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More often than not, episodes of The Flash can be divided into three main categories: self-contained adventures, intimate character dramas, and sweeping setups for the future. Some episodes veer between any two of these labels, but “Attack On Gorilla City” is a strange hour of television that feels like all three without really nailing any one. That isn’t to say that’s a bad episode – it moves, and it sprinkles the right amount of fun even amidst dire circumstances – but it’s unfocused in a way that makes it hard to know how to feel about it.
When Jesse Quick hopped over from Earth-2 last week, she brought with her the promise of a trip to Gorilla City, where our heroes dumped Grodd last season and where he now holds her father captive. Along for the ride are the obvious choices: Barry Allen, the speedster, Caitlyn Snow, the one who Grodd listens to, and Cisco Ramon, whose powers allow him to open a breach between worlds. That Julian forces his way into the dynamic is as fun as it is a sensible choice for the narrative. He’s protective of Caitlyn, wants to be part of the team and has a thirst for adventure, and it also lets Tom Felton make a Planet of the Apes reference before a single Harry Potter one, which is a massive plot twist none of us saw coming. On the flipside, it sidelines Jesse from the events she set into motion, leaving her at the mercy of a romantic subplot so half-baked it makes Barry & Iris seem like a well-set soufflé.
Both Wally and the narrative appear to have forgotten about Jesse entirely until this point. It’s not unfair given all the speeding and saving Wally’s been busy with, but there’s never really been a sense that their dynamic was anything more than mutual infatuation before they left for their respective Earths. It’s great that this new tension between them, an out-of-left-field disappointment in lack of inter-dimensional communication, leads to potentially having another girl on the team, but it comes at the expense of ever letting us see what Jesse and Wally mean to each other. The skip from cutesy crushes to moving to a different universe to be together is… jarring, to say the least. It doesn’t serve any aspect of the journey we’ve been following Wally on, and what feels like an even bigger missed opportunity is the fact that it almost does, when Jesse suggests he might be more in love with speed than with her, but he brushes this aside along with any possibility of an interesting development and leaves Jesse to seek advice from HR.
Over on Earth-2, Barry, Caitlyn, Cisco and Julian find themselves imprisoned and at Grodd’s mercy. Gorilla City itself looks interesting – what little we see of it thanks to budgetary constraints – but it’s the Gorilla King Solovar who steals the spotlight. According to Grodd, Solovar plans to invade Earth-1 and enslaves humans in return for their cruelty (another Planet of the Apes parallel that makes thematic sense here), but if The Flash were to kill Solovar, Grodd would ascend to the throne and prevent the gorilla invasion foretold in Barry’s future. That all this exposition is transmitted psychically by way of Harry Wells makes it feel somewhat silly (Tom Cavanagh has proven he can do pretty much anything on this show, but even he can’t make Grodd’s grunts and half-speak feel remotely intimidating), though again, it does save on Grodd having to actually show up so that money can be pumped into Flash’s battle with Solovar.
When I say the battle looks like a video game cut-scene, I mean it as the highest of compliments. Despite never getting a good look at the gorillas in the coliseum, Flash vs. Solovar feels as magnificent as one of those trailers for Injustice or DC Online. A speedster fighting an albino gorilla armed with a spear doesn’t need to look “realistic,” but it does need to be clearly visible and executed artfully, and “Attack On Gorilla City” checks those boxes with finesse. Every attack lands, the scale feels real and pulsating, and the momentary focus on falling blood ties the whole thing together before it climaxes with a thunderous speed-punch. It’s one of the better action scenes this season, but it’s also the episode’s early high-point. Nothing else that follows really compares, especially to Flash's Gladiator-esque denouncement of cruelty.
Grodd tricks Team Flash, revealing himself to be the orchestrator of the oncoming attack, and after a debate about one of them potentially dying to save everyone, Team Flash tricks Grodd in return by having Barry play dead so he can be dragged out of his cell. It’s the kind of Silver Age silliness that works, in that it allows Barry & co. to reiterate their unspoken team motto of hope in the face of adversity, allowing each and every one of them to put themselves on the line, even if it’s only in the form of words. Eventually, it isn’t individual sacrifice that gets them out of trouble, but a collective effort.
Back on Earth-1, Jesse and Wally’s romantic woes feel positively facile in comparison because of the lack of prior context. One the other hand, Caitlyn and Julian’s budding romance (or rather, testing of romantic waters) is building its foundation. Every situation they’re in together challenges both characters, and doesn’t resolve itself until they’ve both made concerted efforts to understand each other and attempt to be better people. That they also have chemistry is a blessing, but no amount of sparks can substitute for a well-written dynamic that one roots for week after week, where the stakes feel personal and where their interaction provides opportunity for minor conflicts that lead to change. Iris/Barry and Wally/Jesse are sadly lacking in that department. Both couples could break up tomorrow and we’d still be more curious to see whether or not Julian says the right thing over drinks.
Beyond Barry vocalizing the show’s hopeful nature and Caitlyn expressing the complications her powers might cause for Julian, little feels lost or gained by way of relationships. The only major change is Jesse might move to Earth-1 for a guy she barely knows, but the tease for next week leaves us with what seems like a whole lot more trouble. Grodd has somehow gotten ahold of Gypsy from Earth-19, and wittingly or unwittingly, she’s about to let the gorillas run wild on Earth-1. This was, after all, the first of a two-parter, so maybe “Attack On Central City” will help clear up some of this week’s unsatisfying threads. At the very least, I hope we see more of Julian cosplaying Indiana Jones.