Monday, October 16, 2017

The Flash Season 4, Episode 1: The Flash Reborn

The Flash is back for its fourth season. Four seasons already! Seems like just yesterday I started watching this show and getting frustrated by it.

As season premieres go, this one was a bit lacking. It dealt with the big season-ending cliffhanger from Finish Line in the least interesting and most offhanded way possible, which made for less than compelling viewing.

To refresh your memory, at the end of last season, Team Flash managed to prevent Savitar from killing Iris. Barry and Iris finally got back together and planned to marry. Then literally out of nowhere, the Speed Force began attacking Central City. Barry then volunteered to enter the Speed Force in order to calm it down, for no reason other than because the writers needed an emotional cliffhanger to end the season.

I assumed we'd then get at least one "Flash-less" episode before Barry returned, to show us how the rest of the cast was dealing with his absence. I thought they might even wait two or three episodes before he returned, showing up just when Central City was at its lowest.

Nope! We got maybe ten minutes of Team Not Flash before Barry returns.

Why the big hurry? Why needlessly rush his return? Wouldn't it have been much better if we'd gotten an entire episode without Barry? Then maybe an entire episode where he tries to regain his memory? Instead his return and restoration all happens in the space of about fifteen minutes, making me wonder why the hell they bothered with this Speed Force storyline in the first place.

It's almost like the creators realized they'd written themselves into a corner with this Speed Force storyline, and wanted to dispose of it as quickly as possible. Even worse, once Barry returns, his ordeal affects him for all of about fifteen minutes before he's completely back to normal, as if nothing happened. The whole thing just felt cheap and unearned.

There's one small ray of hope here— maybe there's more going on here that we think. Maybe Barry was affected by the Speed Force more than he's letting on. Maybe he's really not even Barry (GASP!).

On the plus side, the writers really stepped up with Iris in this episode, and it was great to see her finally have something to do. This was a nice change from last year, where she pretty much spent the entire season standing around and wringing her hands as she waited for her predestined Death Day to arrive. Hopefully she'll continue commanding Team Flash from STAR Labs. She did end up playing Damsel In Distress before the episode was done, but at least she CHOSE to put herself in danger this time, to help spur Barry's recovery.

One reason I hoped they'd keep Barry inside the Speed Force longer was so Wally West, aka Kid Flash, could step up and finally have something to do on the show. The brief scenes of him and Team Not Flash working together to save the city were a lot of fun and very well done. Alas, they were also all too brief, as the writers just couldn't wait to bring Barry back and shove Wally to the side again. Which makes me ask— what the hell is Wally's purpose on this show? Why'd they turn him into Kid Flash in the first place? So they could constantly remind us that Wally's not as good as Barry? 

In recent interviews, executive producer Andrew Kreisberg promised that Season 4 of The Flash would bring back the lighter tone of the early episodes. That's great if true, but... color me skeptical. I've heard promises like that before.

If nothing else, at least we're not getting another speedster villain this year! Woohoo!


The Plot:
Wally, Cisco and Joe are chasing metahuman criminal Peek-a-Boo across Central City. They're led by Iris, who's coordinating their movements from inside STAR Labs. The four of them now make up Team Not Flash, formed to protect the city now that Barry's lost inside the Speed Force.

Peek-a-Boo uses her powers to teleport across rooftops to escape. Wally and Cisco manage to capture her, but she wriggles free and points a gun at them. She's then stunned by Joe, who's wielding a piece of STAR Labs tech. The three congratulate themselves on their teamwork, but Iris, who's now humorless and drive after Barry's disappearance, isn't impressed. Cisco says it'd be easier of they weren't a man down.

At the West home, Joe tells Iris that his gal pal Cecile is moving in. Cecile says now that Julian's abruptly fled the show and Barry's disappeared, she's going to have to hire a CSI replacement at the Central City Police Department. This depresses Iris.

Suddenly there's a disturbance, and Team Not Flash springs into action. Wally and Cisco confront an armored, masked samurai warrior, who demands the "real" Flash come out and face him. Wally speaks to him in Japanese (!), saying that's not gonna happen. The Samurai says they have one day to produce the Flash, or he'll destroy Central City. Just to prove he's not kidding, he stabs his sword into the pavement, producing a massive energy wave that flings the surrounding vehicles several hundred feet.

Back at STAR, Cisco says he's been working on a way to bring Barry back. For some reason Iris forbids him from messing with the Speed Force, saying they need to figure out a way to deal with the Samurai. Cisco ignores her and tracks down Caitlin, who's working in the Alien Bar from Supergirl, er, I mean a seedy dive bar. She says she's no longer Killer Frost, and reluctantly agrees to help rescue Barry.

The next day Cisco sets up his equipment on the abandoned (I hope) runway where they first tested Barry's speed back in the pilot episode. Wally, Joe and Caitlin— but not Iris— are there as well. Cisco launches into a lengthy technobabble explanation of how he plans to rescue Barry. He's using a Quark Sphere (whatever that is) to imitate Barry's life signs and fool the Speed Force into thinking he's still in it. Comic Book Science! He'll then use the Speed Force cannon from last season to pull him back into the real world.

Cisco fires up the machinery, opens a portal and fires the cannon, but it doesn't work. Cue sad trombone. Just then Iris shows up, furious that Cisco went behind her back.

Later that day a wormhole opens in downtown Central City, and a familiar lightning-covered figure exits and zooms off. Hundreds of miles away in Ivy City (wherever that is), the figure stops in the middle of the road. It's Barry Allen, naked and sporting an embarrassingly scraggly beard. As a truck approaches, he collapses in the road.

Barry's taken to the CCPD (just how he got there is none of our business), and Cecile calls Joe and says to come pick him up. Joe, Iris and the others arrive, and see Barry sitting in holding cell he intently draws strange symbols all over the walls. When they try to talk to him, he responds with a string of rhyming gibberish. They take him back to STAR, where Caitlin examines him. She says physically he's super fit, but mentally... oy. She has two theories— he may be suffering from schizophasia, or else he was inside the timey-wimey Speed Force for the equivalent of thousands of years and is suffering from dementia.

Cisco shows Barry a new costume he made for him for some reason, hoping that'll rouse Barry from his incoherent state. Iris tries talking to Barry, and suddenly his eyes glow and he starts zipping uncontrollably around Star Labs. Caitlin finally KO's him with a freeze gun, and ironically not with her Killer Frost powers (!).

Just then the Samurai shows up on the street, looking for Barry again. Wally dons Barry's Flash costume and tries to fool the Samurai. He's too smart for that and promptly stabs Wally through the shin, once again demanding to see the real Flash.

Back at STAR Labs, Cisco analyzes Barry's alien symbols, and figures out they're a language (which seemed pretty obvious to me). He translates them and says they mean "This house is bitchin." Um... what? Joe tells Iris that he's been going to church lately, and has faith that Barry will be OK.

Later on the Samurai shows up again, and is surrounded by Joe and the CCPD. Suddenly Iris appears and gives herself up to the villain. When the Samurai asks what the heck she's doing, she says if he takes her, Barry will come for him, which is what he wants. The Samurai then flies off with her, much to Joe's chagrin.

Joe rushes back to STAR Labs and tells the still-babbling Barry that Iris has been abducted. For some reason, the second Barry hears Iris' name he stops his babbling. His eyes glow again and he breaks out of the Secret Super Jail cell, grabs his new costume and runs off. He catches up to the Samurai, who's flying through the air with Iris in tow. The Samurai flies through a wind farm, blasting several of the enormous windmills and causing them to topple over toward Barry. He runs up one of the windmills and is able to grab Iris. A second later one of the blades hits the Samurai, knocking him to the ground. Barry removes the comatose Samurai's mask, revealing it's really a robot. Or a Samuroid, as Cisco calls it.

Back at STAR, Caitlin examines Barry again, who says he feels like he's been reborn (boy, DC lovvvvves itself some Christ metaphors, don't they?). He's also now much faster than ever. No one brings up the possibility that he might not actually be the real Barry.

Cisco asks Caitlin if she's back for good, and she says yes. She returns to the bar to give her two week notice or something. Her boss doesn't take it well and grabs her arm. Caitlin slowly turns into Killer Frost and tells him to move his hand or lose it. She stumbles out of the bar, and painfully regains control of herself, turning back into Caitlin.

Cut to a mysterious lab, where a woman called the Mechanic stares at the remains of the Samuroid. She approaches the Thinker, a man seemingly built into a futuristic chair, and asks him what's next. He turns and says, "I'm thinking." Com-O-Dee!

• Peek-a-Boo first appeared in the Season 1 episode Crazy For You, where she was captured and tossed into Well's Secret Super Jail. So... does that means she's been sitting in that cell for the past three years, without benefit of a trial? 

Shh... we're not supposed to think about stuff like that.

• When Peek-a-Boo's trying to escape from Team Not Flash, she teleports across the rooftops of Central City's skyscrapers. Wally follows on foot, and at one point jumps from the roof of one tall building and lands on the top of another, several hundred feet below.

So how's Wally falling all that distance without splattering all over the rooftop? He has superspeed. That ain't gonna protect him from a five hundred foot fall. Fast doesn't mean invulnerable. Is he somehow vibrating his body to slow it down or absorb the impact or some other pseudo-scientific hooey?

• Iris tells Cisco that Peek-a-Boo's gonna land on the Broome Tower. It's been mentioned on the show before, and once again I assume it's a shoutout to John Broome, who wrote many a Silver Age Flash comic back in the day.

• Team Not Flash seems like an effective and pretty well-oiled machine. So why haven't they been working together this all along, even when Barry was around? Yeah, yeah, in the past Cisco would occasionally bark directions to Barry over his comm, but that was about the extent of their teamwork. Why has Barry always done everything by himself up to this point? Why not take advantage of his superpowered co-workers?

• Since Iris is now in command of Team Not Flash full time, I guess that means she no longer worked for the Central City Picture News? Or is she somehow still finding time to write articles in between coordinating the Team?

• I kept thinking Cisco's new Vibe jacket looked familiar somehow, but couldn't figure out why. Then it hit me where I'd seen it before.

• Welp, so much for Tom Felton as Julian, who apparently moved back to London between seasons. Just when I was starting to like him too.

• At one point Cisco says, "I've consulted with Harry and and Tina and Tracy and Felicity and Curtis, and I'm pretty sure I figured out a way to stabilize the Speed Force Prison and free Barry without unleashing another lightning storm on the city."

If you've not up on your Arrowverse lore, he just named all the brainiacs/tech gurus on the various series.

Harry's obviously the Earth-2 Harrison Wells, and I assume Tina is Dr. Tina McGee, of Mercury Labs. Tracy is likely Tracy Brand, who became an honorary member of Team Flash last season, but unceremoniously disappeared this year. Felicity is Felicity Smoak, Cisco's equivalent over on Arrow. And Curtis is Curtis Holt, another Arrow tech guru who later became the superhero Mr. Terrific.

• This is some hardcore nitpicking, but whatever. When Cisco's trying to bring Barry out of the Speed Force, he says, "In the spirit of bringing back old friends, may I present the Speed Force bazooka. Ah, I made a few slight modifications, as Captain Solo would say." 

Wrong! When Han talks about the Millennium Falcon, he says, "She may not look like much, but she's got it where it counts, kid. I've made a lot of special modifications myself."

Told you it was hardcore! As a card-carrying nerd, Cisco should know this.

• The Flash has always excelled in nonsensical Comic Book Science, but they outdid themselves in this episode. For some reason, there always needs to be a speedster living inside the Speed Force, or else it'll start unleashing powerful forces that'll destroy the Earth. At the end of last season, Barry willingly entered the Speed Force in order to save the planet. Sure, why not?

In this episode, Cisco comes up with a plan to "fool" the Speed Force and save Barry. Here are his exact words:

"Caitlin and I spent all of last night working out some kinks, fine-tuning the Quark Sphere. The Quark Sphere, filled with Barry's unique genetic marker, and programmed to track his specific DNA, using the electrical current of the Speed Force. Once we track Barry and we pull him out, the Quark Sphere will trick the Speed Force into thinking he's still there."

So basically he's coating a softball with Barry's DNA (eww!) and tossing it into the Speed Force, which will somehow make it think he's still inside it. Got it.

That is some amazing "science" there. I hope the writers didn't hurt themselves bending over backwards to come up with that ridiculous solution.

• Iris mentions something about bringing the Mockingbird satellite online. Is that the satellite Cisco bragged about owning to Caitlin?

• When Barry first returns from the Speed Force, he sports what appears to be a fifteen year old's attempt at growing a beard. 

I don't know what really went on behind the scenes, but I have a feeling that when Grant Gustin read the script, he said to the producers, "Hey, how about letting me grow my OWN beard! I know I can do it!" They probably reluctantly said yes, and then he showed up on set with that patchy nightmare on his face. At that point it was too late to shave it off and glue a proper fake beard to his head, so they had to make do with what he'd "grown."

That's my theory, anyway. How else would you explain that raggedy excuse for a beard?

• Barry emerges from the Speed Force and immediately zooms off. He ends up in Ivy City, where he collapses in the middle of the road. 
Um... did they mean Ivy Town here? There's an Ivy Town in the Arrowverse, but no Ivy City as far as I can tell. Professor Stein of the Legends Of Tomorrow went to Ivy Town University, and Oliver Queen and his wife Felicity lived there for a short time. 

Either the writer's flubbed the name, or there are two nearly identically named towns just outside Central City.

• At one point Cecile calls Joe and tells him Barry's in a holding cell at the Central City Police Dept. 

So... how'd Barry get from Ivy to Central City? He had no I.D. on him, since he was naked when he passed out. Maybe the ICPD put his photo on the wire, and a Central City cop recognized him as Barry?

• Once Barry's back, he acts spacey and detached, spouting what appears to be gibberish. Caitlin examines him and says he's suffering from schizophasia, which causes people to assign the wrong definition to words. Turns out schizophasia is a real condition! Kudos to whoever googles medical reference on this show!

• It's been four years since the STAR Labs particle accelerator explosion, and they still haven't fixed the damaged pylon on the building.

• It was interesting to see Caitlin blast Barry with a ray from a freeze gun, when she secretly has those exact same powers!

• Joe decides to shave Barry's embarrassingly wispy beard, hoping that'll somehow fix his scrambled brains. As he does so, he occasionally wipes the razor on a towel slung over his shoulder. A dark blue towel prominently labeled with the STAR Labs logo! 

Apparently this high tech scientific think tank has its own branded towels! That had to be Cisco's idea!

• This week's main villain is the Samuroid, a robotic samurai created by the Thinker to test Barry (I guess?). 

The Samuroid actually appeared in the comics, in The Flash #180 back in 1968. A villain named Baron Katana created an army of robot Samuroids to seek revenge for Japan's defeat in WWII. They had jetpacks, indestructible armor and electrified swords, similar to the one seen in this episode.

• Cisco's little speech about Barry's written symbols make absolutely zero sense to me. 

Cisco: "I'm gonna keep working on this. Unless you have any ideas."
Iris: "Nope, it's all Greek to me."
Cisco: "Great Caesar's Ghost. This analysis is based on a monoalphabetic substitution cipher, but what if it's polyalphabetic? What if it's it's like Greek? Like the symbols are unique alphabet? Excelsior!"

First of all, did anyone NOT think Barry was writing in some unknown language, with its own unique alphabet? What the hell else would he be writing? Hieroglyphics?

Plus, monoalphabetic cipher uses fixed substitution over the entire message, whereas a polyalphabetic cipher uses a number of substitutions at different positions in the message. I don't see how that would pertain to Greek in any way.

Also, I get why he says "Great Caesar's Ghost," but Caesar was Roman, and Cisco's talking about the Greek language. He's also mixing universes here, as "Great Caesar's Ghost" was Perry White's catchphrase over at DC, while Stan Lee was always exclaiming "Excelsior!" at Marvel.

• One last thing about Barry's new language: Somehow, despite the fact that he covers the walls with hundreds and hundreds of DIFFERENT symbols, they all somehow boil down to four words: "This house is bitchin."

I have to assume that message will end up meaning something before the season's over.

• Welp, if nothing else, at least The Mechanic's not wearing a black leather catsuit.

• The Thinker looks interesting, even if he does resemble Rance Howard in this episode.

The Thinker, aka Clifford Devoe, is actually a villain from the comics. He first appeared in All-Flash Comics #12, wayyyy back in 1943 (!). He wore a "thinking cap" (no, really!), which amplified his psionic abilities. He often clashed with the Jay Garrick version of the Flash, as well as the Justice Society.

• This Week's Best Lines:
Cisco: (to Caitlin) "Barry's trying to send us a message. I know it. I mean, he spent all this time in the Speed Force. Maybe now he knows the answers to life, the universe, and everything."
Caitlin: "So you think all this crazy writing is Barry's way of telling us 42?"
(I'd expect Cisco to be a fan of The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy, but I'm surprised Caitlin's heard of it!)

Caitlin: (examining Barry) "Pupils are equally reactive to light. I mean, your vitals are amazing. You're in perfect health, even for you. I'd like a urine sample, just to confirm, but everything looks great."
Cisco: "Man, you love urine. You love the the testing of urine. The testing of the urine. You know what I meant."

Joe: (to Barry) "How you feeling?"

Barry: "I feel great. Yeah, I feel incredible. I don't know, it feels like I've been reborn."

The Mechanic: "What's our next step?"

The Thinker: "I'm thinking."
(yes, it's corny as hell, but that's why I like it)

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