On “The Flash,” Julian and Caitlin confront inner monsters, and Cisco wears a “Jaws” shirt

Speaking of monsters: the election is next week, so there is no new Flash–and you get to be a superhero by voting Clinton so that monster Trump does not get elected. Find your voting place, and enjoy telling Trump to go away.

“Monster.” The Flash Season 3 Episode 5. Directed by C. Kim Miles. Written by Zack Stentz.

Spoilers below.

As with other episodes I’ve been watching, the trend seems to be multiple storylines that may or may not overlap or complement each other, instead being disparate. The title “Monster” can refer to both the named monster Barry (Grant Gustin) and Julian (Tom Felton) are hunting, and Julian’s realization he behaves monstrously, as well as Caitlin’s (Danielle Panabaker) fear she is becoming one with the development of these ice powers. I’m a bit surprised the latter story was not given more attention to that idea of monstrosity, and I am a bit grateful after the problems in using that word “monster” as associated with Natasha Romanoff in Age of Ultron. The title “Monster” does not quite refer to the subplot with Cisco (Carlos Valdes) seeking to uncover the truth about HR (Tom Cavanagh), the new Harrison Wells they pulled from another timeline, although Cisco wearing the Jaws shirt while hunting down the truth about HR could be a “search for the monster” plotline, I guess.

Oh, and Joe is still not dating the DA. Because that needed a few minutes of attention to give Iris (Candice Patton) and Wally (Keiynan Lonsdale) something to do in the episode as well. Because why not.

As Ellak Roach said when we watched, this episode feels like it’s “spinning its wheels.” There is setup without payoff. HR is revealed to not be a scientist, so he may have some redemption moment in which he proves himself. (What is it this season with newbie-superheroes like James in Supergirl and Nate in Legends wanting to prove themselves?) Caitlin has her first moments of wanting to kill, so she may become Killer Frost and fall into villainy. (What’re the odds she kills her mother [Susan Walters]?) And Joe is still avoiding dating the DA. (Because evidently that’s the subplot we’re getting this season for Joe.)

Overall, then, I don’t know what the individual parts of this episode contributed.

The story about Barry and Julian seemed the strongest, even if I was annoyed with most of it–until the ending, which made the experience worth it. The ending instills hope, so that, if something bad happens, with Julian’s new friendship with Barry ending because, he is killed, he has another falling out, or he is revealed as Alchemy, that pain felt is earned.

The episode depends on giving Tom Felton a lot of exposition dialogue as Julian to perform, and some of it, due to the writing, not the acting, seemed less interesting. Obviously exposition requires more telling than showing, and certain details, such as the off-hand remark about Julian’s military service, was far better. The speech that metahumans gain these powers then waste them sets up Julian as ambitious, which, after the various forms of Wells, is at least a character trait that can affect the story–Julian’s pride either helping him or hurting him–even if Julian’s judgment that metas should be better reeked of hypocrisy, after someone like Frankie was contending with mental health problems compromising her ability to be the hero Julian seems to think she as a meta should be, especially when it was him who antagonized her and caused her to behave like Magenta. I do not know how I feel about that exposition in the context of Julian’s ending speech, that it was his desire to be the best in his field, only to feel his scientific training was rendered useless when the impossible upset all that scientists held to be true. Julian’s crisis of faith is a strong contrast to Barry, who has thirsted for new information that can dispel what is assumed and confirm what he wants to be true, such as that his mother’s killer was not his father but “the Man in Yellow.”

When Julian accepts a drink with Barry, and the two stop sniping at each other, that development impresses me and has me looking forward to the characters’ interactions in future episodes, whereas the opening had me dreading how the show would make Julian an even more unlikeable character in order to make Barry’s horrible time-travel shenanigans the last two season look better by comparison. Barry’s “nice guy” demeanor has worn thin, emphasized when Cisco is annoyed with him making breakfast as some payment for crashing at his apartment–when, pragmatically, Barry should have stayed at Joe’s, search for an apartment, and then move out, rather than compromising both Joe and Cisco. That the ending–”Good night, mate,” “You want to go get a drink?”–shed most of Barry’s false nicety and Julian’s aggressiveness to have two characters authentic to each other, regarding the deaths of Barry’s parents and Julian’s self-doubts, helped make our titular hero who I have wanted him to be since the Season 2 finale, made Julian feel sympathetic, and I want to see more of that, even if this relationship ends tragically. I want to feel something other than annoyance, and happiness for the two characters, or sadness for them, is something.  

What did not feel as well-handled was Caitlin’s story. The show has teased her becoming Killer Frost for so long that, having her Earth-2 doppelgänger be Killer Frost was enough for me. To now have her immediately reveal her powers, and rush to her comic book version’s homicidal tendencies, does not feel earned. We are shown how awful her mother, Dr. Carla Tannhauser, is, and how willing her mother’s assistant Nigel (Thomas Cadrot) wants to keep her trapped–then she leaps to killing. This moment makes me uncomfortable, as when Frankie becomes Magenta because of the bullying by her foster father and her own struggles with multiple personalities. To blame stress on Caitlin being willing to kill does not match what we have expected from the character. I’m not sure whether I wanted more foreshadowing, or whether this has to be chalked up the cliche “one bad day” trope used with the Joker in The Killing Joke. I felt something more when Caitlin and her mother discussed their different reactions to her father’s death, adding authenticity to their strained relationship, and the hug that suggested a rebuilding of that relationship, even if that building is likely destroyed when Caitlin realizes she may not be able to stop her powers.

Actually, I also do not get a sense why Caitlin is so worried about gaining these powers, perhaps because the show has not shown how awful life can be for metahumans, while its sibling show Supergirl is showing how awful life can be for extraterrestrials. If Caitlin reveals she has superpowers, what changes to make her life more difficult? She gains attention she does not want, and she is seen as a threat to others, but any more so than Cisco or Barry? If Caitlin reveals she has superpowers, why would anyone think she is dangerous? Because of the nature of her powers, or because everyone know who Killer Frost from Earth-2 is? The former is a logical explanation, the latter is not. Some piece is missing here to make Caitlin’s fall into supervillainy tragic, and I don’t see it yet.

Less relevant to this story is whatever is the point to HR’s story. Last week, the characters were whining that they wanted a new Wells; this episode, Cisco now does not trust new Wells. Maybe this is what happens when you don’t do a background check on your cross-dimensional being, huh? As soon as HR was confronted by Cisco and repeated “narrative,” I knew it would be revealed he was an artist–a novelist, in this case. That HR claimed he was still a scientist surprised me–and then that surprise is undermined again when, yes, the original thought, that HR is a phony, is confirmed. What is HR in this show? He seems like an analogue to real-life visionaries who see a potential theory without having the science to back it up, or an Elon Musk who offers an idea but has not yet fine-tuned the technology to achieve that goal, or a Steve Jobs who gets credit as the face-man for products that are really the result of collaboration among multiple designers, technicians, and businesspersons. The DC on CW shows already played this idea of criticizing the theoretical person for coming up with the idea if not the practical application: Einstein’s arc in Legends of Tomorrow earlier this season seemed very much criticizing him overall because he did not acknowledge his estranged wife’s contributions to his theories, he being the face to her work, much as HR has been the face to his employees work. But as an analogue to any of these persons, I don’t care: it’s a clever representation of real-life persons but feels wedged into the story. It doesn’t have an obvious allegorical import to me, as the use of extraterrestrials as allegories for the othering of fellow human beings serves as allegories about xenophobia, homophobia, racism, and bigotry in Supergirl.

And if the goal is to give HR a hero’s journey, I don’t care: this show has enough DC superhero characters who still are so flawed and fail to rise to the unrealistic epic qualities of their comic book counterparts. Ellak Roach pointed out that having HR be so unlike Earth-1 Wells (pre- or post-Eobard Thawne) and Earth-2 Harry is a change of pace (and I am aware of the appropriateness that, like HR, I’m some English lit scholar acknowledging that Ellak originate the idea before I improvise from it to offer another idea). For now, it feels like a needless addition. HR is not going to become a superhero or a supervillains: he’s not Wally becoming the Flash, he’s not James Olsen becoming the Guardian, he’s not Caitlin becoming Killer Frost. Even Cisco held my attention for an entire season before he was revealed to be Vibe, because he had motivations steeped in this setting and in those characters: making up for Ronnie’s apparent demise, wanting to help Barry be the superhero he could be, wanting to be useful as a scientist despite his fanboy qualities. What HR offers to this show is not apparent to me, and his hipster-bro behavior is so annoying that, albeit realistic, is not entertaining. Hence the problem: do I want the show to be realistic or entertaining? Seeing as this is a show about a super-fast man in a tight red suit, I’m leaning towards “entertaining.”

Random Observations

  • It’s been awhile since The Flash verbally acknowledged Caitlin’s deceased husband Ronnie. As Caitlin confirms in this episode her metahuman abilities likely originated from Eobard Thawne’s particle accelerator explosion, did Ronnie know Caitlin was transforming? How long has she had these powers? How long has she been hiding them? How did that experience hiding her powers differ from Cisco hiding her powers? I guess what I’m hinting in this rambling is that the show’s decision to retcon the timeline is narrative laziness. For example, in Season 1, Joe keeps secrets. In Season 2, Joe realizes he has to stop and is direct with Iris about her dying mother. Then Season 3, the timeline is changed for a season premiere cliffhanger as to why Iris and Joe don’t get along–he kept her mother’s death a secret–to inform us that Joe’s character development never happened. The Flashpoint timeline change allows writers to re-write details from the previous season they did not like, potentially throwing away character development.
  • Why is Julian at the CSI department, though? He complains how metahumans upset all scientific rules, yet I thought the second episode this season introduced him as a metahuman expert. That would be an interesting detail, that the foremost expert is still not good as the job, but if that is the case, it was not clear to me.
  • So, when Caitlin’s mother said she would take care of Nigel, she meant she was going to kill him, right? We didn’t get to see how she dealt with him, and that moment at least would indicate some darkness here rather than the delay to Caitlin’s likely inevitable transformation into Killer Frost.
  • Oh, Caitlin’s use of her powers will exacerbate her condition? Thanks, Dr. Tannhauser: I was yelling that when you told Caitlin to expend her powers on that hot element.
  • Iris rushing to free people from the bus was so appreciated. The work done in this season to make Iris quippier and more active is excellent; the romantic storyline, however, is still rather dull. I don’t need to see Barry and Iris being coupley: just let it happen, show.
  • I’ve avoided talking about the actual monster–the hologram created by a nameless 15-year-old boy who has been bullied. What was the point of any of that? The case helped Barry and Julian bond–over Julian…almost killing a child?–but this boy has no name, gets a perfunctory “it gets better” speech from the paternal Joe, and then is pushed away. It was annoying enough that Cisco claimed Team Flash had only to deal with metahumans who were still human, ignoring, say, Gorilla Grodd and Killer Shark, but to have the monster teased to us then revealed as only a hologram is frustrating. Is this some meta moment, like being excited to see Godzilla 1999 or Cloverfield, then screaming, “That monster looks so fake”?
  • Unlike Captain America: Civil War, where Peter Parker does not know what an AT-AT is, at least the characters on this show know–although Barry’s “Jedi” remark was unnecessary.
  • And to repeat myself: no new Flash next week, vote Clinton, don’t elect a fascist, a misogynistic, and an all-around awful fool like Trump.
  • And maybe in that time, I can catch up on reviews not finished for Supergirl and Lucifer.

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