Tuesday, May 17, 2016

REVIEW: 'The Flash' - Barry and the Team Fight Against an Army of Meta-Humans in Central City in 'Invincible'

The CW's The Flash - Episode 2.22 "Invincible"

After Zoom unleashes an army of Earth-2 meta-humans on Central City, Barry is shaken when he sees their leader is the Black Canary's Earth-2 doppelganger, the Black Siren. Wally takes to the streets to help The Flash stop the meta-humans, which worries Joe. Iris and Henry are concerned about Barry taking on Zoom.

Last week's episode of The Flash was a fantastic bright spot in a particularly doom and gloom filled second season. That was possible because Zoom wasn't a major presence in it until the very end. The season-long narrative this season has been a pretty epic misfire. Zoom is basically every serial killer trope jammed into a super-villain context. It has gotten less nuanced as time has gone by. Not even Tony Todd's fantastic voice work is enough to bring menace to that story anymore - though that's largely because the show has been leaning on Teddy Sears more and more now that he's been revealed as Zoom. But it's ultimately just so hard to care about anything that Zoom is doing. He just doesn't make sense which just makes him a poorly written, one-dimensional character. With the threat escalating, that's particularly problematic - even in an episode that has a pretty solid main premise.

The Flash has enjoyed tackling a meta-human of the week approach to storytelling. When the narrative needs to take a break from the season-long plot, Barry can just face off with one meta-human with new and impressive powers who is wreaking havoc in Central City. That's been a solid operating mode for both Arrow and The Flash. It helps both shows do 23 episodes a season. Sometimes both shows would benefit from doing less hours a year. Perhaps an increased focus on Zoom would have made him a more captivating villain - or at least make his arc on the show much shorter than it ultimately is. But here, the show asks the pivotal question of what Barry and the team at STAR Labs would do if there were a hundred meta-humans attacking the city at the same time. At times, it feels exactly like the conclusion of the second season of Arrow - which has executed in a much more thrilling and engaging way. And yet, it's mostly just an idea that The Flash plays around with here. It doesn't feel fully fleshed out which keeps it from being too successful.

There is a lot of talk about all the various threats Central City is dealing with right now. And yet, the episodic plot singles out just one of those villains in Black Siren. It makes it so that this episode isn't too much of a stretch from what the show typically does on a week-to-week basis. She is the main villain the team needs to handle while they also recognize a ton of faceless other meta-humans throughout the city. The show has confidence with this move because the Black Siren is the Black Canary's doppelganger from Earth-2. It's a fantastic excuse to bring Katie Cassidy back to the show despite her character's death on Arrow a few weeks ago. Laurel Lance was frequently a frustrating character on Arrow. The show didn't always know what to do with her and her death was just a plot point that happened to add urgency and tension to the narrative. And yet, whenever Cassidy got to interact with The Flash characters, she had a lot more fun than she typically does in this universe. That extends to this episode as well even though she's playing a new and more villainous character.

Now, the STAR Labs team talking about how much they loved Laurel Lance seemed like a stretch. Whatever relationship they had largely happened offscreen. So, it doesn't make the dynamic with the Black Siren all that compelling. But it still somewhat works because it makes some of the Earth-1 characters pose as their doppelgangers. It's a potentially idiotic idea for Cisco and Caitlin to go undercover as Reverb and Killer Frost. They don't have powers that can match what the Black Siren can do. But it's also interesting to see Caitlin and Cisco get a chance to shine in the field while Barry is off working on the much larger plan to take down all of the Earth-2 villains. It's a plan filled with so much scientific explanation. Essentially, Cisco and Wells-2 have discovered the frequency people from Earth-2 vibrate at and decide to use that against them and render them unconscious on this Earth. It's a move that's very effective too - even crippling Zoom before he somehow opens a new breech back to Earth-2 somehow. It's a thrilling conclusion to the story. And yet, it also showcases just how much of this is a distraction to whatever Zoom is actually planning for all of these characters in the finale.

It's nice to see Barry so optimistic and unafraid of facing off with this latest threat to his city. His time in the speed force has changed him. He has much more confidence now and will no longer take his powers for granted. He believes that he can win because the speed force is on his side. That optimism is very uplifting as the main story only plunges further into darkness. Barry doesn't want to play Zoom's games and embrace the destruction of his war as a part of Zoom's twisted fantasies. But it's also so weird to see the entire team plus Wally and Dr. McGee celebrating at the West house over the major victory they've just had. Barry is incredibly hopeful about the future even though Zoom is still at large and can strike at any moment. He doesn't want to keep Wally from embracing the hero he will one day become. Nor does he want to wait any longer before trying something with Iris. But all of these stories feel too rushed in the end to feel all that natural.

And then, that final twists happens which promises to undermine all the optimism that the last two episodes have set up. Zoom crashes the team's dinner party, kidnaps Henry and then kills him in the same spot Barry's mother died. It's a horrifying and tragic twist to end the episode on. The show really didn't know what to do with Henry this season. He was freed from prison but left the city so that the show didn't need to incorporate him too much. His return over the last few weeks has been meaningful. He's been an asset to the team that could really come in handy. But now, he exists solely to get an emotional and dark response out of Barry. His death only sets up the inevitable final confrontation between the Flash and Zoom. But what's the purpose of it all? Zoom seems to kill because he enjoys the pleasures of making others suffer. So, he's just a stereotypical serial killer. He's trying to make Barry more like him. But why does he want to do that? Why can't he just enjoy defeating Barry in battle? Zoom's ultimate goals for this universe are just too complicated, vague and formulaic to make any twist really land and feel meaningful and devastating. That's such a shame because the bond between Barry and Henry is so powerful. It should be wrenching when Henry is killed. Instead, it plays like a tragic set up for the finale.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Invincible" was directed by Jesse Warn with story by Greg Berlanti & Andrew Kreisberg and teleplay by Brooke Roberts & David Kob.
  • It's been really difficult to track whether or not Wally was in on Barry being the Flash. He's there at the final dinner where the entire team is celebrating the Flash's victory against the Earth-2 meta-humans. What does Wally think they all do with the Flash? He does definitively learn that Barry is the Flash here. But it's such a rushed moment that comes way too late to mean anything.
  • It's not surprising at all that Katie Cassidy has more fun onscreen by playing bad for a week. Plus, she is locked up in the STAR Labs prison. That means she could reasonably return sometime in the future - though the team isn't telling Sara or Captain Lance about her being down there.
  • Why was Dr. McGee in this episode? Amanda Pays was only here to finally have an onscreen reunion with John Wesley Shipp - both of whom starred in the original Flash TV show.
  • The show is being extremely vague about whether or not Jesse or Wally have powers. They don't seem to have changed at all from getting hit by the speed force a few episodes ago. But there's something off about them as well.
  • Caitlin also reunites with the team but finds herself constantly haunted by the image of Zoom. Is all of that in her head or is Zoom actually haunting her as she tries to rebuild her life again?
  • When the Black Siren exposes Cisco and Caitlin for who they really are, Cisco is able to stop her from attacking for a moment with a new power he didn't know he had. That's a fun tease for the future.