This The Flash review contains spoilers.
The Flash Season 6 Episode 6
“I love Mortal Kombat.”
While “Kiss Kiss Breach Breach” took The Flash into similarly genre-bending, hardboiled territory with a minimum of costumed action (or even its main character), it was fairly consistent from start to finish. It didn’t always work, but it had a clear mission statement from the outset and mostly stuck to it. “License to Elongate” on the other hand…does not. Yes, this is most certainly “the Ralph Dibny” show, almost as much as “Kiss Kiss Breach Breach” was “the Cisco Ramon show.” And yes, just as the previous episode was devoted to its sci-fi/noir/whodunnit hybrid, so is this week’s with its obvious James Bond homage. Both seem like sneaky ways to keep the budget down to make room for Crisis on Infinite Earths, but more importantly both of these episodes are wonderful vehicles for their respective lead actors, with Hartley Sawyer unquestionably doing his best work since joining this show, and an absolute joy in every scene. And it’s Sawyer and Grant Gustin’s easy chemistry, the strong writing in their important character moments, and an unexpectedly touching finale that save this episode.
The problem is that “License to Elongate” also has too many disparate elements that didn’t fit. The premise, with Ralph off to Midway City to further investigate the Sue Dearbon case, with Barry tagging along to speed things up to make sure Elongated Man can appear at a surprise press conference officially welcoming him to Central City’s hero community, is sensible. The pair then landing in the midst of a high class villain tech auction straight out of a Bond movie is amusing enough, but it’s clearly not enough to power an entire episode. It’s certainly not as strong as Cisco trying to solve the mystery surrounding the death of his ex-girlfriend, and thus can’t sustain the entire episode. Instead, we get diversions with the supporting cast which kill whatever momentum that main story, however thin it may be, could have built.
With Crisis on Infinite Earths looming, Barry continuing to tie up loose ends before his apparent death should be enough of a tie to this year’s crossover event without multiple scenes referencing the monitor. Instead we get yet another episode of Nash Wells dicking around in the tunnels trying to expose Novu as “a fraud” or “false god.” He ropes in Allegra for use of her ultraviolet powers. The problem is that after her introduction earlier this season, Allegra hasn’t managed to really distinguish herself as a character yet, and this, along with the lack of satisfactory progress from Wells, makes these scenes really drag. It would help if they gave her better dialogue than “nobody tells me anything.” On the other hand, there seems to be some kind of deeper multiversal connection between Nash and Allegra, so it wouldn’t surprise me if this show has something else up its sleeve.
What should have been a welcome return for Chester P. Runk, a character I still suspect will become a favorite around here, was particularly egregious. Cecile has been terrific in each of this season’s first five episodes. What we get here was an inexplicable regression to the lows of season four-esque silliness, with her meta-empath powers poorly used (and for questionable reasons, no less). Danielle Nicolet is great, but this show manages to take a step back with Cecile for every step forward. Perhaps this show’s biggest mistake, the bell that can never be unrung, is how from season four on, a problem made far worse in season five, “metas” in the Arrowverse have become almost indistinguishable from how “mutants” are treated in the Marvel Universe. It doesn’t fit. It’s a shame, because Brandon McKnight proved in that first episode that he’s great fun as Chester, but every single one of these scenes (especially Cecile’s botched Cyrano routine) felt like a return to the nadir of season four’s shoehorned attempts at humor.
So really, it’s a testament to just how good the real emotional thread of this episode is that this whole thing didn’t just spiral into eye-roll territory for an hour. What it really comes down to is that both Hartley Sawyer and Grant Gustin turned in sterling work in an hour that otherwise didn’t have a ton going for it. And the writing, both in their mismatched buddy cop (or buddy spy) scenes and in the quieter moments in Joe West’s office or at a press conference, elevated them both. I had my misgivings early in the episode when Barry was talking about how Elongated Man has earned the right to be Central City’s “sole protector,” but by episode’s end, I bought it. We’ve been seeing a very different Ralph all season, and this one, even with all the Bond novelty stuff aside, is very much a character I want to spend more time with. “Lose the ring, pal, this is how we suit up tonight” was a terrific delivery, and the whole Barry/Ralph dynamic reminded me ever so slightly of Blue Beetle and Booster Gold in the Keith Giffen/JM DeMatteis/Kevin Maguire era of Justice League: two capable, powerful buddies who sometimes bluff their way into situations that even they aren’t fully at home in.
I still maintain, even with the very funny “drunk Barry” and the assorted partygoing bumbling he engages in, that this is the most mature take on Barry Allen we’ve yet seen on this show, with Gustin giving Barry the superheroic gravitas appropriate for a character who is about to become the elder statesman and face of the Arrowverse. And even here, this episode manages to show us a different side of Barry. It’s rare that we see Barry displaying a trait that I’m surprised isn’t THE most prominent for most speedsters: impatience. It made for a great contrast with Ralph’s cool and low key detective persona and ultimately helped drive home why Ralph is indeed the right choice to carry on after Barry is gone.
And just as we saw in “Kiss Kiss Breach Breach” The Flash is really and truly going for it in its desire to make the stakes surrounding Barry’s possible/probable/likely death in Crisis on Infinite Earths feel very, very real. I’ve commended this show for making us believe that the characters really believe it. And now, rather than driving it home with absurd foreshadowing at every turn, they’re instead even giving us little bits of emotional closure. Joe and Ralph conspiring to give Barry Allen (not Flash) the medal of honor for his work as a CSI is genuinely touching stuff. It really felt meaningful watching Barry soak up the applause from colleagues and press (and the look he shares with Joe!). Considering this series opened with Barry stumbling and bumbling his way onto a crime scene, unsure of himself and still not at peace with the death of his mother, I’m not sure there would be a better way to indicate to us all how far Barry has come, powers or no powers. Whatever Barry’s fate ends up being, by the time Crisis on Infinite Earths is over, I won’t remember any of the things that annoyed me about this episode, but I’ll remember that scene and the way it made me feel.
Once again, I didn’t spot any DC easter eggs of note, and really, the Bond references were so obvious that I don’t think they’re worth covering in detail. You’ve all seen the movies. In any case, it looks like these fun little side mission episodes are about to come to an abrupt halt with the start of next week’s weighty two-parter and the onset of Crisis, so…I’m saving my strength.