THE FLASH Review 3.06 “Shade”

Everybody wants some (powers)

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Apologies to all you Meredith loyalists, I’m back for one more Flash review while she takes a tour of Earth-53, the secret universe where everyone dresses like Dolly Parton. This week on Earth-Prime, both Wally and Caitlyn find themselves amidst metahuman power conundrums. Wally’s desire to gain speed and become the heroic Kid Flash leads him closer to the manipulative Alchemy, whereas Caitlyn suppresses her abilities lest she become the villainous Killer Frost. It’s the odd episode that doesn’t focus on Barry, making him more of a supporting player in the series that happens to be named after him, and it works wonders. Not that Barry isn’t a joy to be around, especially when he’s trying to be better, but “Shade” finally affords Wally and Caitlyn the breathing room they deserve, and the show will likely be all the better for it.

Wally opens the episode with his own Barry-like narration, showing us what the show would be like were he Central City’s speedster. He even saves a kid on skateboard from an oncoming truck (where Barry saved a cyclist from a taxi in the pilot), but it’s soon revealed this narration and fantasy are but Wally telling Joe about his dreams. His visions of metahuman speed and abilities are growing more frequent and more potent, putting him in the same category as the likes of Rival and Magenta, this season’s villains-of-the-week granted the powers they had in the Flashpoint parallel universe. Joe and Barry are aware of where these dreams are coming from, and to stop Wally from falling into the hands of Dr. Alchemy, they try to deter him from doing what he can to become a superhero. Being Joe’s son however, his desire to rush into danger and help people prevents him from listening.

Barry still isn’t getting along with his lab-mate Julian, despite his efforts to thaw their frigid relationship, but their re-assignment to a full time metahuman task force serves as more of a structure for the episode than it does any sort of character development. That’s a-okay since the show is quick to move on from the episode’s shadowy new meta-villain murdering a dude at random, as it switches back to Cisco’s annoyance with his overenthusiastic lab partner, Earth-19’s chipper Harrison “H.R.” Wells, who passes off others’ ideas as his own while dressed like a TV magician. Their most recent spat has to do with Cisco’s magic handcuffs, and by “magic” I mean “scientifically engineered to suppress metahuman abilities,” which mysteriously disappear from the lab’s common workspace. Unbeknownst to either one, Caitlyn’s been wearing them to make sure she doesn’t lose control of her powers and turn into her Earth-2 counterpart. She loves and trusts everyone on her team, but this is one secret she feels entitled to lest she accidentally hurt them.

She asks Cisco to “vibe” her future to make sure she doesn’t lose herself, but what he sees is a grim outcome for the both of them: friends turned foes, battling each other with superpowers. Even Cisco, to whose nerdy ears “Vibe versus Killer Frost” would otherwise be elixir, can’t bring himself to imagine doing battle with his best friend. He keeps this a secret from her in return, knowing how much pain and conflict it’ll cause her, but he can’t help but come clean when she tags along with him to third wheel (fourth… well, fifth if we count H.R.) on Joe’s date with the D.A. The new Wells puts on a charming new face – literally using Earth-19 light refracting technology to disguise himself as his business partner – so that the good folks of Central City don’t confuse him for murder-Wells. This face and the accompanying charm draw the attention of Joe’s date, even further since Joe’s distracted by Wally’s recent Alchemy visions, but there’s no time for any sort of love triangles to play out as the shadow-esque metahuman (the titular Shade) invades their outdoor movie night.

I tend not to pick holes in the comic book mumbo-jumbo the show passes off for science, but in attempting to stop Shade by “slowing down his molecules” the team resorts to turning on a whole bunch of car lights to make sure he doesn’t slink away in the shadows. That’s all well and good, and I’m willing to let slide that added heat would do the opposite of what they wanted to happen to his molecules until the situation starts to feel like a missed opportunity. You know what else “slows down molecules”? Cold, the kind Caitlyn emits and secretly used to free Barry from a mirror a few weeks ago doing just that – slowing down molecular vibrations. Caitlyn’s even present on scene, and in an episode that affords her so many contemplative glances (Danielle Panabaker’s silent moments speak volumes), to have her powers be revealed to the team at Cisco’s discretion later on, rather than her making an active decision to use them to help people, feels like she’s getting the short-end once more. I don’t doubt that the showrunners have a long game in mind when it comes to Caitlyn’s trajectory, but so much of her narrative is outside her control and this felt like a chance to balance the scales in a way that would’ve worked thematically. Alas.

Over on the Wally side of things, “H.R.” Wells suggests imprisoning him to keep him safe from Alchemy. Well, someone certainly suggests it, but so many instances have arisen where H.R. contributes half an idea that it’s hard to know whom to give credit. While the rest of Team Flash is off fighting Shade, a distraction provided by Alchemy, the creepy, Tobin Bell-voiced sorcerer slithers his way into Wally’s head, making him re-live the pain of his near-fatal injury in the Flashpoint universe. The only way the torture will cease is if Wally gets Iris to let him out. She stands her ground, even punching him out when necessary, proving yet again that she can hold her own.

Like Caitlyn, Iris so often gets short-changed by the narrative that her standout moments feel like victories. Like Wally, she too feels powerless to help people, but she does whatever she can. Barry tells her there’s no Flash without her (just like there’s no Flash without Candice Patton), and the scene is allowed to play out like a genuine, human relationship without any inkling of the duo’s forced romance. See, Flash writers? You can make Iris a vital part of Barry’s life without shoving them in a romantic blender!

When Wally awakes from his Iris-induced coma, he and Joe negotiate the team’s next move until there’s only one remaining option: Wally allows Alchemy to draw him in as Joe and Barry approach with a SWAT team. It’s genius… but for the fact that there’s an unknown foe protecting Alchemy from harm. A speedster so quick that even Flash can barely see him, leaving regular humans defenseless. Wally eventually succumbs to his desire for power and grabs Alchemy’s magical rock. While it comes from a place of wanting to help people, it doesn’t feel very Wally West (neither the show’s version nor the comic’s), but the season is still young, and with a new threat approaching, Barry will need all the help he can get.

In the episode’s final moments, Wally is encased in some kind of cocoon, likely as his powers gestate, but Barry finds himself literally backed into a corner at the hands of Alchemy’s new speedster. And the moment is… surprising, to say the least! Regardless of what backstory the show chooses to go with, having the speedster Savitar introduce himself AS the “God of Speed” (as opposed to merely named after him) opens up a lot of interesting possibilities regardless of whether it’s the truth. His appearance is also unexpected to those familiar with the comics; neither the shirtless, mythical superhuman from the page nor the typical, leather-clad CW speedster, this Savitar appears more armoured. More mechanical. Unfortunately, also more Michael Bay’s Megatron-like, but it’s a look that feels unique and alien. This is also the first episode in a while that’s ended on a proper cliffhanger, so it’s a hell of a way to go out! Let’s see if next week can keep the momentum.

Coolest moments this week:

- Cisco throwing shade at H.R. for naming “Shade,” asking if his Earth-19 counterpart had the ability to side-eye people.

- H.R.’s complicated dab-greeting (I realize this happened last week, I just wanted to mention it again because I’ve been practicing it)

- H.R. name-dropping Grodd and hinting at Gorilla City. Sorry, last H.R. one, I promise.

- The “Where’s Julian?” fake-out as the team approached Alchemy, which was definitely a fake-out, because so help me God if Julian is another Trojan Horse...

- Everything about Cisco and Caitlyn’s friendship. These are two people who genuinely care for each other, and it shows in every scene.