“The New Rogues.” The Flash Season 3 Episode 4. Directed by Stefan Pleszczynski. Written by Benjamin Raab and Deric A. Hughes.
I’m at a loss how to write a review of this episode, because I have not encountered a television episode this frustrating since the last time I watched Agents of SHIELD–so, about two weeks ago.
To summarize the problems, I have to look at the individual narrative threads, which are not interwoven so much as parallel to each other. Each narrative thread, if given more time in this or a later episode could be entertaining; however, each is rushed to the point that the plot occurs not because this is how the characters we have known for more than two seasons would act, but because, as someone else says, the plot says so.
First, the team arbitrarily decides it needs another Harrison Wells (Tom Cavanagh) on the team. Why? Because their Earth-2 Wells, Harry, is taking his daughter Jesse (Violett Beane) back home so she can do her superheroing there, and so they both can return to the lives they lead–lives we have barely seen last season, hence making whatever is so important about their departure hollow. There was a way to improve this storyline, which I’ll address in a moment when addressing the much better detail around Jesse and Harry. Instead, Harry decides to leave for the reasons listed above–when they have not emotional weight for us, not knowing what specifically on Earth-2 Harry and Jesse would sacrifice if they did stay on Earth-1.
Having located multiple alternate-dimension Wells–to give Tom Cavanaugh an excuse to be a cowboy or a French mime (…who talks?)–Cisco (Carlos Valdes) and Caitlin (Danielle Panabaker) rush to pick some random douche-bro Wells, AKA “HR,” ignoring Harry’s “gut feeling” not to trust him. Gee, you think? The show has had a track record of Wells being a problematic ally, whether the straight-up villain Reverse Flash in Season 1, or Harry in Season 2, allied unwillingly with Zoom. And now HR is set up as a new villain, which is easier a tease or just redundant plotting. The amount of vetting Cisco and Caitlin did on this Wells from Earth-19 (no, not the Victorian punk aesthetic Earth, because that would actually be fun) is less than I have had for jobs–and even less than the Republicans did on Trump. How stupid are Cisco and Caitlin to grab a random Wells, not know anything about this parallel universe from which he originates, and not only add him to the team but tell them Barry’s (Grant Gustin) secret identity as the Flash?
Second, the episode diverges into poor romance writing, as Barry and Iris (Candice Patton) are squicked out about how to be intimate when their father, Joe (Jesse L. Martin), is always around. No, this is not some Sword Art Online fanfiction, so I’m going to repeat that sentence: Barry and Iris do not want to be romantic in front of their father. This has been a problem for The Flash since having Iris’s biological father, Joe, be Barry’s adoptive father: it was fine in Seasons 1 and 2 because it was not making such obvious incestuous jokes. I was yelling at the television, “Barry, I know the CW cannot afford another set, but you had an apartment in Season 1: if you want privacy, get an apartment.” And that is what Barry concludes. So, if I can predict the rational ending to this storyline, then the plot to get to that conclusion had best be entertaining–and it was not. It was awkward gender comedy: Iris wants Joe and Barry to be direct about their feelings surrounding this topic, and they won’t–because this episode opts for a cliche gendering, in which women are comfortable talking about their emotions, and men aren’t, that ignores the reality, that such “hardness” and “softness” of emotionality is gender-neutral. This is worsened when, after last week’s mockery of Barry’s emotionality, Iris laughs at him, not because of how corny his confession was, but because of the situation–him saying so while trapped in a mirror. The former would have been hilarious: Iris undermines the melodrama to admit how corny his direct appeal is, even as she recognizes the truth to it. It can be touching and funny simultaneously. The latter is low-hanging fruit: Iris is mocking the show’s own campy science fiction, that her boyfriend is trapped in a mirror, as if none of us can see that comedy ourselves. The former is subtle; the latter is a mallet to the head. It doesn’t work.
Third, Barry refuses Jesse’s help to fight this week’s villains, newly discovered metahuman Sam Scudder, AKA Mirror Master (Grey Damon), and his girlfriend, Rosalind Dillon, the Top (Ashley Rickards). The setup is clear enough: Jesse is new to superheroing, so until she is more adept, her involvement could get in Barry’s way or put her life at risk. The problem with Barry’s otherwise legitimate concern is that it again reinforces the gendered problems of last week’s episode: Barry is treated a priori as more capable than Jesse, not because of his years of experience (because his mistakes, like disrupting the timeline, show his experience is not worth jack!) but because of some implicit gendering. So, take away the experience (since Barry has shown his experiences have not helped him), add to it that Jesse is handling her speed more quickly than Barry did in all of Season 1, and the only difference between the two characters are their genders, their Earths, and their outfits. The story tries to use the occasion to have Jesse express her own self-doubt in her abilities, after the Top manages to disable her and Barry is trapped in a mirror; however, these moments are not earned, when of course a new superhero like Jesse would have these doubts, and having her tell it to Wally (Keiynan Lonsdale) and thus to us viewers adds little new information.
Where the episode does better is in the interactions of Jesse and Wally. The dialogue between the two is painful, especially when Wally tries to boost Jesse’s confidence following her defeat against Top. But the chemistry between Beane and Lonsdale is far more effective in their body language, with Wally’s gesture returning Jesse’s mask to her, as if handing her a flower on a date. It’s adorable–that small moment says more about how the two interact than Barry and Iris talking about how awkward it is trying to be intimate with their dad around, _which is again a sentence I just typed_.
Already Season 3 of The Flash has been a disappointment. Alchemy has been a dull villain, another masked antagonist whose secret identity is being slowly teased out like Reverse Flash and Zoom in Seasons 1 and 2. Barry and Iris’s relationship is being talked to us rather than just showing us the struggles couples go through, and how the real work of a relationship consists of the daily tasks at home and at work, not only the grand gestures of dates and intimacy.
- So, Earth-19 in this version is not the Victorian steampunk world, and Earth-2 not only has Gorilla City, an art deco aesthetic, but also another Mirror Master with an actual Mirror Gun. And we get stuck with some schmuck in a fancy suit who can pop in and out of mirrors. I know the writers want to avoid having the Mirror Gun be redundant after Snart (Wentworth Miller) and Mick’s Cold and Heat Guns, but that kind of camp factor is more fun than Mirror Master Scudder looking like a mobster from The Sopranos.
- While fem-casting Top as a woman rather than a man in this iteration is interesting, it also falls apart in terms of her abilities: her superpower, to invoke vertigo, is one of the Top’s powers in the comics but is more obviously associated with Count Vertigo, who already appeared in Arrow. We could have had someone with top-related supervillain gadgets, and this again is a missed opportunity. I know the Trickster already did exploding dreidels last year on the show, but having that event occur again at least would still be funny, and could be fodder for some good comedy (Barry: “Oh, not again.” Cisco: “What, you’ve dealt with exploding tops before?” Barry: “Huh. Another change to the timeline because of my meddling. Good to know”).
- The show remembers Cecile (Danielle Nicolet), the district attorney on metahuman affairs from Season 1. I didn’t. The show is really having some gaps in its narratives.
- Mirror Master and Top at first want to get vengeance on fellow criminal Snart, who thought their crimes were attracting too much attention from the police. When they learn that Snart has disappeared (time travel), they shrug and just decide to take over the city (of course). This is Batman ‘66 logic–only not campy because, again, no Mirror Gun, no goofy outfits (despite how stunning Top’s dress is), no Gorilla City, nothing cute or fun in this episode.
- The teasing of Snart’s appearance is just bait for his return in Legends of Tomorrow as part of the villainous Legion of Doom, where he will join dull Dahrk, somehow-still-alive Meryln, and the Reverse Flash to fight his former teammates. That an entire episode like this is just a tease for Snart’s return is a waste of this episode: Wentworth Miller’s charm and talent only take an episode so far, especially when his writing here is as substanceless as the holograms Flash uses to impersonate him.
- Speaking of which: I called the holograms, which have been around in this show since Season 2. And I had really hoped our version of Mirror Master was just going to be that, someone who uses holograms towards gaining Einstein-Rosen Bridge powers. My theory got Jossed in a hurry.
- Oh yeah, and Caitlin is still hiding her powers from everyone–which are manifesting so much that they disrupt her shower scene and turn her hair white. I was going to write how her refusal to just tell her friends is putting them at risk, but the show already had her character speak at Harry (and us) as to why she is keeping this a secret. This storyline is supposed to pick up in an episode titled “Killer Frost,” so I am delaying some remarks. It is frustrating that this extended tease is making little use of Caitlin as a character, rather as an object where we wait for her to snap and become the supervillain that has been hinted since Episode 1. It doesn’t interest me. A fully realized character, with a job, a history, and a life, is not just someone to watch and wait to see them transform: that seems inhuman. Caitlin has a job–and we don’t see her doing much to help Cisco and Harry retrieve Barry, and how she released Barry with cold is ignored by Barry himself with “we can figure that out later.” She has a history–and while we thankfully are not dwelling on Ronnie or Jay/Hunter, it is odd to not see more of it (unless that was her wedding ring she removed before going into the shower). And she has a life–but I don’t know what that is when the fixation is on her fear of transforming. You can only tease out this moment so long before it annoys rather than captivates viewers.
- HR arrives, claiming to be an alien–foreshadowing that aliens are coming soon for the Arrow/Flash/Legends/Supergirl crossover.
- I did like that Cisco knew Twin Peaks, despite being far younger than Joe, who does not. One of the most annoying tropes is, “Young people don’t get older references.” Young people do the Internet: they know how to research. And it was funnier to have Joe reply back with “playing Ozzy Osbourne records backwards,” leaving Cisco dumbfounded, as if he thought that allusion was somehow too esoteric or simplistic.
- And the CGI was mostly good in this episode’s fight, still a bit rough in translating Jesse’s un-masked face as a CGI model, but having some impressive movement as she and Barry chase Mirror Master.