The Flash will need to break with formula to survive

the flash dc cw grant gustin hd wallpaper clifford devoe season 5 arrowverse greg berlanti andrew kreisberg harrison wells tom cavanagh

In a way, the shows that operate alongside The Flash are becoming its greatest threat; Arrow, Supergirl and Legends of Tomorrow – and likely eventually Black Lightning – all work from fairly similar formulas to The Flash. (This was particularly evident in Supergirl season one, which mimicked the structure of The Flash season one fairly closely.) While it’s undeniable that each show executes the formula well, when four programmes are executing the same formula in the same way each week, it does start to get a little tired.

And so The Flash needs to evolve – it has to grow beyond the formula it adheres to so closely, and stop sticking to the same structure with every episode. After all, there’s surely only so many times that Barry running faster to beat someone who is also fast can be considered a satisfying payoff to a year of television, no?

A few thoughts on The Flash, and the changes it’ll need to make to continue to grow and develop and stay of a high level of quality. I am fond of the show, of course, but there’s a frustrating feeling that I’ve simply seen it all before – sometimes even four nights a week – and that needs to change. (I didn’t even begin to get into the whole “mentor is secretly evil” thing they’ve done each year!)

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The Flash: Why Zoom should have been Eddie Thawne

the flash zoom eddie thawne hunter zolomon jay garrick season 2 rick cosnett teddy sears bosslogic review thinkpiece hot take explanation opinion greg berlanti the cw

What I find so surprising, though, is that the writers had a much better option open to them that they decided not to take. I’m quite firmly of the believe that had Zoom been revealed to be Eddie, he would have been a far superior villain, and indeed given us a far superior season to boot. I’ve written a little bit about this before, highlighting why I thought Eddie-as-Zoom not only made sense in terms of the plot, but also thematically and dramatically. Consider – Barry has been dealing with the choice he made at the end of the S1 finale. What better villain to confront him with than the one who most directly suffered from this?

This has been bothering me for ages. Basically whenever I watch The Flash, I bring this up, because of how irritated I was by the whole Jay Garrick thing. It was just a mistake. Such a mistake. Ugh.

I will probably write about this again in future, because I’m not convinced this article really does justice to my extensive thoughts on the subject. But it is a start.

Oh, and the image credit is there at Yahoo, but the picture above is by the very talented BossLogic.

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The Flash Season 2 Review

the flash season 2 review grant gustin barry allen zoom greg berlanti hd review image

So, I have some thoughts, and I want to work through them here. You can find my reviews of the first 9 episodes of the season here; I never managed to review the subsequent episodes, sadly. Hopefully, I’ll get around to that at some point, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was quite a while away.

Last year, the first season of The Flash was my favourite television show that was on at the time. It was genuinely fantastic – possibly one of the best superhero programmes on television, a wonderful blend of exciting action and moving emotional arcs, which all came together to create something truly compelling. The season finale, Fast Enough, is one of the best hours of television I’ve ever seen.

I don’t feel like Season 2 managed to hit the same highs.

That’s understandable, of course; it was a very high standard to meet, and a high bar to cross. Certainly, the series started well, and there were lots of fantastic elements throughout. To be entirely honest, my issues with the show were entirely idiosyncratic; I know for a lot of people, it still worked really well. But we’ll get to that in a minute, because first I do want to highlight the parts I enjoyed and think worked really well.

A few months before the season began, I wrote an article about the five things I’d like to see in the coming year. One of the most important, for me, was further development of Iris’ character; I’d always liked her across the first season, but I felt that she was a bit under utilised at times. Thankfully, this was remedied this year; I think Iris was quite well served as a character across this season. She’s really grown and developed, and I appreciate that a lot – it’s great to see Iris in STAR Labs, fitting in and helping out. Part of what I enjoyed, actually, was the fact that she gives a different perspective to the other characters; dramatically speaking, I think this works really well with the dynamic of the show. So, that was great.

And, you know, that’s generally true of all the characters, not just Iris. Something I mentioned in one of my earlier reviews (I think it was Enter Zoom, perhaps) was how much I loved the fact that The Flash still made the effort to include emotional scenes, and to develop their characters each week. It would have been very easy for them to drop the ball on that, and just focus on the action, but they never did; The Flash was always a program that was really grounded in making sure the characters would progress and move forward and change across the season.

Initially, I’d been quite sceptical of Zoom, because I wasn’t sure that featuring a speedster villain as the Big Bad again was the right idea. It felt a little too much like they’d be boxing themselves in, and setting a precedent that would only limit and constrain them in the future. It felt, to me, quite important that we had a villain who wasn’t a speedster as the Big Bad, not just to stop it from being repetitive, but also to demonstrate that there were still a variety of different tricks that the program could deploy.

But – at the start of the season, at least – Zoom worked really well! His first proper episode, Enter Zoom, set him up as a really powerful antagonist; it made great use of a narrative collapse to demonstrate quite how heavyweight a threat he was, and how significant he was as an individual. I was really impressed at quite how imposing they’d made him, and I had high hopes for the rest of the season.

the flash series 2 enter zoom hunter zolomon jay garrick teddy sears eddie thawne fight hd image

However.

Zoom, as an antagonist, ceased to work the moment they revealed him to be Jay Garrick, or Hunter Zolomon, or whoever. Immediately, there’s the fact that this twist was needlessly over complicated to the point that it was evident it was only for shock value, and the fact they could surprise us with “Jay Garrick is evil”. The explanation involving time remnants never quite worked, and the fact that Harry never recognised Jay as the extremely famous serial killer Hunter Zolomon despite his not wearing a mask is certainly something that stretches belief. Worse, this reveal also makes Zoom even more derivative of last year’s villain – not only was he a speedster, he was also Barry’s trusted mentor. It worked the first time; with Zoom, they hit a point of diminishing returns.

Further, though, it became readily apparent that he was just an extremely weak villain. A psychopath who’s obsessed with being the fastest is a starting point, yes, but it’s far from a particularly nuanced one. The writers tried to bring in that “we’re not so different, you and I” aspect to develop him somewhat, but does anyone really buy that anymore? The villain trying to convince the hero that they’re the same is not only a cliché, it’s also evidently untrue of Barry. What’s the point? Little was achieved with that.

(I am quite firmly of the mind that Zoom should, in fact, have been revealed to be Eddie Thawne. In fact, I’d begun typing up something of an explanation for that in this post, before realising that it would start to get a little too long winded. So, look forward to a separate post about that soon.)

Similarly, I was unimpressed at the relationship between Hunter and Caitlin – even when we all thought he was just Jay included. It was a little disappointing to me that the only character arc the writers seemed able to conceive of for Caitlin was to put her into a relationship again, and then to repeat the same grief plot once more. That was a shame, really, and the fact that Caitlin was sidelined generally didn’t help either. I know that in part this was because of Danielle Panabaker’s injury disrupting shooting schedules, but even in the latter half of the season, it felt like her involvement was being minimised. So, yeah, that wasn’t so great.

Towards the end of the season, it did start to become abundantly clear that they were lacking plot, and having to stretch it out to fit the full 23 episode order. It became evident as each story was increasingly dependent on the characters making bad choices for no apparent reason. That’s not mistakes, of course; I’ve no problem with something like that. But it was almost an example of the “idiot ball” trope – the characters ended up beginning to make choices that were completely ignorant of information already established in the program. (Why are you trying to send Zoom back to Earth 2, when you know he can open breaches of his own? Why are you giving up your speed to save Wally, if you’re already far faster than Zoom and can just grab Wally there and then?) There’s not even really the excuse that the characters weren’t aware, because of course they were the ones who had given us that exposition in the first place. Certainly, that was lacking in oversight, and needed a rewrite or to.

As for next year? I am tentatively worried. Flashpoint, to me, seems like a mistake. Primarily, there’s the fact that The Flash has been mining the Flashpoint story for a lot of imagery for a long time, taking different aspects and using them in the way that best suited the show at the time; Barry bringing Iris a video of Eddie, for example, or being electrocuted to regain his speed. That means that if they do try and use any of the more well known aspects of the Flashpoint story, then it’s going to come across as quite repetitive. (Then again, given how much of this series was just season one repackaged and repolished slightly, it’s possible that being repetitive isn’t a huge concern.)

More importantly, though, I feel like it’s moving backwards. Earlier, I mentioned how much I appreciated that The Flash was dedicated to developing each of the characters; one of the best episodes this year, The Runaway Dinosaur, was all about Barry getting past the death of his mother. It was a really poignant episode, and I think can be included as one of the best of the entire show, up there with the season one finale.

But then they threw that away just a few episodes later.

I have no doubt that next year will be an entertaining season of The Flash. And I really want to stress the fact that this was still a good season – “not as good as last year” is still pretty damn good, considering how fantastic The Flash was in its first season. Inarguably, it was better than Arrow in every conceivable way. There were lots of fantastic episodes and new concepts introduced; going to Earth-2 was giddyingly fun, seeing Tom Cavanagh create a new spin on Wells was compulsively watchable, and I really liked our new characters of Jessie and Wally this year. So, certainly, it was still really good television. That’s part of why I’m still hoping to get to do my individual episode reviews, just to provide a degree more nuance in my approach and make it clear how much I really did enjoy this season.

However, almost because of that, there’s something a little more disappointing about the areas in which this season fell down. The issues (or, issues as I saw them, from my own very idiosyncratic and personal perspective) were all ones that could have been very easily remedied. Fairly simple fixes applied throughout would have helped this year to be just as good, if not better, as last year.

Onto next season, then. I’m sure it’ll be here in a flash.

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The Flash: Is Barry Allen going to die?

the flash barry allen wally west death the death of barry allen grant gustin keiynan lonsdale

Grant Gustin plays Barry on the CW at the minute, but Ezra Miller is set to depict this iteration of the Scarlett Speedster in a big screen release slated for 2017. Judging by the precedent [of killing television characters before their cinematic counterparts debut] established on Arrow, we may well see Barry bite the bullet before the end of the third season – perhaps even as early as the midseason finale.

You’d think, of course, that this is impossible; after all, he is the main character of the show. Interestingly though, that may not be entirely the case.

In the comics that the show has spawned from, the Flash is a legacy character; a mantle inherited by many different people. Barry Allen is one of the most well-known, yes, but far from the only – and this year, we’ve been introduced to television versions of two other individuals who have been the Flash: Jay Garrick and Wally West. Notably, Barry Allen was, for quite some time, known as a character who died; in 1985, Barry was killed during the Crisis on Infinite Earths plotline, and the role of the Flash was taken on by Wally West. Barry remained dead for twenty five years – a record time for a comic book character.

It’s possible, then, that this is a storyline they’d choose to adapt for the third season of The Flash; with the movie outing being released in 2017, the midseason finale of series 3 and last episode of 2016 may well be the last time we see Grant Gustin as Barry Allen.

A theory about The Flash, and what we might see from it in future. Increasingly I think I’m finding that one of the aspects of superheroes that interests me most – or, one of the aspects we don’t see that interests me most – is that whole idea of legacy heroes, of one person taking up the mantle of another.

It seemed to me like a really interesting way of doing things on The Flash, at least for a while; kill off Barry in the midseason finale, let Wally take over as the Flash for the next 13 episodes, then in the season finale tease a possible return for Barry, then working towards that can be the arc for the first nine episodes of the next season. They never did it, of course, but it’d be interesting to see.

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The Flash: Who is Zoom?

the flash series 2 enter zoom hunter zolomon jay garrick teddy sears eddie thawne fight hd image

Across the course of The Flash season 2 so far, a new villain has been established – Zoom. The overarching villain of this season, Zoom has already demonstrated he’s a significant threat; he stole Jay Garrick’s speed, kidnapped E2 Harrison Wells’ daughter, and completely decimated Barry in their only confrontation of the series. 

We know that Zoom is a force to be reckoned with. But we don’t know who he is.

The question of Zoom’s identity has been hotly debated, with various possibilities emerging; you’ve got E2 Harrison Wells, Jay Garrick, E2 Barry Allen, Henry Allen of either Earth, Barry Allen from the future, and Patty Spivot. (That last one is, obviously, most likely. They do both wear blue, after all.) Any possibility could be quite compelling, of course, but when it comes down to it, to me there’s only one identity for Zoom that could really, truly work.

And that’s Eddie Thawne.

Now, allow me to explain. In case you’ve forgotten, Eddie Thawne was one of the central characters throughout much of last year’s run; he was a police detective, partnered with Joe West, and in a relationship with Iris West. (That, obviously, lead to something of a love triangle between Barry, Iris and Eddie; your mileage will vary on quite how successful you considered it to have been.) Crucially, Eddie was also revealed to be an ancestor of the time travelling Reverse Flash, who was the overarching villain of that season; in the final episode, Eddie sacrificed himself, committing suicide to stop the Reverse Flash from ever having existed.

He died, saving everyone. So, how can he be the villain this season?

the flash eddie thawne zoom reverse flash eobard thawne jay garrick hunter zolomon season 2 rick cosnett

Well, in comic book television programs, death is only as permanent as the writers want it to be. You can see that on The Flash last year, with the many deaths and returns of Ronnie Raymond; the same has been true over on Arrow, with various characters returning after their presumed demise. Previously you could at least say that a character wasn’t dead unless you’d seen the body – but even that’s not true anymore, with Arrow showing us the emaciated corpse of Sara Lance before promptly returning her to life.

It follows, then, that the same could be true of Eddie. His death is in fact particularly suspicious when you realise that his corpse was pulled into a wormhole, and his body not seen since then; that’s exactly the sort of event that could give someone speed related powers, isn’t it? Notably, Zoom’s lightning has been shown in shades of blue, implicitly linking him to that same wormhole; perhaps this indicates that his powers come from the wormhole?

Interestingly, Jay Garrick described Zoom as being “a speed demon”; that, I think, is the sort of description that could be applied to someone who died, and exists in a state of temporal limbo as a result of being pulled into a wormhole. (An obvious counter response to this would be asking how Zoom found himself on Earth 2 before the wormhole opened; it’s just another case of the peculiarities of time travel, really.)

Two upcoming villains in the latter half of season 2 indicate, perhaps, that Zoom is Eddie Thawne; now, I’m only going off officially released information, but this could still constitute spoilers, so you might want to skip this paragraph. We’ve got two villains confirmed to be appearing soon: the Turtle, and the Reverse Flash. Both are important, albeit for different reasons. The Turtle’s powers are the ability to speed down time; this is something typically linked to the character Zoom in the comics. (He, notably, is not Eddie, but there are several distinct similarities that indicate Eddie could have been inspired by him.) It’s also the sort of power one might expect someone to get from a time-y wimey wormhole; the Turtle could be foreshadowing and establishing this power set for Zoom.  The relevance of the Reverse Flash is obvious; if he still exists, it indicates that perhaps his ancestor Eddie wasn’t quite so dead after all.

That covers the circumstances that could lead to how Eddie became Zoom; another, more interesting question, is why.

the flash reverse flash zoom eddie thawne jesse quick violet beane rick cosnett tom cavanagh teddy sears jay garrick hunter zolomon kidnap captive

I don’t mean why in terms of motivations, though; I’ve honestly no idea what they might be. Could be as simple as wanting revenge, or Eddie going crazy; if I were to guess, I’d figure it’s a bit of both, but perhaps with the addition of elements of Zoom’s motivations from the source material. (Essentially fighting the Flash to try and make him a better hero; arguably this was signposted with the revelation that Zoom is trying to make Barry faster.)

No, I mean why in terms of why, thematically speaking, Eddie being Zoom gives us the richest and most compelling storylines.

Recall, if you will, how the season began: Barry felt like he wasn’t the hero of Central City, not really, because Eddie was the one who had stopped the Reverse Flash, not him. Eddie’s death was a really significant, emotional event for Barry; consider how seismic a revelation it would be for Barry to find out that his friend, whose sacrifice pushed him to be a better hero, is now the man trying to kill him. The same would be true of Iris as well, in fact; the man she loved is now a murderer to be feared.

(This, incidentally, is why Zoom shouldn’t be someone’s Earth 2 counterpart; it’d strip the revelation of any emotional significance. If Zoom was Eddie from Earth 2, none of the above is true; Zoom is simply someone who looks like a person they cared about. It really wouldn’t work in the same way. Furthermore, though, they indicated in The Darkness and the Light that Zoom knows about Barry’s personal life, which does suggest he’s from Earth 1.)

They’ve also built a few parallels with Eddie into Zoom’s story now; as you can see in the above picture, Zoom has been holding E2 Wells’ daughter captive, in much the same way that Wells last year held Eddie captive. It’s an interesting reversal, and to me it does indicate that there’s some weight to the idea that Zoom is Eddie; the writers are intelligent people, and the parallels here would be obvious to them too. It’s entirely possible I’m reading too far into this, yes, but I do think it’s worth consideration.

More telling, though, is one of Zoom’s first lines spoken to Barry: “Heroes die”. It’s a firm rejection of Eddie’s dying words – All I ever wanted was to be your hero.” Well, Eddie was a hero, and he died because of it. Whilst the connection I made between Wells imprisoning Eddie and Zoom imprisoning Jesse could, arguably, be a bit of a stretch, I doubt that the writers would include such an overt parallel without it being intended to mean something. To me, that’s one of the most significant pieces of evidence that foreshadows the revelation that Eddie is Zoom.

In any case, though, that concludes this little theory. I’d be interested to see if I’ve convinced you, or if you still disagree; let me know what you think in the comments.

Regardless of what happens, I do know one thing – it’s going to be really, really impressive.

This article was previously posted on the Yahoo TV website.

Related:

The Flash season 2 reviews

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TV Review: The Flash – Running to Stand Still (2×09)

the flash christmas special dc running to stand still the cw grant gustin lightning

Holidays can be a time for gentle reflection on the year past. Our ups and downs, our triumphs, our heartaches. But don’t forget, it can also be a time for disemboweling our enemies.

‘Tis the season, now, for the winter finale of The Flash. If you take a moment to think back to last year, with The Man in the Yellow Suit, we had some pretty seismic revelations and plot developments: Barry confronted the Reverse Flash for the first time, and we learned that Dr. Wells was in fact the man who killed Barry’s mother. The Flash was in a fundamentally different place when we returned in January.

Running to Stand Still opens in such a way that would make us think we’re in for something similar to the previous year; Zoom is seen chasing Harry through STAR Labs, with a cliffhanger before cutting to the title card. It’s a clever bit of misdirect, actually – this sequence harkens back to previous episode Enter Zoom, which opened with an in media res style flashforward. We’re lead to expect something similar here, with a speedster showdown much like last Christmas, but it’s a deliberate ruse; the Zoom plot takes something of a back seat from here, relegated to the episode’s closing scenes – it’s indicative of what’s to come, but not a concern for the present.

Right now, it’s about the Rogues – specifically the Weather Wizard, Captain Cold, and the Trickster, as played by Liam McIntyre, Wentworth Miller, and Mark Hamill. (You may have heard of Hamill; he was in a small, indie movie that came out recently, which you can read my review of here.) The plot deliberately offers something smaller scale, and more intimate, than the spectacle of last Christmas – and that works particularly well here. You don’t always need to see the man who murdered Barry’s mother for a good story – Mark Hamill chewing the scenery is often just as effective.

Weather Wizard and Trickster are, I think, uniquely suited to the Christmas special, in a way most of the Rogues aren’t, necessarily – Weather Wizard’s powers immediately present you with the possibility of a “white Christmas”, and the Trickster allows a level of seasonal whimsy you wouldn’t get elsewhere. After all, which of the other Rogues would dress up as Santa, and hide bombs in Christmas presents? Not Leonard Snart, that’s for sure; for his short appearances, Snart was a welcome source of humour, puncturing the atmosphere with more than a few sarcastic comments and eye rolls. That’s one of the great things about keeping a recurring cast of villains – The Flash has been able to develop Weather Wizard, Trickster, and Captain Cold across the past few seasons, and the show really benefits from having a group of villains that we, the audience, have come to know.

the flash review mark hamill trickster santa christmas running to stand still season 2 rogues dc arrowverse

Of course, the emotional stakes this year were significant nonetheless – we got further traction on the Wally West plot arc which was introduced a few weeks ago. Iris finally decides here that she can’t keep this secret anymore, and ultimately tells her dad the truth – the fact that he has a son he didn’t know about.

Candice Patton and Grant Gustin both do great work with their scenes here; Iris confiding in Barry, Barry being supportive, and so on and so forth. It’s nice to see the two of them being able to interact with one another free of the love triangle from last season; Iris, as a character, has really come into her own over the course of this season, which has been great to see. I’m looking forward to seeing her develop further when we return to the show in January.

Real plaudits, however, deserve to go to Jesse L Martin, who gave a really astounding performance as Joe finds out he has a son. It’s a really nuanced, emotive performance – his initial reaction conveys a lot, even where the dialogue is more closed off, and he develops it further as Joe opens up to Barry later in the episode. Andrew Kreisberg did a great job writing this episode, giving Jesse L Martin (who’s one of the best actors on the program) a lot of interesting material to work with; there’s real depth to his performance, giving us a very successful installment in this storyline.

A moment I particularly liked, actually, came towards the end, where Joe gave Barry his watch – something he’d previously discussed with Iris – and said he’d “always planned to give this watch to my son”. It was a really nice, poignant exchange, with a great performance from both the actors: it reinforces the bond between Joe and Barry, and the fact that, even though Joe now knows he has a biological son, it doesn’t diminish his relationship with Barry. That was something I really liked, in any case.

the flash review joe west running to stand still wally west dc arrowverse crying upset jesse l martin hd

Another impressive emotional sequence – immediately following the watch exchange, actually – was Barry talking to E2 Harrison Wells, to forgive the Harrison Wells who killed his mother. It builds on a more subtle arc they’ve been developing throughout the past few weeks; the idea that Barry might, in fact, be dealing with depression, and his fears that he wouldn’t ever be happy. But here Barry lets go – he’s not going to carry the weight of his mother’s death anymore.

It’s a really significant character moment, which was paralleled in a very clever way through the character of Patty, who was shown to be dealing with similar problems; she felt responsible for the death of her father at the hands of Weather Wizard, and was dealing with similar depression type feelings. It’s really impressive to me that The Flash, primarily an action-adventure programme, is putting so much thought and care into more subtle character development moments like this, because it is really, genuinely very effective.

The sad thing is, though, that it just makes the aspects that don’t work stand out more. They finally brought Jay and Caitlin together as a couple in this episode, with kisses under the mistletoe and a few jokes about different traditions on Earth 1 and Earth 2. A few good jokes came from Cisco mocking the pair of them and puncturing the romantic atmosphere, but the fact remains – this relationship has been quite poorly handled, and you get the impression that they were only brought together because the writers didn’t know what to do with Caitlin as a character. It’s a bit of a shame, but hopefully they’ll be able to make something of it soon.

In any case, though, this was a really excellent episode – one of the strongest of the season so far. Even though it didn’t have a dramatic showdown between Barry and the series villain, akin to last year, we got something with just as much significance, just as much depth of emotion, and we have just as much to look forward to next season.

9/10

This review was recently published on the Yahoo TV website.

Related:

The Flash reviews

Supergirl reviews

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TV Review: Arrow – Legends of Yesterday (4×08)

Arrow The Flash Crossover Logo Legends of Yesterday review Grant Gustin Stephen Amell

Wait, the ‘Indiana Jones’ reference is the only thing I understood. 

So, typically, I don’t review episodes of Arrow, on account of my being quite so far behind on the series, but I thought I needed to make an exception for this episode, given that it’s the second part of the annual crossover special.

This episode opens with a flashback to Ancient Egypt, showing us the first life of Kendra and Carter, as well as the beginning of their enmity with Vandal Savage. It’s a clever move, and a good way to adapt the flashback structure of Arrow to fit with this episode; last year, one of the main issues with the crossover episode, The Brave and the Bold, was that they tried to maintain the typical Arrow flashback structure. The problem, though, was that it had little relevance to the main plot of the episode, and was more than a little overshadowed by the appearance of Barry, Cisco and Caitlin.

Here, though, the use of the flashbacks ties into the main plot of the episode really well, and gives us an interesting insight into the past lives of the Hawks. It’s a rather neat, effective little structural cue that has a significant impact on the story, where we get to see more of Kendra learning about her powers – and, more importantly, where we see Kendra in a position of greater authority than Carter. I must admit, I did find him quite obnoxious still in this episode – saying things like “I’ve always been the planner, and now I’m starting to understand why” really began to grate after a while – so it was nice to see Kendra starting to push back against that.

(One other things, with regards to the Hawks – I’m not really certain how I feel about the actual execution of their powers. The costume they wear aren’t great, and the wings don’t look amazing either. Perhaps I’m being a tad critical, but still. It’s something to think about for Legends of Tomorrow, when the time comes; the problem I have isn’t so much the CGI, but the style and design of the wings. It looks questionable; wings just aren’t like that, so there’s something a little off and disconcerting about seeing them here like this.)

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In many ways, this episode is a significant improvement on its predecessor; although there’s quite a few characters who don’t really get much of a look in, like Thea or Diggle (and I kind of got the impression Laurel was only in it because of Katie Cassidy’s contract) or Caitlin, the entire episode felt a lot more balanced and better paced than Legends of Today. I think that’s in part because the episode was much more focused – even the digression with regards to Oliver’s child, which I’ll come to in a minute, had a direct impact on the main plot. That’s something that couldn’t be said in the previous episode, and I’m glad they made the change this go around.

Something I found quite interesting here was the fact that they used Barry’s time travel powers. It was rather a surprise, actually – I thought they’d be a little too ‘out there’ for Arrow, given that it’s typically a little more grounded. Still, I suppose now that they’re delving into magic and mysticism, that’s unlikely to remain to be the case. Regardless, it was used well (and I suppose it’s important to include that, given that Legends of Tomorrow is going to be a time travel program) and I quite liked the way the different characters dealt with it. Barry, obviously, was pretty shaken up, which is understandable given his experiences last season, but Oliver was interestingly pragmatic about the whole thing, taking the opportunity for a second chance and rolling with it.

Another useful implication of the time travel aspect is to emphasise the power of Vandal Savage; he’s such a serious adversary, they need to change time to deal with him. That’s something that’s only been true of Eobard Thawne previously, and in making that the case here, it means that Vandal Savage has a certain weight to him as a villain – he’s treated as a threat on the same level as villains who took entire seasons to deal with.

(In terms of the final resolution – I was quite surprised by the fact that they killed Vandal Savage off, with Malcolm Merlyn doing something to bring him back. I was expecting him to simply escape, though I suppose this was a deliberate move to counter expectations. Wonder how they’ll address it in Legends of Tomorrow?)

arrow oliver queen stephen amell william son legends of yesterday review the flash legends of tomorrow

The other major plot point of this episode was the introduction of Oliver’s son – an arc they’ve been building to for nearly two years, given that the first indication of his existence came towards the end of season 2.

Oliver discovers the existence of William (not, interestingly, Connor Hawke; somewhat surprising, given the existence of the comics character and the upcoming time travel program) and begins to make efforts to get to know his son – keeping it all secret at Samantha’s behest, however. That was something I found interesting, although it’s clear that this is a set up for future drama, particularly given Felicity’s reaction to the news in the aborted timeline. (I must say, though, I found her reaction to be more than a little unreasonable – if that’s how the character was depicted throughout last year, I can understand why people became so aggravated with her.)

I’m not certain where it’ll go, but I am looking forward to eventually seeing how it all pans out – it’s a really interesting storyline, with a lot of potential, so I’m looking forward to seeing how they explore that. (As an aside – does anyone think it’s possible they’re going to depict William as having autism? I’m speaking from a place of ignorance, but the character did seem to fit most of the TV stereotypes for depictions of autism – obsessed with the Flash, quiet, didn’t make eye contact much. It’s perhaps more likely that I’m reading too far into it though.)

In the end, then, this was a very enjoyable episode of Arrow; it managed to improve on the flaws of its counterpart, whilst at the same time building a fun and engaging storyline, and laying the groundwork for a compelling ongoing plot.

9/10

This review was recently posted on the Yahoo UK website.

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TV Review: The Flash – Legends of Today (2×08)

The Flash Arrow Crossover Logo legends of tomorrow legends of today legends of yesterday review

When did our lives suddenly become an ‘Indiana Jones’ movie?

This week, we’ve got the now traditional annual crossover event between The Flash and its parent show Arrow. (They even have special logos! How nice.) This time around, though, unlike last year, it’s a two-part story – rather than the largely self-contained episodes we got last season, this time, you need to watch both episodes to get a satisfactory, complete story.

Of course, what’s also new is the fact that these two crossover episodes are also acting as set-up for the upcoming spin-off program, Legends of Tomorrow – which you can probably tell from the titles! That means, then, that we’re here introduced to two new characters who are going to have pivotal roles in Legends of Tomorrow, and get the superhero origin for a third: Vandal Savage, the main villain in the new program, as well as Hawkman and Hawkgirl, two iconic DC heroes.

Hawkgirl, of course, is someone we’ve already been introduced to – Kendra Saunders, played by Ciara Renee, who we’ve seen enter into a relationship with Cisco over the past few episodes. She’s very much filling the role of a fish out of water here, given the pretty seismic revelations about her life that are going on; not only is Kendra a metahuman, but she’s also a 4000-year-old reincarnated Egyptian warrior princess. It’s definitely the sort of knowledge that’s going to make you question a few things, and Ciara Renee does a great job of portraying a subtle, understated reaction to this change.

It helps, though, that we already sort of know the character, having seen her relationship with Cisco develop over the past few weeks – and, of course, the fact that Ciaran Renee gives a fairly charming performance anyway. Falk Hentschel as Hawkman, or Carter Hall, doesn’t really fare quite so well; he’s in the position where he already knows about his past lives, and in his attempts to explain it to Kendra, comes across as a rather condescending and obnoxious character. The character is borderline insufferable, and I really hope that changes when he returns on Legends of Tomorrow in January.

Most successful of all the new character introductions, though, is Vandal Savage. Casper Crump does a great job of portraying this villain as someone who’s genuinely powerful; he’s got a very commanding, very threatening screen presence. He’s an impressive villain, who you can believe would be a significant enough threat to warrant a spin-off program dedicated to him; none of our heroes this week, from Arrow or The Flash are able to properly beat him. They can barely hold him at bay; the episode ends with him achieving his aim, and both parties simply leaving. Barry might have rationalised it as a tie, but it’s undeniable – Vandal Savage is the winner at the end of this episode, and it really sets him up as a properly intimidating villain.

arrow the flash legends of tomorrow legends of today crossover review caspar crump vandal savage aaron helbing todd helbing

Naturally, though, we still have our main cast – of both shows, that is.

This episode starts with Barry pushing himself, trying to get faster, and reflecting on his battle with Zoom once more. It’s nice to see a callback to this confrontation, and delve into how it’s beginning to haunt Barry; it shows a certain vulnerability to him, and emphasises the fact despite his superpowers, Barry is still impacted by what goes on around him. It’s something that’s returned to later on in this episode, with Barry admitting to Oliver that, despite everything, he’s “never felt so powerless”. I do really appreciate the fact that, even though this is primarily an action adventure show with a focus on superheroics, The Flash isn’t letting character moments take a backseat, and they’re still making sure to keep including them in the narrative.

Similarly, we had a lot going on for Cisco this week, in terms of his relationship with Kendra – which is obviously now in a very different place, after the revelations as to her true identity. Carlos Valdes does another great job here, really proving quite how talented he is, and demonstrating that there’s a lot of depth to Cisco as a character – he’s not just a comedic side character who gives the occasional technobabble explanation. There’s an interesting examination here of how Cisco has been dealing with his own powers as a Metahuman, which does in fact have some nice emotional weight to it – like I’ve already said, I’m glad that these characters are being developed throughout each episode.

In terms of the Arrow crew, the most significant appearances were reserved for Felicity and Oliver, as you’d likely expect – although Thea certainly got some good lines it too. I’m a little behind on Arrow (by which I mean, I’ve not yet caught up past the end of season 2 yet) but it’s nice to see these characters interact with the ones from The Flash. It does help to remind us of the fact that there is a shared universe here – I’m consistently impressed at what the CW has managed to achieve over the past few years with these characters and this world.

the flash review barry allen grant gustin cisco ramon carlos valdes legends of tomorrow

Admittedly, though, not everything about this episode is perfect. It’s more than a little overstuffed – with quite so many things going on, it’s difficult to really let any of them breathe. Appearances from John Barrowman as Malcolm Merlyn aren’t really as effective as they should be; they happen so quickly and with little explanation that it means Merlin is reduced to simple exposition dumps at times when the script needs to move along somehow. Neither Thea nor Diggle (nor Iris, come to think of it) had a huge amount to do in these episodes, because they were simply crowded out by everything else that was going on.

Similarly, the subplot with Harrison Wells, Caitlin and Jay didn’t really work either. It very much felt like something that was shoehorned into the plot for the sole and only purpose of ensuring that there was something that wasn’t crossing over this week. It would have been better, I think, had this simply been excised to allow the main plot more room to breathe, and just dedicate more time to developing different aspects of the plot. Whilst I can understand the need to set up Velocity 6, given that it’ll likely be important in future episodes, I’m not really seeing any reason why it had to be this week – there’s nothing here that’s going to follow over immediately, so why not just save it for an upcoming ‘freak-of-the-week’ episode that has fewer responsibilities?

Ultimately, it’s this feeling of being overstuffed that hampers the episode, and holds it back from being quite as good as it should have been. It is a shame, because I’d been looking forward to it for quite a while. Regardless, though, this was a thoroughly entertaining episode of The Flash, and I’m really looking forward to the conclusion of this story on Arrow.

8/10

This review was recently posted on the Yahoo UK website.

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TV Review: The Flash – Gorilla Warfare (2×07)

The Flash Logo review analysis retrospective barry allen grant gustin greg berlanti andrew kreisberg cw

Sometimes you just have to slow down to get back to where you want to be.

One of the things which is, in many ways, the most fun about The Flash is how totally and unashamedly it’s willing to lean into the more ridiculous comic book-y aspects of the premise. I mean, just a few weeks ago, they used King Shark totally and completely seriously, just for a throwaway scene. Like I said at the time, you’ve got to admire the panache of The Flash.

It’s even more apparent, though, in the Grodd episodes. Because on this program we are actually getting a massive great big telepathic Gorilla as the main foe for the episode. How ridiculously wonderful is that? And this isn’t even the first, or the last, time that we’re getting Grodd as the bad guy; he was in the first series last year, and by the looks of the end of this episode, we’ll probably be seeing Grodd again – in a full on Gorilla city episode, no less!

The production team do a really wonderful job of realising this character, actually; the CGI work is genuinely pretty impressive, managing to give this Gorilla some genuine weight and screen presence, and the fact that the reactions from all the regular cast are played entirely straight really helps to make Grodd a threatening, imposing adversary.

the flash gorilla grodd gorilla warfare review dermott downs

Another impressive aspect, I thought, was the way they reversed the usual status quo of the episodes; with Barry recovering from Zoom’s attack last week, he was stuck wheelchair bound within STAR Labs, while Cisco, Caitlin and Wells all ended up out in the field, doing the work that Barry normally does. It was an interesting set of parallels, which added a nice new aspect to the episode; the whole thing ended up feeling a little more distinct from the normal set of episodes, which is always a nice thing to see. There was a great, bitter irony to the fact that Barry ended up stuck in Wells’ wheelchair, whilst Wells was out and about in a Flash suit.

It’s worth commenting on Barry’s recovery arc, actually, because I think it was actually really well handled; Grant Gustin is a fantastic actor, who I really haven’t been singling out enough in these reviews, and Aaron and Todd Helbing (the writers) did a pretty impressive job with the actual course of the recovery, and developing the fact that this was, for Barry, much more of a mental block than a physical one. It was a rather effective way to show the repercussions of Zoom’s attacks, and I’m really hoping that we see this aspect developed further when Zoom eventually does reappear.

the flash season 2 gorilla warfare review cisco reverse flash harrison harry wells carlos valdes tom cavanagh

The performances were strong all round, really; Tom Cavanagh and Carlos Valdes remain excellent together, for one thing. It’s actually fascinating to see the slow evolution of their relationship – Cisco is starting to become a little more accepting of the E-2 Harrison Wells, and it’s interesting to see the changes in their interactions to reflect that.

John Wesley Shipp also deserves some plaudits, actually, for another great performance as Henry Allen. It is a little bit of a shame that he couldn’t just be a series regular, because he’s such a wonderful character, and a genuinely decent individual; he’s the only one of them who, despite everything, unconditionally accepted the new Wells. The handshake between the pair of them was a really nice moment.

In the end, then, this was another really entertaining episode. I enjoyed it quite a lot, and I’m looking forward to the next one – crossover episode! Fantastic. Seems like it’ll be really awesome!

8/10

This review was recently posted on the Yahoo UK website.

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TV Review: The Flash – Enter Zoom (2×06)

The Flash Logo review analysis retrospective barry allen grant gustin greg berlanti andrew kreisberg cw

Goodbye, Flash. You, too, weren’t fast enough.

-orks, of course, because we’ve already seen this moment from the other perspective. What was earlier a clever in media res style opening is now viewed in an entirely different light; what was serious becomes farcical, contributing to the jovial, lighthearted tone that had been present throughout the whole episode. Naturally, though, it’s all set up for the final twist, the entry that punctures the episode itse-

40ish minutes earlier

So, the sixth episode of The Flash, with a fairly ominous sounding title. Enter Zoom. Zoom, of course, is our big bad for this season. I admit, I’ve had my doubts about Zoom. It seemed to me to be a little reductive to simply have another speedster bad guy after the wonderful Harrison Wells; like, say, continually pitting Oliver Queen against a series of increasingly more accurate archers. I didn’t really feel like any speedster villain could match the emotional stakes of Barry vs the Reverse Flash, so I wasn’t sure if there was any point, really. Much better to just further the development of the Rogues, say, or introduce another new villain. (Aliens seemed like a cool idea, actually.)

Regardless, though, this episode was a good one. The character arcs of all involved are furthered along, but particularly those of Barry and Harrison Wells.

Barry’s dedication to stopping Zoom was well realised, and he was given an interesting motivation to do so as well; his fear that the other Wells, Eobard Thawne, was right about him when he said he’d never be happy. The suggestion is, I suppose, that Barry is depressed in some regards, and he’s leaning into his secret life as the Flash to try and cope with it. It’s a compelling idea they’ve put forward, there, albeit one I’m not expecting them to delve into particularly deeply. Still, as subtext, it’s a nice concept, and Grant Gustin did a great job of portraying it – as an actor, I don’t think I give him enough credit for the work he does in portraying Barry Allen, because he really is fantastic at it.

Wells’ storyline revealed more about his past on Earth-2, as well as some interesting information about his daughter – when her name was revealed, I was pretty surprised, lemme tell you. It’s a great motivation to give him, which makes this Wells both distinct from and similar to his predecessor in several ways; the old Wells, after all, did come to care about Barry as though he were his own child. I’m really looking forward to seeing more of Jesse… quickly.

the flash enter zoom review joe west barry allen jesse l martin grant gustin hd westallen

The main plot of this particular episode is also actually genuinely very funny in many respects. After Dr Light from Earth-2 escapes (the one that we met in last week’s episode), Barry and the STAR Labs team end up recruiting Linda Park from ‘our’ Earth, who dated Barry last year, to pretend to be Dr Light in the hopes of fooling Zoom.

It is, as you can imagine, the sort of set up that’s ripe to develop humour with. And that’s exactly that the show does – they take the concept and they run with it (haha). You get lots of great jokes; Cisco’s cardboard cut-outs of each character are a particular delight, and it feeds into a great comic sequence where Linda is learning how to use her powers. It’s an effective bit of levity, and it’s something they do a really good job of maintaining all the way throughout the episode. It carries forward to a similarly effective reframing of the opening of the episode; the circumstances of the first fight between Dr Light and the Flash are now explained, and it’s revealed to have been Linda all along.

It works, of course, because we’ve already seen this moment from the other perspective. What was earlier a clever in media res style opening is now viewed in an entirely different light; what was serious becomes farcical, contributing to the jovial, lighthearted tone that had been present throughout the whole episode. Naturally, though, it’s all set up for the final twist, the entry that punctures the episode itself.

Enter Zoom.

the flash series 2 enter zoom hunter zolomon jay garrick teddy sears eddie thawne fight hd image

Zoom was a genuinely threatening villain. He had a real screen presence, which I don’t think any of the CW DC villains have had before; Reverse Flash, Malcolm Merlyn and Slade Wilson never had this weight attached to them. He has a power over the narrative itself; Zoom distorts the episode, pushing it off course, and changing the very genre and tone of the story. The sheer brutality of the character is juxtaposed with the lighthearted humour that’s prevailed throughout, and the whole episode shifts, the moment Zoom arrives.

Zoom wins, at the end of this episode. He fights Barry, and he beats Barry. Wipes the floor with him. But that’s not all Zoom does; he destroys the Flash, going to great lengths to humiliate him, and end the image of the hero. This is something that not even the Reverse-Flash did; Zoom has one singular goal, and in his pursuit of it, he’s brutal and sadistic and effortlessly cruel, as though in the end, it’s all just inconsequential to him.

That’s truly, really effective. Zoom is shown to be effective; in just ten minutes of this episode, he’s almost completely destroyed our hero with brutal efficiency – not just in terms of his life, but his legacy as well. The ability to not just run faster than Barry, but to control Barry’s own TV show, completely changing the tone and the feel of the episode… it marks Zoom out as a truly threatening adversary.

I was wrong, you see. Zoom is not just a cheap imitation of the Reverse Flash.

Zoom is on a whole other level.

9/10

This review was recently posted on the Yahoo UK website.

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