Entertainment Weekly recently hailed Netflix’s Daredevil as finally giving us a comic book show for grown-ups, joking that for as much as they like Arrow the longer they watch it the more they feel like it’s supposed to inspire them to hang Stephen Amell posters on their wall. They took it one further, arguing Daredevil “may be the only current superhero TV series that doesn’t seem like it was created to sell lunch boxes.” Of course, the flipside is that I absolutely cannot watch Daredevil with my young, superhero-obsessed niece and nephew. I doubt they’d ever look at a bowling alley the same way if I let them see a man’s skull get crushed with a bowling ball at the start of Daredevil’s third episode. I never have to worry about that with The Flash, which usually makes for family-friendly viewing, its open-heartedness endearing itself to audiences and earning a considerable amount of good will. Grant Gustin, Jesse L. Martin, Tom Cavanagh, and now Carlos Valdes are all just hitting it out of the park, with the mystery surrounding Harrison Wells making for compulsively watchable TV. As a result, I almost always genuinely enjoy watching The Flash. I don’t always admire The Flash, though.
That might seem like a contradiction or paint me as a bit of an elitist. It’s not that I think The Flash is sometimes a bad TV show. It’s more that The Flash sort of is what it is – a CW superhero show with a predominantly young and attractive cast, limited budget, and a natural predilection for soap opera. It is thus far the perfect TV show encapsulation of the light-hearted and loopy tone of the Flash comic books, with the producers admitting their model is the Richard Donner Super-Man much in the same way the Christopher Nolan Batman is their model for Arrow. They have done a beautiful job of making the idea of a big budget Flash movie starring someone other than Gustin and set in a different continuity seem completely absurd. However, sometimes (not always) I’ll watch The Flash live as it airs and then watch Agents of SHIELD immediately afterward on DVR and come away more impressed by SHIELD.
That’s what happened last night. It took nearly two full seasons, but SHIELD finally explained how Ming-Na Wen’s Melinda May earned the nickname “The Calvary.” It was suitably heart-breaking and remarkably clever, recalling an early episode of Angel in which a child in apparent peril turned out to be pure evil. Watching Melinda break down in Coulson’s arms at the end of the flashbacks was devastating, an effective realization of the show’s original mission to depict what happens to the ordinary when they are thrust into a world suddenly full of the extraordinary.
By comparison, everything in The Flash’s “All Star Team Up” seemed so juvenile, and, as GirlOnComicBookWorld pointed out, essentially a rehash of an early Smallville episode. The basic plot involved a disgruntled former employee of some robotics firm seeking revenge on those who wronged her, methodically going after them one by one and unleashing her swarm of robotic bees. Dubbed the Bug Eyed Bandit, the very few times this girl talks it’s mostly just as a treat for anyone who loves bee puns, e.g., “Sting of betrayal” and “What it’s like to be stung.” Her plight of lashing out at mentors who had wronged her was a classic case of crafting a villain whose storyline mirrors what’s going on with the hero at the moment. Meanwhile, Felicity and Ray Palmer from Arrow showed up to ask for some help in refining his new ATOM supersuit, which led to plenty of fun interactions between Ray and Cisco as well as an endless parade of one-liners for Felicity. Barry, still freaking out about Dr. Wells being the Reverse Flash and unsure if he can trust Cisco and Caitlyn now, took a page from Oliver Queen and brooded most of the time. Elsewhere, Iris immediately realized Eddie was keeping a secret from her, and because things like that apparently must escalate quickly near the end of a season she temporarily moved out of his apartment and threatened to break up with him if he doesn’t come clean.
I have discussed this in prior reviews, but I think a lot of people have a kind of built-in bullshit meter for film and TV, where they know how far they’re willing to go with something until it just seems too silly. For example, when Hawkman showed up on Smallville I knew that a reincarnated Egyptian prince wearing a remarkably silly looking chest plate and wings apparatus was the final straw (I knew nothing about his comic book history at that point). I never watched another episode. I am nowhere near that point with The Flash, but little things in “All Star Team Up” were just too silly for me, like the idea that Barry seriously couldn’t outrun the bees or that there always managed to be just one bee stuck inside the hero’s suit which no one noticed or even thought to look for. I am curious to see what science-babble they’ll come up with to explain how Cisco is suddenly recovering memories from a day Barry completely erased from history thanks to time travel (and why no one else is having dreams about that lost day). Moreover, while it was possibly some kind of “Ra-ra!” moment for Iris to demand honesty from Eddie, it seemed to progress way too quickly, especially with all the other people who she’s suspected of keeping secrets this season.
Barry wants to be with Iris, but he also wants her to be happy. Being with Eddie makes her happy, but not when Eddie is lying to her. Eddie is only lying to her because Joe and Barry told him it was for her safety. So, it’s Barry’s fault that Eddie and Iris are going through a rough patch, yet Barry’s also being noble about it, trying to push Iris back toward Eddie.
It’s that kind of soap opera which I find to be the least compelling aspect of The Flash. The most compelling part is Barry’s on-going feud with The Reverse Flash, but “All Star Team Up” came off like a frustrating, albeit necessary step forward where Barry had to spend an entire episode debating whether or not to tell Cisco and Caitlin what he found out. Dr. Wells is a hero and mentor to them even more than he is to Barry, and Barry hasn’t completely figured out why Dr. Wells has been helping him even though they’re supposedly mortal enemies. The ensuing confusion would naturally lead Barry to question Cisco and Caitlin’s trustworthiness, and “All Star Team Up” was the episode where Felicity told him to get over it and give his friends a chance to be the good people he already knows them to be.
This was also the episode with Brandon Routh’s The ATOM, proving most everyone right by fitting in on The Flash far better than he does on Arrow. It’s not hard to see why they picked now to have Felicity and Ray drop in. When Felicity made her first appearance, it was because there needed to be someone from the outside of things to tell Barry to trust his friends and work with them as a team to be a better hero. That’s, more or less, the exact same function Felicity served in “All Star Team Up,” again arriving as the trusted voice of reason. Although familiar, it is admirable that they try to find an actual character development-based need for Felicity to show up rather than simply having her pop up to help solve a case for the heck of it
THE BOTTOM LINE
Ray Palmer and Cisco hanging out together is a pure delight. Felicity firing off one-liners is always welcome as are any Felicity-Barry heart-to-heart conversations. However, a bee-themed villain straight out of Smallville was regrettable, the way things ramped up with Iris and Eddie seemed a little sudden, and Cisco’s recovery of memories from an erased timeline is going to take some serious narrative hoop-jumping to win me over. It was nice to see The Flash again after its hiatus, and I enjoyed watching a lot of “All Star Team Up” because I like this show and all of the characters on it. But because I am in the middle of Daredevil on Netflix right now “All Star Team Up” made The Flash seem a little goofy. That’s not really fair since The Flash is its own thing, but I volunteer that information to explain why I just couldn’t really get into “All Star Team Up.”
1. The opening scene with Flash, Joe and Eddie in the police cruiser was hilarious, although it did make me wonder if the people in the cars he was super-speeding into wouldn’t at least hear the car doors open and close.
2. “A bird, a plane…it’s my boyfriend!” I groaned, but the person watching this episode with me laughed. Also, has anyone kept track of the number of times they’ve made a Superman reference on this show? There was that one about Barry being faster than a speeding bullet.
3. I was slightly surprised to hear Ray actually say “The sex is great” in reference to Felicity just because sex is rarely discussed on The Flash.
4. Grant Gustin’s confused “I can’t really process all of that right now” facial reaction to Felicity’s summary of the latest Arrow happenings was perfect.
5. Felicity: “I left Starling City to get away from the mood and brood.”
6. Felicity: “I’m basically dating Barry in Oliver’s body.” Doesn’t that sound like the kind of thing you’d see an Arrow/Flash fan joke about on Twitter?
7. Felicity: “It’s not as creepy as it sounds.” Arrow season 3 has learned with Ray Palmer that there is a thin line between winningly romantic and creepy stalking. To some, Felicity is wrong – everything about Ray’s courtship of her is exactly as creepy as it sounds. That seems like so long ago, though.
8. I am still warming to Ray Palmer, and his line about “not dying” being really important to Felicity cracked me up.
9. I want Cisco’s T-shirt with the picture from the old 8-Bit Super Mario Bros. game.
GirlOnComicBookWorld – “Overall The Flash episode 18 was another enjoyable hour, however lost a bit of steam with the forgettable villain. It looks like the final few episodes will really be focusing on Harrison Wells, so let’s bring on some Reverse Flash action (loved that half a second shot of Reverse Flash at the end of the episode as well)!”