Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Review - 'The Flash', S02E22 - 'Invincible'

Following his experiences in the Speed Force, Barry Allen has returned to the fight against Zoom with a level of confidence which is, perhaps, higher than anything he has ever felt before. This new attitude is understandable, of course (after all, as Barry points out, he did basically have the Speed Force, itself, confirm that it wanted him to be the Flash, and that it wanted him to win) – but, his new-found confidence is also clearly troubling to his team-mates.

With there being such a fine line between justifiable confidence and over-confidence, the rest of 'Team Flash' are, just as understandably, worried that Barry might be on the wrong side of it – and, that he might be setting himself up for eventual failure. This seems especially true in the face of such overwhelming odds – with Zoom still loose and, now, with an entire army of meta-human criminals brought over from Earth-2 to fight for him. With things seeming this dire, it makes perfect sense that the rest of the team might be unconvinced by Barry's frequent assertions that 'everything would be fine'.

Of course, Zoom's army wasn't the only cliff-hanger that the previous episode had ended on. We also had the small matter of the incredibly sadistic choice that Zoom presented to Caitlin – to, either, stay with him and remain safe while he destroys Central City, or to leave and become just another enemy. The fact that, given the circumstances, it was in no way a foregone conclusion that Caitlin would choose to leave (it would, after all, be depressingly easy to imagine her staying with Zoom out of fear), made this a very effective moment – and, it made this episode's reveal that Caitlin did actually leave, in the end, feel like an especially brave moment, for her. More often than not, it seems that attempts to create genuinely tense and uncertain cliff-hangers just seem to fail – so, I think the writer's deserve some credit for managing to pull off a genuinely effective one, here.

Unfortunately, the same can't really be said for the other great moment we had at the end of the previous episode. Despite the clear build-up we had last week, and the great opening action sequence we had here, there was just something a little anti-climactic about the way in which Zoom's meta-human army was used in this episode.

In the end, it was really only those two scenes that truly show-cased the threat that a meta-human army could truly pose. They were both great scenes, of course. Zoom's speech to his army, which ended the previous episode, had been a genuinely tense note to end on, and the action sequence which opened this episode, with the police fighting a losing battle until the Flash puts in an appearance, is easily up there among the best that we have seen in the series, so far. It's just unfortunate that, apart from those two scenes, much of the "metapocolypse" (a word so inherently goofy that I'm surprised anyone could say it with a straight face) took place largely off-camera.

In the end, it felt like a fairly clear case of there simply not being enough left in the budget to truly make the most of the whole idea of a 'meta-human army'. There were no scenes of the Flash forced to take on multiple meta-humans, at once – or, even, of any real sense of danger to the cast. There were scenes of burning buildings, of course – but, that felt like something distant. There was no true sense of scale, in the end – and, so far, there hasn't been any real sense of long-term consequences (this, at least, is something that can still be addressed later). While I'm perfectly aware of the fact that there is only so much that can be shown on a television budget, it was still a little disappointing – that final moment of the previous episode had, after all, left me with fairly high expectations.

One element that wasn't disappointing, though, was the appearance of Earth-2's Laurel Lance, here known as the Black Siren. While I will admit that it was, initially, somewhat disappointing to learn that she would be case as a new villain, rather than a potential ally, it was still great to see Katie Cassidy given the chance to take on such a different role – especially considering her character's, somewhat underwhelming, death on Arrow. It was also a nice bit of continuity to Laurel's death be addressed on The Flash, as well – even if it did feel like a bit much to have Caitlin mention that they all loved Laurel, considering that I don't recall them sharing much screen-time (I can only assume that the cast of both show's occasionally got together, off-camera). Regarding the Black Siren, herself, though – well, she was basically exactly what she needed to be, here. She was an entertaining new villain who managed to tie into the broader continuity in an interesting way – and, even though she didn't have all that much screen-time, Katie Cassidy still managed to give a very entertaining performance, in this very different role.

Another great feature of this episode was the fact that, after a season of existing mostly in the background, Wally West was finally allowed to play a more significant role, here. The fact that, even after all of this time, I still haven't been able to form a particularly strong impression about either the character, or Keiynan Lonsdale's performance, remains one of the most consistent frustrations with this season of The Flash, for me – but, this episode did manage to go some way toward correcting that issue. Wally's efforts to be a 'hero' may have come across as horribly misguided, especially considering that he was going up against meta-humans, but it felt like some much needed character development. Also, he was able to actually save the Flash's life – so, there is that.

Overall, while this episode might have suffered from a disappointing lack of action, it did feature a number of great character moments. One particular stand-out, for example, featured Cisco and Caitlin attempting to pose as the villainous doubles, in order to distract the Black Siren. It made for a very entertaining scene – with Carlos Valdes and Danielle Panabaker each managing the tricky task of convincingly portraying their characters trying to play the part of their villainous doubles, rather than simply slipping into the villainous roles, themselves. Regarding Danielle Panabaker's performance in this episode, she also manages to play the trauma that Caitlin is going through as a result of her time as Zoom's prisoner in a very effective way – even if it did feature some awkwardly written dialogue.

The episode also featured some great moments between Barry and Zoom – with Zoom's desire to prove that the two of them are really the same reaching almost 'Joker' levels of obsession by the end of the episode.

Unfortunately, along with the somewhat disappointing lack of action, Barry, himself, also proved to be the episode's biggest disappointment. It may have been understandable, but this new-found confidence in himself, and his own abilities, was played much too strongly – to such an extent that it seemed to undermine some of the character development he had gone through over the course of the past two seasons. Also, to put it bluntly, his behaviour just annoyed me – to such an extent that I actually started looking forward to the inevitable twist that would knock him down. Of course, that moment did come – and, it was suitably tragic (but, of course, I don't want to spoil it, here).

Unfortunately, the second season's penultimate episode proved to be somewhat underwhelming, overall. It was an episode that just seemed to lack much of the action, and sense of scale, that was promised last week – with the entire concept of a meta-human army invading Central City, ultimately, feeling wasted. What the episode did get right, though, was the great character moments that it was able to provide. Also, those glimpse of the future that we had, through Cisco's 'vibe' ability, promise a suitably epic finale – I just hope that next week's episode is actually able to keep that promise.

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