The Flash: All's Wells That Ends Wells

Nash: "I have a life now! I have people I actually don't hate!"

By nature I love brevity: The Flash returns with a disjointed premiere that could have and probably should have been better, given its importance to the show as a whole. Still, it closes in a compelling manner.

More than anything else, this feels like an episode out of the previous season. This is understandable, and there are fairly obvious reasons why it is the case. But it really doesn't feel like a season premiere. It has all the trappings of a premiere, to be sure. It exposits heavily to catch the audience up on what's going on. It has a cold open that culminates in a big reveal of some new costume, or in this case a new method of putting on the costume. And it features the departure of one main cast member, and the integration of new cast members as fully part of the team (in case you missed it, Chester and Allegra are in the opening now). But it doesn't have the energy of The Flash's typical season premieres, nor does it feel like the start of something new. It feels more like an episode designed as the return after a few months' hiatus mid-season.

This may end up being the general approach they take to this season as a whole, or at least the first half of it. I wonder if this will all feel like the back half of the previous season. That's interesting, because nearly all the setup for the show's current events was in the back half of Season Six; if you remember, it was split between the Crisis setup and the Eva McCulloch storyline.

But how did 'All's Wells That Ends Wells' fare as an episode, regardless of how well it works as a premiere? Eh. It's a mid-tier Flash episode. I'm starting to come to terms with the fact that this show is really more of a wacky hijinks comedy than I'd like it to be. The characters, scenarios, and dialogue are designed that way, and that seems to be the way the showrunners conceive of most episodes. I will concede that it tends to be fun when the actors get to play crazy characters or imitate each other. And yet it continues to feel at odds with the high-stakes drama that still remains a part of the show, and with the deep sense of sorrow that continues to plague many of the characters. The life-and-death weight of Barry's attempts to regain his speed doesn't feel like it gels with the fun of Grant Gustin's Tom Cavanagh impression.

This is a line The Flash has been attempting to toe for a while, and I feel like it just keeps moving toward the light comedy. And by 'light', I don't mean tonally. I mean it in terms of the effort that goes into the comedy. If this show wants to actually be a comedy, it will have to put a whole lot more intentional work into the humor. It will need to center itself around the comedy, kind of like Legends of Tomorrow has done quite successfully. The showrunners of Legends understand how to merge superhero comedy with superhero action, and if this is really the route The Flash wants to go, perhaps it should take a page or two from one of its sibling series.

Still, some of the drama is well-done. In particular, everything from Nash's farewell on was engaging and worked quite well on its own terms. This was clearly an episode designed to facilitate and prepare for Tom Cavanagh's departure from the series. Cavanagh really brought it all here; Nash has not been the most interesting Wells, since the Crisis, but the writers really draw everything from him that he's got in this one. As much as it centers around Nash's sacrifice, it's really more about saying goodbye to all of Cavanagh's other characters that we've known and loved. In fact, the whole sequence plays better on a meta level than it does on a narrative one. I'd bet good money that Grant Gustin asked for the chance to imitate Cavanagh before he left the show, for example. All the most popular versions of Wells from over the years showed up, save the first for obvious reasons. For a character created for the television series, Harrison Wells has been a consistent and remarkably effective part of the show.

Anyway, this was a good send-off, narratively. But from a meta standpoint, I have a few gripes. For one thing, Cavanagh has had wonderful interactions with the whole cast over the years. Most importantly, he's been integral to Cisco and had an excellent rapport with Carlos Valdes. I wish they'd been given one last scene together; as it is, I can't remember the last time they shared an interaction, and that's a shame. That final scene just doesn't have the same impact with Chester and Allegra standing there behind Barry as it would with Cisco and Caitlin. Heck, I'd even take Ralph or Iris, although neither one was an option, for very different reasons. But with everything going on, I understand that perhaps scheduling or COVID concerns might have made certain appearances more difficult. They did the best they could with what they had.

I think it was the right time for him to go. Nash Wells served his purpose but wasn't very interesting beyond that, and the attempts post-Crisis to give his character a reason to be there always centered around other characters, whether it was Allegra or Reverse-Flash or some other Wells. Tom Cavanagh's job on this show has always seemed like a ton of fun and a great time, but it's not particularly demanding on his creative powers. The man is capable of a lot of great acting, and this show was never going to demand of him again all that he had to offer in the first two seasons. All this on a show that has desperately needed to shed some dead weight for a few seasons now, and it makes a lot of sense. His departure, along with the swift writing out of Ralph for real-world reasons, will go a long way toward making the character management on The Flash more, well, manageable.

There's a B-story and a C-story, and I can't figure out which is which. Neither has any relevance on the main plot, and neither works particularly well. One revolves around Cecile's interrogation of The Top (Ashley Rickards), a holdover character that first appeared in the Season Three episode 'The New Rogues'. Her old partner, the former Mirror Master, appears only to be promptly killed, and the bombastic but forgettable Grey Damon does not return to play his last moments. These interrogation sequences are serviceable, but they require either more skill to pull off or better dialogue. Danielle Nicolet shines when playing opposite strong performers, but Rickards doesn't have nearly the presence required to be as threatening as she is written to be, and Nicolet's skill as a scene partner does not help her find any purchase when there's nothing workable coming back at her. Understandably, neither actress manages to give the insufferably term-laden dialogue any believability.

The last segment involves Iris' continuing adventures in the mirrorverse. When last we left her, she suddenly disappeared while investigating with Kamila. There's no sign of Kamila, but she had a fairly standard and unimportant interaction with Eva. This is all just as wheel-spinning as this storyline has been in past episodes, and it pretty much only serves to give Candice Patton and Efrat Dor a little more material and screentime. Patton holds her own surprisingly well, largely isolated from the rest of the cast. But she must be growing just as tired as I am, if not more, of these uninteresting and circular scenes she's being asked to endure.

Overall, a fine episode with some definite high points and some disappointing lows. An accceptable showing, but not really as a premiere. Still, if they can tighten up the dialogue and manage their now-smaller cast more effectively, this could be a great season. Here's hoping!

Running Plot Threads:

-Team Flash, with the help of Nash's sacrifice, has successfully created an artificial Speed Force to replace the natural one that Barry destroyed in 'The Last Temptation of Barry Allen, Part Two'. We'll see if there are consequences to using this new Speed Force.

-Cisco and Caitlin are both on assignment elsewhere. Cisco, if you remember, went to Atlantis in an attempt to obtain a perpetual motion machine. Caitlin went north with her mother to heal from the events of last season.

-Eva McCulloch discovered that she is not the original version of herself. The OG Eva died in the Particle Accelerator explosion, and she was created as a clone in the mirrorverse.

-Iris... did nothing. *sigh*

-The Top helped Cecile to discover a new ability. Not only can she sense emotions, she can also project them.

-Eva is going after Black Hole, the covert organization that Iris' paper was investigating last season.

Pensees:

-It was a cool idea to put Barry in cryo-stasis when he wasn't needed to preserve his speed, but they never did anything else with that. Could this be a cut scene due to COVID? Probably.

-Ralph and Sue were conspicuously absent. This is because Hartley Sawyer, the actor who plays Ralph, was fired from the series after tweets he made several years ago resurfaced. You can read a good report on these events from The Hollywood Reporter here, which quotes Sawyer's tweets, The CW's statement, and Sawyer's statement following his dismissal.

-I liked the touch of having an Orson Well(e)s, a nod to the legendary director of Citizen Kane and F for Fake. I don't feel like Cavanagh's performance really reflected the actual Welles, but I digress.

-The fake Barry in Iris' mirrorverse vision said he picked some food out at 'Clark's recommendation'. Clark is starring in a new series on The CW, which I am quite enjoying.

-I can hardly believe that's still Morena Baccarin as Gideon. That's definitely her voice, though.

-That bomb was very conspicuous. I kind of feel like any pilot that did a preflight check would have caught it immediately. And you just do not take off without a preflight check.

Quotes:

Chester: "Oh my god, do you know Gandalf?"

Eva, to Iris: "You are weak in every universe. An insignificant speck, a victim."

Tom Cavanagh, for presumably the last time: "Now... Run. Barry, run."

3 out of 6 very bad preflight checks.

--
CoramDeo is still... on his journey... home.

3 comments:

Billie Doux said...

I don't want Tom Cavanagh to leave. Although I'll admit that if this turns out to be his swan song, sacrificing his life for Barry was pretty darned cool.

I'll echo that if this was it, he really should have had a scene with Cisco. :(

What's happening with Iris is just so frustrating. Time for it to be over.

Anonymous said...

I actually really enjoyed this episode! Maybe it wasn't the best dramatically or comedically, but I liked seeing the characters on my screen after so long :). The complaints about Cisco not being there are ones that I get, but I've honestly been a little tired of his character for the past few seasons so I didn't really mind.

The Iris plot is also something that probably played better for me because I haven't re-watched last season at all. I've actually completely forgotten how long she's been in the mirror (although I remember being frustrated about it last year) so it didn't feel like wheel spinning as much as a fun detour.

As an episode of last season I would probably have all the same complaints you did. As an episode of a much delayed Covid season where I've already binged every show I've ever wanted to watch and there's still no end in sight where I live, it just made me feel happy.

P.S.: I think they've announced that the first few episodes will just be tying up threads from last season before they move on to new stuff around episode three or four. There's also a slightly reduced episode number, and they're also still splitting the season in two (I'm pretty sure?). Maybe having so much less time to tell the story will help balance out the drama/comedy stuff. I'm optimistic.

Anonymous said...

I gave up on the Flash and all of the other arrow verse shows a long time ago. Long gone is the heyday of the first couple of seasons of arrow and the Flash. And then the disaster that was the culmination of Crisis, squandering all that potential, was the last straw.