Back in a Flash

Clancy Brown as The General, 'The Flash.' Credit: The CW.

Ah, the post-hiatus episode. Such a scary/beautiful thing.

Beautiful because it’s always great to see your favourite show return to action. Scary because it’s hard to stay hot after taking time off. Such is the greatest fear of any professional sports team deep in a win streak, and my greatest fear as a TV Junkie.

Thanks to Wentworth Miller and the Rogues, The Flash rolled into its shockingly-early-but-thankfully-short hiatus last week on a very high note. And as George Costanza once extolled, there’s no better way to go out.

But how do you come back from a high note? Ideally, with more high notes. But if those were so easy to come by, one wouldn’t need to exit the room so quickly after hitting one.

Said struggle was woefully apparent in Tuesday’s return of The Flash — eponymously-titled “Plastique” — which introduced an explosive new teammate for Barry before promptly killing her off. I would have been shocked had I cared for the character at all, but without time for that appropriate care to build, I just didn’t — heck, I still don’t care for Caitlin, and she’s been around since the start.

While I empathized with Plastique’s fatal condition, I had a hard time connecting with her portrayer, Kelly Frye, who, save a few convincing tears, turned in a wooden performance as the infamous supervillainess. Mostly, though, the character was just too one-dimensional to warrant lasting attention — probably a good thing she got axed, then.

Meanwhile, her foil and also-new-character, The General (Clancy Brown), was oozing intrigue. It’s unfortunate, really, as The Flash desperately needs a strong female character to counterbalance its abundance of strong males, like Arrow‘s Felicity or Sara or Laurel (Season 3 Laurel, anyway). Instead, the men are getting all the meaty roles, and Caitlin and Iris are buckling under the pressure — they’re more stubborn than strong and, as such, border on annoying/boring/pointlessly extraneous at times.

The General, as explained by Dr. Wells, once worked with S.T.A.R. Labs to create genetically enhanced soldiers, specifically ones who could read minds for interrogation purposes. Naturally, Wells’s narrative painted The General as a monster who took the experiments too far, but as we saw in the episode’s final scene, Wells and The General are very much cut from the same cloth. It’s obvious Wells didn’t stop the experiments out of concern for his subjects; rather, he parted ways with The General simply so he could keep their brainchild, Gorilla Grodd, all to himself.

Clearly, Wells hasn’t changed; we see him exhibiting the same possessiveness now, with Barry, attempting to destroy anyone who might split them apart. It’s why he sent Plastique on a suicide mission against The General; he was hoping the two would eliminate one another and he could keep Barry mostly to himself — there’s still Joe and the rest of Team Flash, but you know Wells has plans for them too. Instead, The General survived and expressed to Wells his interest in reigniting their partnership. Wells, being selfish, disrespectfully declined, and that obviously didn’t sit well with The General. Being power hungry himself, he won’t let Wells’s disrespect lie; he’ll be back for revenge.

As will Grodd, presumably, whose mangled cage we first saw in the pilot. It was mangled in such a way to suggest he escaped, which also suggests he was still being held and experimented on by Wells and S.T.A.R. Labs. While we got our first actual glimpse of Grodd in Thursday’s episode, he didn’t appear to be the hyper-intelligent/telepathic ape he eventually becomes, suggesting Wells intensified his experiments after splitting with The General. That should earn Wells top spot on Grodd’s hitlist; however, he’ll have to get through Barry first, who still idolizes his mentor.

These expository nuggets about Grodd, Wells and The General made “Plastique” a worthwhile watch in the end. I just wish the journey had been more exciting.

While it was cool to see Barry expand his skillset to running on buildings and water, and vibrating his vocal chords to mask his voice a la The Arrow, the excitement ended there. The drama between Iris and Barry whiffed on its emotional delivery — I actually fist-pumped through the whole “breakup” scene, I was so relieved — as did Joe’s “surprise,” I-know-you-love-my-daughter confession to Barry.

While I admire Iris’s commitment to promoting the selfless deeds of The Streak — heroes should be celebrated — this storyline has been done before with Lois Lane and Superman. It puts Iris in a sycophantic position that I don’t think is reflective or helpful to the contemporary woman. Her whole existence is essentially defined by the men in her life rather than any uniquely Iris qualities she brings to the table. It all feels very outdated, not to mention cliche.

At times she seems to defy this whole old school, subservient female narrative by defying the men in her life, but towards what end? To obsessively pursue and swoon over another man (The Streak). It’s almost offensive, but I have faith in the writing team to turn Iris around. I think the whole breakup thing will be good for her character; she’ll have to earn her screen time now instead of leaning on Barry all the time.

Also borderline offensive was the timing of the episode, being Remembrance Day and all. While its mostly negative depiction of the military wasn’t entirely false or unwarranted, it was hardly the day to be sending that message. There are 364 other days in the year for that.

The Flash
 airs Tuesdays at 8 p.m. ET on The CW and CTV.

Here’s a sneak peek at next week’s episode, “The Flash Is Born”: