The Flash – Season 5 Episode 15
“King Shark vs. Gorilla Grodd”
The Flash returns from hiatus and delivers a monstrous bout between King Shark and Gorilla Grodd as promised by the episode’s title.
I criticise this show a lot but one thing that cannot be denied is the hard work and talent that goes into realising the two main CGI antagonists. Gorilla Grodd and King Shark have been featured in a number of episodes over the seasons and the visual effects that bring these characters to life continue to impress. Bearing in mind that The Flash has significantly fewer resources than a high budget superhero movie they always do a great job and deserve to be recognised for that.
Naturally with this being a TV show allowances have to me made for the expense of including these characters and a story has to be crafted around them that hides the fact that they will barely appear. In this case the narrative is framed around the Metahuman cure which is now finally ready for testing. The unfortunate issue is that there are no willing volunteers so after a brainstorming session it’s suggested that King Shark might be willing to have the cure used on him so that he can become human again. It’s something of a bizarre leap to randomly consider him but if it means we get more King Shark then I’m willing to go with it.
A guest appearance from Lyla is able to set up access to King Shark as well as reintroduce Dr. Tanya Harding (Zibby Allen), the scientist who was also married to the Earth-1 version of Shay Lamden (Dan Payne) who died instead of becoming King Shark. She is studying the Earth-2 duplicate of her late husband because his transformation was as a result of her counterpart’s research so she is best placed to understand him. There is no real mention of the potential difficulties associated with her working so closely with an alternate version of her husband.
King Shark is used as a case study for the Metahuman cure in both physical and ethical ways. Team Flash need data on whether it actually works and how permanent the effects are so a test subject is essential while the debate about whether the cure should be used without consent still sits in the background after being largely ignored for a few weeks. The handling of this debate is the most infuriating thing about this episode as it actively contradicts what was said in previous episodes. Barry makes an impulsive decision to inject King Shark when it looks like Cisco is about to be eaten which prompts the debate shortly after. Cisco and Caitlin gang up on him and remind him that they agreed the cure would never be used as a weapon which just isn’t the case. At first Caitlin only agreed to work on it if consent was sought before using it on a Metahuman. This seemed like a fair condition and aligned Caitlin to a position on the issue. Not long after that Barry declared that the cure was to be used on Cicada and was met with no opposition from anyone. This is also reasonable as it adds to the debate by suggesting that there are exceptions to the consent condition if there is a Metahuman deemed too dangerous to be allowed to keep their powers.
Unfortunately that’s where the depth ends on this debate as characters change their positions on this rich ethical problem on a weekly basis. Suddenly Cisco and Caitlin are calling Barry out on not giving King Shark the choice over whether he is cured or not. This is morally problematic but it’s supposed to be as Barry made a snap judgement based on the situation he was faced with. In his mind it was either cure King Shark or lose Cisco and Barry chose to save his friend. This would come under the banner of King Shark being too dangerous to risk giving him that choice which is certainly an arguable position but Cisco and Caitlin talk as if they all agreed this wouldn’t happen under any circumstances. That contradicts them going along with curing Cicada and completely ignores the fact that they’re testing the cure so that it can be used on Cicada. It’s this sort of clumsiness I’ve come to expect from this show but it never stops being a source of frustration as it makes it look as if the writers have no idea what they’re doing. The audience has certainly been robbed of a fascinating debate about choice and consent around this cure and it’s clear there’s no interest in rectifying this retroactively. Barry realising that forcing the cure on King Shark was wrong and deciding to offer the cure to Cicada is completely unearned as well as being a really stupid idea. Surely nobody actually believes that Cicada will willingly let himself be cured considering everything he’s done.
As luck would have it, Shay aka King Shark is pleased to be cured as it allows him the opportunity to reclaim his life even if there is a risk that it isn’t permanent. Being human again is something he is clearly grateful for and it allows the episode to establish an emotional core through his relationship with Tanya who is conflicted about her feelings for the man who resembles her late husband but isn’t actually the man she loved. It’s an interesting dilemma for her to face and carries the episode nicely which offers something deeper than simply killing time until the title fight becomes affordable.
Sherloque is the ideal sounding board for Tanya as he has a history of complicated interdimensional relationships having married five different versions of the same woman. His perspective on it is a fairly simple reminder that love is complicated at the best of times and should be embraced when it’s found. The simplicity of this is good because it’s an issue that shouldn’t be overcomplicated as Tanya is looking for a simple answer to a dilemma she’s having difficulty with. It also allows the sincerity of Tom Cavanagh’s performance to shine through while securing Sherloque as a character who does have a lot to bring to the table. No other character could have related to Tanya in this way and the episode is better for it.
Despite essentially being a one episode romance featuring characters who are basically new the relationship between Shay and Tanya works really well thanks to talented actors selling it really well. This allows Shay’s sacrifice to be meaningful and appropriately tragic despite the opening of the episode spoiling the return of King Shark. By the time that came around I’d forgotten that the opening of the episode had teased the fight because the character work had managed to immerse me in the emotional stakes. The final scene between Shay/King Shark and Tanya was really powerful and realigns King Shark as a potential ally in future based on the growth he receives here. Perhaps the show will do a riff on The Shape of Water in the future.
Gorilla Grodd’s inclusion in an episode is always welcomed. He has been featured enough over the run of the show to be one of the more well developed antagonists which removes a lot of the leg work associated with setting up his motivations. Every time he appears he will represent a physical and mental threat to Team Flash and will have a plan that supports that. In this case he is looking to control all of the minds in Central City by way of the device that allows Tanya to communicate with King Shark. It’s a fairly simple plan with little in the way of depth to it as it’s unclear what he plans to do once he has control of all of those minds. In fairness not every plan needs to be well thought out and diabolical especially when considering that Gorilla Grodd has been established as lacking in any redeeming features. Any tragedy or misunderstanding attached to this character in prior appearances is now gone and he is now a recurring menace devoted to doing bad or self serving things because that’s who he is. Sometimes that’s enough and it certainly works as an obstacle to be overcome in this episode.
The title fight itself was really impressive. It doesn’t last very long and doesn’t achieve photo realism but it’s really impressive in scope and has a lot of stages to it. Most impressive is the display of power on both sides and the sense of urgency attached to it thanks to the circumstances. The added tragedy associated with Shay’s sacrifice gives it the necessary heft and both combatants have a lot of personality in the way they conduct themselves. It’d be interesting to see a making of feature breaking down how this fight was accomplished as it was very cinematic and meticulously thought out. Despite the brevity of the sequence I found it really satisfying to watch and it more than lived up to the promise.
Another highlight for this episode was the return of Joe following Jesse L. Martin’s medical leave. His presence on the show has been deeply missed and no time is wasted slotting him back into the role he does best. He talks about being in Tibet visiting Wally and doing some healing of his own in a spiritual sense. Apparently being held hostage by Cicada took a greater toll than originally thought and he needed some time away to gather himself while keeping his newborn baby safe. It’s a somewhat contrived excuse but it couldn’t really be helped considering the circumstances surrounding the actor. Still, the writers could have done a better job of covering for this than the half baked excuses that have been flying around.
Joe’s main purpose in this episode is to offer some support to Iris who is struggling to feel safe in her new office because Cicada knows who she is and can attack her there at any point. The fact that she broke into his house and fought him is addressed as being a different feeling because she could hide after that encounter but now that he knows who she is there’s a constant sense of danger surrounding her. Joe helps by showing her not to be the victim that she thinks she is at this point and be ready for an attack if it were to come. It’s a very brief arc for Iris but Candice Patton does a great job playing the reluctance that it more or less works and it’s great to see Joe back literally fighting fit.
A strong episode that delivers a satisfying promised title fight, an endearing supporting character relationship and the welcome return of Joe. This show has always done well in bringing King Shark and Gorilla Grodd to life. The visual effects are nothing short of spectacular and the episodes featuring them are often very ambitious. Bringing them together for a fight is an ambitious idea that the episode builds up to really well. Naturally it doesn’t last long due to the relatively limited resources on offer but what is delivered is really impressive. The rest of the episode makes great use of the engaging Shay/Tanya relationship. These characters are basically new and their story is a single episode romance but the actors do a great job of carrying it which allows this plot to be the emotional core of the episode. Tanya being unsure what to do about her feelings for the Earth-2 version makes for the perfect opportunity for Sherloque to offer advice and provide a valuable contribution to the episode in a way that only he could by relating to her through his experience of interdimensional relationships. The strong character work makes Shay’s sacrifice both meaningful and appropriately tragic. The title fight is really well done with a lot of creativity on display as well as clear stakes attached to it which more than makes up for the brevity.
Joe’s return is long awaited and he’s used really well despite the flimsy excuses attached to his disappearance. He immediately slots back into a comfortable role by giving Iris advice that helps her get over her reluctance to go back to her office out of fear of Cicada attacking her. It’s a short arc but works well enough and is well performed by Candice Patton. Gorilla Grodd’s appearance is always welcome even if he is a bit one dimensional as villains go. Sometimes that’s fine especially in this capacity where he is around for a specific purpose and is used to prop up the other character stories. Unfortunately the cure debate drags this episode down some as there is no regard for what positions characters should hold on the issue. There is also no consistency over the approach as evidenced by the pointless argument that contradicts prior episodes as well as things discussed in this one. It’s weak manufactured conflict and definitely doesn’t work.
- the title fight living up to expectations
- Shay and Tanya’s strong characterisation
- Shay’s sacrifice being meaningful and appropriately tragic
- the return of Joe
- Candice Patton’s performance during Iris’ short arc
- Gorilla Grodd as a fun recurring antagonist
- the ethical cure debate that contradicts arguments raised both in prior episodes and this one
- Gorilla Grodd’s weak and unexplained plan
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