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Wednesday, 2 November 2016

The Flash S3E5: Monster

The Flash
Series 3, Episode 5

This was a very disappointing episode, and that concerns me -- it actually concerns me quite a lot, because so far, a lot of this current series has been pretty underwhelming, and by the fifth episode, I would expect it to have fallen into its groove a little more than it has. Instead, we've had two episodes now that aren't quite filler (this episode in particular advanced Caitlin's plotline), but are definitely toeing the edge of it, following three generally okay but not brilliant episodes.

In this week's episode, a giant monster begins threatening Central City, prompting the team to race to figure out what it is, how to track it, and how to stop it. Meanwhile, Cisco becomes deeply suspicious of HR, the new Harrison Wells on the team, believing that he both isn't contributing anything and that he's hiding something from them, while Barry has his own problems with Julian. Meanwhile, Caitlin visits her mother, Doctor Tannhauser, to try and patch up their relationship, and to learn more about the metahuman powers she's started to manifest.

So, we're going to talk a little bit about setting up audience expectations only to then subvert them. Specifically, I want to talk about when it is and isn't appropriate. Subverting audience expectations can be a very effective dramatic tool, highlighting the shock of a situation or injecting comedy into a story, but it's important that the reality has more punch or dramatic impact than what the audience has been made to expect: In comedy, this can mean that the reality is funnier than the expectation (and, in fact, comedy will often utilise dramatic irony rather than leave its audience in suspense), but in an adventure drama like The Flash, it should usually mean that the reality is more shocking and has more of a dramatic effect on the storyline than the expectation.

Caitlin, who is increasingly concerned about her ice powers.

All of which is to say that setting up an audience expectation that HR will turn out to be evil, only to then reveal him to actually just be incompetent, is not a good use of this particular dramatic device. It doesn't enrich the story, it doesn't have lasting effects on the narrative, it just hammers in to the audience that we are absolutely and completely stuck with Tom Cavanagh going full sitcom as annoying, peppy, hipster HR Wells.

Which is a little baffling, because this episode actually does have a good example of subverting audience expectations done right, as it reveals that the giant monster is actually a hologram controlled by a child, with Julian nearly shooting said kid and having character development because of it. The reason this works while the HR reveal fails is because this actually does impact the narrative in a positive and meaningful way: It fundamentally changes Julian's character and his dynamic with Barry, putting them on the path to being more like partners than enemies.

Barry, and also some rope.

What this episode's plotline really hammered in for me, though, is that Julian would make a perfectly serviceable replacement for Wells -- in fact, he'd make a better replacement than HR does. Like Wells, he's intelligent but abrasive, somewhat mysterious, and has a relationship with Barry that alternates being friendly and confrontational. The character is different enough from Wells that it wouldn't feel like they're just rehashing the same storylines, as well, and since he'd be more of a peer than a mentor to the others, the dynamic would be fundamentally different.

Not to mention, Tom Felton is a pretty stellar actor, and at the moment he is far and away the most engaging actor on the show.

The rest of that main plot is basically as you would expect from The Flash: Procedural elements, science, people puzzling over what kind of metahuman it could be, and so on, and so forth. Nothing really worth delving into at length.

Caitlin's mother.

Caitlin's storyline with her mother, Doctor Tannhauser, is a lot more compelling, as Caitlin tries to reconnect, while her mother is more interested in studying her powers. The storyline ends on a slightly sinister note, as Caitlin freezes a man's arm when he attempts to prevent her from leaving -- but as Barry points out, this is a show that's pretty big on redemption arcs, so hopefully this all works out okay for Caitlin eventually.

I admit to being somewhat confused as to why she doesn't just tell Barry and Cisco. They're both metahumans too, after all, it's not like there's a big anti-metahuman stigma at Star Labs.

Anyway, overall I was pretty disappointed with this episode. Hopefully next week's episode, a Wally focus episode revolving around Doctor Alchemy attempting to give him his speed powers from Flashpoint, will be a little more fun to watch.

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