Sunday, July 11, 2021

The Flash Season 7, Episode 13: Masquerade

This week on The Flash, we get an OK episode focusing solely on Cecile. It ain't high art, but it's freakin' Shakespeare after the subpar Four Forces Saga.

Structurally this has been a VERY odd season of the show. Due to the whole pandemic situation, the first three episodes were wasted, er, I mean spent wrapping up the detestable Mirrorverse Saga. We then spent a whopping eight episodes on the Forces storyline, which was at least four too many.

Now we seem to be in this "One & Done" mode, each of which spotlights a different character. Last week it was Cisco, this week it's Cecile and next week it's allegedly Allegra. Once that's done, we'll be closing out the season with a four episode Godspeed arc.

Most fans (including myself) wish they'd have reversed all that and spent much, MUCH less time with the Forces and more on Godspeed. Eh, who cares what we think, we're just the people who watch the show— or not.

And continuing with the season's odd structure, this is the second episode in a row that features a mind controlling meta. Last week we got Rainbow Raider 2.0, who had the power to manipulate emotions. This week we get Psycho Pirate, who has the ability to... do the exact same thing. Strange. And repetitive!

This is the first "Post Cisco" episode, and already his absence is keenly felt. They've been grooming Chester as his replacement for some time now, but... he's just not the same. The sense of fun and enthusiasm that Cisco brought to Team Flash is gone, and so far Chester's just not bringing it.

This week's episode was directed by Rachel Talalay. If that name sounds vaguely familiar, there's a good reason for that. She previously directed several episodes of The Flash, including Fast Lane, The Present, Fury Rogue and Cause And XS.

She also directed episodes of Legends Of Tomorrow, Supergirl and Superman & Lois as well. She's also the visionary director who gave the world such films as Freddie's Dead: The Final Nightmare, Ghost In The Machine and Tank Girl. Hmm... maybe she should stick with TV.


The Plot:
At the West home, Joe tells Cecile he's suspicious of Kristen Kramer (who's now the new CCPD captain) and is digging into her background. Unfortunately all her files are heavily redacted. Cecile just happens to have a meta client who served with Kristen, and gives Joe their unedited files.

Joe rushes off to check out the lead, leaving Cecile alone. She begins hearing voices again, and suddenly finds herself trapped in an overexposed padded cell in an asylum.

At STAR Labs, Chester repaints Cisco's old workshop. He goes to the STARchives to get a part and walks in on Barry & Iris, who've just finished having sex there (yikes!). Everyone's suitably mortified, and Barry mercifully gets a text from Cecile and zooms off.

Barry meets with Cecile about a meta case. Suddenly he begins feeling weak and says he can't see. He collapses and wakes in the padded cell with the REAL Cecile.

Fake Cecile somehow takes Barry back to STAR. Caitlin says he's in a comatose state, and she's detecting a second set of brainwaves in his mind. She says if they don't snap him out of it soon his coma could become permanent. Chester suggests Cecile use her empathic powers to see if she can sense Barry's mind.

Fake Cecile pretends to do so, and says she sees an image of a golden mask in Barry's head. Chester somehow recognizes this as the Medusa, Mask, which belonged to Roger Hayden, aka the Psycho Pirate. It's an ancient artifact that's been around for millennia, and is a psychic parasite that's now feeding on Barry's brainwaves. He says the mask is currently in the hands of the Central City Museum. Fake Cecile says it's too bad they can't just steal the mask from the museum, which doesn't sound the least bit suspicious at all. Chester says he knows someone who could help with that.

Back in the Mind Asylum, Cecile tells Barry the last thing she remembers was being struck by lighting during Family Matters, Part 2, and then waking up here. Barry says someone must have taken over her body and trapped them both in this cell. He theorizes they're in some sort of memory, and notes he doesn't have his powers. Just then the door to their cell opens, so they exit and explore.

Elsewhere, Sue Dearbon (sans Ralph Dibny, of course) arrives at STAR after Chester calls her, and agrees to help steal the Medusa Mask. She looks over the blueprints of the Museum, and says getting in will be easy. Unfortunately the mask is inside a vault, and only the security guard knows the passcode. Chester suggests that Cecile go with Sue and use her powers to get the code. Fake Cecile hesitates, but eventually agrees.

Sue takes Chester aside and says this caper seems a little too easy, and something's not right. He dismisses her concerns and says he's got this.

That night Chester & Iris monitor the situation from the STAR Labs van, while Sue & Fake Cecile sneak into the museum. Sue drops from the ceiling into a secure room, and uses smoke bombs to reveal the laser grid and dance through it. Yes, I said dance. She deactivates the grid, and Fake Cecile then awkwardly drops in as well.

Meanwhile, Barry & Cecile wander through the Mind Asylum. They see a swirling portal at the end of a corridor, and Barry says it's the way out. Cecile hesitates, and the portal vanishes— revealing a figure crouched in a corner. Barry approaches the figure and it turns, revealing it's yet ANOTHER version of Cecile— this one with crazy looking eyes and an even more insane laugh. She blasts Barry, putting him into a coma inside the Mind Asylum. A Double Secret Coma?

Caitlin calls Iris and says now there's a third mental pattern in Barry's mind. Iris somehow realizes Fake Cecile's responsible, and that she's an imposter.

Back at the museum, the security guard comes in and Fake Cecile uses her powers to get him to unlock the vault. Sue then tranqs him, and Fake Cecile enters and grabs the Medusa Mask. Iris warns Sue that Cecile isn't actually Cecile. Before she can act though, Fake Cecile puts on the mask and forces Sue to tranq herself. Fake Cecile says her new host will now serve her for eternity, and waltzes out of the vault.

Cut to STAR Labs, where Chester & Iris have somehow recovered the unconscious Sue. She wakes and they explain that Cecile was an imposter who duped them into stealing the mask for her. Chester says it's all his fault and runs off to sulk.

Barry wakes back in the padded cell, and says it's clear that Cecile's familiar with the place and that they're inside her memory. She says it's St. Carmine's Psychiatric Hospital, and she was once a patient here. She then infodumps her retconned backstory, saying she was working crazy hours when she first became an attorney. Then her Mom got sick, but told her she was fine and to keep working hard. As a result of this her mother died alone, and Cecile felt such tremendous guilt she had a breakdown.

Barry tells her he knows what it's like to lose a mother, and says it's not her fault. He says she has to face her pain or they'll never get out of this memory. She tries to imagine another portal, but can't open one. Barry says she's on the right track though, as his powers begin to return.

Back at STAR, Iris checks on Chester. He says he doesn't deserve to be there, as he could never replace Cisco. She gives him a Patented The CW Pep Talk©, telling him it took Cisco a while to fit in and that he'll figure it out too. Somehow this causes Chester to realize what Psycho Pirate's up to. He says she needs a permanent psychic food source, which is located in their basement— the Thinker's Chair!

Barry & Cecile return to the hallway, where she tries to summon the portal. Crazy Cecile appears again, tells her she'll be trapped her forever and fires a blast from her eyes. Barry leaps in front of Cecile and takes the blast, which knocks him out (again!).

Cut to the STARchives, where Psycho Pirate has found the Thinker's Chair and activated it. Iris then appears from behind a cabinet and fires a blaster at her. Psycho Pirate uses the Chair to shoot back. Iris fires a few more times, then walks out in the open with her hands up.

Meanwhile, Crazy Cecile taunts her counterpart, saying she failed her mother. Cecile looks down and sees she's in a straitjacket. She says she's no longer ashamed of her past, and the jacket disappears. She says she's done wearing masks, and fires a blast of her own at Crazy Cecile, destroying her.

While Psycho Pirate's focused on Iris, Chester leaps from a cabinet with some kind of samurai sword, and slices through the forcefield protecting the Chair. He cuts up the back of it, shutting it down. It releases a blast of energy, which knocks out Psycho Pirate.

The portal reopens in the Asylum, and Barry & Cecile speed through it and escape.

In the wrap up, Caitlin takes the Medusa Mask to ARGUS for safekeeping (?). Sue decides to stick around for a while for no good reason and invites Team Flash to dinner at her penthouse. Cecile takes a rain check, saying she has something to do.

Back at the West House, Cecile tells Joe about her past, and apologizes for not mentioning it before. He then fills her in on Kristen Kramer, saying she led her squad into an ambush, and she was the only one who survived. He says he thinks she's working with the "enemy."

• At the beginning of the episode we get yet another Baby Jenna mention from Joe & Cecile, but of course we don't actually see her. I think the last time she physically appeared on the show was in a brief scene back in Season 6's A Girl Named Sue.

It's patently obvious at this point that the producers don't want to have to deal with an infant on the set. Which of course makes me wonder why they gave Cecile a pregnancy storyline in the first place. Surely they could have come up with an alternate way to initiate her empathic powers?

Also, Joe tells Cecile, "I can't thank your aunt enough for taking care of Jenna. I now am left with some free time to look after my lady."

The implication here of course is that with the kid out of the way, Joe & Cecile can finally have some much needed alone time, nudge nudge, wink wink.

Annnnnnd then less than a minute later, Joe gets a lead about Kristen Kramer and instantly takes off to investigate it, leaving Cecile sitting in the house by herself. Probably NOT how she thought her day was going to go!

• According to Joe, now that he's quit the force, Kristen Kramer has become CCPD's new captain. When the hell did THAT happen? Apparently she took over between episodes while we weren't looking. The bigger question though is WHY? Why the hell would they anyone willingly hand the keys to an instigator and agitator like her? 

On the realism side, police captains are appointed rather than elected though, so I guess it's possible.

• For some reason this week's opening titles are in black & white, until The Flash logo appears. I assume this was to match the overexposed, desaturated look of Cecile's Mind Asylum?

Also, no Cisco in this week's titles. BOOOOOO!!!

• Chester goes to the STARchives to grab a part, and accidentally walks in on Barry & Iris as they're "finishing up." They then awkwardly pretend they were both taking inventory. I bet!

So I guess we're gonna get several weeks of the two of them screwing in various spots inside STAR Labs as they attempt to conceive a child, eh?

• As Chester hurriedly vacates the STARchives, we see a large gray helmet sitting on a box in the background.

That particular helmet belongs to Al Rothstein, aka Atom-Smasher. He appeared wayyyyy back in Season 2's The Man Who Saved Central City, and was a meta with the ability to increase his size by absorbing radiation.

Oddly enough, Atom-Smasher was a denizen of Earth-2 and was forcibly brought to Earth-1 by Zoom, who wanted him to kill the Flash. Atom-Smasher was basically killed by Cisco, who trapped him in a chamber flooded with radiation.

I guess even though Earth-2 was retroactively erased by the Crisis, Atom-Smasher must have somehow still tangled with Team Flash in some capacity, hence the presence of his helmet.

• Chester & Caitlin ask Cecile (who's possessed by the Psycho Pirate) to scan the comatose Barry's mind. She does so, and says she sees an image of a golden mask in his head. This causes Chester to exclaim, "Sweet Ira Cooper!"

As with most of his declarations, this one's a reference to a prominent figure from Black History. Ira Cooper was St. Louis' first black detective, who was active in the 1930s.

Just last week we saw the return of Cisco's Official Who's Who Binder. Apparently he gifted it to Chester, as he hauls it out in this episode as well.

It looks like Cisco even made a trading card for the Psycho Pirate. Chester's all read up on him, and believes he's responsible for Barry's unconscious state. Caitlin then recounts how Team Flash once fought him.

Cool story, but there's just one problem with it— that never actually happened in any episode of the show. We saw a brief glimpse of the Psycho Pirate in Elseworlds, Part 2 (which was actually an episode of Arrow) but he never appeared on The Flash before.

I assume this is yet another retroactive Crisis change.

• In the comics, Psycho Pirate first appeared in 1965's Showcase #56. He was a supervillain named Roger Hayden, whose Medusa Mask gave him the power to manipulate emotions. He played a crucial role in the Crisis On Infinite Earths comic, where he became an accomplice of the evil Anti-Monitor. When the Multiverse was eventually merged down into one, the Psycho Pirate was the only one who remembered the way things used to be.

Obviously none of that comes into play in this episode, but I thought I'd include it as backgroun info.

As I pointed out above, the Psycho Pirate appeared briefly a few years ago but hasn't been seen since. At this point it's unclear just how Cecile came to be possessed by the Medusa Mask. 

Back during the Four Forces Saga, Cecile was struck by a lightning bolt and lapsed into a coma. At the time it was thought the Sage Force caused the lightning that hit her. Apparently that's not what happened at all. It appears the Medusa Mask sensed her psychic abilities and somehow generated an energy discharge that allowed it to posses her mind. Sure, why not?

• Chester recounts the history of the Psycho Pirate's Medusa Mask, saying it's an incredibly ancient relic that was used by the warrior Gilgamesh. I was always under the impression he was a fictional character, so I was surprised to find out the legends are based on a real person.

• Barry finds himself trapped with Cecile inside her mindscape. He then tells her, "Whoever took over your body could hurt Joe or Iris." See? Barry even forgot that Baby Jenna exists!

• Chester states they'll need help stealing the Medusa Mask from the museum, and says he knows just the person. Right on cue, Sue Dearbon sashays in and strikes a dramatic pose.

It should have been fun to see her appear on the show again. Instead her presence was a rage-inducing reminder of the way the producers treated actor Hartley Sawyer, and how they ruined the cool, flirty dynamic between Ralph & Sue. Feh.

• Team Flash (or what's left of it) decides to steal the Medusa Mask from the Central City Museum.

Oddly enough the place looks a LOT like the Vancouver Art Gallery, which, as you might imagine from its name, is located in downtown Vancouver.

• Sue drops from the ceiling into the Museum's vault. Once inside she releases smoke charges to make the security lasers visible, then performs a graceful and intricate ballet to expertly avoid the beams.

It's all very silly— especially the part where she begins twirling around, causing her long hair to fling itself dangerously close to the lasers. I've no trouble believing she can control the position of her limbs, but there's no way in hell she could be sure her hair wouldn't interfere with one of the beams. 

Yes, I get that the producers probably thought it looked sexy, but she really should have tied her hair back before she started spinning.

As ridiculous as this was though, it still can't top the time that Captain Cold froze a laser grid solid and then walked through the beams and shattered them. Yeah. That actually happened.

By the way, if you're wondering if actress Natalie Dreyfus was the one jumping and flinging herself around the room, that'd be a hard NO. Helpful Tip to director Rachel Talalay: In the future, DON'T film your stuntwoman in slow motion, so the audience can get a good look at her face!

Sue pirouettes across the room, deactivates the security system and radios Team Flash that the coast is clear. Iris is somehow able to see Sue's performance and says, "You learned THAT in Tunisia?" Sue replies, "No. DeMatteis Academy Of Dance."

That's likely a nod to JM DeMatteis, a VERY prolific comic book writer. He wrote a metric crap ton of books at DC, working on virtually every title at the company. Oddly enough it doesn't appear he ever wrote The Flash though, so I'm not sure why he's getting a shoutout here.

• So Sue & Fake Cecile drop from a ceiling vent into the highly secure museum vault. As soon as they land, we get a VERY deliberate shot of their grappling lines retracting back up into the vent. This effectively leaves them with no way back out.

Fake Cecile then grabs the Medusa Mask, puts it on and forces Sue to tranq herself. She then calmly strolls out of the vault. We then immediately cut to Sue as she wakes up inside STAR Labs.

The big question here is... how the Holy Hell did they get Sue out of the vault without setting off all the security alarms? I'm assuming Chester or Iris had to sneak into the museum to retrieve her unconscious body and somehow lift her back up into the vent without being discovered. Just how they accomplished that Herculean feat is apparently that's none of our goddamned business, as it's never addressed and the episode just blurs past that conundrum.

• Inside the Mind Asylum, Cecile's confronted by a crazy-eyed, cackling version of herself. Looks like someone needs to tell Crazy Cecile about waterproof Lancome!

• When Cecile's startled by her insane doppelganger, we get a nice use of the Hitchcock Zoom®. It's an old school camera trick (popularized by Alfred Hitchcock, natch) used to show shock and fear, as it gives the illusion the background is zooming away from a character while they stay the same size in the frame. 

It's done by moving the camera backward at the same time the lens zooms in on the subject.

Hitchcock famously used the technique in Vertigo to visually depict Scottie's physical aversion to heights.

Spielberg used it to great effect in Jaws as well.

• I liked Sue a lot in her previous appearances, but not so much in this episode. She's always been sarcastic in the past— that was part of her charm. She went way overboard this week, coming off as rude, hostile and condescending. Eh, who am I kidding here— she acted like a complete dick!

It's almost like Natalie Dreyfuss forgot how to play the character.

• I'll probably get canceled for saying this, but it was hard to be too awfully scared of a Psycho Pirate who's all of five feet tall. And that's in giant six inch heels!

• Man, this show's reeeeeeally getting its money's worth out of that Thinker's Chair prop! This is at least the third time it's popped up since it was retired at the end of Season 4.

• Late in the third act, Psycho Pirate steals the Thinker's Chair and uses it to try & blast out of STAR Labs. She throws up a forcefield around the chair, making it impervious to Iris' heavy duty blaster. The chair's destroyed though when Chester leaps from the ceiling and slices open the back of it with a samurai sword.

So... high tech laser blasts can't penetrate the energy shield, but primitive edged weapons can. Got it.

• At the end of the episode we're told that Caitlin's taking the Medusa Mask to ARGUS, where the incredibly dangerous artifact will be stored in a special dampening vault. Why not just destroy the goddamned thing and be done with it? Why keep it around so it can potentially possess even more victims?

• Joe tries to dig up dirt on Kristen Kramer, but comes up empty. Cecile says she has a meta client who served with Kristen at Fort Dakota. Joe then looks into those files and discovers that Kristen was in command of a squad, led them into a deadly ambush and was the only survivor.

At first I wondered how Cecile's client could still be alive if Kristen's entire squad was killed. I'm assuming this military meta served with Kristen BEFORE the ambush incident.

Otherwise we've got another nonsensical "Neither can live while the other survives" Harry Potter moment!

• At the end of the episode, Joe says, "Cecile, 
I think Kristen Kramer was working with the enemy!"

Um... so just which enemy would that be? The remnants of Black Hole? The Reverse Flash? MAGA supporters? Unfortunately Joe doesn't elaborate and leaves us hanging.

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