Thursday, 8 December 2016

Review - 'The Flash', S03E09 - 'The Present'

Coming in to the first episode of The Flash after the big cross-over event, it seems that our heroes are in a surprisingly good place. Sure, Savitar and his servant, Doctor Alchemy, are still a significant danger that needs to be confronted – and, mystery of Savitar's true intent still clearly weighs on Barry Allen. But, in confronting the true cost of his past decisions so directly, it seems that Barry has managed to go some way toward redeeming himself – both in the eyes of his friends, and the audience.

The fact that Cisco and Barry are on good terms once more, while the secret of Caitlin's powers is now out in the open, seems to suggest are prepared to present a united front against any new challenge that may present itself. Combine this with Barry's willingness to travel to Earth-3, and reach out to Jay Garrick for advice, and it seems as though our heroes are in as good a position as they could possibly be.

Of course, the lack of any sort of concrete information about Savitar is still troubling – with Jay, ultimately, able to offer little more than rumour and speculation about Savitar being 'the first speedster'. Also, the idea that this powerful figure has come to see Barry has a challenge to his own power is certainly concerning (even if it doesn't seem to do very much to distinguish Savitar from other speedster villains we have met, in the past). Then there is the fact that Doctor Alchemy, as the 'high priest' of Savitar's bizarre cult, seems to be active once more – pacing the way for a war between Savitar and the Flash.

Despite all of this, though, the fact that we now seem to have moved beyond the team's internal conflict still feels like a positive step – both for the characters themselves, who have more important matters to concern themselves with, and the the audience, who must be getting pretty sick of their bickering by now.

One internal issue which doesn't seem to have been resolved as this episode opens, though, concerns Wally West, and his new role on the team now that he, too, has become a speedster. I do have to admit that, at this point, I am genuinely fed up with Iris and Joe's attitude toward Wally, here – with their outright refusal to allow him to make his own decisions, with regard to his new abilities, coming across as increasingly foolish. I can understand that we aren't necessarily meant to agree with Joe and Iris on this point, of course (and, that we're meant to want Wally to eventually take on the role of 'Kid Flash') – but, when we had Joe angrily protesting Wally's decision to help Barry against Savitar, when Barry clearly needed the help, it starts to border on ridiculous.

Honestly, it just felt as though Iris and Joe's over-protective attitude toward Wally was played a little too strong – so, I'm definitely glad that the episode comes to an end with clear indication that we might be about to move past this, too. On the other hand, though, the rest of the team's refusal to properly train Wally did allow form some great scenes between Wally and H. R. Wells – as the somewhat shady 'ideas man' seemed to take his decision to secretly train Wally seriously, and genuinely seemed to have Wally's best interests at heart (also, that scene of the two of them sharing a celebratory dance, after a successful training session, was fantastic). Overall, this was actually a pretty great episode for Keiynan Lonsdale.

It was, also, a pretty great episode for Tom Felton – which, given my ambivalence to the 'shocking reveal' of a couple of episodes ago, managed to catch me by surprise. The reveal that it was actually Julian beneath Doctor Alchemy's mask had been both predictable, and a little boring, when it had come a couple of episodes ago – and, I was fully prepared for it to continue to be a disappointing element of the season, going forward. After all, I am sure that I was far from alone in my hope that the season would have something a little more interesting in store for the character.

Fortunately, though, this episode actually is able to turn that disappointing reveal around – with the Doctor Alchemy's increasingly complicated role in Savitar's plans proving to be much more interesting than it initially seemed. Honestly, the idea that Julian has no memory of becoming Doctor Alchemy is not terribly original, in itself – but, the episode still made the most of the idea. By the time we got to the reveal that Doctor Alchemy doesn't even really exist, and that Julian was actually being possessed by Savitar, himself, I was prepared to admit that I might have been wrong to be so dismissive.

Sure, the sudden talk about the Philosopher's Stone did, initially, seem like a somewhat heavy-handed way to play on Tom Felton's connection to the Harry Potter series (at least until you remember that the idea of the Philosopher's Stone predates taht series by a fair margin, anyway). And, sure, the idea of Julian leading an archaeological expedition into India did feel a little goofy. But, by the end of the episode, both of those initially bizarre plot-points are woven into a plot-line which suddenly seems to have the potential to be genuinely interesting.

The whole sequence in which we had Julian telling the tale of how it was a visit from the 'spirit' of his dead sister that led him to the stone, just as we also see Cisco receiving a visit from the 'spirit' of his brother, added a surprisingly effective element of genuine creepiness to Savitar. We still have no idea who Savitar is able to communicate in this way, of course (and, it seems likely that there is nothing truly supernatural taking place) – but, it was definitely a great sequence. Similarly, the moment in which 'Team Flash' were able to communicate with Savitar, through Julian, was very effective.

I had been wondering how the writer's might be able to distinguish Savitar from the villainous speedsters that we have already met – and, it seems as though this surprising element of subtle horror might be the answer. There's still no guarantee that Savitar is actually going to amount to anything interesting, of course – but, at this point, the potential is definitely there.

While this was an episode that was somewhat light on action, there were still some great moments to be found. While the somewhat one-sided fight between Savitar and Jay Garrick was clearly intended to mirror the one between Savitar and Barry, earlier in the season, it felt as though the CGI was a little smoother, and more detailed, this time – so, the sequence managed to become a much more satisfying display of Savitar's power. Similarly, the moment in which Barry and Wally attempted to take on Savitar might have been brief, but it was still very entertaining.

As a side-note to end on, I do have to admit that I was a little disappointed by how little we saw of Mark Hamill, in this episode – with Earth-3's Trickster only appearing in a single scene, before the action returned to Earth-1. It was a very entertaining scene, though – with the way in which this Trickster and Jay Garrick's Flash interacted with each other feeling like a wonderfully cheesy scene from a much more old-fashioned superhero series (like, for example, the early 1990's version of The Flash that both actors appeared in). I'm very hopeful that this brief appearance is just a prelude to something more, in a future episode – because, so far, it does feel like a bit of a tease.

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