Tuesday, October 17, 2017

REVIEW: 'The Flash' - Barry and Iris' Struggle to Communicate Has an Impact on the Team in 'Mixed Signals'

The CW's The Flash - Episode 4.02 "Mixed Signals"

Barry has his hands full when he takes on a dangerous meta who can control technology, while also confronting an obstacle in his personal life: the ramifications of abandoning Iris for six months to balance the Speed Force. Gypsy breaches in for a hot date with Cisco, but she gets annoyed when his work keeps them apart.

Last week's season premiere of The Flash had a lot of convenient narrative setup it needed to do. The hour needed to focus almost entirely on bringing Team Flash back together. Some time has passed for the characters. But the show didn't even let a full episode go by without Barry leading the team. It was a convenient plot point because the show was eager to get back to its formula as soon as possible. The creative team has seemed to taken note of how grim and dark the show has become over the past two seasons. They've made promises that this season will be more light and fun. That's promising. But the show needs to prove to the audience that it has learned its lessons. It can't simply be repeating the same stories over and over again. It has gotten annoying that the members of the team keep lying to each other with one of them destined to die near the end of each season to amplify the tension for the end game. This pattern has been disruptive and annoying. The show gives the impression of being improved this season. Barry is back and the burden of his life's tragedy is gone. The speed force has taken that suffering away from him. He's back to being an energized guy who loves being a superhero. And yes, that does allow for a number of fun moments throughout "Mixed Signals." But the show also runs the risk of course-correcting too much. This season can't be comprised of just jokes and broad theatrics. There needs to be depth in the story as well. In that regard, this episode may be a little troubling.

Of course, all of this is still just speculation for the future. There's the hope that the show will strike the perfect blend of comedy and story this season. These opening episodes have proven that these writers known how to craft jokes that work in the context of this series. It's managed to have life-or-death stakes to its episodic stories as well. But right now, it's just important to see the fun on display as Barry is happy in his life once more. He has returned to Central City and is eager to have everything go back to normal. He's the protector of his city. He's the leader of the team. He's very skilled as The Flash. He's running faster than ever. He believes he's doing everything right because he's attentive and considerate. He gets to have his Risky Business moment at the top of this episode. That's a lot of fun. It's moments like that that are so amusing and charming. They perfectly convey the attitude Barry should have in this world. He's the kind of guy who would enjoy this parody on the movie's famous scene. But he's also the guy who can run to get coffee from Jitter's while a pancake is mid-flip. It's a strong way to open this episode for the character. Despite how fun it is, it's also a hindrance for Barry. He's more upbeat than ever before. But he's not really connecting with the world around him. He believes everything will fall back in line with how it used to be even though the rest of the team needed to survive for six months without him.

All of this is told in the context of Barry and Iris' relationship. At first, she balks at the suggestion that they should go to couples therapy. They both love each other and want to get married. But they need this help in learning how to communicate again. Barry was gone for awhile. That had a profound effect on both of them. They can't just ignore that. They need to deal with it head-on. Of course, it's amusing how the two need to talk around the central argument while at this session. It's funny that they are there to work on their communication while being unable to actually talk about the truth in their lives. Barry can't share that he is The Flash. They just take note of the insane amount of trauma in their lives in a way that's cheeky for a genre show that has been on the air for awhile. But at the heart of this is still a powerful story. It highlights that Barry is still a pretty big jerk. He's not really listening or respecting what Iris has to say. That doesn't make this a healthy relationship at all. The show gives the illusion of going deeper than saying they are the great romance that will survive any hurdle in this story. It barely scratches the surface though. Iris lays out what her life was like while Barry was gone. Barry has the realization that he's been a massive jerk. There's the hope that he'll actually learn from it. But the show has been down this path before in thinking that the characters have learned their lesson and won't make the same mistakes again. But they still circle back to those same mistakes.

In the end, Barry seems to be able to connect and listen to Iris because of the villain-of-the-week story. It's not all that exciting or compelling of a main plot. The villain this time is Kilgore - played by Dominic Burgess from FX's Feud. He is a metahuman who can control technology. That's a terrifying prospect because of the amount of technology we have allowed to control our lives. And yet, the show really only produces a couple of tense action set pieces that showcase his powers. It's horrifying to watch him kill via an elevator that goes up and down in rapid succession. That proves that it wasn't just a technical error. But the car that spirals out of control isn't all that exciting or different from the kinds of precarious situations the show has put the citizens of Central City in before. That sequence mostly highlights how Barry is stubborn and insisting on doing things his way. He makes the wrong turn and it almost ends in tragedy. Of course, the key word there is almost. Barry still ultimately saves the day. And the final display of power from Kilgore comes from him turning a woman's insulin pump against her. Again, it's a terrifying prospect. But it's not the most exciting to watch play out in a superhero show. It's awkward that Joe and Wally are right outside the house when it's happening and don't know until it's too late. That's basically a huge trend of this episode where the two of them don't really know what's going on at all - whether it's Barry and Iris' relationship or what's happening with Cisco.

It's all building to that moment where Barry confronts Kilgore but is rendered immobile because Cisco has made some serious modifications to the suit. He's basically increased the amount of technology in it. Of course, there has always been technology in the suit. The team could track his vitals and defibrillate his heart back to normal should it need it. So, Kilgore always could have been this controlling of Barry. But right now, it's an aspect of this story that is really amplified for comedic effect. It places all of the blame on the upgrades Cisco has done. That's not entirely fair. He believes he was being very inventive and original with these improvements. A raft seemed important. Some new weapons seemed important. But in this battle, all it does is render Wally useless while forcing Barry to fight with his own suit instead of Kilgore. Iris is the one who comes up with the solution that Barry needs to short circuit it by hitting himself with lightning. It's a precarious moment because it could hurt him in other, more unpredictable ways. But ultimately, he survives because he put his trust in Iris. He listened to the leader of his team. And so, he was able to defeat Kilgore relatively easy. He's locked up in a prison where he won't have access to any technology. Of course, that only comes with the reveal that he got his powers in some new, mysterious way. That's a tease for the future - as well as the fact that Kilgore is important to The Thinker's grand plan in some way. Those are basically just minor teases at the end of the episode though.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Mixed Signals" was written by Jonathan Butler & Gabriel Garza and directed by Alexandra La Roche.
  • Gypsy returns to have a date with Cisco. He's unable to do that though because he's too busy trying to find a way to defeat Kilgore. It's a fairly standard story about a guy not knowing that the woman he is dating is upset. It's too familiar. As such, it seems lazy and boring. Their relationship is still perfectly fine though because they talk things out and come out having a better understanding of each other.
  • Also, was it all that necessary to show Iris, Caitlin and Wally get worked up by the unexpected breech only to have Cisco and Gypsy banter about who would have been harmed in this scenario? It highlights just how tenuous Caitlin's hold on her own mind is. But the audience basically knew that already. Plus, everything with Cisco and Gypsy has already been done before.
  • Two weeks in and still no sighting of a Harrison Wells - either old or new. So far, that's something that has gone by with no comment in the actual show. It's just noticeable to the audience who know that Tom Cavanagh is still a series regular this season. No one is really mourning the loss of H.R. either. It's just not that important.
  • As of right now, The Thinker only exists in the episode-ending teases. That's a fairly familiar plot device in this show as well. He's still a pretty broad character too. Right now, he's proven to be smart because he happens to finish an unfinished classical piano piece in his spare time. Of course, he also just happens to have his trusted assistant who can note everything that's important to him.
  • In case you had no idea what happened in the season premiere of Arrow last week, this episode proves that the connections between the two shows is very important. Barry notices that a newspaper proclaims Oliver Queen as the Green Arrow. Of course, he can't properly address that right now because he's dealing with his own issues.