Do you remember the first season of The Flash? It was fun, optimistic, and overflowing with joy. However, we slowly started to lose that in the gloomy second season. Now in season 3, the show is trying to find a nice balance between both tones — and that quest continues in the somewhat sluggish “Shade,” which features some of the lightest moments we’ve had all season before hitting us with a pulse-quickening final scene.
Since Barry returned from Flashpoint, we’ve been waiting for Alchemy to start paying Wally West’s mind a visit, and the time has finally come. Tonight’s episode opens with Wally telling Joe about the Kid-Flash-themed dreams he’s been having, which worries Joe, since this is exactly what happened to Magenta and the other Flashpoint villains who have been popping up. Needless to say, Wally is upset by his father’s lack of support.
Even though Wally and Barry have come a long way from where they began, Wally still can’t help but compare himself to his father’s other son. Wally can’t understand why Joe has no problem with Barry — who has screwed up many times — having powers and not him. It takes Joe awhile to find the words, but eventually he explains Wally reminds him of himself when he was younger: fearless and reckless. Joe is just simply concerned about what will happen if Wally gets these powers this way, which is very reasonable.
Unfortunately for Wally, Alchemy’s attacks on Wally’s mind intensify. H.R., ever the ideas man, suggests they lock up Wally in the pipeline until they can figure out how to stop Alchemy. (Yes, H.R., a white man, suggesting the imprisonment of Wally for no reason whatsoever is as awkward as it sounds). Despite Joe’s objections, Wally agrees.
Detaining Wally does give Joe a chance to go on his date with Cecil, which brings some lightness to the episode. Watching Joe have a casual conversation with Cecil, a mom, about parenting was a nice moment and made me wish the show gave Jesse L. Martin more opportunities to explore the other sides of Joe West. There’s something touching about seeing Joe find time to make a connection with someone in this crazy, absurd, metahuman-filled world. However, there’s still a cloud hanging over their date.
Part of the gloom comes from Cisco and Caitlin, who accompany Joe and Cecil (along with H.R.) to see a movie in the park. Earlier in the episode, Caitlin stole some power-dampening cuffs Cisco was working on and when Cisco noticed, she finally came clean about her powers. Worried about her future, Caitlin asks Cisco to vibe her and tell her if she turns into Killer Frost. While vibing, Cisco sees himself, in full Vibe mode, fighting Killer Frost in a forest. At first, he doesn’t tell her what he saw, but she confronts him before the movie starts because she knows he’s keeping something from her. He comes clean; the news shocks Caitlin to the core and she knows she has to leave.
There’s obviously some connection between Wally and Caitlin’s journeys. They’re both having visions of who they could be or become; Wally accepts it and wants those powers, and Caitlin is scared and would give anything to avoid that future. At this moment, I find Caitlin’s story slightly more compelling because it raises the issues of free will and predestination. Does knowing she’ll turn out evil mean she can stop herself, or is she doomed either way?
NEXT: Season 3’s other big bad makes a big entrance
The movie date starts to go sideways even before Shade — this week’s underdeveloped distraction of a metahuman — shows up, because H.R. becomes rather taken with Cecil and starts chatting her ear off. However, once Shade attacks the gathering for no reason whatsoever, Team Flash kicks into gear. The Flash leaves Iris to monitor Wally and zooms to the scene. With some help from Cisco and Caitlin, who loans Barry the cuffs, The Flash is able to take out Shade, who basically amounts to a big, scary shadow.
When Team Flash returns to S.T.A.R. Labs, they discover Iris had to knock out Wally with a punch — Alchemy’s siren call was too strong and he tried to escape. (Go Iris!) H.R. suspects Alchemy sent Shade to distract them from Wally, which explains why he didn’t even matter. During Team Flash’s discussion, Cisco forces Caitlin to come clean about her powers, which naturally upsets her because she wasn’t ready to tell everyone. Both of them are right: Cisco is right that keeping secrets is never a good idea, and Caitlin is right that Cisco should’ve waited until she comfortable telling them.
Barry tries comforting Caitlin about her powers, but kind of fails when he ends up making it about him and how this is all his fault. There’s a hint of resentment in Caitlin’s eyes when Barry says she didn’t have powers in the old timeline. However, they have to put this conversation on hold since Wally, still in a lot of pain from Alchemy’s attacks, wakes up. Seeing no other way to stop Alchemy from coming after Wally, Team Flash decides to use Wally as bait, which you know will go sideways because bait traps never work.
Because it’s his son, Joe enlists the help of both the SWAT team and the Flash. Before heading out to meet Alchemy, Barry and Joe notice Julian didn’t show up, which is very unlike him. Anyway, they head out to an abandoned subway station and once they get into position, they send Wally in by himself.
As Wally enters the room, Blake Neely’s menacing score (including a robust chorus), swells and sets the tone for this encounter. Doctor Alchemy offers to give Wally his powers back and several of his acolytes start to fill the room. With Wally in place, The Flash and the SWAT team bursts onto the scene to take out Alchemy. The Flash struggles against Alchemy’s philosopher’s stone, but eventually subdues him. However, before they can unmask him, a blue streak enters the room and starts killing everyone. The Flash takes off after it, and in the confusion, Wally picks up the philosopher’s stone, which has been calling to him, and becomes encased in a cocoon. Then, The Flash comes face to face with his leader speedster foe: Savitar, The God of Speed, who’s quite frightening. The episode ends with The Flash firmly in Savitar’s grasp.
While this was a pretty intense and weighty episode, the show still found other ways to inject some lightness into the proceedings — mostly via H.R. Wells, who continues to be quite amusing as he tries to prove himself to the team. At the top of the episode, H.R. suggests Cisco and Caitlin reopen the facility as S.T.A.R Labs: The Museum to hide their affiliation with The Flash. He also suggests they make him the face of the company, because he hasn’t given up his attention-seeking ways. Unfortunately, that’s not possible — everyone on this Earth thinks Harrison Wells is a murderer, which is news to H.R. However, H.R. has a way around that: a device that makes him look like his partner, Randolph. Sadly, the episode doesn’t get too much out of this goofy device.
The Flash is still trying to find a balance between being too lighthearted and too serious, and while it didn’t find said equilibrium in tonight’s outing, I do think it’ll eventually get there. The problem is being The Flash just doesn’t seem like much fun anymore. Although I much prefer the show’s serialized storytelling, it might help if the show dished out some interesting “metas of the week” to get back to the fun we had in season 1.
Wall of Weird:
- The show definitely wants you to suspect Julian is Doctor Alchemy, but the hint is so blatant it has to be a misdirect, right?
- Bold prediction: Cecil is Doctor Alchemy, and the date was also distracting Team Flash from Wally. (One thing preventing this from being the case is that Cecil, as D.A., probably would’ve known about the SWAT team mission).
- H.R. reveals Earth-19 has plenty of sentient gorillas.
- Wally should’ve tried occlumency to fight off Doctor Alchemy.
- Another touching moment toward the end of the episode: Cisco assures Caitlin they’ll stop her powers from consuming her because “the impossible” is their specialty.
- Iris tells Barry that she, too, wishes she had powers so she could be of some use to the team.