The Flash recap: 'Dead or Alive'
It’s no secret that this season has been pretty uneven, but it seems as though things are starting to turn around. Last week’s perfectly fine midseason premiere showed a lot of promise, which tonight’s episode delivered on. “Dead or Alive” is definitely the best episode of the season so far. It was an immensely fun hour that put Cisco and Iris in the spotlight and allowed them to shine.
Tonight’s main plot involves Gypsy, a collector, a.k.a. a bounty hunter from Earth-19, who has arrived on this Earth intent on apprehending H.R. Wells. It turns out that inter-dimensional travel was outlawed on Earth-19 after a rival Earth tried to destroy Earth-19, which means that H.R. broke the law when he came to Earth-Prime. And H.R.’s love of coffee ends up being his downfall, because Gypsy tracks him down by vibing on an Earth-19 coin he left in this tip jar at Jitters.
Wasting no time, Gypsy shows up at S.T.A.R. Labs to capture Wells. It’s clear from the moment she makes her entrance that she has more control over her vibe powers than Cisco does. Naturally, Cisco finds her incredibly attractive, even after she kicks his and Wally’s butts, because Cisco definitely has a type. (ASIDE: Caitlin gives Cisco some flack for his attraction to evil women, and to that I say, CAN HE LIVE?! END ASIDE). Gypsy gives H.R. 24 hours to get his affairs in order before she carries him back to Earth-19 to be executed, since that’s the punishment for inter-dimensional travel.
The big question on everyone’s mind following their encounter with Gypsy is why H.R. risked his life to travel to their Earth. In a nice moment with Cisco, H.R. explains that one day, he looked in the mirror and realized that despite all of his fame and wealth, he didn’t matter. So, he traveled here to rewrite his story. H.R.’s desire to make a difference, to have a lasting impact on the world, nicely parallels Iris’ journey in this episode, too.
While Team Flash deals with Gypsy, Iris is trying to track down a dangerous arms dealer for a story she’s working on. The men in her life, being men in the Berlantiverse, keep trying to convince her to drop the story because it’s “too dangerous,” but thankfully, Iris pretty much ignores them. She refuses to give up because finding out about her impending death has made her desperate to make a difference in the world before she dies.
“I want my life to mean something, more than just as a daughter or as a sister or as a girlfriend, but as a reporter. This story can do that. It can say, I, Iris West, mattered,” she tells Wally as she enlists him to help steal her father’s notes on the case.
Let’s be honest, that’s a (probably unintentionally) meta thing to say, because many viewers, including myself, have been dying to see more of Iris the reporter, which is surprising to say given her dubious beginnings as a journalist. (Remember when she thought it was okay to make up quotes? Good times!) Having Iris dive into her journalism career after finding out she might die makes sense for the character and is an interesting to way to deal with how that knowledge affects her emotionally without the show getting bogged down in angst.
NEXT: Cisco vs. Gypsy
Instead of turning H.R. over to Gypsy, Cisco challenges her to trial by combat, which is the only option that remains to save H.R.’s life. This puts a lot of pressure on Cisco, who doesn’t have nearly as much control over his powers. Like a good friend, Barry gives him a pep talk to boost his confidence, but then, like a bad friend, he and H.R. try to capture Gypsy to prevent the trial by combat from happening. Obviously, that backfires and only ends up putting more pressure on Cisco because Gypsy takes H.R. as insurance that Cisco will actually show up to the fight.
After Cisco tells him how uncool that was, Barry admits that he’s honestly just rattled by the Savitar problem because there’s no way he’ll be able get fast enough to stop Savitar from killing Iris. (Julian actually found out that it’s mathematically impossible for Barry traverse the distance between him and Savitar in that park in the future in time to save Iris). This is Cisco’s first time as the story’s hero, and he’s starting to understand how much pressure Barry is usually under. Barry explains that he deals with it because he knows Team Flash has his back.
Meanwhile, Kid Flash and Iris track down that arms dealer. Iris almost gets killed when the arms dealer catches her taking pictures of his stuff. He levels a gun at her, but instead of cowering, Iris brazenly walks forward until the gun is touching her chest, because she knows that she isn’t supposed to die until May. (She’s forgetting that the future is fluid). Thankfully, Kid Flash saves her life. Needless to say, Joe isn’t too pleased when he hears about this stunt. Barry also tries scolding her, and Iris rightfully calls Barry out for being a hypocrite. “This story is going to change lives,” she says. “Why do you think you’re the only one allowed to do good?” (Iris’ story in tonight’s episode further highlights how weak and unimaginative James’ Guardian storyline is on Supergirl.)
The time comes for Cisco, rocking a suit that’s pays homage to Vibe’s costume from the comics, to face Gypsy in battle — and it’s awesome. Their fight involves a lot of delightful flirting and jumping between worlds, including a brief stop in James’ CatCo office on Supergirl‘s world. This was definitely one of the show’s most inventive and interesting fight sequences to date, and it was a nice change of pace from the typical speed-focused ones. Eventually, Cisco manages to win by using some advice Julian gave him before the battle: He vibe-blasts her right as she exits a breach because that’s when she’s most vulnerable. However, Cisco doesn’t kill her because that’s not how we roll on our Earth. Instead, she’s allowed to return Earth-19 with a bag full of coffee. There’s a twist, though: H.R. can never return to Earth-19 because Gypsy plans on lying and saying she killed him, since no one can know that she actually failed.
Hopefully, this isn’t the last time we see Gypsy because she was the unique villain-of-the-week who is nuanced, interesting, and actually has some kind of personality outside of being crazy. She stood out from the rest of the one-off villains we see each week because she wasn’t bad just to be bad or out to destroy the world. She was simply trying to pursue her own version of good just by doing her job, which had the unfortunate consequence of conflicting with Team Flash’s own concept of good. If anything, this reminds us that the show is capable of creating interesting one-off villains, which actually makes it more annoying when they give us one-dimensional antagonists like Plunder or Mirror Master.
That night, Cisco goes to see H.R., who is busy recording his thoughts in the Cortex. H.R. thanks Cisco for risking his life to save him, and Cisco explains he did it because they were friends and because he felt like he owed it to him since Harrison Wells and Harry would’ve done it for Cisco. “The first Wells told me that my time would come to be a hero, that it was my job to show up, to be ready for when it did,” says Cisco, adding that if Wells/Eobard were here, he’d tell H.R. that he needs to be ready, too, because one day Cisco or someone else on the team might need him, and he’ll have to show up. Cisco’s arc in this episode was already working, but tying his motivation back to the original Wells made it even more emotionally resonant because it reminded us of how important this team is. “You know why I love working here? We’re all making investments in each other,” says Cisco.
Wall of Weird:
- Oh, Barry realizes that the key to saving Iris is Wally, whose speed is increasing faster than Barry’s. Barry thinks that Wally will get fast enough to be able stop Savitar from killing Iris.
- I really loved the idea of the show reminding us of Cisco’s connection with the original Wells. It made his journey in this episode resonate even more.
- One complaint: Joe still doesn’t know about what Barry saw in the future! The secret-keeping is actually beyond annoying.
- I like the idea of watching Iris pursue justice through reporting because it brings another form of heroism to the show. It reminds me of something Commissioner Gordon says Batman #51 (by Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo): Superheroes “fight our nightmares to teach us to fight the real terrors by the light of day.”
- Fun fact: H.R. has been writing stories about his adventures with Team Flash in which he’s the hero.
After the success of Arrow, Barry Allen (a.k.a. the Flash) gets his own CW treatment in this comic-themed spin-off.