This The Flash review contains spoilers.
The Flash Season 5 Episode 21
What a tremendously powerful opening for an episode of The Flash, and what a bizarre, letdown of an ending. Seriously, has there ever been an episode, not just for this show, but in the entire Arrowverse, that ended so abruptly? Ralph realizing too late what Thawne’s plan is and shouting for Barry not to use the mirror gun on the dagger would have been dramatic had it not played on screen like someone edited the end of the episode with a hatchet. I sat there and stared at my screen for a moment wondering if there had been an error.
But then when you think of everything that was crammed into “The Girl With the Red Lightning” it makes perfect sense why they wouldn’t even have the extra two or three seconds it would take to actually end that shot properly. In a season that has certainly tried to do too much, “The Girl With the Red Lightning” feels like the most overstuffed hour of the season. It could have been an adequate hour of The Flash, but like “Gone Rogue” it’s another example of how the show is now too far along to outrun its earlier mistakes, and even the good moments are dragged down by the weight of 20 previous episodes of missteps.
In a vacuum, the stuff that works, really works. The future Thawne stuff has long been the most compelling element of the season, and that plays beautifully in the episode’s opening minutes. Capital punishment is, let’s face it, fucked up, and the fact that it hasn’t been eliminated even 30 years in the future is a little upsetting. But leaning into it with a sadistic guard “teasing” a prisoner with the means of their execution is a pretty special brand of dick. And in the moment, the idea that they’re actually using Thawne’s negative speed force to kill him is interesting enough, even though the minute you stop to think about it you have to wonder what the actual logic is. And then all of that is blown straight to hell by episode’s end, with a “look how clever this is” plan of using the negative speed force to charge Cicada’s dagger…which Thawne has been wearing this entire time under his vest as a way to dampen his powers. In other words, destroying the dagger in the past would free Thawne in the future. Or something.
This season has consisted of the team unable to confront Cicada(s) at every turn because of “reasons” and each confrontation since the second half of the season has begun to feel more and more like an overpowered video game boss fight. The fact that Cicada’s plan consists entirely of incomprehensible gibberish like “supercharging” the atomizer using the dagger powered by dark matter makes it feel even more like someone just assembling various power ups. I’ve spent enough time in these reviews complaining about what a tedious adversary Cicada has turned out to be, but all of that is highlighted to the ultimate degree in this episode, whether it’s her overacting “rampage” in Nora’s thoughts or the uninspiringly choreographed and filmed climactic fight inside CCPD (complete with perhaps the single worst fight scene this show has ever put on screen with Killer Frost and Cicada).
But all of that aside, not to mention that if I have to hear one more “we’re your parents” speech to Nora I’m going to go boil my head, I think I have finally pinpointed the thing that has just sat wrong with me for much of this season: the metahuman cure. In general, the cure has always felt weird. Frankly, I’m never comfortable with talk of “cures” for powers wherever they come up, especially in X-Men stories. If a mutation is at the DNA level, and especially if it’s something that has a physical manifestation, such cures are often shown as “instant” cures. Would an Angel type character with wings and hollow bones suddenly…drop his wings and grow additional bone density? Anyway, what I’m saying is, the idea that you can “cure” something that has changed your entire being on a cellular level is stupid no matter who does it.
But here on The Flash? It feels ESPECIALLY out of place. Characters who we have barely seen in months and know virtually nothing about who are suddenly having soul searching “I don’t want to change who I am, my powers are part of me” moments rings incredibly, impossibly hollow. Also, one of the things that I’ve always felt the Arrowverse (and hell, the DC Universe in general) does well is the idea that metahumans are special. You rarely hear about ones who are utterly commonplace and living in secret. Here, we have dozens of “regular” folks with extremely minor meta powers showing up at CCPD in fear for their lives. This isn’t just X-Men stuff, it’s really basic, low-level X-Men stuff, and it undermines the overall metahuman mythology in the entire Arrowverse.
But these are still larger, season long concerns. Within the episode itself, there’s still too much going on. Nora’s big moment (and finally, FINALLY earning the trust of her parents) is great, but could have and should have been done a minimum of two episodes earlier. The mirror gun is great, but feels strangely out of place, as if it dropped in here from a future season of the show to remind us of what is to come. Joe’s self-doubt followed by his “rousing” speech to the room full of metas both felt extraordinarily shoehorned in, and I’m not sure where that came from or what it was meant to accomplish. When you can’t get me to feel something warm when Jesse L. Martin is doing what Joe West does best, you’re doing it all wrong. This, and Cecile’s “recapping to the audience why they love a character they have spent over a hundred episodes with” was time better spent elsewhere. Where that would be, I couldn’t tell you, but elsewhere nonetheless.
The moment that showed the most promise in the entire episode, Ralph’s wondering about what the timeline could look like if things had gone a little differently, is woefully underexplored. It sets up that ridiculous cut to the ending, but nothing more. Unless they’re planning on doing some kind of serious timeline reset in the season finale (which would be a mistake), this is the kind of thing that would have been far better introduced around midseason. It’s fascinating, but frustratingly dismissed before it can become anything.
And so it all comes back to that big Thawne reveal. I’m not going to say anything else until we see how that season finale plays, but right now it looks like they took the most ridiculous, roundabout way possible to getting us to that moment. Hopefully there’s redemption next week.
– Cisco…kind of makes a Stan Lee quote with his “true believers” line. Please note that Stan Lee had nothing to do with a single character who has ever appeared anywhere in the Arrowverse.
– Here’s a Flash Fact for ya…this show needs to embrace the concept of a shorter season or ditch the big bad entirely because tedium like Cicada and Thinker ain’t gonna cut it next year.