The Flash – Season 5 Episode 16
“Failure is an Orphan”
The Flash has the team gear up for the final confrontation with Cicaca now that the Metahuman cure is ready to be used.
It’s unfortunate that we just have to accept that the ethical debate around the Metahuman cure isn’t ever going to explored to the fullest extent of its potential. The best we got is a half baked back and forth over whether Cicada deserves the benefit of choice or not. Barry decides that he does deserve the opportunity to choose whether or not the cure is used on him. This is fine in principle as it matches the initial spirit of the research that created the cure but it’s problematic as this is all very superficial.
This episode is largely built on the foundation of finding a way to convince Cicada to take the cure. Barry’s ability to influence villains to leaning into their better nature is the best chance Team Flash have of having him agree to this so much of the early tension comes from Barry trying to decide the best words to say in order to convince Cicada to do what they want. The problem with that is there is no contingency plan if things don’t go their way. Barry is theoretically an inspirational guy who fits the definition of hero beyond his powers because he is able to help people realise the best parts of themselves but that can’t work all of the time because there are people who are beyond redemption and have no desire to change. There is no mention of what the backup plan is should Cicada refuse to willingly submit to the cure which makes this yet another example of lazy writing on this show as there’s no need for a backup plan since the first plan will definitely work.
Devoting so much time in the episode to figuring out what to say to Cicada makes for a good exploration of Nora’s increasing anxiety about the situation at hand. She came back in time to stop Cicada and has recognised that Barry’s final encounter with him is imminent so is extra focused on making sure the opportunity isn’t wasted. Her energies are definitely directed in the wrong direction as she spends a lot of her time looking through successful appeals to a villains humanity to try and craft the best speech for Cicada based on recurring key words and phrases while failing to realise that the successful ones have been unique to the recipient of Barry’s words.
Barry also fails to realise this to some degree. His first attempt fails because Nora has the word “legacy” ringing in his ears because he is getting his head around the idea that his career as The Flash has left behind a legacy that people look up to. This suddenly seems important to him so he operates on the assumption that legacy will be important to Cicada. He talks to Cicada about being remembered as a monster rather than a hero which doesn’t work because he doesn’t care what his legacy is as he is comfortable that his mission to kill any Metahuman he can get his hands on what he needs to do regardless of what others think of him. He’s punishing all Metahumans for what happened to Grace and nothing will dissuade him from that.
Joe is the one to help Barry recontextualise his thoughts and change up his approach. Talking to Cicada as The Flash doesn’t work because he’s the personification of everything Cicada hates so a better tactic would be to appeal to the father who wants to protect his daughter. It seems like an obvious approach but it makes sense for Barry to be blinded by thinking about his own legacy and how important that is becoming to him as represented by Nora. Once Barry appeals to Cicada as a father things change and he is willing to compromise if it means that Grace is healed since protecting her is his main motivation. It doesn’t add much to Cicada as a character though at least it’s consistent with what we know of him.
Once he’s cured and there is an attempt to perform surgery on his injuries there is an unexpected attack from another Cicada who is more brutal, immensely skilled and a lot faster than the Orlin Dwyer version. It’s a really good sequence as it has a lot of urgency attached to it as the new Cicada systematically tears through Team Flash with ease before liberating Dwyer from the operating table to end the episode with the reveal that she’s a future version of Grace (played by Sarah Carter) with the scar on her forehead giving her the abilities she needs. This eventuality for Grace was foreshadowed back in “Memorabilia” and is paying off now through this show’s non linear approach to time. There are a few possibilities that spring from this such as Grace taking on the role of the big bad for the rest of the season or having this version of her prevented through her uncle being cured of his Metahuman powers and Grace having a more stable upbringing as a result. As such, this version of Cicada could end up having a hand in her own downfall which could be interesting if done right.
The prospect of replacing one version of Cicada with a nimbler female model is something I’m less than enthusiastic about. Cicada as a villain already feels like he has more than run his course and replacing him with Grace in that role doesn’t feel like a good way to fix that. That being said it’s unclear based on this if Grace will be a compelling and nuanced character so it’s certainly possible that she will be a really engaging antagonist. It does make for a refreshing change to establish a female big bad as well so we shall see how this pans out over the coming weeks. It’s also possible she will be a one or two episode villain that is quickly dispatched though that would counter the threat level established in her introduction.
If Cicada 2.0 turns out to be the villain for the remainder of the season then it puts more of a question mark over what Thawne’s overall purpose is beyond as a mentor of sorts for Nora. He talks about an alternate timeline trying to take hold but has no details about what that timeline is. The suggestion is that it heralds the arrival of Cicada 2.0 but I think that something else is being set up by this judging by Thawne’s reference to “a new variable” and “something big” being on its way. It could be the upcoming “Crisis on Infinite Earths” or something else entirely that remains a mystery for now. Based on the events of this episode it seems likely that Thawne is being saved for next season which would be preferable than crowbarring him into the end of this one.
The promise of the end of Cicada means that Nora is likely to return to the future after having accomplished what she set out to do. I’m not sure when this was retconned from preventing Barry’s disappearance but this is apparently the story now. Nora going back to her own time is a big deal for Iris who is going to miss having her around. She makes a list of everything she’d like to do with Nora before she returns to her own time. Unfortunately Nora is so preoccupied with stopping Cicada that she fails to notice what Iris is trying to do. Nora feels that Iris is trying to pull her away from what bringing Cicada down and doesn’t see her leaving this current time period to be a problem as she and Iris have the rest of their lives to spend together. For Nora it’ll be no time at all but for Iris it’ll be decades before she can spend time with her adult daughter and that makes her understandably upset given how close they have become. Candice Patton does an excellent job playing the moment where she opens up to Nora about what she wants. She plays Iris as being on the verge of breaking down at the thought of Nora wanting to hurry back to her own time.
Nora eventually comes to realise where Iris is coming from and talks about the list she made of events that she wanted to witness such as Barry and Iris’ wedding, Jenna’s baby shower and the enlightenment among others. She has no memories of being with both of her parents so wanted to be a part of their lives by living through the big events. Thinking about that helps her realise what Iris wants and she apologises for being insensitive and she resolves to prioritise spending time with her family because that’s what is important to her about being in this time period. It’s a strong scene that is brilliantly acted by both Jessica Parker Kennedy and Candice Patton serving as yet another highlight of how much of a positive impact Nora makes on the dynamics that exist within the show.
Joe settling back into the day job is really weak as plots go as it’s another example of the writers not knowing what to do with Cecille. This time they try to force her into Joe’s work which artificially creates friction between them as her powers throw him off on an interrogation. After some soul searching and a conversation with Barry her finds a way to acclimate her into that side of her life and together they move the Cicada plot forward. There’s nothing particularly interesting here and it’s far from the best use of Joe who would have been of better use being involved in the police work by himself or perhaps working with the strangely absent Ralph.
A reasonable episode that delivers an effective introduction, teases some possibilities for the rest of the season and has some strong character moments. Pushing aside the missed opportunities concerning the ethics of the cure there are still problems with the plan to offer Cicada the choice to take it. The main issue is that there is no contingency plan for if he refuses which makes for another example of lazy writing as there’s an assumption on the part of the characters and the script that the first plan will definitely work. Barry having his head filled with thoughts of his own legacy thanks to Nora talking about it works really well in setting up the initial failure to convince Cicada to willingly submit to the cure. Barry assumes that Cicada will care about his own legacy when he doesn’t because he’s clear on what he’s fighting for and isn’t worried about how he is perceived by others. The second attempt is much more successful after Barry takes Joe’s advice and approaches the conversation from one father to another. Things change as Grace is healed in this scenario which supports his main motivation. The arrival of Cicada 2.0 is a really great introduction showing the power and ferocity of this new threat though it’s concerning that this is being introduced so late in the season particularly after the Cicada plot has long since outstayed its welcome. It’s possible that Cicada 2.0 will be a great antagonist and it’s equally possible that she will be a diversion for an episode or two before Thawne makes his presence felt. It’s hard to say at this point though I’d say she’s around for the rest of the season given how dramatic and powerful her introduction is.
Based on the events of this episode I suspect that Thawne is being left for next season as it’s increasingly unclear what his role will be. It would be preferable for him to come into play next season rather than being crowbarred into the end of this one in an unsatisfying way though it remains to be seen. His biggest contribution in this episode is to foreshadow the arrival of something or someone through a new timeline trying to take hold. It could be Cicada 2.0 or something else entirely. The Nora/Iris subplot works really well with Iris realising that Nora will return to her own time very soon meaning it will be decades until she gets to spend time with her adult daughter. At first Nora doesn’t see it as a big deal as they have the rest of their lives together but Nora will get to go back to her own present as if no time has passed where Iris has to wait a long time. Candice Patton sells the anguish felt by Iris wonderfully and both actors do a great job in the scene where they patch things up. Nora backs off from her fixation on stopping Cicada and considers what she really wanted out of travelling to this time period which allows her to see where Iris is coming from and resolve to actually enjoy the opportunity she has. It’s a strong moment serving as a reminder of how positive a presence Nora is. Joe settling back into the day job and butting heads with Cecille who wants to be a part of that aspect of his life is really weak because it’s so tired and predictable. It would have been better if Joe had been left to do the police work either alone or teamed up with Ralph who has been strangely absent for a while.
- Barry’s initial approach to convincing Cicada being flawed in a way that is internally consistent
- Cicada’s willingness to submit to the cure fitting well with his established character
- the introduction of Cicada 2.0
- Iris struggling with the prospect of Nora leaving and Nora failing to understand it at first
- strong acting from Candice Patton and Jessica Parker Kennedy
- the lack of a contingency plan even being discussed for Cicada refusing to submit to the cure
- Thawne’s purpose becoming harder to figure out
- the underwhelming Joe/Cecille conflict
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