This The Flash review contains spoilers.
The Flash Season 6 Episode 13
It’s not clear why The Flash decided to follow up the long-awaited introduction of Sue Dearbon—and one of its best episodes of the season, to boot—with an hour that finds Barry Allen trapped in the mind of a giant genius gorilla, but that’s where we are, folks. And it’s not exactly great.
Here’s the thing: You’re either the type of person that enjoys a Gorilla Grodd-themed The Flash episode, or you aren’t. There’s not a ton of middle ground, especially in an hour like this one, in which various members of The Flash cast take turns “speaking” as Grodd, presumably because the show spent all its money on special effects back during the Crisis on Infinite Earths crossover.
Personally, Gorilla Grodd stories tend not to be my favorite thing, even though there’s always something fun about the inherent silliness of watching giant CGI animals like Grodd or King Shark fight our The Flash faves. This time, we do get a bizarre but wildly entertaining sequence in which Barry and Grodd merge minds—and physical forms—to fight Solovar, because he’s serving as the gatekeeper to the mental prison in which both find themselves.
Don’t get me wrong, this sequence is actually a ton of fun to watch, but it also isn’t entirely worth the journey it took to reach this moment, because almost everything that led up to it is so clunky and ham-fisted in terms of its overall narrative.
The basic idea behind “Grodd Friended Me” is pretty simple—and it’s a story The Flash has told before. Former villain suddenly wants to make good, because reasons. And Barry, trapped in Grodd’s mind thanks to a technological error on the part of apparent new Team Flash member Chester P. Runk, must decide whether or not to believe his change of heart is legit.
Given that Barry and the rest of Team Flash have embraced a wide variety of former rogues and villains in the past, including Caitlin’s formerly murderous dark alter ego, as well as Captain Cold, Heatwave and King Shark, this shift shouldn’t seem that strange. (After all the gang even let Amunet Black go, like, two weeks ago—and she was barely what you could call repentant.) Here, however, Barry is reluctant to take Grodd’s word at face value. Like really reluctant.
There’s an interesting story somewhere under all this, one in which Barry is paralyzed by all the changes Crisis on Infinite Earths has wrought in the world he thought he knew. Oliver’s death is just the tip of the iceberg for him—he can’t even find where his parents are buried in this new reality. There’s something almost heartbreaking about the idea that Barry’s so desperate to hang on to the world he had, that he can’t see that this Grodd might have truly changed. Because in his world, Grodd is evil, and that’s all he’ll ever be.
The Flash, unfortunately, doesn’t really tell this story with anything like nuance. In fact, it barely focuses on Barry’s POV at all, instead spending time on forcing Killer Frost to spout more than her fair share of technical science babble about brainwave patterns and inexplicably cramming in something like an origin story for Chester’s time on the team. Barry’s clunky transition from anger over all the Crisis-spawned changes to acceptance that he has to move forward in this world he helped make takes place in about two minutes and feels largely unearned.
The only reason this story even slightly works is because of David Sobolov’s impressive vocal performance, which manages to infuse Grodd with something that sounds like an ancient and gravelly sorrow. Poor Grant Gustin gets precious little to work with, largely because it feels so strange to have Barry’s Crisis-driven PTSD coming four episodes in to the back half of the season. Between Diggle’s visit, Oliver’s mask, Cisco’s departure and multiple heart-to-hearts with Iris, it seems as though we should have gotten some hint about how much Barry was—and is, possibly—still struggling?
The general meh-ness of this episode is compounded by the fact that, for some reason, The Flash seems to feel like now is the time to test run Chester and Kamilla as potential Cisco replacements, which not only doesn’t make me feel better about those seemingly ever present rumors that Carlos Valdes is leaving the show, it also leaves me wondering just what The Flash is planning to do with all these characters they keep adding. (We’ve already gone weeks without Valdes and Hartley Sawyer this season, after all, and the show’s definitely been guilty of sidelining other faves in the past.)
Honestly, Kamilla works better as part of Team Central City Citizen, where she was well on her way to building her own arc and friendships away with the series’ other women. (Which, you know, is something the series desperately needs anyway.) Chester, at least, shows much more depth here than he did in his initial appearance. When the character’s not leaning so heavily into his fast-talking uber-nerd persona, he’s quite compelling, and interesting in a way that’s completely different from the rest of Team Flash. But does the canvas have the space for him?
Happily, “Grodd Friended Me” does one thing exactly right, and that’s keeping the mirror dimension storyline humming along even when it’s little more than the episode’s C plot. Sure, we still have no idea what Mirror Iris is trying to do out in the real world, and that’s probably to be expected at this point. But in just a handful of scenes, The Flash manages to reveal that she and Eva are definitely connected, confirm that Eva can affect things—or, at least, Mirror Iris—in our world, and illustrate that there’s a real streak of darkness hiding under Eva’s pitiably tragic and slightly crazy exterior. And if she’s a woman willing to burn her own flesh off to manipulate Iris into following her plan? I’m suddenly a lot more interested in finding out what that plan is.
Here’s hoping next week is back to form.