Monday, 28 November 2016

Review - 'The Flash', S03E06 - 'Shade'

One regularly occurring issue with this series (and, indeed, with all of the CW's DC related content) is with the fact that so many of the 'one-off' villains that we have met, over the past few years, have tended to feel rather generic and undeveloped. More often than not, they seem to receive very little in the way of either back-story, or motivation – leaving them as little more than 'one-dimensional' villains. In all of those past instances, though, you could at least make the argument that the writer's did, at least, make some token effort at characterisation. Shade, the new villain introduced in this episode, doesn't even receive that much – something which is especially surprising, considering the fact that the episode, itself, is named after him.

While the action sequences based around this mysterious figure are somewhat entertaining, that is really all that Shade was able to bring to the story. Shade is, in fact, treated as little more than a 'movie monster' by the episode, itself – a nameless, and faceless, threat who does not even warrant the very basic level of characterisation that past villains have received. His role is a simple one – to act as a distraction while Doctor Alchemy moves forward on his current plans for Wally West.

Just as with those previous 'Flashpoint' villains, it seems that Doctor Alchemy is now determined to give Wally the powers that he possessed in that alternate time-line – with Wally now having strange dreams of his own life in that alternate time-line. Perhaps understandably, given the clear desire for powers of his own that he has already expressed, Wally is also more than a little conflicted about the whole matter.

One very strange, though very interesting, aspect of this entire plot-line stems from the fact that we still know very little about Alchemy. We don't, for example, know anything about his true motivations, or the extent of his abilities – and, his focus on Wally, here, only seems to emphasise that fact. With the villainous figures that we met in the past, it had seemed pretty clear that Alchemy was playing on their desire for power, in order to draw them to him, and to convince them to work for him. The Rival, for example, had been a straight-forward villain who already had plenty of reason to hate the Flash. Magenta was a young girl suffering from split personalities – one of whom was violent, angry, and extremely dangerous. And, Shade? Well, we don't really learn anything about Shade.

Wally is very different, though. Wally is, overall, a genuinely good person who, while he might somewhat angry and resentful about his own lack of superpowers, seems genuinely committed to the idea of helping people. More importantly, though, he actually was a hero in 'Flashpoint'. So, because of that, there is some lingering question about exactly Alchemy thinks he is going to achieve by giving Wally these abilities – since it seems fairly clear that Wally is never going to willingly work with Alchemy, in the same way that those previous villains were. At the same time, though, this episode also seems to reveal the possibility that Alchemy is actually capable of controlling his victims, to some extent – which opens up some very interesting, and very dramatic, possibilities for the future. Clearly, there is still much more that we need to learn about Doctor Alchemy – with both his true motives, and the extent of his powers, being deliberately kept as a mystery.

This episode probably represent the first time, in the entire series, where I have felt any sort of investing in Wally West, as a character – and, honestly, it feels as though it has taking much longer than it should have to reach this point. Despite not being given very much to do, in his time on the series, Keiynan Lonsdale still managed to turn Wally West into a likable enough character (even if there were a few moments, earlier in the season, that seemed to undermine that) – so, it is great him finally become the centre of what actually feels like a fairly significant plot-line. It is, also, genuinely great to see the actor making the most of his time in the spot-light. Wally's brief appearance as 'Kid Flash' had been one of the more interesting aspects of the season's first episode, so I am definitely interested in seeing how things play out from here.

On the other hand, though, I still can't say that I'm all that interested in the challenges currently faced by Caitlin Snow – with the series still going out of its way to treat her own powers as something dangerous and threatening. As much as the writers are clearly trying to milk the whole situation for drama, and as well as Danielle Panabaker is playing her role, I'm just having a hard time getting on board with the idea that her own powers might actually 'turn her evil'. That just feels like lazy writing, to me – and, there is nothing we have seen on the series which lends any real support to the idea. So, as much as I may like Caitlin Snow as a character, I just can't say that I feel any real investing in this current character arc.

Of course, as far as the season's overall progress is concerned, the episode's most important moment comes at the very end – when we are given our first look at the new speedster villain, Savitar. But, of course, we don't actually learn anything about him, here – so, I'll reserve judgement, for now. I will say, though, that the overall design of that outlandish, and almost 'futuristic' looking, suit of armour that he wore was very impressive – and, the whole idea of a villain who moved so fast that only Barry was even capable of glimpsing him did seem like a suitable upgrade to this season's overall 'threat level'.

Given how reliant this series has become on introducing new speedsters as a challenge for Barry, though, it still remains to be seen whether this new figure can actually add anything of value to the season – or, whether it will all end up feeling like a retread of the previous seasons. But, at least, there does seem to be some potential, there – so, for now, I'm prepared to wait and see.

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