Sunday, October 13, 2019

The Flash Season 6, Episode 1: Into The Void

It's the Season 6 premiere of The Flash!

Wow, six whole years! Hard to believe, isn't it? Seems like just yesterday I was watching the Pilot episode for the first time. And deciding whether or not I wanted to start reviewing it. And here I am, 116 episodes later (!), still plugging away!

The Flash has never been my favorite show (sorry, Grant & co!) that title would probably go to The Orville right now but I've always liked it. It's like the Energizer Bunny of the Arrowverse it's reliable, for want of a better word, as it just keeps plugging away week after week.

That said, the show's always had a problem with consistency. Some seasons have been top notch, while others have been... well, clunkers. Season 5 in particular was VERY uneven, what with its frustrating Cicada arc that just. would. not. end. The final half of the season was honestly a chore to slog through.

So imagine my surprise when this Season 6 premiere was actually entertaining and enjoyable. It was fast paced, well-written and cohesive, and for the first time in a long time I didn't feel the urge to throw something at my screen. It definitely felt like a return to form.

There's a reason for this change— there's been a shakeup behind the scenes. After two seasons, showrunner Todd Helbing has left the series. He's been replaced by Eric Wallace, who's been with The Flash since Season 4, and has taken over the showrunner position.

It's far too early to start celebrating yet, but so far I like what I see of his, er, showrunning. Keep up the good work, Eric, so I don't have to buy a new TV after a throw a shoe through it!


The Plot:
Barry & Iris are at STAR Labs when they detect a power surge coming from the Time Vault. They race to the vault, where they find the message from their future daughter Nora (who was erased from existence in the Season 5 finale) playing over and over. Suddenly the Time Vault shorts out.

We then flash forward four months for some reason.

Cisco's brought his new gal pal Kamilla to STAR Labs. As he shows her around, the Meta Alert goes off, indicating Godspeed's back in town. Barry pursues and easily catches Godspeed. He whips off the villain's mask and asks who he is. Godspeed answers with a stream of modem noise. Cisco says this is the fourth Godspeed they've captured recently, and none of them are August Hart, the real one.

Later Team Flash enjoys a cookout at the West house. Barry asks Cisco if he's completed the MAC, aka the Mental Augmentation Chamber, which will help him tie his brain into the Speed Force and "think faster." Comic Book Science! 

Joe asks Barry & Iris how they're handling Nora's erasure. They say they're saddened by her loss, but know they'll see her again soon when she's actually born. Yeah, shouldn't they be working on that? Iris asks Joe what he did with the boxes he cleaned out of the garage. When he says he threw them out, Iris looks stricken and excuses herself.

Meanwhile, Caitlin attends the funeral of Dr. Rachel Rosso, a "close friend and mentor" who's been retconned into her life. Her son Ramsey Rosso delivers a touching eulogy, in which he says his mother inspired him to never let pain deter him from his goals. Afterward he thanks Caitlin for coming, and asks her out for coffee. Jesus, dude, it's bad form to hit on women at your mom's funeral! Killer Frost suddenly manifests herself for a second, causing Caitlin to excuse herself.

Later that night, Iris goes to the junkyard to try & find the boxes Joe threw out. The place is amazingly well-organized, as the manager leads her right to the relevant pile of trash. She opens one of the boxes and retrieves her purple and white jacket— the one that Nora will someday use as her costume. Suddenly a black hole opens up in the junkyard, and sucks the jacket into it before disappearing. Well that was bizarre.

Back at STAR, Team Flash tries to figure out what caused the black hole. Ralph returns from Opal City, where he's been working on a missing person case. Iris goes to CCPD, where she asks Joe for records on robberies at junkyards (?).

Caitlin meets Ramsey at Jitters (of course). He says he watched his mother suffer and die from cancer, and calls her a coward for not fighting for her life (!). He says he's come up with a potential cure for her disease, but all he needs is a small sample of dark matter to make it work. Caitlin realizes he only asked her out because she has access to dark matter. She tells him to get lost and he storms off.

Suddenly another black hole opens out outside Jitters. It starts pulling Caitlin in, and she calls for Killer Frost to save her. Her alter ego refuses to show up, and just as Caitlin's almost sucked into the singularity, she's rescued by the Flash. The black hole disappears again.

At STAR, Cisco says the black hole is growing, and next time it appears it could swallow the entire city. Iris enters and says she knows how the black hole started. She produces a video made by a scientist named Chester P. Runk, who built a gravitational wave emitter out of junk he scavenged from various scrap yards. He turns on his contraption, and inadvertently creates a miniature black hole. He foolishly tries to touch it, causing the video to glitch and cut off.

Caitlin tells Ralph she can't get Killer Frost to manifest herself. She says she thinks Frost is afraid of dying.

Ramsey stands over his mother's grave, as an arms dealer approaches him. He gives him a case containing a high-tech blaster.

Iris and Cecile go to the hospital, where they pay a visit to Chester. The normally chatty scientist been in a catatonic state since he was brought in, unable or unwilling to respond to anything or anyone. Iris notices him tapping his finger, and realizes the rhythm is in sync with the pulsing of the black hole.

Back at STAR, Cisco shows Barry a stellar grenade he's invented to destroy the black hole. Next time it appears, all Barry has to do is toss it into the event horizon. Iris bursts in and says that if they destroy it, they'll kill their new best friend Chester, who none of them have ever actually met. She's made the incredibly intuitive leap that Chester is connected to the black hole somehow. Cisco studies Chester's brainwaves somehow, and sure enough Iris is right. Part of Chester's consciousness is inside the black hole.

Cisco says he can't think of any way to separate Chester from the singularity, and the grenade may be the only option. Barry flips a table and says he's not about to lose anyone else, and there has to be another answer.

Ralph then fakes an emergency to trick Killer Frost into coming out, and says they need to talk. She tells him she's not afraid of dying, but he says he thinks she's afraid of living. Oooh, that's deep, man. Ralph, who's apparently now a psychologist, says he thinks Frost is upset because she's never got the chance to "live her best life." Frost agrees, saying she comes out to deal with the bad guys and then gets put back in her "cage." She says Caitlin will never let her have a life of her own, and Ralph says there's one way to find out.

Barry & Iris then discuss how much they miss Nora. Iris admits she went to the junkyard for the jacket, because Nora will need it someday when she becomes XS.

Just then the black hole opens again, this time over downtown Central City and bigger than ever. Barry says the Speed Force should protect him if he enters the black hole, but doesn't know how to absorb Chester's consciousness. Cisco says they'd need a superconductive wire from a quantum computer to do so, but no such device exists in the present. Iris says they could use Nora's futuristic "back up" gauntlet (?), that should have disappeared when she was erased but didn't for story purposes. Cisco says he'll get on it and cannibalize the gauntlet.

Ralph and Frost head downtown to save people from being sucked into the black hole. At some point while we weren't looking, Team Flash somehow transferred Chester from the hospital to STAR Labs, where Cisco places him in the MAC Chamber. Barry appears in a brand new suit (???), which contains Nora's superconducting wire. He leaps into the black hole and disappears. After a tense few moments he emerges with Chester's glowing consciousness.

Barry returns to STAR  and places Chester's mind back in his head. He wakes and asks where he is. His eyes glow with an unearthly energy though, which I'm sure will end up causing problems somehow later in the season.

Caitlin tells Frost she never let her "drive" their body before because she didn't think she wanted to. She says she owes it to her to let her live her life, and lets Frost take over for a while. Frost says she doesn't know how to start living, and Ralph says he'll be her life coach. He says the first thing they need to do is come up with a friendlier name than "Killer Frost."

Meanwhile, Ramsey pulls a sample of dark matter from the blaster, and uses it to energize his cure. He injects himself with it (does he have cancer too?) to prove it works. Unfortunately his skin erupts as he screams in pain and becomes this season's Big Bad.

Barry take Iris into the Time Vault, where he shows her the purple & white jacket, explaining that he pulled it out of the black hole while he was kicking around looking for Chester's consciousness. So... it wasn't crushed to atoms, I guess? 

Suddenly The Monitor appears inside the Time Vault. He tells them there's a Crisis coming, one he can't avoid. When Iris says that won't happen for five years, The Monitor says the timeline's been altered, and Barry will die on December 10, 2019. Barry says there must be another way, but The Monitor replies that in order for billions to survive, the Flash must die.

• Fans were abuzz last season when it was announced that Godspeed— a newer villain from the comics— would appear on the show. Most anticipated an epic battle between the Flash and Godspeed, and even hoped he might get a multi-episode story arc. Unfortunately, he appeared for a few brief seconds in the episode Godspeed, before being taken out like a chump.

It was a sad and puzzling waste of a visually interesting character.

Ah, but what's this? Godspeed popped up again in the opening minutes of this episode! When I saw him I thought, "Hey, maybe they're actually gonna redeem themselves and give us a proper Godspeed episode!" 

Nope! They completely wasted him again, as we find out he's a robot or a clone, and this is the fourth different Godspeed that Barry's easily defeated during the summer break. 

Maybe they're leading up to something here and I shouldn't be so quick to judge, but so far it feels like they're botching the character again.

• During his brief battle with Godspeed, Barry makes a supersonic U-turn up the side of an office building, shattering nearly every window in thee place as he does so. That seemed... reckless and unnecessary.

Who pays for damages like this? Is Barry gonna sell some more STAR Labs stock to pay for new windows? Or does the owner of the building stuck with the bill? No doubt the insurance premiums in Central City are sky high!

• Cisco's apparently invited his new gal pal Kamilla to STAR Labs to watch him work. A couple things here.

First of all, at the end of last season Cisco finally confessed to Kamilla that he was secretly Vibe. Amazingly she was fine with this, as she said she understood the need for a superhero to keep his public and private lives separate.

Bringing her into STAR doesn't seem very separate.

Secondly, during the battle with Godspeed, Kamilla yells, "Kick his butt, Barry!" Jesus Christ, now Kamila knows he's the Flash too? Is there anyone in Central City who DOESN'T know? Why the frak does he even bother with the mask anymore?

By the way, when the Meta Alert goes off, Kamilla says, "Why is it every time I come to visit, there's always a crisis?" I see what you did there, Kamilla.

• Speaking of masks— the vast majority of fans (myself included!) agreed that Barry's Season 5 suit was the worst one yet. The main problem with that particular suit was the awful cowl. For reasons known only to themselves, the producers chose to remove the suit's traditional chin strap, which resulted in a very unattractive look for Barry.

Mercifully, a couple months ago the producers announced that Barry would be getting a brand new suit for Season 6. And even better, it would feature the return of the beloved chin strap. Huzzah!

Visually, this new suit is the most comic-accurate yet. They've done away with the lightning bolts on the sides, and replaced them with honest-to-goodness wings! Wings, I said! Just like in the comic! Awesome.

All that said, I was a bit puzzled and disappointed by the first appearance of this spiffy new suit. One would think there'd be some sort of big reveal or a little presentation ceremony by Cisco. Nope! Barry wears the old suit in the first half of the episode, then in the third act he's suddenly wearing the new one! It was so abrupt and unceremonious that I didn't even realized he'd changed costumes until I watched the episode a second time! Odd.

I don't understand why they didn't come up with a clever way to debut it and made its appearance such a non-event.

• Despite how they look here, Barry & Iris are allegedly sad that their daughter was erased from existence four months ago.

During the cookout, Barry says they miss Nora terribly, but are comforted by the fact that they'll see her again someday. Yeah, about that. You're destined to die in two months, Barry. Shouldn't you and Iris start doing something about "getting to see your daughter again someday?" Like, very soon? Now, even?

• In a similar vein, wayyyyyy back in Season 1 (I think?), Barry discovered the secret Time Vault inside STAR Labs and encountered Gideon, the facility's helpful AI. When he asked who built her, she replied, "Why, you did, Barry Allen." Apparently at some point between then and 2024, 
Barry programmed this self-aware computer himself.

Again, if he's gonna do it, he'd better get busy as he's only got two months left before he vanishes in the Crisis.

I was always dubious about this particular little piece of info, as I never got the impression Barry had the talent and skills to program a sentient AI. I'm wondering if the matter of Gideon's creation is one of those things that was altered by Flashpoint? Or if the producers simply forgot they said it six years ago. Or more likely, they remember it, but are hoping that WE in the audience have forgotten about it!

• Team Flash explains the Mental Augmentation Chamber to Kamilla, saying it'll boost Barry's cognitive abilities. In other words, as Kamilla so eloquently puts it, it'll give him the power of "speed-thinking."

But... shouldn't Barry already have speed-thinking? He'd pretty much have to, right? As we've seen in the past, he can move so fast that everyone around him seems frozen in time. If his thought processes didn't speed up at an equivalent rate, he'd have died the first time he ran. He would have plowed into a telephone pole or brick wall before he even realized it was there.

• Ralph returns to STAR Labs, even though this is the premiere episode of the season and we didn't know he'd been gone. He says he's been working on a missing person case involving a Sue Dearborn.

Of course all good DC fans know that Ralph Dibney, aka The Elongated Man, is one of the few married superheroes in comics, and has a wife named Sue. And Sue's maiden name was— you guessed it— Dearborn!

Obviously the producers are laying the groundwork for a relationship between Ralph and the as-yet unseen Sue here, and we'll no doubt meet her sometime this season. Who knows, they may eventually even marry. Hopefully they're not setting up Ralph's departure from the show though, as I've grown to like him a lot over the seasons.

• It looks like the Big Bad for the first half of the season is going to be Ramsey Rosso, aka Bloodwork.

Bloodwork's from the comics, where he was introduced in 2017. There, Rosso was a hemophiliac coroner who attempted to cure his disease by injecting himself with metahuman blood. Naturally this didn't go well, and he gained the power to control blood. He could make it stop flowing, congeal and even burn. He could also shape it around himself (?). 

Here in the Arrowverse, it appears Rosso injects himself with a cancer cure that turns him into Bloodwork. Whether we'll see him actually take on his monstrous comic book form remains to be seen. If I had to guess, I'd say there's no way he'll look like that. He'll likely just have elongated limbs, or shoot bloody blasts from his hands.

By the way, every time I see the name "Bloodwork" it throws me. I know at this point virtually every superhero name has already been taken, but this one's just weird. Who's his sidekick, "Urine Sample?"

• Caitlin attends the funeral of Rosso's mother, where he tells her how she died. He says, "I couldn't save her, Cait. Had to watch as her body betrayed her. Do you know how HLH works? Then you know the cancer literally boils you from the inside out."

OK, I don't know about the "boiling you from the inside out" thing, but HLH is a real disease. It's called Hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis, and it affects your body's immune system, causing your white blood cells to attack your other blood cells just as shown later in the episode! It usually attacks infants and young children, but adults can get the disease as well.

No matter how crazy the Comic Book Science gets on The Flash, the medical stuff is usually always pretty accurate. Either the show has a medical consultant, or someone on the staff knows how to use WebMD.

• Iris goes to the world's cleanest and most well-organized landfill to find Nora's jacket that Joe tossed out. While there, a black hole suddenly opens next to her. When I first saw the singularity, for a second I thought Doctor Strange was gonna come walking out of the thing.

• When Iris is in Joe's office, she sees a framed copy of one of her newspaper front pages featuring a big ol' photo of Nora. This gives her icky bad feelings and she dashes out of the office.

I'm not even gonna ask how Joe can possibly have a photo of Nora since she was erased from existence before she was even born. Or how anyone can remember her. Or how her purple XS jacket still exists.

• Funny how the black hole consistently sucks up glass, debris, people and even cars, yet somehow leaves all structures perfectly intact. 

Seriously, the hole opens up three feet away from the Jitters entrance, and even though it shatters all the glass, the doors are completely unaffected. They don't even swing open!

Late in the third act it appears between two skyscrapers. It sucks up a car from the street far below, but doesn't affect the buildings on either side of it in any way.

• Um... why is Ralph of all people giving Caitlin a physical? We've seen in the past that he's not exactly bright when it comes to any kind of science. He even says, "Well, I am not a doctor, but I'm gonna assume in this case that negative means a positive."

At first I thought maybe he was just wearing the stethoscope as a goof while he talked to Caitlin, but he actually leans over and checks a readout on a monitor!

• So it looks like The Flash has decided to add to its ever-expanding, already bloated cast by introducing affable science nerd Chester P. Runk.

Runk's another character from the comics, and first appeared back in 1988. There he was known as "Chunk." He gained superpowers when he accidentally opened up a black hole inside his body (Comic Book Science again!). Although he survived the ordeal, he found he had to eat vast quantities of food every day to fill the black hole, or it would pull him into another dimension.

Chunk started out as an adversary to the Flash, but eventually became a close friend and ally.

• Team Flash watches a recording of Chester's live stream, and they all beam beatifically at the screen as they're instantly smitten by him. In fact Ralph literally and awkwardly declares "I really like him!"

OK, I understand why they did this. They all risk their lives to save Chester, despite the fact they've never met him or were aware of his existence a minute ago. So they had to justify their interest in him somehow. I just wish they handed been so obvious and heavy handed about it.

By the way, during his live stream, we see a list of Chester's commenters. Among them are Helathyskeptic45, StarWars4Life, pizzaparker (!), cannon-bob, killerfrostfan2017 and WookieeLover77.

• Cisco creates a "stellar grenade" to destroy the black hole. I dunno... I fell like I've seen this prop somewhere before, but I can't quite figure out where...

Ahh, there it is! It's a Bumble Ball!

• Iris enters STAR Labs and dramatically reveals that she thinks Chester and the black hole are linked. Five seconds later, Caitlin pulls up a high-tech EEG of Chester's brain, showing its electrical activity.

How in the name of Krypton did she pull that up so fast? Are the STAR Labs computers hooked into all of Central City's hospitals, so they can instantly access any patient's records?

I get that it's occasionally necessary for the show to speed things along for the sake of time, but this is ridiculous!

• In a similar vein, minutes after Iris first claims that Chester & the black hole are linked, Cisco announces that they've somehow moved him from the hospital and into STAR Labs, where they've hooked him up to the MAC.

Again, how the hell? Somehow, in the space of five to ten minutes, Cisco apparently contacts Central City hospital and arranges Chester's release, then has him transported to STAR Labs, and hooks him up to the MAC chamber, all while we're not looking. 

They try to smooth this over by having Cecile say "I may be small, but I can bench my body weight" as she walks away from the chamber containing Chester. I guess the implication here is that Cecile stuck Chester in the back seat of her car, drove him to STAR, slung him over her shoulder and carried him into the chamber.

Nice try, writers. Cecile might be able to bench her own body weight, but that'd be what... one hundred pounds, tops? Chester probably weighs twice that.

Again, I get that they needed to move the plot at a brisk pace, but this is ridiculous!

• The scene in which Team Flash discusses how to save Chester is a goldmine of comic book technobabble ridiculousness. It is absolutely glorious in its absurdity:

Barry: "Okay, so how do we get Chester's consciousness out of the black hole?"
Cisco: "Well, the electrical impulses that make up Chester's mind are just past the black hole's threshold, but since his synaptic energy has a negative charge..."
Barry: "I could use my lightning's positive charge to attract his energy."
Iris: "Like a magnet."
Barry: "Exactly."
Iris: "Then what? I mean, how are you gonna survive inside of there?"
Ralph: "Well, your your Speed Force aura should protect you, right?"
Iris: "What if it doesn't?"
Caitlin: "The gravimetric forces will crush you to a subatomic size within seconds."
Barry: "That's not gonna happen. The Speed Force is a billion times stronger than any gravimetric force."
Cisco: "Even if you do survive the entry, we don't have a way of keeping Chester's mind intact on the way out. We'd need superconductive wiring from a quantum computer to do that, and last time I checked, those only exist in the future."
Barry: "Nora. Our Nora, she can still help us."
Iris: "Oh, my God, her back-up gauntlet. Cisco, it's still here."
Cisco: "That gauntlet's gonna have the filament we need. I'll strip it out and thread it into your suit."

Comic Book Science, ladies and germs!

I love how every single thing the characters utter, no matter how outlandish, is instantly accepted as fact. Without any kind of testing or analysis whatsoever. That's not how science works!

Plus, Caitlin's statement is mighty odd, as it sounds like she's saying the black hole could shrink Barry. That's not how they work! The intense gravitational force crushes anything pulled in— it doesn't shrink an object uniformly!

• As the black hole appears above downtown Central City, Joe orders his officers to get everyone out of the area.

By all means, whenever you're trying to quickly evacuate a city, be sure and block all major thoroughfares with police cruisers!

• Killer Frost gets a costume in this episode as well— her first ever! From this and the general plot of the episode, I assume Frost is going to play a much larger role in the series this season.

Eh, I'm OK with that. I've always felt she was far more interesting than Caitlin (sorry, but it's true) but has always been woefully underutilized. And the character's right— Team Flash does keep her penned up and only let her out briefly when they need her help! It'll be interesting to see where this story arc goes.

• As Barry leaps into the black hole, Cisco plays Queen's theme song from the Flash Gordon movie over the speakers. Meh. Everyone's going crazy over this scene, but I thought it was a little too cheesy, even for this show. Each to their own.

That said, I'm honestly flabbergasted that it took a whopping SIX YEARS before anyone thought to play it! Maybe it took 'em that long to get the song rights?

• Barry manages to rescue Chester and make him whole again. There's just one tiny little side effect from his ordeal— his eyes glow as otherworldly energy roils within them.

How the hell would he even see with that going on?

• Did you catch the subtle clue about Ramsey's condition? At first I wondered why he was injecting himself with his fancy new cancer treatment. What good would it do to "cure" himself of a disease he didn't have?

But if you look closely, there're a stack of papers on his desk, one of which is a medical report that indicates he has the exact same HLH disease that killed his mother. No wonder he's so het up on finding a cure!

• The Monitor appears and tells Barry that the Flash must die in order to save the Multiverse. Wait, what? Last year during the big Elseworlds crossover, Oliver Queen made a deal with the Monitor to offer his own life in order to save Barry & Supergirl. Did the Monitor (and the writers again) forget about that? 

"I have altered the deal. Pray I don't alter it further."

By the way, The Monitor says Barry will die or vanish or whatever on December 10, 2019. That's the date in which Part 3 of the Crisis On Infinite Earths crossover airs. Once again, The Flash is happening more or less in real time.

This Week's Best Lines:
Joe: (after everyone abruptly leaves the cookout) "You notice ain't nobody help clean up?"

Barry: "A missing person's case sent you all the way to Opal City?"

Ralph: "And beyond, my friend. A summer spent undercover rubbing Rolexes with the wealthy elite. Did you guys know it's pronounced 'yacht' and not 'yokt?"

Ralph: "We gotta talk." Killer Frost: "What is your problem?"
Ralph: "My problem is, we needed you, and you were holed up in your Snow-tress of Solitude."
(OK, that's a funny line, but it doesn't make any sense in the world of the show. Superman has a Fortress Of Solitude, where he can go to relax and get away from the stresses of being a superhero. One would think he'd want to keep its existence a secret. So how does Ralph know about it?)

Cisco: "Speaking of going out, Kamilla and I are doing shawarma Tuesday, so I'm gonna mosey. Of course, moseying is a lot harder these days post-Vibe. Showing up to a date in a STAR Labs van, not a good look."

Cecile: "Mm, no. I'll give you a ride."
Cisco: "And risk looking like my mom just dropped me off?"
Cecile: "Ooh, even better, you can walk."
Cisco: "Okay, I'm coming."

Killer Frost: "Where do I start? How do you, you know, live a life?"

Ralph: "With a life coach, of course. So, first thing's first: the name 'Killer,' it's a little bit too much for some folks. Have you thought about changing it? My mom's middle name is Anne"

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