One of the ongoing issues with creating a season long story arc is that sometimes things don’t quite gel. In most cases this means we get a “filler” episode, which can be fun, but doesn’t really move the plot forward. Then there’s episodes like this week’s installment of The Flash. “Shade,” while a fun romp that gave the main cast some great moments, didn’t really move the needle on the main plot despite focusing on Alchemy and his secretive machinations. In fact, it’s thanks to the “B” plots of this weeks episode that really save “Shade” from being a lackluster addition to a pretty solid season.
Look, I get that it can be hard to create a show with interesting threats and villains every week, but this week’s new bad guy, the titular Shade, was so paper thin, he was practically transparent. In some cases they could have literally called him “Generic Bad Guy” and I believe the threat would have been the same.Did I mention that Shade had absolutely zero motivations and he was taken down by car headlights? Yesh. What makes this sin even worse is that Shade is really complex and nuanced character that could be a great story hook for the show. Instead we got a guy who beats up an investment banker and then terrorizes an outdoor screening of the Shining. That’s it. No motivations, no backstory, nothing. Could they revisit him the future? Sure, but as it stands now, this was a waste of a great character.
Flash Fact: Shade has enjoyed a wealth of origin stories over the years but the one that stuck was the story of Richard Swift, a young Englishmen in the 19th century who lost his memories after an accident that killed 104 people. Unable to fend for himself, Swift is taken in by a murderous family who plan to use him as a scapegoat to get away with some high profile murders. Swift discovered his abilities to tap into shadows, which grant him a number of powers that include immortality. He used these powers to stop the family and travel the world where he met Charles Dickens, Oscar Wilde and a number of Golden Age superheroes.
I’ve said it a number of times, but The Flash has a real issue developing their cast of villains. Some, like Captain Cold and Heatwave, get a chance to stick around for a while but in general these throw away rogues are not developed, which is disappointing. Flash has one of the deepest rosters of baddies in the history of comics, and many of them have become fully realized characters. I’d really love to see some of these villains return and continue to evolve, especially the Illusionist from last week and Magenta prior to that. Creating a wealth of villains who can return to harangue our hero is a good thing that establishes a sense of growth and continuity while increasing their individual threat level.
So let’s put the dubious Shade in a corner and get to the more interesting elements of this week’s show: Wally’s dreams of power and Caitlin’s struggle with becoming Killer Frost. There’s a fun parallel here between the two stories as both characters struggle with the concept of being/wanting to become a Meta. On one hand, Wally wants nothing more than to help people and be a useful. In his dreams he becomes the hero that saves the day. He is loved and he does good work. While here in reality, he’s just a kid entering manhood (bravo for that parallel, writers). On the other hand there’s Caitlin, who just wants to retain her normalcy. She’s seen what happens when the Killer Frost powers fully manifest: she becomes heartless, unable to have human contact and it drives her mad.
In a great twist, Caitlin reveals her secret to Cisco in order for him to vibe her fate and wow, does it go dark. In Cisco’s vision, we see a fully decked out Vibe fight a villainous Killer Frost, with dubious results. While it’s unclear if this will happen, chances are this will become some part of a greater vision and may even be self fulfilling. Don’t forget that next week is going to be focused on Caitlin’s fall and the battle between Killer Frost and Vibe may be far closer than anyone suspects. Even so, I think this is all part of the ongoing setup that is Flashpoint. As I’ve maintained since the beginning of the season, I believe this isn’t the end of the Flashpoint Paradox and we’ll see Barry try to put the world back on track. If Caitlin and/or Cisco are causalities of this alternate timeline, I can absolutely see this being a deciding factor. In other words, I’m smelling a mid season finale of epic proportions.
Back to the show though, I’d like to give a shout out to the entire West Family. Jesse L. Martin, Candice Patton and Keiynan Lonsdale really delivered some amazing performances. Martin’s performance of as he tried to balance his fear and support for Wally was really fantastic. Here we have a man who trusts one son to be The Flash and yet wants to protect the other son from a similar fate and the inequity was palpable. Joe battles guilt over his favoritism as the same time he tries to go on a date. It’s a wonderfully complex performance and continues to prove why Martin is such a strong anchor for the show.
Meanwhile Candice Patton delivered a huge scene this week as she admitted to Barry that she feels useless in the Flash Family. Her revelation that she has no powers, is not a cop, nor a scientist leaves her with very little to contribute. When you add on Wally’s quest for powers, you have a moment of human pathos as she wrestles with her own feelings of inadequacy. It’s been a very real problem that needed to be addressed. Iris, as the moral center of the group, has to be a calm assertive voice in a whirlwind of chaos. By allowing her to have a vulnerable moment like this, we can start to see her become the very thing the team needs.
Finally, we all need to give a shout out to Keiynan Lonsdale as Wally West. He has been such a great addition to the show. At first, I was concerned that Wally would become Kid Flash too quickly but I’m glad to have been proven wrong. This longer format evolution has been nothing but positive as Wally yearns to become a speedster. This all consuming desire has been a driving point this season and as it continues to develop I can see how Wally will change for the better. When faced with a chance to become Kid Flash, Wally’s first instinct was to protect others as he knew Alchemy would trick the team. Locked away in the pipeline Wally sat in isolation until he was tortured by Alchemy’s influence. The end result was a really great performance that allowed Wally to be the hero and the villain of the piece without making the character feel uneven.
Even so, the excellence didn’t stop there. Tom Cavanagh brought some much needed humor to an episode that had a lot of heavy scenes. I mean, let’s face it. Right now, we don’t need H.R. Wells so much as we want him. Cavanagh has taken a character from evil scientist, to shamed inventor, to quirky hipster and hasn’t missed a beat. With a whole litany of eccentric behaviors and hilarious cultural misunderstandings, H.R. has become a welcome addition to the team and I hope he sticks around for a long tie.
That brings us to the last few minutes of the episode, the aforementioned “meh” moment that did push the plot forward, but it wasn’t very satisfying. Of course I’m talking about the showdown with Alchemy and the revelation of Savitar. While there’s a cool wrinkle that only Barry can see Savitar, I feel that his introduction is premature. Looking like a polished up Sauron from Lord of the Rings, Savitar didn’t come off as a legitimate threat. I mean seriously, he’s the God of Speed, why the heck is in Battle Armor like he’s about to assault Gondor with an army of Orcs? Not to mention he’s the third speedster villain in as many years and we have no idea what this guy wants. We don’t even know the story behind Alchemy yet and we’re already getting a tease of his master? It feels rushed, which I suspect is the point but regardless, he just feels like a big special effect with no motivations.
Flash Fact: While Savitar did use his powers to create a cult around his identity, Doctor Alchemy was never counted amongst their numbers. In fact, it appears that Alchemy has been spliced with another Flash cultist, Cicada. Cicada was a madman who was struck by lightning. The strike apparently gave him immortality and the ability to heal almost any wound. Convinced this was tied to the Flash, he created a fringe cult that worshipped the lightning and it’s chosen herald. Could Alchemy have gotten his powers in a similar manner and worships Savitar as the origin of speed? In an interesting twist, Cicada did woo Magenta to join his cult so her introduction could be a nod to that plot point.
I know this is all building up to the big mid-season finale next month but I wish we weren’t burning through this story so quickly. With the addition of Magenta (who better come back soon), Caitlin’s transformation into Killer Frost, and Alchemy’s gift of powers, I think we have enough to last quite a while. This new wrinkle could turn out to be amazing, but as of this moment it just feels like one last item on a plate overflowing with choices.