Wednesday, March 20, 2019

The Flash Season 5, Episode 16: Failure Is An Orphan

This week on The Flash, the interminable Cicada storyline finally comes to a head. Well, sort of. But not really. 

See, for months now, many fans (including myself) have been whining about the fact that the Cicada arc has been dragged out for far too long. So this week the writers finally wrap things up, as Team Flash convinces Orlin Dwyer to take the meta cure. Annnnnnnd then they immediately introduce a brand NEW Cicada at the end of the episode! What the hell?

Apparently our complaints angered the show's writers so much they declared a vendetta on the viewers! Have a heart, guys! We didn't mean it!

A few weeks ago in Memorabilia, we found out that Orlin Dwyer's niece Grace Gibbons was in a coma because there was a chunk of dark matter embedded in her skull. Much like the one in her uncle's chest. We also found out that despite her coma, Grace was conscious of what was going on and being said around her.

At the time I theorized that the dark matter had formed a connection between Grace and Orlin. This allowed her to control her uncle and force him to kill all metas in order to avenge her parents' death. This would explain Cicada's cartoonish motivation, as Grace was using the simplistic logic of a child to fuel his rampages.

Having Grace turn out to be the true mastermind behind Cicada would have been a brilliant twist. Alas, it wasn't to be, as that theory was far too interesting to be right. 

Instead, Orlin Dwyer acted of his own accord, and wasn't even aware that Grace was a meta too until Barry told him! And how that he's no longer Cicada, Grace has apparently come from the future to carry on his work. Or something. Meh. I liked my idea better.

If that wasn't enough, the writers completely botched the big reveal that Grace is Cicada 2.0 by actually debuting her four episodes ago in Memorabilia. But more on that below.

I can't help but think a big plot twist like this would have been more effective if it'd come at the mid-season break, and not four fifths of the way through the season.

Ralph's AWOL again, for the second week in a row. More and more I'm convinced that there's some budgetary thing going on with this show, and they can only afford to feature a set number of actors each week. Cecile's gonna be in this episode? Welp, then Ralph will have to sit out this week. It happens with far too much regularity to be anything but deliberate.


The Plot:
Nora returns to 2049 to pester Eobard Thawne again. She tells him that Team Flash has developed the meta-cure, and plans to use it on Cicada. Thawne says he knows the timeline inside & out, and something's changed regarding Cicada's fate. 

He shows Nora a photo of the Flash's final confrontation with Cicada, in an alley with a conspicuous puddle of green liquid on the ground. He says a new timeline's struggling to change this event. Nora asked if she screwed up the timeline again, but Thawne says it wasn't her—someone else has done it. Someone major.

At STAR Labs in the present, Barry & Iris plan a surprise for Nora, who'll likely be permanently returning to her own time soon. They enter the Cortex, where Nora's barking orders to everyone, trying to deal with Cicada. She says time's running out, and they need to deal with Cicada soon.

Barry insists they give Orlin Dwyer (aka Cicada) a chance to decide if he wants the meta cure, rather than force it on him. Nora asks if he's figured out what he's going to say to Orlin. Barry says he's got a few rough ideas, but Nora says that's not good enough and begins drilling the team some more. Iris hurriedly says there's an emergency at Jitters (?) so they can get Nora the hell out of there.

At CCPD, Joe settles back into his job. He's been studying the Cicada case, and noticed that Dr. Ambres treated both Orilin and his neice Grace Gibbons. He also notes that the hospital in which she works has reported various drugs missing, and he suspects she's been helping Orlin and patching him up. Damn, Joe! You figured out in fifteen minutes something that Team Flash still hasn't realized. Joe wants to question Ambres, and Cecile says she'll come with, so she can use her telepathic powers that were supposed to disappear after her pregnancy.

At Jitters, Barry & Iris reveal to Nora that she now has her own drink, named after her XS persona. They also have a huge bucket list of things they want to do with her before she goes back to the future. Suddenly they get a meta alert, and Barry & Nora speed to Central City University. There they spot a man named Philip Master, who's guzzling hydrochloric acid in the chem lab.

Master sees them and fires a stream of concentrated acid at them from his hands. They zip out of the way, as the stream burns a hole in the wall. He then burns through the floor and escapes. Nora sees a puddle of acid on the floor, and realizes it's similar to the one in Thawne's photo.

Back at STAR, Nora tells the gang that today's the day the Flash beats Cicada. When they ask how she could possibly know this, she lies and says she saw a photo in the Flash Museum of Barry fighting Cicada, with a green puddle of acid nearby. Sherloque gives her the stink eye, clearly not believing her whole story. She reminds them again that this is their last chance to defeat him before the Flash is scheduled to disappear, so they have to get it right.

Joe & Cecile question Dr. Ambres, who claims she doesn't know where Orlin went, or why there are drugs missing. Cecile senses she's lying and signals Joe. He lets Ambres go, and Cecile asks why he didn't arrest her. Quite rightly, Joe points out they have no actual evidence, plus he'd rather trust his gut than ESP. This angers Cecile, who stomps off in a huff.

At STAR, Nora goes through her journal and cites examples of the many Patented The CW Pep Talks™ that Barry's given to various villains over the years. Wow, she gives him a Pep Talk about his Pep Talks! It's like Inception, except not good! Barry says Cicada's different from all his previous foes, and may not be so easily swayed.

Meanwhile, Sherloque continues translating Nora's journal. Cisco & Caitlin enter and ask if he'll be glad to return to his own Earth after Cicada's dealt with. He says there's still more to do, which Cisco interprets as "pursuing the Earth-1 version of Renee Adler."

Sometime later, Cicada's chasing Philip Master, aka "Acid Master," through the alleys of Central City. Just as Cicada's about to strike, Acid Master turns and reveals he's actually Killer Frost in disguise. Cicada throws his dagger at her, but she freezes it to the wall with an ice blast. She breaches away just as the Flash zooms to the scene. He tells Cicada he doesn't want to fight, and that they have a way to cure metahumans. The Flash tells Cicada he's asking him nicely to take the cure.

Cicada growls, "Now why would I want to do that?" The Flash says it's all about his legacy, and not being remembered as a monster. Cicada says he doesn't care about his legacy, as he summons his dagger and flies off. Welp, that didn't work!

Back at STAR, Team Flash can't find any trace of Cicada. Barry blames himself for blowing the encounter, but Nora says they just have to find Cicada and try again.

Barry goes to his office at CCPD (he still works there?) and mopes. Joe enters and asks what's wrong. Barry tells him he tried and failed to convince Cicada to take the cure. Joe says the Flash represents everything that Orlin Dwyer hates— so maybe he should ask him as plain old Barry Allen. Hey look, another Patented The CW Pep Talk!™

Meanwhile, Iris tries to get Nora to go with her to Jitters again and chill. When Nora quite rightly points out that she's trying to deal with the whole Cicada business, Iris gets all weepy. She says Nora will be leaving soon, and she won't see her like this again for "decades." She runs off to sulk.

Back at CCPD, Joe approaches Cecile and apologizes. He tells her he has Dr. Ambres in the interrogation room, and says he'd be happy if she'd agree to be his partner again. Cecile accepts, and they begin grilling Ambres. Joe says he knows she stole drugs from the hospital, which she of course denies. Joe bluffs by saying they have security footage of her doing so. Cecile reads Ambres' mind, and says they know she has a grudge against metas, because her fiance was killed by one. She asks Ambres to help them help Orlin Dwyer. Eventually they get her to agree.

Ambres then drops a bombshell, telling them that Grace is a meta too. When Joe asks why she kept this a secret, Ambres says Orlin wants to kill all metas, and was afraid he'd murder Grace as well if he found out.

Back at STAR, Nora apologizes to Iris for concentrating on Cicada instead of spending time with her parents in the past. Jesus, is this really a priority right now? Anyway, Barry overhears as they hug it out, and he realizes Joe was right, and he needs to appeal to Cicada as a father.

Orlin enters his workshop, and the Flash appears behind him. When Orlin asks how he found him, the Flash says Dr. Ambres told him. He says Ambres also revealed that Grace is a meta too, and asks if she deserves to die like all the others. Orlin, vibrating with rage, slams his dagger into the wall next to Flash's head. He growls that he'd never hurt Grace.

Flash says he can cure both Orlin and Grace, if he'll only let them. Orlin asks why he should believe him, and Barry pulls off his mask, revealing his true identity. He says he's a father too (well, he will be in a few years) and would do anything to save his daughter. He says he knows that Orlin would do the same.

Cut to STAR Labs, where Barry zooms Orlin into the Cortex. When Team Flash ask what the hell's going on, Barry says Orlin insists they give the cure to him first, then to Grace. Orlin demands to know why Barry brought him to STAR and not the hospital. 
Caitlin says once they cure him, his dark matter wound will start bleeding out and she'll have to stitch him up. He demands that Dr. Ambres tend to his wound, or the deal's off. 

Barry zooms Ambres to STAR Labs, where she and Caitlin prep the operating room. Orlin lies down, and Caitlin knocks him out and injects him with the meta cure. He begins convulsing violently, as his dark matter dagger glows ominously. Finally it fades, and his convulsions stop. Orlin Dwyer's now powerless!

In the lounge, Sherloque asks Nora how she knew about the acid puddle in the photo earlier. She fumbles an explanation, but she's interrupted by the appearance of Cicada! GASP! A thin, very willowy Cicada, I might add.

In the operating room, Dr. Ambres stitches up Orlin's chest. Suddenly the power goes out, preventing her from seeing. Cicada enters the room and fires energy blasts at Nora and Cecile, pinning them against the wall. Sherloque triggers the alarm.

In the operating room, Caitlin transforms into Killer Frost and freezes Orlin's wound shut. Cicada enters, and Cisco and Killer frost fire away at him. Iris even gets in the act, shooting her blaster at him. Cicada draws twin blades from his cloak and uses them to deflect the various blasts. 

Instead of just grabbing the blades from Cicada at superspeed, Barry runs around him several hundred times to generate Speed-Force lightning. He hurls the lightning at Cicada, but once again it's easily deflected. Cicada uses his energy blasts to pin Barry, Cisco and Killer Frost to the walls. He destroys the Cortex and walks out.

Meanwhile Dr. Ambres is impatiently pushing the elevator button, attempting to wheel Orlin out of STAR and get him to safety. Cicada approaches her, and the puzzled Dr. Ambres grabs Orlin's dark matter dagger and brandishes it at the villain. She says she was just trying to save Orlin. Cicada reaches out and the dagger's ripped from Ambres' hands, slicing them up. Cicada stabs Ambres with the dagger, killing her. He then makes his exit.

The energy bonds fade, releasing Team Flash. Cisco restores the power, and they find Dr. Ambres' lifeless body. Barry speed-searches the place and says there's no trace of Orlin or Cicada. Someone says if Orlin's been de-powered and Cicada no longer exists, then who just attacked them? Sherloque says, "Someone worse." Yeah, no sh*t, Sherloque! Hey, I finally got to use that joke!

Cut to a cabin in the woods, where Cicada lays Orin down to rest. Orlin comes to, and Cicada says he's missed him. He removes his mask and hood, to reveal he's actually an adult Grace. GASP! Yeah, we figured that out a long time ago, The Flash writers.


• Whatever Eobard Thawne's planning, he'd better hurry up and do it...

According to the timer outside his cell, he's only got eighteen minutes left! It's never been stated in any episode yet, but I'm 100% sure this is a countdown to his execution. What else would a timer outside a convicted murderer's cell be doing?

I noted this a few weeks back, but it's worth a repeat— this whole "Getting Nora To Help Him Manipulate The Past" thing must be incredibly frustrating and annoying for Thawne. From her point of view she travels to 2049 once a week or so to see his advice. But from his perspective, she appears every ten seconds! As soon as he gives her an order, she zooms to the past, then reappears almost instantly. He's probably ready to sit in the electric chair by now!

• In his cell, Thawne uses a fancy futuristic computer to comb through the timeline, looking for anomalies. Several things here:

First of all, why would anyone let a convicted felon like Thawne have access to a device like this?

Secondly, after scanning the past, Thawne says, "The timeline. I've charted this timeline from Anthro the First Boy to Kamandi the Last. I know all of it. I know its crests, I know its valleys, I know what we must do to defeat Cicada. Or rather, I knew."

Wow! I never in a million years expected this show to reference obscure characters like Anthro and Kamandi!

Anthro was created by Howard Post in 1968, and has his own short-lived comic book series. As you might imagine, Anthro, a member of the Bear Tribe, lived in prehistoric times and battled mammoths and other ancient threats. Oddly enough, Anthro was described as the first Cro-Magnon in history, but his father was a Neanderthal. Um... I don't think it worked like that, but let's just move on.

Kamandi was created in 1972 by Jack Kirby, and starred in his own book, Kamandi, The Last Boy On Earth. He lived in a post-apocalyptic future, in which few humans survived and animals became intelligent and gained the ability to speak.

Lastly, it looks like Thawne's computer is set to display the "time language" that Nora claims to have invented. So now the question is, did she really do so, or is she lying and Thawne actually came up with it? I know which answer I'm going with.

• Hey, look! Thawne's time display glitches just like my TV when I'm trying to watch The Flash on my local The CW station!

Remember ten or fifteen years ago when the government kept telling us all how great it would be when we converted to Digital TV? They said the picture would be sharper, the sound clearer, the sky would be bluer and food would taste fresher.

In reality, the picture on my TV stutters and locks up every time a car drives past my house. That's right, my reception is interrupted by goddamned cars.

• In the Cortex, Nora's acting like a drill sergeant, barking orders at the others and telling them they need to find Cicada stat

Note the message written on the clear board as Sherloque bangs his head against it. Why's it have "Who Is Cicada?" written on it? Pretty sure we solved that mystery sometime last year! Is this an old message that never got erased?

• Normally whenever Barry or Nora exit a scene, they're surrounded by Speed Force energy as they zip out of the room in the blink of an eye. Not so in this episode, as it uses a ton of speedster "shortcuts." Over and over, we just see a shot of Iris or Cisco as a bright light shines in the their faces, accompanied by a whooshing sound to represent the speedsters' exit.

I assume the budget was running low for this episode, so they did this to save money on costly and time-consuming FX?

• Over on The Walking Dead, any time a minor character suddenly gets a backstory, it inevitably means they're going to die in that episode. It happens over and over on that show.

Looks like The Flash took a page from The Walking Dead's playbook this week. Dr. Ambres finally gets fleshed out a bit this week as she gains a first name, birth date and address. Right on schedule, she's killed off at the end of the third act!

Also, according to Cecile, Dr. Vanessa Ambres was born and raised in Central City and got her MD from McNider University.

I'm assuming that school was named after Charles McNider, aka Dr. Mid-Nite, a member of the Justice Society Of America in the comics. 

I always like Dr. Mid-Nite's costume, even though his "powers" were less than impressive. He had the amazing ability to see in the dark (!). Oh, and he had "blackout bombs" he'd throw at villains. That's it!

Dr. Mid-Nite actually a brief appearance in the Arrowverse a few years ago. He popped up a couple of times on Legends Of Tomorrow, in the Season 2 episode The Justice Society Of America. I wasn't impressed with this version, and the less said about him the better.

• By the way, I love the fact that Joe's been back at CCPD for fifteen minutes, and figured out that Dr. Ambres has secretly helping patch up Orlin Dwyer all this time. Ambres has been around all season, and NO ONE on Team Flash even noticed her!

• There are at least four Patented The CW Pep Talks™ in this episode. That's four too many, in my opinion.

• During one of the Patented The CW Pep Talks™, Nora tells Barry, "One of the biggest things history remembers about the Flash is your ability to change people's hearts and minds, especially your enemies, and I have dozens of entries about those times."

I find that hard to believe. Other than inspiring a drink named after him at Jitters, when has the Flash ever done anything that would fill the general public's hearts with hope? Has he ever made any kind of public announcement? They likely never even see him, since he's usually zooming by so fast . Barry must have a hell of a PR agent that we don't know about.

Also, after Nora tells Barry she has a record of many of his inspirational speeches in her journal, he asks her, "Any chance you've got the future words I say to Cicada in there?" Nora says, "Nope, but I have your past words."

Um... you're from the FUTURE, Nora! They're ALL his PAST words from your point of view! Sheesh!

• The Meta Of The Week in this episode (besides the Cicadas) was... Acid Master. While his name might leave something to be desired, he did have a fairly formidable ability— namely the power to shoot jets of highly corrosive acid out of his hands.

Believe it or not, Acid Master is actually another obscure character from the comics, where his name really was Philip Master. He first appeared in Action Comics #384 back in 1967. His comic backstory was completely different though, as there he was an American turned communist spy, who used his knowledge of chemistry to concoct various acid-based weapons.

• At one point, Cicada's chasing Acid Master down an alley, intent on killing him. In a panic, the terrified meta runs off screen. Cicada catches up to him a second later and prepares to strike, but suddenly Acid Master's somehow transformed into Killer Frost, who freezes his dagger to the side of a building (?). We then see Acid Master inside the STAR Labs Secret Super Jail (???). 

What the hell is going on here!??!?!?

It all makes perfect sense if you pay really close attention. Right after Acid Master runs off the left-hand side of the screen, you can see a dim flash of light and hear a faint "whooshing" sound. That's the moment that Killer Frost, disguised as Acid Master, breached to the scene. The "whoosh" sound was Barry grabbing Philip Masters and zooming him back to STAR.

I admit I had to watch this scene a couple of times to figure out just what happened. It's subtle (maybe a bit too subtle), but the explanation's all there.

• Barry tries to reason with Cicada, who of course doesn't listen. He knocks Barry a couple hundred feet in the air, causing him to crash-land on top of a car. As Cicada moves in to finish him off, Killer Frost appears and fires an ice blast at him. Cicada instantly flies off, and the ice blast just misses him.

I want to know what happened to her errant ice blast! How many innocent people did it freeze solid as it sailed merrily through the air?

• This is something I've brought up many, many times before in my reviews, but this week I have video evidence. Whenever Barry inevitably decides to reveal his true identity to someone, we never actually SEE him remove his mask.

Instead he'll reach up and grab the sides of his mask with both hands and then bend forward. The camera then ALWAYS cuts to someone watching him intently. When it cuts back to Barry, his mask is off as he raises back up.  This same sequence of events happens EVERY time he removes the mask.

I'm assuming they film it this way because his mask is so tight he likely needs a team of wranglers to help pull it off his head. Heck, it may even be glued down to his face! And once they do get it off, his hair's likely all sweaty and stuck to his forehead. No doubt a gaggle of hairdressers then have to swoop in to dry his hair and puff it up to its normal magnificent height.

I am 100% convinced this is why we never see him remove the mask in one fluid motion!

• Welp, I can honestly say I never expected Team Flash to beat Cicada like this— in an operating room as he willingly undergoes a medical procedure! I kinda figured he'd go out in blaze of glory during a final battle with Barry and the others.

• As Orlin's taking the cure, Joe stands by and says, "Well, I'm glad it worked out, but when this is over, he's going to jail, for a long time."

Riiiiiiiight, Joe. We all know that'll never happen on this show. Criminals get away with murder with shocking regularity.

My favorite instance of this was in the Season 3 finale Finish Line. In that episode, Team Flash tries to convince Savitar, an evil future version of Barry, into becoming a good guy. When he reminds them that he's a mass murderer, Iris says, "And you are going to have to live with that. But we won't give up on you, okay? That is not what we do." Really? That's it? Just living with it? What about, oh, I don't know, throwing his ass in prison for the rest of his life for first degree murder?

• Orlin voluntarily takes the meta cure and loses his powers. Seconds later, Cicada barges into STAR Labs and attacks Team Flash. WHAAA...???

Obviously we're meant to think that Cicada's somehow returned seconds after he was cured. Unfortunately this "shocking" twist falls flat on its face, as Cicada is CLEARLY a woman in this scene. She's built like a woman, moves like a woman and has the body language of a woman. It's so ridiculously obvious that it's almost endearing. Like a parent pretending to be surprised by their child's clumsy attempt at a magic trick.

• When Cicada 2.0 inches toward Dr. Ambres, she picks up Orlin's dark matter dagger to defend herself. Cicada 2.0 reaches out and summons the dagger to her, ripping it from Ambres' hands and slashing her palms.

It's probably just as well that Dr. Ambres died in this episode, as this incident would have turned her into a meta— the thing she hates most in the world. Isn't that how it works? If dark matter enters your body in any way (like through a sliced palm) you become a metahuman, right?

 To absolutely no one's surprise, CIcada 2.0 turns out to be a future version of Grace Gibbons, Orlin Dwyer's niece. Oh my god, I'm so shocked and stunned by this unexpected turn of events. 

The second Cicada 2.0 showed up in this episode, it was massively obvious that not only was there a woman inside the costume, but that it was Grace Gibbons. In fact I'm puzzled as to why they were trying to hide Grace's identity here, since we already saw her as Cicada a few weeks ago in Memorabilia

Just think how shocking this twist would have been if they hadn't telegraphed it to us four episodes back. We'd have all been picking our jaws up off the floor. So why do it? Why foreshadow such a major twist so far in advance? Why not just spring it on us without any fanfare? I honestly don't understand the writers' thinking here.

 It was lucky for Cicada 2.0 that Orlin insisted on taking the meta cure first. If they'd given it to Grace and then Orlin, this whole sorry plotline would have finally ended here and now.

 Since Grace took Orin with her at the end of the episode, I'm assuming she came back in time to rescue him from Team Flash. So let me get this straight... she has the ability to time travel to any point in the past. But she chooses to appear ten seconds after her uncle's metahuman powers have been deleted. Got it.

Why the hell wouldn't she appear five minutes earlier to "save" him? Why wait until after he takes the cure? Can she not time travel very accurately?

This Week's Best Lines:
Eh, not very many this week.

(Barry intends to try and talk Orlin Dwyer into taking the meta cure.)

Nora: "Are you ready? This is gonna be one of the biggest challenges of your career as a hero. Do you know what you're going to say?"
Barry: "Oh, yeah, you know, yeah. I've I've got some.... loose thoughts."
Sherloque: "Oh, great. Well, that instills all of us with confidence, right? Loose thoughts?"

Cisco: "And I am going to start working on facial rec for this Acid Master. Yup, that's what I'm going with. Always trust your gut, kids."

Cisco: "You know, I have a bit of experience with these, uh, long-distance relationships. I got one word for you: holo-cube. These things work wonders."
Sherloque: "And I request that you stop speaking.... possibly forever."

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