Thursday, 13 October 2016

Review - 'The Flash', S03E02 - 'Paradox'

In DC's comic-book universe, 'Flashpoint' was an almost ponderously large cross-over event which ultimately resulted in the entire DC Universe being rebooted, in the form of the 'New 52'. On the previous episode of The Flash, though, 'Flashpoint' was a somewhat underwhelming affair that was, effectively, over by the end of the episode. With the focus placed firmly on Barry Allen's circle of friends, it was obvious that this version of 'Flashpoint' was much more interested in exploring the personal ramifications of Barry's decision than it was in the 'world-shaking' events of the comics.

Unfortunately, even with this much reduced scale, the episode still seemed to fall a bit short. Barry's decision to change the time line in the first place might have come across as reckless and ill-advised (and, possibly, even a little selfish) – but, it also didn't feel like there was any real weight behind his equally sudden decision to try to change things back.

But, as underwhelming as it may have been, the 'Flashpoint' plot-lines seems to have come to an end, now – and, it is time to move into what I suppose could be thought of as the series's take on the 'New 52'. After all, Barry's decision to let Eobard Thawne go, so that his mother could be murdered once more, might have shifted him back into a much more familiar time-line – but, as we learn, it is not quite the one that he left behind.

Here, for example, we learn that the strained relationship between Iris and Joe seems to have carried over from the 'Flashpoint' universe – as, the father and daughter no longer speak to each other. We also learn that a past tragedy (the tragic death of his brother in a, seemingly entirely mundane, car accident) has resulted in a grief-stricken and dour Cisco Ramon – one who is also angry with Barry, as a result of the Speedster's furious to travel back in time and prevent Dante's death.

More confusing, though, is the fact that Barry now finds himself forced to share an office with a new co-worker, Julian Albert (Tom Felton) – one who seems to genuinely dislike, and distrust, him. And, over in Star City, Barry comes to learn that his actions had also resulted in John Diggle's young daughter, Sarah, being wiped from existence and, somehow, replaced by a young son.

To make matters worse, it seems that a new villain has emerged – one who calls himself 'Alchemy', and who seems to be aware of the changes that Barry's actions have caused. Through Alchemy's actions, we soon have a return of the previous episode's villain, The Rival – reborn in this time-line through some sort of metamorphosis undergone by this time-line's unpowered Edward Clariss (a process of metamorphosis which also gave as the cast off husks of dead skin that Julian Albert is currently investigating).

While 'Flashpoint', itself, might have been somewhat underwhelming, I do appreciate the fact that there will still be lingering consequences for Barry's actions, in the form of these sudden changes to the lives of the people that Barry cares for. In this regard, I think it is safe to say that Cisco's character arc is the most genuinely dramatic – as his grief over the loss of his brother, and his anger at Barry for refusing to help him, are both played very convincingly by Carlos Valdes (also, simply seeing such a drastic change in a character as entertaining as Cisco Ramon is jarring, in itself).

By contrast, unfortunately, the lingering tension between Iris and Joe doesn't really amount to anything interesting. There's no real sense of drama, there – and, the whole issue seems to have been entirely resolved by the end of the episode, anyway. So, it would probably be fair to wonder what purpose this plot-point was supposed to serve.

As a 'surprise' new addition to the cast, Julian Albert quickly proves himself to be an entertaining addition. His extreme dislike of Barry Allen might feel a little jarring, at first – but, it is also the result of a year's worth of history that the audience has not experienced. Honestly, taking a step back from the typical, protagonist-focused, point of view of the series makes it very easy to see who someone like Julian, who is bound to have had quite a bit of first-hand experience with the strangeness caused by the hero's duel role, would come to dislike Barry Allen. Also, Tom Felton is able to do a very impressive job of developing a character who still seems oddly likable, despite his clear disdain for the story's hero (I'm sure that the actor's time playing Draco Malfoy on the Harry Potter films served him well, in that regard).

The most interesting new development, though, would have to be Dr Alchemy, himself. His costume design might have bordered on being a little too goofy – but, he was still able to establish himself as a mysterious, and legitimately intimidating, figure in his time on-screen. Also, the idea that he intends to "prepare this world" for some unknown purpose, by using his abilities to recreate the meta-humans who existed in the 'Flashpoint' time-line, is genuinely fascinating. There is, of course, also the mystery of who it actually is beneath that strange mask that Dr Alchemy wears – though, I have to admit that I'm just not too interested in that point, at the moment. Each of the previous two seasons placed a lot of emphasis on the secret identities of the primary villains – so, just for a change of past, I think I would much rather have the emphasis, here, placed on Dr Alchemy's ultimate plan, rather than his true identity.

So, there was quite a bit to like about the third season's second episode – but, I think that what I appreciated most is that we, also, finally have a Barry Allen who seems willing, and able, to come to terms with the true cost of some of the mistakes he has made, in the past. With the original Jay Garrick making a surprise reappearance, to dispense some important advice about the dangers of time travel just as it seemed that Barry was able to make another terrible decision, Barry's character arc throughout this episode was, clearly, all about learning to look forward, rather than backward – as he forces himself to accept this new reality as it is, rather than taking the risk of trying to change things once more. As someone who has, on occasions, found myself somewhat frustrated by Barry's decisions, and his general behaviour, it definitely feels like a positive development.

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