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The Flash - Shade - Review: "Frustration"

17 Nov 2016

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Why do you do this The Flash? After 3 episodes I enjoyed (one that I loved and two that were good regardless of their flaws) you drop an episode I’m quite conflicted about. On the one hand, there is plenty to enjoy about it, but at the same time, there is much about it that I didn’t like. Some special effects are wonderful, and some other are horrible. Some scenes are a marvel, some others are predictable and boring. Some character paths are interesting, some other are frustrating. Why must you take this inconsistent path when you were becoming reliably good again?

Maybe it’s a lot of moping for one episode, I’m pretty sure next week’s episode has the potential to be great, but at the same time I can’t help but be mad about one episode that doesn’t live to the expectations of what The Flash can be. It doesn’t have to be a masterpiece, I just need an episode to be fun through the hour and that’s enough to grant a B celling. However, this episode in particular is hard to treat because more often than not, I end up frustrated.

So, where do we start? Well, last week I mentioned how Julian was kind of the MVP of the episode, so let’s talk about him first. 1-I hope he is not Alchemy, because it would be blatantly obvious at this point, and the whole “where is Julian?” right before meeting Alchemy is a dead giveaway, which I hope is just misdirection or otherwise that they embrace it sooner than later to make it mean something. 2- I like that he is in some sort of transition of hating and liking Barry; he attempts to bond with Julian, and he shuts him down, but not nearly as badly as before, there is an attempt at camaraderie that fits the character progression. He is not going to change overnight, and I appreciate the show taking its time to develop him, which is why I hope he doesn’t become a one season thing. The Flash could certainly use him as a series regular from here onwards.

Julian has slowly been growing on me as he is an interesting, complex character. The Flash’s biggest strength aside from how fun it is to watch, is that it’s characters are often memorable: Joe, Cisco, Caitlin, Harrison Wells (any version) are all characters that have vibrant, well defined personalities, that makes them feel like real people, and Julian is joining the club. And then there’s Wally West.

I blame this on season 2: Wally has never been really well defined as a character, he is always reacting to something rather than acting. He was acting out of grief when his mother was dying in season 2 and he awkwardly became part of team Flash in between while working out a relationship with Joe, but even then there wasn’t enough writing to give Wally a given personality. What do we know about him? He liked mechanics, wants to help people and wants powers. That’s all we know about him. Now compare that to Cisco, Caitlin or Joe’s character and you see the lack of writing he has received when compared to the other characters. It's really underwhelming.

The lack of substantial character writing for Wally is what has made his story arc so puzzling and so hard for me to get into. It also doesn’t help that I just recently watched both seasons of Young Justice where their version of Wally West was 100 times better crafted than the one we see here. You see, in Young Justice Wally had a personality, quirks, drives, dreams and motivations that made him resemble a real person. Here, in The Flash TV show Wally only have immediate desires and immediate concerns which doesn’t just set him apart from the better version of the character on Young Justice, but also away from the incredibly well done characters in this very show.

Take Iris, for instance: while at first glance she didn’t have the best character introduction she has grown over these 3 seasons to a place where she feels more defined. To me, her relationship with Barry has worked better this season than ever before because they address their issues, and Iris is not left just doing her own stuff, but she is actually around interacting with the characters, and we know about her insecurities, her motivations, what she likes, what she dislikes. There is still work to be done around her to make her more fully fleshed out, but I like that the show has gradually made her more relevant. She may not be a scientist, but there is truth in what Barry says, and not just because she is her moral support system, but rather because she naturally fits in this well oiled machine that is The Flash team in Star Labs.

Iris conversation with Barry showcases everything that has gone right with her character as opposed to Wally’s. She doesn’t react, she takes action, she has a concern and address it, letting us know where her insecurities lies, and it makes sense because it has been subtlety showcased before. Meanwhile, Wally doesn’t seem to have much agency around what happens to him which leads to a character that doesn’t fully show his true colors and becomes hard to care for. My only concern for him this episode was “please, don’t be too obvious, please don’t go to Alchemy just like that” and that speaks for the flaws on the writing department. I should care for him, not hope he doesn’t act out of trope 101.

Thankfully, the show isn’t so predictable as to make Wally be the enemy of the week. He sure goes mad at one time, but it’s more due to pain than self interest (though will we get to that in a moment), but honestly, I never ended up caring to what happened to him. I liked when Iris knocked him out because it showed backbone of her part and avoided the trope of him escaping to Alchemy. I liked that his motivation was for the pain to stop rather than just following Alchemy’s plan, and I did understand the desire to grab that rock that grants powers, I think it would be too tempting for anyone to resist and managed to get Wally to be part of that plot without it being too derivative, though it was certainly painfully obvious. Also it was hard to swallow the special effects of that thing that engulfed him. Yuck.

But that’s enough Wally frustrations. And I wish they were the only ones, but I’ll be brief in my other characters frustration: 1-Caitlin: thank god Cisco told on her, because I was really getting frustrated with her keeping secrets. We have had enough examples as to why that is a bad thing and during the first half of the episode I was truly mad about it, but I’m glad even Caitlin herself realized it was for the best that Cisco told the truth. 2- H.R: some funny moments here and there, he is a character that is just starting to come into place, but I still don’t find him as engaging as the previous versions, and he is still annoying to me. I hope the coming weeks warm me up to him, because I think he does have potential to be an excellent character on the show, but I’m still not feeling it.

As for the meta of the week, we have Shade… and that’s pretty much all there is to write about him. As far as forgettable metas go, this may actually take the cake as the most forgettable. However, I did like that he was a distraction to get to Wally and how everyone realized that he could just keep sending more and more metas to get to his goal. That made me start appreciate the episode better and it also came together with the moment of Cisco revealing Caitlin secret’s and Barry asking for forgiveness for causing so much trouble in Flashpoint (probably one of my biggest frustrations with the show to date).

Now, to brighter stuff: though I have been frustrated with Caitlin keeping this secret, I do love how Danielle Panabaker is portraying Caitlin fears: acting can get you a long way, and Panabaker is so apt to show fear, anger, frustration and sadness that you can actually feel the struggle Caitlin is going through. Through writing alone it works half way, but the acting chops of Panabaker actually makes this a stellar performance that makes you empathize with the character, which is key for this plot to work.

Joe having some stuff going with him outside of work is great thing too, even if it’s very underdeveloped at this stage. Tom Cavanagh seems to be having the time of his life playing a new version of Wells giving H.R a bit more of personality. Cisco gets the MVP of the episode by being not only the most reasonable character, but also the most likeable of the week. He himself struggles with the vision he had and he knows that he has to take it head in order to prevent it. And of course, I wouldn’t like to stop mentioning that Carlos Valdes nails every bit of it.

The acting on The Flash is almost always superb. Sadly for Keiynan Lonsdale, he doesn’t have much material to give an impressive Wally performance, but he himself also doesn’t seem to go the extra mile. Meanwhile Gustin, Felton, L. Martin, Patton, Panabaker, Valdes and Cavanagh are all killing it, which makes his performance look all the more weak.

On the most technical aspects, I have to say: man, how cool was Savatar! His super speed (beyond Barry’s) looked superb, it kept me dazzled as it was going on and makes up (to a degree) for the lesser impressive shots (Shade and whatever the hell engulfed Wally). These are the kinds of effects I want to see on The Flash.

The episode, of course, ends on a cliffhanger making me wonder how is Barry getting out of this one. He will because next week is the Killer Frost episode, but I recognized a positive effect in managing to make something rather unpredictable on a predictable scenario.

I’m sure you all figured out at this point that I’m no fan of this episode, but I don’t want to come across as if I hated it. There were plenty of times where I felt engaged, but more often than not it was followed up with frustrations that I felt needed addressing. Wally needs a character revamp and I hope becoming Kid Flash will allow for it. Otherwise, I may be as good with him departing from the show altogether. Maybe the Legends of Tomorrow have space for a speedster, and as Demian Darkh proved he worked better there than in Arrow, maybe this could be a similar situation. Maybe. I don’t know. Most of all, I want the writers to step up their game with him.

Grade: C+
About the Author - Pablo
I'm currently studying Psychology while also writing fantasy books (one already published in my home country, Chile, you can check it out on the facebook icon). I watch many different types of shows, including my favorites Game of Thrones, Mr. Robot, Jessica Jones, and about 23 more. Currently writing occasional reviews for Halt and Catch Fire and regular reviews for The Flash season 3
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