Tuesday, November 1, 2016

REVIEW: 'The Flash' - Caitlin Visits Her Mother While Barry and Cisco Investigate H.R. in 'Monster'

The CW's The Flash - Episode 3.05 "Monster"

Caitlin visits her mother, Dr. Tannhauser, a renowned biomedical researcher, in the hopes that she can provide some answers about her growing meta-human powers. When Dr. Tannhauser treats her daughters like a test subject, Caitlin grows cold and brings up past wounds causing the two to have a major blowout. After a mysterious new meta-human attacks the city, Barry tries to convince Julian to let him assist on the case.

"Monster" is very much a necessary episode of The Flash. It does a number of crucial things to advance the plot for a number of characters. But it's hard not to look at it as a filler episode. There's just so little to get excited about. It has a generic title and main storyline. This is not a great villain of the week story. But it again does important things with the development of Caitlin's newfound powers and fleshing out new characters Julian and H.R. Those are some appreciated story developments. And yet, the overall packaging of this episode just doesn't have a whole lot of excitement. It's necessary to the overarching narrative of the season. It introduces the danger that comes from Caitlin's power while also making the case for why the audience should become invested in Julian and H.R. It's just a weird hour that's hard to muster much excitement about.

All of that is strange because there is literally a monster terrorizing Central City. Cisco gets the alerts and Barry runs into action. It's not the simple meta-human causing havoc in one corner of the city Barry and the team are used to. Instead, it's a literal monster walking down the shoot with hundreds of people fleeing in panic. It's a remarkable image. This isn't like anything the team has dealt with before. Sure, they've had King Shark and Grodd. But this is basically a Godzilla-type creature. And yet, the hour doesn't actually spend a whole lot of time with this story. It's more interested in other things. So that takes the weight out of it completely. The audience knows not to be too worried which is an odd feeling to have when there's a giant creature roaming around the city. Of course, it's all just the setup for the twist that the monster is just a hologram created by some teenager to finally feel powerful. It's a lame and anti-climatic ending to the story. But it's not completely surprising either. The main stories usual revolve around the case of the week. Barry goes into battle, then the team comes up with strategy and Barry returns to save the day. That's not the pattern here. Very little thought is put in to stopping this creature. It's entirely up to Barry in the field. Yes, he gets to save a civilian from a bullet while also stopping Julian from making a costly mistake. But it's just so lackluster and formulaic as well.

It's more important that Caitlin reaches out to her mother to find a way to deal with her new powers. Why does she entrust her mother with this secret and no one on the team? Some lame explanation is given about her mother being the leading biomedical researcher in cryogenics. But her mother really isn't able to give any kind of valuable insight into Caitlin's power. She basically just articulates that the more Caitlin uses them the more dangerous and reckless will become. That's an ominous tease for the future. The Killer Frost of last season loved being a villain. It will be absolutely heartbreaking to see Caitlin be corrupted by her new powers. All of the evidence is already there with that episode-ending tease. Her powers want to come out and play with the rest of the world. It's taking all of her strength to keep them at bay. However, this story is more interested in showing the complicated relationship between mother and daughter. One could say that it's cold. Or you could wait another minute for Caitlin to describe her mother in that exact same way. The show leaves absolutely nothing in the subtext. It blatantly puts it all out there for the audience. It' doesn't trust us to get it through their interactions. So, that does lesson the overall effect of this story even though it's nice to see the two of them bonding over the fact that they are more similar than they ever previously believed.

Elsewhere, it's understandable for the team to be skeptical of the new Harrison Wells. They've interacted with multiple versions of this guy. The first turned out to be evil while the second worked alongside the villain. So, it can't be easy to trust anyone wearing this face. But the show wouldn't dare have a third Wells be evil, right? But there is a high standard for the character as well. Harrison as the Reverse Flash was a great villain in the first season while Harry proved to be a wonderful addition to the team in the second. Things are still up in the air as to whether or not H.R. is a good fit. He is clearly hiding something. The truth is he's not really a scientist. He's an idea man who has no clue how to implement any of his theories. Plus, he's a novelist hoping his experiences on a new Earth will provide him with great story ideas. It's clear Tom Cavanagh has a ton of fun playing this new version of the character. It is pretty amusing to see H.R. be so eager to become friends with the rest of the team. He's the kind of man who will happily pick up coffee and create a team-building exercise throughout STAR Labs. It's less clear how he'll actually function on the team. His quirks do get annoying after a little while. They make sense after he tells the team the truth. They agree to keep him on for a few weeks. The show will probably find a use for him some way. It's just unclear how he can be useful moving forward.

That same feeling was present with Julian in the previous episodes of the season as well. The show hasn't spent a whole lot of time on Barry's life as a CSI for the police department. It's a job for him. It's just more important for him to be the Flash out there saving lives throughout the city. That's what makes him a hero. Barry's dynamic with Julian has been a new kind of relationship for the show. Someone surprisingly doesn't like Barry. But Julian constantly complaining about how lazy Barry is with his work was getting old quickly. He needed to have more purpose. This episode does give him more detail. He's against all meta-humans because he's jealous he didn't get any powers. He studied and rose highly in his field only for the world to completely change. And now, he's just working crime scenes where the people with powers did something lame or cliche. He wants to change the world. That's what he would do if he had powers. That seems like a tease of him perhaps having a run in with Doctor Alchemy at some point this season. But right now, it's just important that the Flash gets Julian to change his mind. The Flash stops Julian from shooting a teenager and having that death weigh on his conscience for the rest of his life. Julian appreciates that and finally opens up to Barry. There may be hope for this dynamic yet. But it's still just a lot of setup with no clear direction for the future.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Monster" was written by Zack Stentz and directed by Kim Miles.
  • How did it take everyone so long to figure out that the monster was just a hologram? Did no one realize that it wasn't actually destroying the city? Yes, transformers blew up but that was it. That couldn't have been the extent of the damage.
  • Caitlin's mother isn't ultimately the scientist who wants to keep her confided and experiment on her. That honor belongs to the assistant who is hoping to step out of the shadow of his famous boss. It's just a lame twist that starts and stops in a matter of seconds.
  • How long is Caitlin going to keep her secret from the rest of the team? She tells Cisco that she went to see her mother and their relationship is thawing. But how long can she reasonably hide her powers? Odds are not long at all.
  • Also, how soon until Barry tells Julian that he's the Flash? That's always a question whenever a new character of importance is introduced in Barry's orbit. Once again, it doesn't feel like we'll have to wait very long.
  • Barry and Iris talk for a brief moment about Joe blowing off dates with the attorney interested in him. Iris brings it up with her father. But then, the story is just abruptly dropped for the remainder of the episode.
  • On H.R.'s Earth, Alfred Hitchcock directed a movie called Murder on the Titanic and the world has run out of coffee. Those are some amusing details.
  • How exactly do Cisco and Caitlin make money? Barry, Joe and Iris have regular jobs. But Cisco and Caitlin are just at STAR Labs all day monitoring the city for meta-human threats.