Thursday, 23 March 2017

Review - 'The Flash', S03E17 - 'Duet'

The Flash is far from the first series to every attempt a musical episode. But, with the truly impressive amount of musical talent on hand, within the casts of both this series and its CW siblings, it is probably fair to say that this musical cross-over is up there among the most highly demanded. With Grant Gustin and Melissa Benoist both being former cast-members of Glee, and with with so many other talented musical performers among the supporting cast, it actually makes perfect sense that some fans would wonder if this was something that might actually happen.

At the same time, though, there are bound to be plenty among the show's audience who simply don't like musicals – or, who regard the whole idea of a musical episode, especially of a show like The Flash, to be the worst sort of cheap and unnecessary gimmick. That's perfectly understandable, of course – and, to be honest, if that's where you find yourself, then this episode is probably going to feel like a bit of a chore.

Of course, the first question that needs to be answered, with something like this, is exactly how the sudden change is going to be justified. You can't just abandon existing continuity, and the already firmly established tone of the series, in order to have your cast sing and dance for a single episode, after all. The best way to go is to establish some sort of 'in-universe' explanation for the whole thing – which is exactly what the most successful musical episodes of the past have done.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, for example, placed its widely well-regarded musical episode in the context of a demon whose magical influence forced people to burst into song. Scrubs based its musical episode within the context of hallucinations suffered by a patient. While, meanwhile, the animated series, Batman: The Brave and the Bold, based its musical episode around a villain known as the Music Meister – who hypnotised his victims through music.

What makes that last example particularly relevant here, of course, is the fact that the Music Meister is also who the writers have chosen as the basis of this episode's sudden serve into musical territory – though, as we have already seen in the last episode of Supergirl, he seems to operate in a very different way.

At the end of that last episode of Supergirl, we saw the musically inclined villain arrive at the DEO, only to hypnotise Kara and escape to Earth-1. As a result, Kara seems to have found herself trapped in some strange dream-world while, in the real world, she is stuck in a coma.

Now, Mon-El and J'onn have brought Kara to Earth-1 – both to seek out whatever help they can for her current state, while also attempting to track down the villain who escaped. Of course, it's not long until Barry has his own encounter with the Music Meister, who seems to have gained access to Supergirl's formidable powers, and finds himself similarly hypnotised.

It's at this point, with the two trapped in a 1940's era scenario involving gangsters and elaborate musical numbers, that the fun really begins. And, it is all a lot of fun, too. I suppose I do have to admit that I was among those quietly hoping that Neil Patrick Harris might be the one cast as the Music Meister (since he did, after all, provide the voice for the character in the animated episode I mentioned above) – but, Darren Criss quickly proves to be a perfectly acceptable substitute. He definitely has the charm and charisma, and sense of fun, that seems to important to such an outlandish character.

More importantly, though, the entire 'dreamworld' scenario quickly proves to be the perfect setting for this sudden turn. It's removed enough from the regular reality of the series that elaborate costumes, and fun musical numbers, don't actually feel at all out of place – which allows the episode to have a lot of fun when it beings to place the musically inclined numbers of the cast in such different roles. John Barrowman, for example, appears as the violent gangster, and owner of a night-club, while Jesse L. Martin and Victor Garber finds themselves cast as his rivals. Jeremy Jordan and Carlos Valdes also appear, cast as fellow employees of the same night-club.

Of course, everyone involved is given the opportunity to sing – and, the musical numbers are all pretty fantastic. Honestly, the episode would be worth watching just for those sequences, alone. More than that, though, this whole sequence also manages to tap into the established continuity of both shows in a genuinely interesting way.

With Kara and Barry finding themselves forced to play out this strange 1940's era scenario to completion, they soon find themselves observing a West Side Story style love story – with Mon-El and Iris cast as the young lovers. It's a basic set-up which allows the episode to address to current romantic woes of both Barry and Kara in a surprising, and genuinely interesting, way. While I do have to admit that I am often a bit ambivalent about the romantic sub-plots in these shows, I did still find it somewhat interesting to see both heroes working through their respective problems in such an indirect manner.

Outside of this strange dreamworld, meanwhile, Kid Flash, Vibe, and the Martian Manhunter had the opportunity to team up, as they went after the Music Meister – who, at this point, seemed to have stolen the powers of both Supergirl and the Flash. It was a fun little action sequence in an episode that was, obviously, very light on action – and, it was definitely a lot of fun to see these character together, on-screen.

In the end, I think that the only real problem that I had with this episode came with its resolution. The idea that it might actually fall to Iris and Mon-El to be the ones to pull the heroes out of the dream-world, in the end, had some merit, sure – but, I really didn't care for the end of episode reveal about the Music Meister, himself. I much preferred the idea of the Music Meister simply being an eccentric villain with a strange ability – one that allowed him to steal powers, while also trapping his victims in their own minds. It was strange, sure – but, it was enough for me. But, learning that there was actually much more to this eccentric figure than there seemed, and that the entire point of this scenario was apparently just to help the heroes get over their current romantic difficulties, didn't work for me, at all.

It was only a minor let-down, of course – and, it certainly didn't do anything to change the fact that this is the most purely fun episode of The Flash that we have had in a very long time. With things being so grim and serious, for much of this season, the episode actually came to represent an odd form of catharsis for both the characters, and the audience. It may have stumbled a bit, at the very end, but this episode has still managed to earn itself a spot high up on my list of favourites.

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