Thursday, 30 March 2017

Review - 'The Flash', S03E18 - 'Abra Kadabra'

Throughout the third season of The Flash, much of the central narrative has seemed to center on the questions of exactly who Savitar really is, and what he has planned for Barry Allen – which are, basically, exactly the same questions that we had with the previous central villains of previous seasons. Despite the writers' best efforts, and some genuinely great moments, it just isn't something I have found to be terribly interesting.

In fact, it has even seemed that Savitar works much better as a vague, and distant, threat than he has as a primary focus. The character, himself, might not be all that interesting, for example, but the lingering threat of his eventual murder of Iris West has provided a strong sense of focus as we move toward the season finale.

More than anything, it seems that this threat is also at the heart of the season's eighteenth episode – as a new villain from the pages of the comic-books makes his first appearance. Abra Kadabra (David Dastmalchian), as he calls himself, is a flamboyant show-man from the distant future, who uses highly advanced technology in a way that appears to be magic.

When Kadabra's latest string of crimes places him in direct conflict with the Flash, the situation is immediately complicated by the revelation that he seems to know quite a bit about the hero's life – including his true identity, the future murder of Iris West, and even the true identity of Savitar. So, with 'Team Flash' finally having their first clear lead on a possible way to save Iris, it suddenly becomes even more important to catch this new villain. Unfortunately, the situation is immediately complicated by the reveal that Kadabra's crime-spree hasn't been limited to just this Earth – and, that he has also previously crossed paths with the dimension-hopping bounty-hunter, Gypsy.

With Gypsy determined to take him back to her own Earth, where he faces execution for his crimes, the moral dilemma faced by our heroes quickly comes to a head when they are actually able to capture him. Abra Kadabra may have important information, after all – but, he is only willing to share it on the condition that he is set free. Something which Gypsy, naturally, isn't willing to let happen.

In all, the episode actually does a great job of drawing some scenes of genuine tension and drama out of this central dilemma. The idea that Gypsy, too, may have very personal reasons for wanted to see Kadabra punished may come across as a little too cliched, but it does served as the basis for some great interaction between her and the rest of the cast. Joe, too, finds himself caught firmly in the middle of the episode's central dilemma – as he finds himself caught between his desire to see criminals brought to justice and his instinctive need to protect his daughter.

Unfortunately, while this central dilemma does create some great moments, it was proved to be the source of some frustration, for me. By the end of the episode, it became fairly obvious that the entire point of this central plot-line was to hint at a big reveal which never actually came. Whether Abra Kadabra actually had any usual information to share, or whether he was just bluffing (it's never really made clear), doesn't actually matter – due to the simple fact that we never actually find out. So, in the end, I was left feeling that it might have actually been better if the 'Savitar' aspect of the episode had been left out, so that the focus could be placed more firmly on Abra Kadabra, himself.

After all, unlike with so many previous villain, Abra Kadabra is actually able to make a very strong impression in his first appearance – much of which can be attributed to David Datmalchian's performance. Sure, the whole idea of a villain from the distant future, using highly advanced technology to pose as magic, does definitely have an appeal of its own, of course. And, the way in which Kadabra's abilities were used, throughout the episode, were a definite high-light (with a great sequence involving a deck of playing cards being my personal favourite). But, it's really the heightened, and almost theatrical, manner in which the character is played that makes him such an instantly compelling, and memorable, figure.

It also doesn't hurt that he is one of the few non-speedster villains who seems to pose a genuine challenge for the Flash – requiring the combined efforts of Barry, Wally, Cisco, and Gypsy in order to finally bring him to justice, in the end. So, for these reasons, I sincerely hope that this isn't the last time we see Abra Kadabra.

Alongside this, the episode also placed some more focus on Caitlin Snow, and her own personal dilemma with Killer Frost. I do have to admit that I'm still not entirely convinced by this whole sub-plot (there still hasn't been any sort of explanation for why Caitlin's powers would turn her evil, after all). It did serve as the basis for some strong moments between her and Julian, though – especially when she forced herself to oversee her own operation, after being injured in Kadabra's escape. The final moments of the episode also make it very clear that Caitlin's personal struggle is about to come to a head – so, even though I'm still not entirely convinced by the whole idea, hopefully the writers will be able to do something interesting with it.

In the end, while it is a definite shame that the series still insists on dragging out the central mystery of Savitar, even as we move closer and closer to the end of the season, this is still a strong episode. The dilemma of what to do with Kadabra provided some strong moments, even if revelation that we were led to expect never actually came about – and, Kadabra, himself, made for a very entertaining villain. It would be a definite shame if this turned out to be his only appearance.

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