can accomplish in the midst of a giant CGI shark fighting a telepathic CGI gorilla, then next week’s episode is really gonna blow us into orbit.” Like I said, I was wrong. 

It’s a bummer, because this had such a promising start. Without question, the Nora/Thawne stuff is the most compelling thing this season has to offer right now, and Thawne’s teases tonight about a new timeline trying to break through (something that could certainly be a reference to Baby Cicada showing up at episode’s end…but I wonder if it could have something to do with another villain coming…or perhaps a certain upcoming Crisis) were everything that we’ve been missing from the Cicada story. I get that the show isn’t ready to lay all the Thawne cards on the table just yet, but something’s gotta give. In fact, the episode probably peaks with Nora and Thawne’s exchange, where she asks if she has screwed things up, and Thawne replies with a reassuring smirk.

read more: The Flash Season 6 – Everything We Know So Far

I’m surprised to see that this episode was written by Zack Stentz, a guy who certainly knows his Flash and who is responsible for some real winners (including season 3 standout “Monster”). Perhaps it’s his influence that keeps this episode from going completely off the rails, and instead keeps it merely in the realm of “uninspiring late-midseason episodes of long seasons.”

I’ve been a Nora defender this season. I like the character and think Jessica Parker Kennedy has natural chemistry with Team Flash. But every now and then a baffling decision is made, in this case, it’s the idea that a “Flash greatest hits speech” could basically be compiled via algorithm, a notion that feels like the logical progression of the things that make every baseball fan who hates the increased prevalence of sabermetrics in decision making, or every internet writer/editor who increasingly has to bow to the whims of Google and Facebook when deciding what and how to write (ahem), want to scream. It’s so silly (even though it’s being played as more of Nora’s naive earnestness) that it almost undermines the premise that Barry can naturally bring out the good in people. I felt most of the Iris/Nora moments were hollow this week, as well. Those, like the Joe/Cecile stuff, felt obligatory at best. Still, it’s so good to see Jesse L. Martin back in full capacity with the team, that I’m ready to forgive nearly everything.

Despite a run of strong episodes in a row, and a season that against all odds still feels superior to the one that came before, my question for all of you is this: with the arrival of Young Cicada, do you feel like we’re any closer to actual resolution? I don’t. I was one of the few who wasn’t knocked out when this reveal was teased a few episodes back (in the similarly “important” episode, “Memorabilia”) and I still don’t think this is exactly the “save” the Cicada story needed. The time to fix this year’s villain arc passed at least three episodes ago. Now we’re stuck with The Cicada Bunch until the end of the season. Thawne had better have something really special up his yellow sleeve to make this all worthwhile.

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Flash Facts!

– Is this the first time we’ve heard mention of McNider University? Dr. Charles McNider was none other than the Justice Society’s Doctor Mid-Nite, who we met on Legends of Tomorrow a couple of seasons back!

– Was Thawne’s “someone big is coming” a reference to Cicada Larva or…someone else? Himself? Godspeed? The Anti-Monitor?

– I’ll hand this to them, Acid Master is a great deep cut. Well, at least a deep deep cut. Philip Master was a one-off Superman villain, appearing in a single issue of Action Comics in 1967. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to write a news item about how this is definitive proof that they’re developing a Superman show for the CW (disclaimer: I am not actually going to do that).

– While it was exceedingly simple, having Barry do some very basic science explaining when stopping Acid Master was like a little slice of silver age comics goodness. Flash comics were especially great at explaining (some) of the science behind assorted super feats back in the day. I also like how it reminds us all that Barry loves to get nerdy with science stuff.

Keep up with all our The Flash Season 5 news and reviews right here.

Mike Cecchini is the Editor in Chief of Den of Geek. You can read more of his work here. Follow him on Twitter @wayoutstuff.

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2 out of 5