“Change of plans, Barry. It’s all about the running away!”
Since it’s inception, The Flash has been a show has pushed the boundaries of what you can and cannot do on TV. When you consider that Flash is a spin-off Arrow, a show that started as a grounded and gritty show about a masked vigilante, it becomes apparent just how far we’ve come from the days of mafia fights and salmon ladder cut scenes. Nowhere has this been more evident than tonight’s episode “Attack on Gorilla City“. The name alone, promises an adventure that belongs in a summer blockbuster and sure enough it delivers on it’s promise.
I’ve written about my love of Grodd before; in fact, my first draft of this article focused almost exclusively on the Emperor Ape (see an excerpt at the end). Despite this I knew that creating a telepathic Ape that would command an army of hyper intelligent primates was probably a shot in the dark. Even when the producers teased a shot of the infamous Gorilla City last season, I had my doubts. How do you create an episode(s) featuring an entire city of CG apes, a veritable gorilla Empire, on a TV budget? Carefully, it turns out.
Much like Spielberg on Jaws, the producers of The Flash knew that their budget couldn’t afford a production crammed with expensive shots on a modest budget. Instead, “Attack on Gorilla City” used some nice filmmaker chicanery to expand the presence of Grodd and his Gorilla Empire without breaking the bank. One of the best tricks was something established in the early days of Flash: human proxies. Grodd’s telepathic abilities not only allow him to speak, but also to take over a human and use them as a puppet. As a result, Grodd was able to speak to our heroes through Harry (Earth-2 Harrison Wells). Sure, it’s a cheat, but it’s really clever that takes advantage of an established trait.
When you combine this with some amazing shots of Gorilla City, an every impressive Grodd and the white ape Solovar, you get a pretty convincing world, even if I missed Solovar’s flamboyant red cape. So yeah, while we could have gotten more shots of Grodd, Solovar and Gorilla city, you don’t miss it. Speaking of which, I really applaud the fact that this week’s episode focused on some exciting world building. While The Flash has certainly been capturing some of it’s lost momentum, “Attack on Gorilla City” really kicked it up a notch.
The plot was straight forward yet contained enough nuance to make the story a fun ride. Jesse travels to Earth-1 to tell Team Flash that Harry has been kidnapped by Grodd. With the threat of a Gorilla attack in the future headlines, Barry sees this a double opportunity: save Harry and change another domino in the future which may prevent Iris’ death. While there are some pretty clever twists and turns during the hour, I have to give it up to the writing staff for finally making Grodd as intelligent as he is fiercely physically.
One of Grodd’s strengths is his strategic mind and while that’s been downplayed in recent years, Grodd has traditionally been a consummate tactician with an ability to see five steps in front of his opponents. This ability has allowed Grodd to take over the Gorilla City and become an international power. So the fact that we were able to see Grodd’s ascent to Emperor Grodd, with the help of Barry no less, was absolutely magnificent.
Flash Fact: in the comics, Grodd hails from Gorilla City, where the hyper intelligent apes have evolved. This peaceful species is lead by Solovar, who wants to protect Gorilla City by staying out of human affairs. This has led to unprecedented prosperity but chafes Grodd. His belief that the evolved Ape is better than humanity drives him to conquest and he works to reverting the apes to a more war like civilization. With their advanced technology, this would make them a serious threat to the world stage. In fact, through Grodd’s manipulations the Apes declare war on humanity. It’s only with the help of the Flash that Solovar is able to dethrone Grodd, which creates a whole new set of problems for the Fastest Man Alive.
So it was pretty obvious that the hype of this week was going to be the Apes and their famed Gorilla City. In fact, it’s almost unfair to mention it as every episode featuring Grodd has turned into a fan favorite. That’s why, despite the production crews fantastic work, I’m going to have to give this week’s highlight to Tom Cavanagh. Not only did he deliver an absolutely hilarious turn as H.R. this week, he was also able to channel Grodd (literally) and reprise his role as the acerbic, but lovable Harry. Each role required a finesse that Cavanagh pulled off easily and nowhere was this more apparent than when Harry tries to understand why H.R. has become a critical part of the team despite being utterly incapable of doing the job. The scene showcases Cavanagh’s diversity as an actor and really has me hungry for a spin-off show about Harrison Wells and his dopplegangers.
In any event the return of Harry, no matter how brief, is very welcome and continues to put Flash back on track after a pretty bumpy first half. In fact, by framing the impending Gorilla Attack as a key element that could help change the future (aka: Iris’ death), the story also moved forward the macro plot of Barry’s choice. Generally this season has been about making up for big mistakes. In a way, it’s almost like the writers are trying to find a way to apologize for the hits and misses they’ve delivered so far, and in a way it makes total sense. While The Flash has been a consistently fun show, some of the logic lines with various plots (ahem: time remnants, I’m looking at you) have fallen flat. By taking the time to address the entire concept of choice and how much work it takes to unravel a poor decision, such as Flashpoint, the Flash is earning back the fun. Granted, the specter of Iris’ death still looms in the future and Barry’s discovery that he may be creating the very outcome he hopes to prevent is going to be a dark turn, the show feels far more exciting.
So now, we just have to wait until next week when Grodd brings the war to Earth-1. I wonder how that’s going to shake out?
**Excerpt from Shaun’s First Draft**
Grodd! Grodd! Grodd! Grodd! Grodd! Grodd!
Grodd! Grodd! Grodd! Grodd! Grodd!
Grodd! Grodd! Grodd!