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Wednesday, 22 March 2017

The Flash S3E17: Duet

The Flash
Series 3, Episode 17

Okay, before we get started, I'd just like to point out, after learning from Legends of Tomorrow that people in the US apparently can't even pronounce JRR Tolkien's name right, that it's not pronounced 'Tol-keen,' it's pronounced 'Tol-ky-en.' This is not difficult, you pronounce it basically how it's said, and yet out of the entire cast, only Arthur Darvill actually did this.

It was very frustrating.

Anyway, onto the show we're actually reviewing: The Flash! Specifically, it's a Flash-Supergirl crossover episode, leading on from the end of this week's Supergirl episode, and including not only Kara, but also J'onn, Sort-of-Winn, and -- joy of joys -- Mon-El.

Ever since Joss Whedon did 'Once More With Feeling' on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, an ambitious musical television movie with a number of terrible, terrible songs, musical episodes have been the spectre that looms over the entire young-adult-action genre. They're oft threatened, but those threats tend not to be carried through. Well, this one has been, giving us forty minutes of glitzy 1920s-ish aesthetic with five surprisingly effective musical numbers.


Picking up where Supergirl left off, this episode sees J'onn and Mon-El arrive in STAR Labs with her comatose body. Before long, however, Barry finds himself the victim of the same villain who put Kara in a coma, and awakens in a shared dream of the two of them in a 1920s musical where people they know appear as characters in a West Side Story esque plot. Told they have to follow the script to leave, the two of them traverse the world of the musical, and a plotline involving forbidden love. Meanwhile, in the real world, J'onn, Wally, and Cisco must deal with the Music Meister, who is draining Barry and Kara's powers.

One advantage this episode has over the Whedon classic is that most of the songs aren't original creations. We have 'Moon River,' 'More I Cannot Wish You' and 'Put A Little Love In Your Heart' as cover songs, and the comparatively less ambitious 'Superfriends' and 'Running Home To You,' as original songs, written by Rachel Bloom and La La Land writing duo Benji Pasek and Justin Paul respectively.

Also key is that the episode doesn't try to get the entire cast to sing. J'onn never has a musical number, thus saving me from the weird cognitive dissonance of regal, dignified David Harewood tap-dancing, for example. Instead, the singers are limited to Grant Gustin (former Broadway actor and Glee cast member), Melissa Benoist (got her start in musicals), John Barrowman (celebrated Broadway lead man), Jesse L. Martin (accomplished musical actor, famously starred in Rent on Broadway), Victor Garber (was a singer before he was an actor, starred in several musicals), and, briefly, Carlos Valdes (got his start in musicals) and Jeremy Jordan (got his start in musicals, performed on Broadway).

Wally and Cisco are looking really great here.

Long story short, unlike the Whedon attempt at this concept, everybody who sings in this musical has proven singing ability, whereas in 'Once More With Feeling,' I'm fairly sure the only accomplished singer was Anthony Stewart Head, meaning that any song without him in was just a stretch of amateurish singing, not painful to listen to but also not particularly inspiring.

The shiny, camera-filter 1920s setting also helps a surprising amount, lending the episode an air of unreality that makes all of the suddenly-bursting-into-song shenanigans are lot easier to digest. In fact, I was expecting more songs. There were points that seemed perfect for a song that remained completely song-less. Where was the short ditty from Barry and Kara on how Not-Iris and Not-Mon-El need to be honest with their parents?

(Incidentally, the idea of Iris and Mon-El dating is grotesque. Iris deserves better than that guy.)

If it seems like I'm focusing a lot on the singing, that's because I am: It is the only thing this episode has, being otherwise extremely thin on plot, with writing beats mostly meant to connect up all of the songs. I can live with that -- it's basically what you would expect from a musical episode, and honestly, the show manages to make up for it by utilising Kara and Barry's fun, puppyish friendship to make us all forget that, actually, all the plot of this episode could be condensed into fifteen minutes.

Winn on piano, Cisco singing.

In fact, the episode effectively ends on a deus ex machina, as Iris and Mon-El are vibed into the musical and save Barry and Kara by kissing them, in a corny finish that feels completely earned for Barry and Iris and not even remotely earned for Kara and Mon-El. Honestly, can Mon-El just leave? Can he just go somewhere else?

Next week, apparently Abra Kadabra will be the villain, as some kind of magic-trick themed metahuman from the future who knows Savitar's true identity. That actually sounds like a really interesting concept, so I look forward to seeing if it pans out in execution. I'm pretty sure this episode marks the last non-plotty episode we'll be getting, so from here on out it really should be all plot all the time. 

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