The Flash: A Girl Named Sue

"Is there anyone that doesn't want to kill you?"
"Not really."

By nature I love brevity: The Flash appears to be attempting to find its way after Crisis. That's probably a good thing. But it's not good if it doesn't succeed in finding its way, and 'A Girl Named Sue' is only nearing, but not quite achieving, a step in the right direction.

This is closer to the episode I wanted 'License to Elongate' to be earlier this season: a lighthearted adventure that hearkens back at least in spirit to the early seasons of the show. It had a fun mystery, some likable guest stars, a heap of comic book connections, and an incremental advancement of the overall plot. As much as I've loved this past season of the show, I haven't had this much fun with an episode since 'Into the Void', not counting the Crisis, of course. And the entire reason I will always love this show more than, say, Arrow is because of the fun of those first few seasons. That's something Arrow never was, and never could be. It's a level of fun that Legends of Tomorrow is just now almost reaching, albeit a very different brand of fun.

There's something about the balance that The Flash's early material - particularly Season One - struck between energetic fun and weighty depth that's really, really special. It was almost completely lost by the time Season Four was underway, and we have not yet returned there. 'A Girl Named Sue' is either an imperfect step in that direction or a one-off to break up the status quo. I sincerely hope it's the former.

'A Girl Named Sue' seems like an attempt to return The Flash to its fun roots. This attempt, however, lacks two key elements. The first is the weight and depth. Few scenes here have the powerful emotional stakes that so characterized and grounded the first two seasons. That was the counterbalance that made the fun so much more enjoyable, and it's a critical element if you're trying to return The Flash to the magical days of 2014 and 2015.

The second missing piece of the puzzle is the energy. If you rewatch the first season, there's an unmistakable energy building up in every little corner of the show. It builds and builds until it's ready to burst, and at appropriate moments throughout the season, they let small portions of it loose in big event episodes to keep you from being overwhelmed. It seems like a dumb joke about the character's powers, but The Flash always used to feel like it was moving at a breakneck speed. I attribute that to the energy of the show, and it seems to me that the energy is tied very much to the speedster action.

I've been saying all season long that this show is wise to reserve itself as far as action is concerned. The budget, I argued, is just so low that every time they try a big action set piece it looks awful. Allow me to clarify my position on this slightly. I don't mind the lower levels of action and CGI, for a limited period of time. I still think they don't have the budget to make it look very good, especially since they blew most of their CGI money on Crisis. But it cannot last forever. I am beginning to get tired of the lengthy dialogue scenes with no action to break them up, and of Barry taking a back seat.

Case in point: we haven't seen any shots of Barry just running through the city since at least Season Four, but probably earlier. And as much as I discounted complaints that the show no longer focused on Barry enough back at the start of this season, he has been relegated to the B story or even C story for the last three episodes.

So what does The Flash need to do going forward to return to its former glory? First, it needs to keep the levity and fun, but also maintain the energy, weight, and depth. The energy is best maintained through speedster action. This is not an easy task, but I like what the new showrunner has done so far, and we should be seeing the return of both Wally West and potentially Godspeed before the season is out, so that may be just what the doctor ordered. Second, it needs to figure out how to handle its cast of characters, giving Barry his appropriate screen time while giving the others enough material to keep them interesting.

I've been spending a lot of time on the show as a whole because I think this episode gives us a glimpse at its possible direction, but 'A Girl Named Sue' itself is just fine. Iris and the clearly insane Eva McCulloch have a good dynamic, and it would certainly be interesting to give the villain a major connection to Iris this time around.

I also liked the inevitable and much-awaited appearance of Sue Dearbon. Hartley Sawyer and Natalie Dreyfuss have some good chemistry, and I like that they aren't just immediately wrapping her character up in a nice tidy bow after all this setup. They're starting her character as the sort of person you're not going to root for so much, just like they did for Ralph in the beginning. As far as the fake-out goes, that kind of thing only works when you build your false story on solid comic book foundations to set up audience expectation. I thought this episode did that quite well. I'm sold on Sue for now, but they will need to give me more for me to care about her as a person.

Running Plot Threads:

-Eva McCulloch has been trapped in the mirror dimension since the particle accelerator explosion.

-Fake Iris wants access to the mirror gun for nefarious purposes, and Nash is reading the diary of Harry Wells for unclear purposes.

-Joe tells Barry that there may be a mole in the CCPD. The issue is twofold: one, they already tried that back in Season Five with Jonesy, and two, we don't really know any of the CCPD characters except Joe and Barry. So either they introduce multiple CCPD officers for us to suspect in the next few episodes, which is a bad idea in an already crowded show, or they're going to have a hard time making the reveal surprising.

Pensees:

-Still love that new opening title sequence.

-Okay, so I'm now sold on the threat this mole poses based solely on Jesse L. Martin's performance. He seemed legitimately spooked.

-So it's kind of unclear whether Nash is seeing Harry Wells, or the OG, Eobard Thawne Wells. I thought it was Harry last week based on the context, but he is talking a lot like Thawne Wells. He is also reading Harry's diary though, so in summary I don't know what the heck is going on. I studied pictures of the two, and they are indistinguishable. They dress the same and even wear the same glasses.

-The song that was playing during Sue's fight with Esperanza was weird and felt a bit out of place.

-The Cecile and Ralph pairing is kind of cute and funny, but not nearly as cute and funny as the show seems to think it is.

-In the comics, a woman named Jean Loring was the wife of the Atom, and had a spoilery connection to Sue Dearbon in the acclaimed graphic novel Identity Crisis. Here, she claims John Loring has been trying to kill her.

-Joe just gave a piece of advice in this episode that will turn out to be completely wrong. He suggested that Barry should trust Iris, when that is a very bad idea right now. Not to say Joe gave bad advice, because there's no way he should know that Iris isn't Iris, but I think this is the first time the show has used Joe to steer Barry wrong. I kind of like it.

-This season has not been doing a very good job of juggling its cast lately. This is Ralph's first appearance since Crisis, they've written Cisco out for a bit, and Frost and Allegra were both missing from this episode despite very prominent appearances last week. And we haven't seen Kamilla in ages. Maybe we need fewer characters, although I would have a very hard time saying goodbye to most of the ones we have right now.

-So who are your must-keep characters? Obviously they can't get rid of Barry. I think to maintain the core of the show, Joe, Cecile, and Iris are absolutely necessary. Out of the other characters, my favorites are Cisco, Caitlin, and Ralph. I guess if this show wants to get back to basics, maybe focusing on our core team really is the way to go. It's a shame, though, because I do like the rest of the gang. I'm just assuming, by the way, that there will always be a new Wells each season.

-I wonder if we are building to a cliffhanger. I almost hope so, because I don't know if this show can successfully build up a big bad and then defeat them in the four remaining episodes.

Quotes:

Ralph: "I smell a mystery."
Sue: "I smell... *sniffs* expired milk."

Sue: "If you get killed... my parents are out good money."

Eva: "There's only two options in this place. Survival or madness."

Eva: "I saw him in the mirror. I watched him for five years as he mourned, and grieved, and moved on. And I can't. I can't move on."

Ralph: "I'm not going to let you do this alone."
Sue: "No?"
Ralph: "No. But we do this my way. We get the ledger, and then immediately bring it to my friends at CCPD. Deal... or no deal?"
Sue: "Deal."
Recording this one mainly because I added 'or no deal' to Ralph's line at the same exact time he did while watching the episode for the first time.

4 out of 6 mirror dimension origami horses.

--
CoramDeo is the Strong Bad's Leporello.

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