Sunday, 5 February 2017

Review - 'The Flash', S03E11 - 'Dead or Alive'

The fact that Tom Cavanagh has actually played a completely different version of his character, Harrison Wells, on each season of The Flash has been one of the more entertaining aspects of the series, so far. Not only has it provided a great test of Tom Cavanagh's acting ability, but the team's somewhat absurd decision to actually reach out into the multiverse and recruit a new Harrison Wells, earlier in this season, actually managed to turn to whole idea into a genuinely entertaining running gag.

The third season's version of the character, Earth-19's H. R. Wells, may be a much more overtly comedic character than any previous version we have met, so far – but, over the past few episodes, we have also been able to learn enough about him for him to come across as genuinely likable, and even a little bit sympathetic.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of H. R. Wells, in his time on the series, has been the way in which he seems deliberately designed to subvert expectations. With both the first season's disguised Eobard Thawne, and the second season's Harry, each entering the series harbouring their own dark secrets, the expectation was clearly there that H. R. Wells would prove to be the same – and yet, each time the the season has hinted at what this secret might be, it ultimately proved to be something entirely harmless. First, of course, was the reveal that he wasn't actually the genius scientist that the other Harrison Wells's have been – and was, instead, attempting to fake it as part of a desire to prove himself, and earn some genuine respect. Then, there was the moment when the team discovered that he had been recording information about them – which turned out to be research for a book that he was writing.

It has, overall, been a very interesting subversion – something which has left us to assume that H. R. Wells is actually exactly what he appears to be (unless, of course, he turns out to be Savitar, or something). Even the season's eleventh episode, centred around a bounty hunter arriving to take H. R. back to his own Earth, plays on this – with the episode ultimately revealing that his only real crime was in taking the opportunity to travel to another dimension (something which is considered to be highly illegal, on his own world).

Of course, while the episode may be about H. R. Wells, it would be fair to say that he is not the true star. Instead, that honour would have to go to Cisco Ramon. Cisco has, of course, been an entertaining presence on the series, from the very beginning (with the exception of those times when his anger at Barry got the better of him, of course) – but, this episode proved to be a particularly great one for him.

Cisco's decision to step forward and take up the challenge of protecting H. R. from the dimension-hopping bounty hunter, Gypsy (Jessica Camacho), allowed him to step into the spotlight in a way that he hasn't often been able to. More importantly, the strong rapport that Carlos Valdes and Jessica Camacho were able to establish, as they quickly settled into their oddly flirtatious rivalry, quickly proved to be the episode's true strong-point.

The whole 'trial by combat' plot-line felt a little goofy, admittedly, but it did provide the episode with some truly great moments – first, with Cisco's continued efforts to master his own abilities, then with the final battle, itself. That final battle, which saw the two fighting their way through a few different dimensions (including a brief trip to Supergirl's Earth) would have to be one of the most ambitious we have seen, so far. The series has already given us plenty of fight-scenes between two Speedsters, of course (and, they are always entertainingly flashy) – but, it was great to see the series strive to give us something so different, in the form of Cisco going up against someone who shares his own abilities.

While all of this is going on, we also have Iris (who seems to have become convinced that her knowledge of the future gives her some form of immunity in the present) drawing Wally into her own investigation of illegal arms dealers operating in Central City – an investigation which, naturally, places her own life in danger. While I often haven't been entirely sure about Iris West's value as a character on the series, I do have to admit that the scene of her calmly, and almost contemptuously, dismissing a nameless thug who has a gun point at her was pretty great. It's definitely an interesting character arc to set her on, in the lead up toward her possible (although, unlikely) death in the future.

Wally West, meanwhile, is also continuing his steady transition into a genuinely entertaining, and increasingly important, character as he continues to settle into the role of Kid Flash. Throughout much of the last season, and the early episodes of this season, I had often found myself thinking that Wally West (and, Keiynan Lonsdale) was being severely underutilised – but, the current season seems to be going out of its way to make up for that. The sheer joy that Wally finds him his own super-human abilities, and in the opportunities that it gives him to be a hero, is kind of infectious – meaning that any scene featuring Wally in his own 'Kid Flash' suit is bound to be entertaining.

Similarly, Julian Albert is also making is slow transition into becoming a true part of the team. There is definitely a lot of fun to be found in watching such a naturally abrasive character trying to 'play nice' with the rest of the team. I hadn't been too enthusiastic about the reveal that Julian was actually the man beneath Alchemy's mask – but, the series still managed to turn the reveal into something worthwhile. Tom Felton has always been entertaining in the role. Bringing the character more directly into the action has given him a lot more to work with.

Overall, the season's eleventh episode may not have done much to move the season's main narrative arc along – but, then, it clearly wasn't intended to. With Barry Allen stepping back, however briefly, what this episode ultimately gave us was an opportunity to spend some time with the show's supporting cast – particularly Cisco, who was given the opportunity to be the episode's true hero. More than that, the season's eleventh episode was just a lot of fun.

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