The Flash – Season 5 Episode 20
The Flash brings Nora back from the future and assembles a team of villains to steal a weapon that will prove useful in the fight against Cicada.
The previous episode left Nora in a really dark place. Iris’ visit to the future to bring her back home did more harm than good as it led to her feeling abandoned by Barry who banished her to the future in the preceding episode. Feeling abandoned by Barry allowed her to succumb to her most negative thoughts in order to tap into the negative Speed Force and return to the present day undetected. Putting herself in that frame of mind means that she feels she can’t count on Team Flash to help her so she recruits Joslyn Jackam aka Weather Witch, Brie Larvan aka the Bug-Eyed Bandit and Peter Merkel aka Rag Doll to help her steal the necessary tech while promising them a score that will more than set them up.
This show has often had a villain problem; as in they are often badly underdeveloped and barely register within the episodes devoted to them so this naturally makes it difficult to invest in their return. The villain with the most potential out of the three based on what we have seen so far is Joss. Reina Hardesty once again plays this character really well and imbues her with more personality than the underwritten role reasonably deserves. There’s a lot of potential attached to this character that the writers seem to be unable or unwilling to capitalise on. The strongest scene in the episode is where Joss and Nora have an open conversation about their relationships with their fathers. Joss clearly has it a lot worse as her father abandoned both her and her mother in the delivery room which makes it abundantly clear that he wanted nothing to do with her. This adds some depth to her desire to kill her father in an earlier episode but it isn’t quite enough to have her join the very short list of well developed villains produced by this show. Her scene with Nora is really well acted and helps Nora gain a little perspective even if she’s still blinded by the negative emotions she has tapped into at that point. The other two villains don’t do much worthy of comment though Rag Doll makes for some impressively grotesque imagery.
Barry returns to being very single minded in his approach to Nora. He is dead set on capturing her because of what she’s doing while Iris insists that they have to trust her. This makes a lot of sense as Barry is unable to see past Nora’s connection to Thawne. He can’t trust Nora because he can’t trust Thawne and he reacts according to that single minded viewpoint. Based on everything Thawne has done to him it’s easy to accept that Barry won’t be able to think objectively about anything involving him. This is where he needs Iris as she is able to approach this with a more open mind since Thawne hasn’t personally affected her in quite the same way. She is the one to point out that Barry isn’t being fair to Nora which makes for a rare example of how their relationship can be well utilised to service both characters.
Iris being in Thawne’s presence in the previous episode gives her what appears to be deeper insight into the situation. She identifies that Thawne cares about Nora and suggests that her influence has made him a better person in the same way that she has made them better people. It’s a nice sentiment though it comes across as more than a little naive considering the wealth of evidence that Thawne doesn’t let compassion or attachment get in the way of his evil plans. When he killed Cisco in an alternate timeline way back in season 1 he mentioned that Cisco was like a son to him but from his point of view he had been dead for centuries. The same surely applies to Nora here and it has been made abundantly clear that Thawne is incapable of change. Even if Iris hasn’t been a direct witness to all of that she should surely bear that in mind. Then again it’s possible this is an attempt to show just how manipulative Thawne can be though it doesn’t make sense for Iris to fall for it.
Barry’s assumption that Nora has become a villain acting out plans hatched by Thawne is all but confirmed in his eyes when he finds out that she has tapped into the Negative Speed Force. He still wants her to come home but attaches conditions to it which ends up pushing her further away. She doesn’t want to return to an environment where she isn’t trusted and is treated like a villain. The interesting thing about this is that Barry is entirely correct at least in terms of how he sees Thawne where Iris is more in tune with the best way to deal with Nora. It’s a reasonably complex issue that creates friction between them while continuing to show how significant a threat Thawne is as the mention of his name is enough to make Barry all but abandon reason.
This leads him to doubt his worth as a father which provides an opportunity for Joe to supply some of his trademark advice. He sees Barry being conflicted between the two main roles in his life; the superhero and the father. Joe had to deal with conflicts that existed between his responsibilities as a detective and what he needed to do as a father. He understands that Nora broke the law and that Barry feels the need to deal with that but he reminds him that in most cases Joe would prioritise being a father over being a detective. He recognises it’s a thin line to walk but encourages Barry to have faith in his daughter just as he has faith in his granddaughter. Joe reiterates that Barry will have to trust her in order to bring her home but it’s clear that Barry isn’t ready to accept it at that point. The purpose of this scene is for Joe to drop nuggets of wisdom that Barry can consider over the rest of the episode.
This is all resolved by the end of the episode when Nora’s team betrays her in order to make their mark by finding out the identity of The Flash. It’s an expected double cross but also doesn’t make a lot of sense from Joss’ point of view. This somewhat invalidates what appeared to be a genuine moment between Nora and Joss as it now appears to be a tactic to make Nora lower her guard in preparation for the double cross. I feel that the writers are intent on framing Joss as a villain even though it makes no sense for her to head down that route. Perhaps this can be course corrected in future but it might be better that the character isn’t seen again.
Once Nora realises that the team of villains that she recruited can’t be trusted she decides to come home when she realises that Barry and Iris have her best interests at heart despite Barry’s inability to go about it in a reasonable way. In fairness to him he does realise his failings and takes steps to make up for them. He even manages to see beyond his mistrust of Thawne and recognise that the plan might be a good one. Whether this counts as him succumbing to manipulation or not is up for debate but it’s certainly a shift in attitude towards seeing Nora’s point of view. It’s undeniable that Thawne has helped her a great deal and nobody can figure out what his hidden agenda is at this point but it is recognised that destroying Cicada’s dagger may be the key to defeating her so the best thing they can do is be wary and try to be prepared for what Thawne has planned.
In some ways Nora being back in the fold feels like a quick resolution to this plot. Her descent into villainy isn’t really explored though it looks as if the intent was to play her off as being more misguided than antagonistic. Recruiting the villains is in service of finding people she can manipulate to accomplish her self imposed mission and she wasn’t planning to let them get away with the crime that she put them onto. The problem was that the situation spiralled out of her control and she had to be saved by Team Flash. I can’t help feeling that there was more story here that isn’t given the opportunity to play out. Barry, Iris and Nora seeing different perspectives on the same issue and not being joined up in their thinking was interesting so should have been given more room to breathe. On this show conflicts either fizzle out or drag on for too long without developing and this one showed real signs of going somewhere.
There are further clues pointing towards Cisco’s departure. He has a painfully long conversation with Ralph and Sherloque about being honest with Kamilla about being Vibe. It takes a long time to get a simple point; that he isn’t ready to open that part of his life up to her despite constant urging from Sherloque and Ralph. There is a more interesting version of that conversation later in the episode that makes use of Sherloque’s ability to read people. He points out that Cisco spent half the year hiding from his powers and the other half trying to cure them which points towards desiring a normal life. The fact that he can’t open up to Kamilla about this part of his life suggests that he’s afraid to admit it and conflicted about making such a life altering decision. It’s a good scene as Sherloque understands what it’s like to consider leaving a close found family so knows how difficult it is to do. Whether Cisco will ultimately decide to leave the show or not is unknown but things seem to be heading that way.
The problem with that is he may be choosing to leave Team Flash for Kamilla which makes sense on the surface as in theory he’s met someone who makes him want to abandon the superhero life for something more normal and therefore safer. If you dig down beneath the surface then it makes no sense as next to no time has been spent developing this connection. She has appeared in two episodes so far and is only mentioned in passing otherwise so it’s far from a tangible relationship from an audience point of view. The viewer has had no opportunity to see how strong it is and why Cisco should give up on saving the world with Team Flash to be with her. It’s not that he shouldn’t do that but the show hasn’t done anything to justify why he would do that.
Ralph’s love life also receives some attention when Caitlin notes that he spends so much time trying to help people resolve their own emotional issues. In this very episode he tries to help Killer Frost show face in order to deal with her grief over losing her/Caitlin’s father. Caitlin uses this example to point out all of the positive things he has been doing for her as well as other members of the team and suggests that it’s perhaps time to do something for himself. He doesn’t see himself as worthy of love for whatever reason but Caitlin assures him that any woman would be lucky to have him leading Ralph to assume that she’s coming onto him and reject her advances. It’s supposed to be funny though it failed to hit the mark for me. This may set up a potential love interest for Ralph next season or it may have just been included to kill time and give these characters something to do however meaningless it might be.
An uneven episode that delivers strong material when exploring Barry, Iris and Nora’s differing perspectives on the same issue but fails when it comes to other character beats and the villain angle. Nora tapping into her negative emotions to access the Negative Speed Force is a good representation of the rift between her and Barry. She feels isolated from those that care about her so makes mistakes such as recruiting villains in order to further her plan to bring down Cicada. Unfortunately the villains she recruits aren’t all that interesting or memorable with the exception of Joss who benefits from Reina Hardesty delivering a more thoughtful performance than the writing deserves. The scene Joss and Nora share where they compare the issues they have with their fathers is really strong and furthers the idea that Joss is more misguided than bad even if that is countered by her later actions. There is definitely a great deal of potential for Joss but the writers are consistently moving her in the wrong direction. Barry remaining single minded in wanting to capture Nora for what she’s doing where Iris wants to understand her makes for an interesting division in their relationship that is far too neatly resolved. In fairness Barry’s position makes a lot of sense and there’s a real sense that Iris has been manipulated by Thawne in some way so there was more scope to develop this idea and explore the depth of the effect Thawne continues to have on Barry. Joe’s advice about resolving being a father with other roles in life is really strong and makes Barry reconsider his approach.
All of this is resolved fairly quickly when Nora returns to the fold after the villains double cross her and have to be defeated. It flies in the face of the genuine moment between Nora and Joss but it gets her back on the right side and even has Barry acknowledge that Thawne’s plan has merit despite how difficult it was for him to accept suggests some sort of growth that could also count as being manipulated in some way. There are further signs that Cisco is being set up to leave as he appears to be gearing up to tell Kamilla the truth about his superhero life. Sherloque’s analysis of his mindset works fairly well where a painful scene earlier in the episode doesn’t but it’s impossible to invest in this notion as Kamilla isn’t a character and their relationship has been barely featured so it’s unreasonable to assume that Cisco can cite Kamilla as a reason for leaving and have that be accepted because no work has been done to establish their connection up until this point. The attention that Ralph’s love life receives feels like little more than killing time for Caitlin and Ralph complete with a joke that doesn’t land where Ralph thinks Caitlin is coming onto him.
- Barry’s single minded approach and clear inability to get over what Thawne has done to him
- Nora, Iris and Barry having different perspectives on the same issue
- Barry coming to accept that Thawne’s plan is a good one
- Joe’s sage advice to Barry
- the moment of familiarity between Nora and Joss
- forgettable villains
- undermining the genuine moment between Joss and Nora
- Cisco’s relationship with Kamilla remaining an undeveloped afterthought
- the attention given to Ralph’s love life feeling like killing time
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