Saturday, October 21, 2017

The Flash Season 4, Episode 2: Mixed Signals

This week's The Flash is a muddled and incomprehensible mess, with yet another poorly-realized version of a classic comic book villain. Somehow though it manages to coast by due to the charm and chemistry of the cast.

The highlight of the episode was definitely the interplay between Barry and Iris as they decide to go to couples therapy. "Charming" is not a word I use easily or often, but it definitely applies here. It was also nice to see Barry enjoy being a superhero again and revel in his powers, especially after last season's mope-fest.

Wally continues to devolve into little more than set dressing on the show. He did absolutely nothing in this episode, except stand around and somehow get knocked on his ass by an energy blast (um... speedster powers?). 

I hate to say it, but it's beginning to look like he was only brought onto the series as a way to eat up a few Season 3 episodes, and now that his origin story's played itself out, the writers have absolutely no idea what to do with him. Maybe he could move over to Legends Of Tomorrow? They could use a good speedster.

Last week Barry returned from his self-imposed exile in the Speed Force, and suffered a few odd side effects for exactly ten minutes before snapping completely back to normal. I was sure this was just a diversion on the part of the writers, as they'd tip their hand this week and show us that the Barry who returned isn't quite the same as the one who went in. Nope! If this episode is any indication as to how the rest of the season's going to go, Barry was completely unaffected by his time in a bizarre dimension. Strange.


The Plot:
A real estate agent shows a penthouse suite to tech billionaire Kurt Weaver. He says he'll take it and gets in the elevator. Halfway down the elevator stops, then begins jerking rapidly up and down (heh), as Weaver's shaken around inside like a rag doll. Finally the elevator plummets and crashes to the bottom of the shaft, killing Weaver. On the ground floor, an overweight man in a hoodie ominously watches, as his eyes glow purple.

Barry cheerfully makes breakfast at superspeed. Iris says she needs to get busy planning their wedding, and Barry says he's already done it— at superspeed, of course. Iris is hurt and angered that he didn't consult her first.

Barry, Cisco and Joe inspect the scene of the deadly elevator crash. Cisco hooks up a computer to the elevator's computer memory (?) and proclaims it was no accident— it was hacked by someone.

Back at STAR Labs, Cisco reveals the latest Iron Man, er, I mean Spider-Man, er, I mean Flash costume he's made for Barry. This one's the most advanced yet, full of all sorts of unnecessary high-tech bells and whistles. Iris says she's looking forward to their "training session," whatever that means, and Barry says he cancelled it and blissfully rushes off. Again, Iris is irked that Barry didn't discuss it with her, prompting Caitlin to suggest they go to couples therapy.

The Breach Alarm goes off, and Iris, Caitlin and Wally rush down to confront whatever comes through. It turns out to be Gypsy, who's apparently visiting Earth-1 to go on a date with Cisco. Um... isn't dimension-hopping illegal on her Earth?

Cut to Tim Kwon, another tech billionaire, as he drives along in his expensive new car. Suddenly it stops in the middle of the street, right in front of the same purple-eyed man we saw by the elevator. The man glares at the car, causing its dashboard screen to start glitching and display the word "KILG%RE." It then speeds down a crowded Central City street at 120 mph (well, sort of). Barry zooms to the scene and stops the car by completely taking it apart with a large wrench (!).

Cisco examines the car's computer and finds it was hacked as well, with the same virus that was in the elevator. Cisco can't find any link between the two victims online, so he searches through his stash of old tech magazines (?).

Iris approaches Barry and announces they're going to couples therapy. Barry reluctantly agrees. They visit the therapist, and their session is both humorous and painfully awkward.

At CCPD, Joe's questions Tim Kwon, asking if he can think of anyone who'd want to kill him. Ramsey Deacon, the purple-eyed man, shows up at the station and uses his power to take control of a bomb squad robot. The robot grabs a grenade and crashes into Joe's office. It tosses the grenade, and Joe and Tim dive for cover. Just then Barry enters and grabs all the grenade shrapnel at super speed, saving them.

Cisco talks with Gypsy and says he's got to call off their date because of the Kilg%re crisis. She says she understands and wanders off. Caitlin tells Cisco he's in big trouble, as whenever a woman says she understands, she means the exact opposite. Cisco discovers a photo of Kurt Weaver, Tim Kwon, 
Ramsey Deacona and a woman named Shelia Agnani, who were all computer science students years ago. Kurt, Tim and Shelia later started up a tech company called "Kilg%ore," apparently shutting out Deacon. Cisco theorizes that Deacon must have a grudge against the others and is targeting them somehow. He says Shelia is likely next on Deacon's list.

Barry and Iris return to therapy (is all this happening on the same day?). Iris breaks down and tearfully asks why Barry left her to join the Speed Force. Um... maybe to save the world? She tells him that he's not the Flash— they both are, and they need to do this together. Oy.

Tim goes to Shelia's mansion to warn her about Deacon. Just then Deacon appears and uses his tech-manipulating powers to hack her insulin pump, which puts her in shock. Luckily for her, Wally appears (hey, he finally gets something to do in this episode!) and gives her a shot of glucose to save her. Shelia tells Wally that Deacon abducted Tim.

Back at STAR, Cisco tries to apologize to Gypsy. She says she's angry he canceled their date because today's One/One/One Day, which is a special occasion where she's from on Earth-19. It symbolizes "one soul plus one soul equaling one soul." This sparks an idea in Cisco's head and he takes off again to test out a theory or whip up a solution.

Cisco whips up some kind of technobabble serum that'll theoretically cancel out Deacon's powers. Tim Kwon then appears on all TV channels, confessing that he, Kurt and Shelia stole the Kilg%re malware software (?) from Deacon and sold it for billions, leaving him destitute. It's unclear if Deacon is just trying to ruin the others or wants their money or both. Cisco traces the source of the TV signal and Barry and Wally rush to the scene, where they confront Deacon.

Deacon hacks into Barry's new high tech suit, causing him to incapacitate Wally with an energy blast (that he apparently couldn't dodge?). Deacon then makes Barry's suit run amok, toying with him like a cat does a mouse. He even shuts down the suit's comm system, so Barry can't talk to Team Flash. Somehow Barry's able to gain enough control to call STAR Labs on a pay phone (ask your parents, kids).

Deacon then activates the self destruct system in Barry's suit. Cisco says there's no way to shut it down, and Iris suggest Barry through speed lightning at himself. He does so, which fries the suit and severs Deacon's control over it. Deacon then makes a last ditch attempt at killing Tim by shooting him, but Barry stops the bullet. He then injects Deacon with Cisco's magic serum, rendering him powerless.

Cisco and Gypsy finally have their date.

Cut to Iron Heights Prison, where Deacon's being held in a shielded room with no tech of any kind— it's even lit by candles! Joe says Deacon wasn't in Central City when the particle accelerator exploded, and wonders how he got his powers. Deacon refuses to tell him, but says he's not the only metahuman coming for them.

In the Thinker's lair, he monitors Deacon in his cell (um... didn't they just say there's no tech in there?). He says it's time to find the others, and the Mechanic activates a screen with spaces for eleven other metas.

• The episode begins with Barry lip synching in his underwear, recreating Tom Cruise's iconic dance number from Risky Business.

Really, writers? That scene was just downright painful. Not to mention the fact that three fourths of your audience wasn't even alive when that movie premiered, so the reference is gonna sail a mile over their heads. 

• Last week Cecile mentioned that now that Julian and Barry were both gone, she was going to have to hire a new CSI. Barry's back of course, but this week Cisco also stepped in to take a look at a crime scene. Is Cisco the new CSI hire? Is he doing that in addition to his duties and inventing at STAR Labs? When the hell does he sleep?

• Iris, Caitlin and Wally arm themselves and run to the Breach Room, ready to attack whatever comes through the portal. No, wait, that's wrong. The others run, while Iris minces in her pencil skirt and lace-up stiletto heels, like the floor's make of solid ice.

Why the impractical getup? She works for a crime-fighting think tank! There's likely going to be chaos and running on a regular basis! Why's she dressing like a supermodel?

• In the Breach Room, Caitlin brandishes a freeze gun which looks exactly like Captain Cold's. It even has the same glowing "V" shaped cryo-emitters on the end! This makes sense, since Cisco invented the gun (to stop Barry in case he ever went Rogue) and Cold stole it from him.

Funny how Caitlin's struggling to control her Killer Frost persona, but her weapon of choice is a freeze gun.

• In this episode Gypsy pays a visit to Earth-1 for a date with Cisco. Um... isn't dimensional travel forbidden on her world of Earth-19? Last season she came to STAR Labs to arrest HR for violating the "No World Hopping" law.

I guess that law doesn't apply to special bounty hunters like her, and she can breach to any Earth anytime she wants— even for something as non-essential as a date!

Not a fan of Wally's new Cab Calloway hairdo.

Sigh... once again, The Flash seemingly goes out of its way to underwhelm with its live action depiction of a long-time comic book character. This week, they completely botch Kilg%re.

Kilg%re first appeared in The Flash (Vol. 2) #3 back in 1987. It was an evil alien entity that could infect and animate any kind of machinery or electronics, and usually took the form of a constantly changing metal robot or monster. Later runs of the comic depicted Kilg%re as a silvery metallic man.

So of course it's only natural that the TV show would depict Kilg%re as an overweight schlub in a hoodie, with eyes that occasionally glow purple. Jesus Christ. It's like they're not even trying anymore! If they're not gonna put any more effort into their villains than this, then why bother producing a superhero show at all?

• I was excited when I read that Kilg%re would be appearing this season on The Flash, if for no other reason than we'd finally get an answer to that age old question— just how the hell do you pronounce that name?

See, I used to read The Flash comic back in the 1980s, and when Kilg%re first appeared there was a HUGE controversy as to just how you were supposed to say his name. The book's letter column was abuzz for months, as fans practically came to blows over the matter. Half the readers passionately argued that it was simply "kill-gore," and the percent sign was there just to make it seem more high tech or alien. The other side vehemently contended that the symbol represented electrical static, and it should be pronounced "Kill (squeeeeee) Gore" or something like that. 

Turns out it's just plain old "kill-gore" after all. Disappointing!

• The Flash has featured some lame villains in the past, but Deacon's gotta be the lamest. Everything about him is muddled and unclear, as the writers don't even understand him. I've watched the episode twice now, and I still have no idea what the hell he is or how his powers are supposed to work. Just listen to Cisco and Caitlin discussing him:

Cailin: "This guy is a living computer virus. That’s a new one.
Cisco: "Look at this code. From the elevator, to the car, to the bomb robot, this code keeps changing [grumbles] But I can’t figure out why."
Caitlin: "Okay, we have to remember that it’s not just digital. It’s bio-digital. Most organic viruses mutate to avoid being killed."

Cisco: "So, if we managed to create digital antibodies, then we can shut this guy down. Oh, nice one!"

A bit later they say:

Cisco: Deacon's powers are derived from the binary code in his DNA. So we created a compound encoded with a numerical string pattern of ones and zeroes, to invert the order of the code.
Caitlin: "Ones become zeroes and vice versa."

I... I don't understand what any of that means. So Deacon is a living computer virus? Or he can infect electronics with a living computer virus? Is he no longer human? Is he a piece of computer code in human form? I honestly have no idea.

Deacon has the ability to infect and manipulate electronics. That's a pretty formidable power in this day and age, but how's it supposed to work? All we ever see him do is stare at an object as his eyes glow purple and his pupils become square. At no time does he ever actually touch anything. How can he infect a device without ever touching it? Is he using wi-fi?

• The whole Kilg%re software thing is just as bewildering. Listen to Cisco try to explain what it is:

Cisco: "Four years ago, Kurt Weaver and Tim Kwon created an app in their garage with two other programmers. Some kind of malware called Kilgore. And then they sold it off to a big tech company."

So Kilg%re is an app, but it's also a piece of malware. Um... those two things aren't even remotely alike, writers! An app is a program written for a mobile device. Malware is a piece of software that's intended to damage or disable a computer. I could see a tech company being interested in an app, but no one would ever BUY a piece of malware!

• Deacon takes control of Tim Kwon's car and causes it to drive 120 mph down a busy Central City street. We'll have to take the show's word for that, as it looked for all the world like it was puttering along at 30 mph— at the most!

• Credit where it's due: Barry and Iris' couples therapy scenes were very well done. Grant Gustin has a goofy, nerdy charm, and he and Candice Patton have some great chemistry together. 

Gustin also has some pretty good comedy chops, and I loved his increasing awkwardness as Doctor Finkle jotted down everything he said. It's a shame he rarely gets to be funny on the show.

By the way, Doctor Finkle ought to have a field day with the fact that Barry and Iris grew up as foster siblings and are now engaged!

• Cisco recognizes the names of Deacon's victims, but can't seem to find anything about them online (???). He then starts leafing through his collection of old tech magazines in order to figure out who they are. Wha...? This show IS set in 2017, right? Does Google not exist in the Arrowverse?

And how could there not be any online info about a trio of startup billionaires? Are we really supposed to believe that people who made their fortune in computer science have no social media presence of any kind? Nothing about this scene makes the least bit of sense.

Yes, yes, at one point Tim Kwon does say that Kurt Weaver "scrubbed any connection between us from the net." If that's true, then Kurt must be one of the world's most brilliant scientific minds indeed. The idea that a person can erase their presence from the entire internet is more unbelievable than a man who can run at the speed of light!

By the way, Cisco's old computer magazine (complete with a centerfold of a mother board) is called "Noughty Bytes." OK, I'll admit that was kind of amusing.

• Whenever there's an establishing shot of STAR Labs, we can always see that one of the upper pylons is riddle with holes, presumably damaged during the particle accelerator explosion four years ago.

In this episode we get a different angle of the building, and it looks like a huge chunk of the side was completely blown away! Has that hole always been there? I suppose it has, although I honestly don't remember ever seeing it before.

You'd think after four years they might want to get that patched up, before the entire building's ruined.

• When Cisco decides to talk out his problems with Gypsy, he reaches up and vibes a breach into thin air. Gypsy INSTANTLY walks through it and nonchalantly says, "What's up?"

So... was she just standing there on Earth-19 waiting for him to call? Or did the portal he opened somehow drag her away from whatever she was doing on her world?

• When Cisco unveils Barry's new high-tech suit, he hands him a comically thick user manual and tells him to read up on its new features. Barry gives the manual a disdainful look and tosses it aside, as if reading something that huge is out of the question.

OK, I get that this is supposed to be funny, but it doesn't make any sense. In the past we've seen Barry speed-read (literally!) lengthy technical manuals and science papers to instantly bring himself up to speed on a topic. And earlier in this very episode, Barry catches up on six months' worth of DVRed TV by watching it at a thousand times normal speed. So what's the problem here? Why can't he read through this gigantic manual in ten seconds and be done with it?

Answer: Because if he did read the instructions, then we wouldn't have the "comical" scenes of Barry fumbling with the new suit's features as he tries to figure out how to control it.

• So Barry now has a suit that's pretty much identical to Iron Man's armor and Spider-Man's Homecoming costume, complete with dozens of weapons and defensive capabilities. It even has an onboard A.I. assistant (which uses Cisco's voice)!

Among its new features are retractable HUD goggles, self-repairing armor, nano-liquid circuitry, full spectrum scanning, a pulse cannon and full weapon system, a targeting scanner, a defibrillator (!), an inflatable flotation function, fire suppression, temperature control and navigation.

I can't say I'm a fan of all these fancy gewgaws. It's hard enough for the writers to come up with a believable opponent for Barry when he just has superspeed. Adding even more abilities is gonna make it virtually impossible for anyone to ever defeat him.

The suit gets fried near the end of the episode, so I'm hoping this is the last we'll see of it.

• When Gypsy talks about One-One-One Day, she triggers the old, "Someone Says Something Mundane That Inspires A Bright Idea" cliche, causing Cisco to come up with a way to defeat Deacon.

• When Deacon takes control of Barry's suit, he forces him to fire an Iron Man repulsor ray at Wally. Despite the fact that Wally's a speedster, he can't dodge a simple energy blast and is thrown across the room and knocked out.

• Deacon then uses the suit's built-in defibrillator function to try and kill Barry. At the very least, it's good to see that Deacon knows a defibrillator actually STOPS the heart, not jump starts it!

• Barry's new suit has a self destruct function called "The Babel Protocol."

This is probably a reference to the Tower Of Babel storyline in the Justice League comic. In that tale, Batman accumulated files on how to take down his team members in the event any of them ever turned bad. 

Cisco sort of references this, saying he added the function to the suit in case he ever had to stop an evil version of Barry.

• As the self destruct timer counts down, Iris gets an idea and tells Barry to generate speedster lightning to short out the suit. He's not sure he's up to the task, so Iris whispers, "Run, Barry, Run!"

I wish I'd started a counter listing every time they've used that phrase throughout the seasons. It'd be up to twenty by now, at least.

• Earth-19 Watch:
According to Gypsy, Earth-19 celebrates Saint Shaquille O'Neal Day. That seems unlikely, on ANY Earth!

Also they definitely don't have Santa Claus. It's unclear if they have Xmas or not.

Gypsy throws around the word "schmoopy" a lot in this episode. Does that mean Earth-19 has Seinfeld, or is it just a coincidence?

• At the end of the episode, Joe's puzzled and says, "
How is it possible that Deacon’s a meta if he didn’t get his powers from Wells’ particle accelerator blowing up?" This implies that the explosion is responsible for every metahuman who's ever appeared on the show. That can't be right, can it? Surely they've faced villains who got their powers some other way before now?

• So the head of Iron Heights Prison is Warden Wolfe. Gosh, that's not a sinister name at all. Who named this character, Charles Dickens?

• Something just occurred to me: The Thinker appears to be built into his high tech chair, and is completely immobile. He's literally the exact opposite of the Flash, who's main power is movement! Interesting.

• This Week's Best Lines:

Cisco: (at a crime scene) "Excuse me. Coming through. CCPD Tech Consultant. That’s right. Look at the badge. That means it’s official."
Captain Singh: "He’s aware that badge is plastic, right?"

Barry: (at couples therapy) "I love therapy."
Dr. Finkle: "Oh. Have you been before?"
Barry: "Just once, when I was a kid, after my mom died."
Dr. Finkle: "Oh, your mom."
(she writes in her notebook)
Barry: "Oh. But I’m okay with that. I mean, I’m not okay with it, obviously. I mean, I’d prefer that she was alive. I just meant that I’ve already dealt with it is I don’t think it’s worth writing down."
Dr. Finkle: "These notes are just for me. No one is judging you guys."
Iris: "Yes, we know."

Barry: "Oh, my dad died too. Just for your notes."
Dr. Finkle: "So, Barry, Iris filled me in a little bit about the two of you on the phone before. Getting married?"
Iris: "Yeah. Yeah, it’s been a long road getting here."
Barry: "Mm-hmm."
Iris: "First, um us growing up together, and then, um, I was engaged to someone else."
Dr. Finkle: "Oh, okay."
Barry: "That’s worth a write-down?"
Iris: "He’s actually dead too."
Dr. Finkle: "Oh, you two have had to deal with a lot of trauma."
Iris: "Well..."
Barry: "No, not a... "
Iris: "Eddie and Ronnie."
Barry: "I mean, a little."
Iris: "My mom. HR."
Barry: "Not too much."
Iris: "Laurel."
Barry: "Some."
Iris: "Snart."
Barry: "We’ve been... to a few funerals."
Iris: "Yeah."

Caitlin: (angrily) "How much tech did you put in this suit?"

Cisco: (sheepishly) "Sooooo much."

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