Monday, February 18, 2019

The Flash Season 5, Episode 14: Cause And XS

This week on The Flash, we get another one of those Groundhog Day-esque episodes the Arrowverse seems to love so much. Legends Of Tomorrow did one last year with Here I Go Again, and now it's apparently Team Flash's turn.

I'm assuming it was intentional that this episode aired shortly after the actual Groundhog Day, and the same week as time loop slasher film Happy Death Day 2U.

Time loop episodes are tricky things to write, as the audience knows that nothing that happens is gonna stick. You can kill off the main cast as many times as you like during the episode, but we all know they're gonna be alive and well at the end.

The secret is to come up with interesting ways for the characters to play around within the confines of the loop. Legends did this brilliantly in the aforementioned Here I Go Again, as Zari had fun with the fact that she was reliving the same hour over and over.

Not so with Cause And XS, as Nora makes the same mistakes over and over and over, to the point of distraction.

For the second time in a month, Barry barely appears in an episode (he sat out most of The Flash & The Furious as well). I assume this is due to the fact that Grant Gustin recently married actress Andrea Thoma, and he's taking some time off from the show to honeymoon.

Speaking of absences... Told you so!

A couple months ago Cisco suddenly announced that he resented his powers and wished he could settle down and start a family. This sentiment came completely out of the blue, and I wondered if the writers were setting him up for a departure. 

Shortly after that Cisco was conspicuously absent from several episodes. Again, I noted that it seemed like the producers were easing the audience into his departure and taking tentative steps to write him off the show.

Turns out I was right. This week news broke that actor Carlos Valdes, aka Cisco Ramone, is leaving The Flash at the end of Season 5.

Supposedly Valdes is quite devoted to musical theater, starring in such productions as High School Musical, The Wedding Singer and Jersey Boys. Apparently he's itching to return to Broadway.

Note that this is the exact same reason Victor Garber, aka Professor Stein, left Legends Of Tomorrow a year or two ago.

Good luck to Valdes I guess, but I'm afraid his absence will be keenly felt. Cisco's always been the nerdy comic relief in an otherwise serious cast. Plus he's always had great chemistry with the various versions of Harrison Wells. 

Can the show survive without Cisco? Probably, but it definitely won't be the same. Maybe Ralph can step up and take his place as the resident jokester.


The Plot:
Cisco sits in his lab, cyberstalking Kamilla by going through her online portfolio. He wonders if she's too good for him. Just then a timer sounds and he sees his metahuman cure is finished. There's a catch though.

Cut to Cisco in the Cortex, explaining to Team Flash that the cure will take thirty days to "synthesize." So it WASN'T ready then, right? I'm already confused. Barry says they can't wait a month to use the cure on Cicada. Sherloque suggests Barry take the cure into the Speed Force and expose it to tachyons, which will cause it to synthesize in an hour rather than thirty days.

Barry suits up and prepares to enter the Speed Force. Nora suggests she do it instead, as she doesn't think it's a good idea to leave the city Flash-less for an hour (?). Barry tells her she can handle anything that comes up, and zooms off into the void.

Nora returns to the Cortex, where she starts writing in her journal for no good reason. Ralph brings out his homemade Book Of Ralph relationship guide again, to help Cisco prepare for his big date with Kamilla. Iris, Caitlin & Sherloque all flee for their lives, as Ralph begins outlining his horrible dating advice. Cisco says he's not interested and starts to leave. Ralph says fine, but claims he investigated Kamilla on social media and Cisco's definitely not her type. Cisco can't help himself and peeks at the info, seeing a photo of Kamilla with a businessman. He realizes Ralph is right.

Nora sits down and nervously waits for Barry to return.

Meanwhile, Iris is working on a story in her office (which must be reeeeally close to STAR Labs). Suddenly Cicada appears behind her and knocks her out.

Cut to Jitters, where Kamilla's waiting for Cisco. He arrives late, dressed in a suite & tie and claiming he was held up in a business meeting. Kamilla says she thought he was a scientist, and Cisco lies about owning his own company, called Ramone Industries. Kamilla's unimpressed.

Iris wakes up tied to a rooftop, as Cicada stands nearby. He says he knows who she is, and that she works with the other superheroes. He says he's going to beat them all. She activates her alert.

Cisco gets the alert and tells Kamilla he has to go. He asks if they can have a do-over date but she leaves in disgust. At STAR, Nora, Caitlin and Ralph get the alert as well, and rush off.

Cicada sees Nora coming, and hurls his dark matter dagger into the sky. Nora arrives on the rooftop with Killer Frost. Before either of them can do anything, the dagger boomerangs and comes up behind them. It stabs Killer Frost in the back, killing her instantly. Cicada looks at Iris and growls, "Told you!"

Nora's shocked and stunned, and immediately does her "Run So Fast She Reverses Time" trick. She finds herself back at STAR Labs, as Ralph gives his book to Cisco all over again. Nora furiously scribbles down everything that just happened into her journal. 

Everyone starts to leave again, including Iris. Nora nervously talks her into working on her story at STAR, rather than her office. Nora breathes a sigh of relief, believing she's saved Killer Frost. Cisco sees a photo of Kamilla with a gym rat, and gets an idea.

Cicada goes to Iris' office, but sees she's not there. He then goes across the hall to Ralph's office and knocks him out.

Cut to Jitters, where Cisco shows up for his date dressed in gym clothes. Kamilla asks if he works out, and he rattles off a bunch of made up fitness routines he's into. She's unimpressed.

Ralph wakes on the rooftop, and Cicada tells him he knows who he is. Ralph manages to send out an alert. Cisco gets the signal and tells Kamilla he has to leave.

Cicada sees Nora coming and throws his dagger. Nora and Killer Frost arrive on the rooftop, and Ralph tells them to duck. They both dive for cover, and the dagger hits Ralph in the back, killing him.

Nora runs back in time and finds herself in STAR Labs again. She writes in her journal, Ralph brings out his book, everyone starts to leave. This time 
Nora corrals them all and gets them to stay at STAR. Cisco has a vibe vision of his dates with Kamilla, and mentions to Sherloque that he's having deja vu. This seemingly offhand comment intrigues the detective.

Sherloque then goes to Iris' office to see why Nora doesn't want her going there. Suddenly Cicada shows up and captures him. Cisco arrives at Jitters, where he lies and tells Kamilla he's a photographer and social media influencer (???). Sherloque wakes on the roof, and Cicada says he knows who he is. He manages to send out an alert.

Cisco tells Kamilla he's about to get an alert seconds before it happens. He wanders off, leaving a puzzled Kamilla behind. Team Flash gets the alert, but Nora tells Iris, Killer Frost & Ralph to stay put, as she'll handle it herself. She arrives on the rooftop at the same time Cisco breaches to the scene. Cicada's dagger lands in Cisco's back, killing him.

Nora speeds back in time to STAR again. She wonders why she can't seem to fix things or go back farther than an hour. Ralph enters with his book, and she realizes the whole thing's starting all over again. She zooms everyone into the lounge and tells them they have to stay there for an hour. Suddenly Cisco has a vibe vision of the previous time loops, and tells everyone to do what she says. He texts Kamilla and tells her he can't make it.

Cicada breaks into Iris' office and sees she's not there. He snoops around and sees photos of her family.

In the lounge, everyone gets an alert from Cecile. Nora tells everyone to stay put, and zooms to the rooftop. She arrives just in time to see Cicada's dagger kill Cecile. Nora runs back in time again to STAR. We then see a montage of her trying over and over to fix things. Each time there's a different disastrous outcome.

Frustrated and angry, Nora decides to get Barry out of the Speed Force to help. Unfortunately she's too weak (I guess?) to enter it.

Defeated, she shuffles back to the Cortex. Team Flash is there waiting, demanding to know why the hell she's been reversing time. She asks how they knew, and Cisco says he's been vibing the same moment over and over, and figured he must be caught in a time loop (sure, why not). He says this must be a fixed point in time, explaining why Nora can't change it.

Nora reads through everything she wrote in her journal and tells them all what happened during every loop. Sherloque suggests using Cicada's dagger against him.

Cicada breaks into Iris' office, but sees she's not there. For absolutely no good reason, he then goes up to the rooftop alone. Iris steps out from behind a shed and says she knows who he is and they're going to beat him. He sees Nora speeding toward the building and throws his dagger like always. Vibe breaches in, along with Killer Frost and Elongated Man. Frost forms two ice daggers, as Vibe opens two breaches in mid air. Nora arrives and reverses time, jumping into one of the breaches and exiting from the other, while adjusting the trajectory of Cicada's dagger. If all this sounds muddled and confusing, that's because it is. It's hard to figure out exactly what's happening.

Once Nora's adjusted everything, she starts time flowing normally again. The dagger hits Cicada in the shoulder, causing him to scream in pain. As always, the heroes watch him for a few seconds instead of trying to capture him. He eventually leaps or flies straight up (your choice).

Back at STAR, Iris confirms there's no trace of Cicada or his dark matter anywhere in the city (why's Iris running this scan when Cisco & Caitlin are there?). Barry finally exits the Speed Force, and says the meta cure's all cooked. He looks around and realizes something major happened while he was gone for an hour.

Cisco goes on his date. This time he finally learns to be himself, and excitedly nerds out about his project to Kamilla. He apologizes for being late, and asks if they can have a do-over. This time she says sure.

Nora tells Barry she tried to fix the timeline fifty two times. He tells her there are always consequences to time travel, and smashes a coffee mug to make his point
— a demonstration that seems awfully familiar. He says no matter what they do, the timeline will never be normal again.

Sherloque apparently forgets all about protecting Renee Adler, and resumes his work on translating Nora's journal.

Nora returns to 2049 and tells Eobard Thawne they're making things worse. He flies off the handle and tells her HE'S the only speedster who understands what they're doing, and to stick to the plan. He says if she follows his instructions they can defeat Cicada and save Barry.


• I'm very confused about the meta cure in this episode.

In the first scene, Cisco's apparently still working alone in one of the abandoned Tannhouser black ops sites. Suddenly the computer announces that the cure's been 100% synthesized.

He pulls a vial out of a high tech centrifuge or something, and begins shouting, "WE DID IT!"

Based on this evidence, I think any rational person could correctly assume he'd finally completed his meta human cure. 

Smash cut to Cisco in STAR Labs, where he tells Team Flash they can't use the cure for twenty nine days. Caitlin backs him up, saying it'll take a month for the cure to fully synthesize.

So which is it, writers? Is the cure fully synthesized or not? And if not, then why the frak did that screen say "Cure Synthesis 100%?" Do you know what 100% means?

• Cisco and Nora are shocked and horrified when Ralph produces photos of Kamilla that he obtained online. They even go so far as to accuse him of cyberstalking her.

Why's Cisco so outraged? Didn't he do the exact same thing as Ralph at the beginning of the episode, when he was scrolling through Kamilla's online portfolio?

• Ralph plops his Book Of Ralph onto the desk, intent on teaching Cisco the art of love and dating. He says, "Chapter one: Initial Planning." Cisco replies, "Initial planning? It's a first date, Sun Tzu, not an incursion."

Turns out Cisco's little joke was eerily accurate. Ralph actually printed out Sun Tzu's The Art Of War, and simply crossed out his name at the top and scribbled in his own!

• For years now The Flash has been happening more or less in real time, as quite often a month on the show corresponds to thirty days in our world.

Tonight we learned the show's apparently happening live as well! Early in the episode Nora sits down to wait for Barry to return from the Speed Force. She glances nervously at the clock, which reads 8:07. I checked my phone and sure enough, this scene happened at exactly 8:07!

• Damn those photos in Iris' office! Without them, Cicada wouldn't have figured out who she was and who her friends are, and used her as bait.

Once Team Flash realized Cicada was killing them all over and over, you'd think Iris would have wised up and stuffed the photos in a drawer or something. That way Cicada wouldn't have been able to find out who her loved ones were, and no one would have died.

• Man, that was one clean rooftop where Cicada was holding Iris hostage! Look at that thing! It's spotless! You could eat off it. Remember this is an area that's exposed to the elements twenty four hours a day. Does the janitor of this building climb up to the roof and sweep and mop it every night?

• This week we get a really good look at the back of Cicada's duster. Has it always looked like that? I honestly can't say for sure. He usually only shows up at night and sticks to the shadows, so I don't think I've ever seen him from the back before.

• I guess Nora really is a lot slower than her Pops. Cicada perches on the rooftop and watches as she "speeds" toward the building. Thing is, he sees her coming for a good five seconds. That... that doesn't seem right. She's a speedster, for corn's sake! She can literally run so fast she can travel back in time. If anything, she should just suddenly appear in front of him without warning!

• So Cicada kills, er, Killer Frost with his dark matter dagger. Nora instantly springs into action and runs back into the past for a do-over.

It's patently obvious that actress Jessica Parker Kennedy is just running in place in front of a green screen here. And doing quite a poor job of it too, I might add. Grant Gustin, aka Barry, can usually pull it off, but he's had four extra seasons of practice.

Would it kill the production staff to buy a treadmill for these actors, so they actually look like they're really running and not awkwardly jogging in place? How much could that possibly set them back?

By the way, when Nora's "running," she speeds past a couple of kids with balloons (that magically un-pop themselves to illustrate that she's reversing time). What the hell are two unaccompanied eight year olds doing wandering the curiously deserted streets of Central City at 8:30 pm?

• Writing time travel stories that make sense is darned near impossible, as demonstrated by this episode. When Nora reverses time and finds herself back in STAR Labs, shouldn't she already be there? She'd have to be, right? 

Think about it— Nora gets Iris' alert around 8:30. So Nora 8:30 zooms out of STAR Labs and arrives on the rooftop at 8:35. Nora 8:35 then sees Cicada Murder Killer Frost. Nora 8:35 runs back in time five minutes to STAR Labs, where Nora 8:30 should be sitting in a chair!

From that point on there should be two of her!

Heck, you could probably argue that there might eventually be fifty three of her! Each time she runs into the past, she should find herself there before she left, lather, rinse, repeat.

Also, every time Nora returns to the past, she writes about her failed attempt in her journal. Note that these entries are cumulative— by the end of the episode there are fifty two entries. That's not right, is it? Shouldn't the journal reset itself along with time?

• After living through the same hour fifty two times, Nora should know exactly where Cicada is at any given second. So right before he captures Iris (or Ralph, or Cecile), why doesn't Nora just speed up behind him and clock him in the head? Problem solved!

That's the trouble with writing superhero stories. There're always dozens of ways around every problem.

Sigh... This week Cisco learns the most valuable lesson is to always be true to yourself. The same exact plot featured in every terrible kids' book ever written. 

What was the thinking here? Was he really planning on pretending to be a "Science Businessman" around Kamilla for the rest of their lives? This was just poor writing, plain and simple.

For the record, Cisco tries out three ridiculous personas before finally wising up and settling on his default personality. He starts out as the aforementioned "Science Businessman," whatever that means...

Then switches to Gym Rat, who drones on endlessly about his workouts...

And then some sort of Hipster Photographer. This one's especially stupid, since Kamilla is herself a professional photographer and should be able to see through his bullsh*t within seconds.

By the way, was that magnificent mane really Cisco's actual hair, or a wig? If it was real, then it was most impressive.

At the end of the episode he finally starts acting like a human and ends up winning over Kamilla.

• Welcome to Cecile's one and only appearance in this episode— as a very surprised-looking corpse! She didn't even get a line this week! I wonder how much Danielle Nicolet got paid for this five seconds' worth of work?

• Dammit, Nora! Are you changing the past again like your dad?

• When Team Flash asks Nora what the hell's going on, she tearfully tells them she's been trying to save them all from Cicada for the past hour, but no matter what she does, one of them always dies. Iris says they'll all just hole up in STAR Labs till the hour's up, and everything'll be fine. Nora says that won't work, because then Cicada will just turn to Cecile and kill her.

Sigh... I guess Nora forgot she's a speedster again, and could simply zoom out, grab Cecile and bring her back to STAR while Cicada's blinking.

• By the way, Nora tells Team Flash that she's tried fixing the past a whopping FIFTY TWO times. Shouldn't that much time meddling attract the attention of the Time Wraiths? Why, it's almost like they only show up when it's convenient to the plot, and ignore temporal shenanigans the rest of the time.

• Speaking of the number 52... If you're a fan of the various modern Star Trek series, you probably noticed the number 47 shows up over and over in virtually every episode. This custom was started by writer Joe Menosky, who attended Pomona College in California. The number 47 originated there as a campus superstition in 1964, and Menosky liked to slip it into his Trek scripts.

In a similar vein, the Arrowverse is riddled with instances of the number 52. This is a reference to The New 52 from several years back, in which DC Comics revamped their entire line, releasing fifty two books and paring down their multiverse to fifty two different Earths.

• In the third act, Cisco's embarrassed by his antics on his date with Kamilla. He and Nora then have the following conversation:

Cisco: "This, this intelligence and reconnaissance mess, I don't need this. All I need is to be myself. Duh! And I sure as hell don't need to dress up like Ozone just to impress Kamilla. Sorry, that is an outdated reference."
Nora: "No, from the movie Breakin.' Yeah, I've seen Electric Boogaloo too. I've seen them both, like, a hundred times. I know every move."
Cisco: "Wow, fangirl!"

The Ozone character they're referencing was played by break dancin' superstar Shabba Doo, aka Adolfo Quinones. Because knowing is half the battle!

• In order to defeat Cicada and save all their lives, Team Flash has Nora write out all fifty two of her previous attempts on their hard to read transparent board.

For some reason, she writes down everything in the special "time language" she invented, and then translates it all into English. 

I can't think of any good reason as to why she'd spell out everything twice. In fact her bone-headed decision here will turn out to be her downfall, as it gave Sherloque enough info to finally be able to translate her journal.

• Team Flash cooks up a convoluted plan in which Cisco, Killer Frost and Ralph all attack Cicada at the same time. Oddly enough nothing ever comes of this combined barrage, as Nora ends up going back in time to before they arrived, and simply shoves Cicada into the path of his dagger that he threw a few seconds earlier.

Couldn't she have done that without the help of the other three? I'm confused again.

• Cicada's seriously wounded by his own dagger and falls to his knees for a few seconds, wailing in agony. Note that once again, Team Flash just stands motionless watching him, instead of making any attempt at capturing him. Of course he manages to summon the strength to super-jump away. Well done, guys!

• Last week Nora steered Sherloque's attention away from her journal by introducing him to Renee Adler. At the end of the episode he decided to devote all his time to protecting Renee, who he suspected was a meta, from Cicada.

Annnnnd this week he's right back to translating the journal again. So what the hell was the point of the meet cute with Renee? Did someone mix up the order of these two episodes? Or did the writers forget what they wrote last week?

• At the end of the episode, Barry's shocked when he finds out Nora altered the past fifty two times in an effort to save everyone. He then lectures her on the dangers of time travel and altering the past. Barry does this. Barry Allen, the guy who's torn the timeline a new asshole on more occasions than anyone can count. That Barry Allen schools his daughter.

Anyway, as I was saying, Barry lectures Nora about the dangers of time travel by breaking a coffee mug.

Note that Barry's speech is almost word for word the same as the one Jay Garrick gave him back in the Season 3 episode Paradox. In that episode, Jay broke a coffee mug to illustrate how it's impossible to completely restore the timeline, just like Barry did to Nora this week.

Here's the text of Jay's speech to Barry:

Jay: "But the thing is, there are consequences to time travel."

Barry: "I have heard all of this before."
Jay: "Not from me you haven't. I'm not some doctor with a theory, Barry. I'm a speedster, like you, who's traveled in time, and made these same mistakes you are making right now.
Here, let me show you something."
Barry: "Okay, you know what?"
Jay: "Humor me, kid. This coffee cup right here."
Barry: "All right, yeah."
Jay: "Think of it as the space-time continuum. Whenever you go back in time it breaks."
Barry: (shocked that he's damaging the diner's crockery) "For real? I mean..."
Jay: "Now you can reset the timeline, you can try to fix it, but no matter how hard you try it's never gonna be exactly how it was."
Barry: "Look, I've learned all this stuff that I didn't know before, okay? I'm not gonna make the same..."
Jay: "Mistakes. Yeah, what you just said right there? That is the paradox of time travel, and also the paradox of life. I mean, if I only knew then what I know now."
Barry: "Why have these powers if I can't go back and fix what I broke?"
Jay: "We're not gods, we're men, who, for whatever reason, have been given extraordinary abilities."

And here's the text of Barry's speech to Nora:

Barry: "Fifty two times?"
Nora: "Fifty three, if you include now."
Barry: "That's a lot."
Nora: "What was I supposed to do, let one of them die?"
Barry: "The thing is, Nora, there are consequences to time travel."
Nora: "Oh, I know."
Barry: "No, you don't, not like I do. Let me show you something. Imagine this coffee cup is the space/time continuum. Whenever you go back in time, it breaks. Now, you can try and reset the timeline, try and fix it, but no matter how hard you try, it's never gonna be exactly how it was. It seems like things worked out this time, but that's not always gonna be true, and it's impossible to know how these changes are gonna unfold, the ripples you'll cause, whose life you're gonna affect. No one can do that."
Nora: "No one?"
Barry: "No one. We're not gods, Nora. We've just been given extraordinary abilities."

• In the tag scene, Nora returns to 2049 and tells Thawne she's worried that her time-meddling is making things worse. He flies into a rage and tells her he's the one who does the thinking around here and to stick to the goddamned plan.

Obviously Thawne's so pissed because Nora is constantly pestering him. Think about it— a few weeks ago we saw that he most likely has less than an hour to live before he's executed. 

For Nora, days or even weeks are passing between her visits to Thawne in the future. 

But from his point of view, she's showing up every ten seconds with some stupid question. He no more answers one question and sends her on her way before she pops right back in a few seconds later with another. No wonder he blew his top!

This Week's Best Lines:
Barry: "We have to wait how long before we can use the meta-human cure?"

Cisco: "Not even that long."
Iris: "Cisco."
Cisco: "It's gonna go by like that."
Iris: "Cisco"
Cisco: "Twenty nine days."
Nora: "A month?"
Cisco: I know, right? Just one, teeny, tiny, month until we stop Cicada's purge. You know, historically speaking, this is way faster than we've ever stopped a big bad so..."

(Ralph breaks out his book on dating, much to Cisco's horror. He looks around the room for help.)

Cisco: "Um, Caitlin?"
Caitlin: "I've gotta finish working on the device to inject the cure."
Sherloque: "Also I have to inject the device for the cure."

Nora: "You cyber-stalked Kamilla?"

Ralph: "No, no, no, no, of course not. That's her public profile. But it did happen to have some info on the types of guys that she might be into."
Cisco: "The types of guys that she's into?"
Ralph: "Yes, and, unfortunately, you are nothing like them, but hey, if you don't wanna get a second date, be my guest. Just don't come crying to me when everything inevitably goes horribly, horribly wrong and you die alone. No big deal."

Cicada: (said multiple times throughout the episode) "Told ya."

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