The Flash – Season 9 Episode 4

Mar 2, 2023 | Posted by in TV
Flash

“Mask of the Red Death Part 1”

The Flash ramps up the threat of the Red Death and fleshes out her motivations as she moves forward with her plan.

Considering the general quality of stories featuring Speedster villains, it’s very difficult to believe that the trend will be broken with each new one. Thawne was a great villain in the first season and variable on his various returns, Zoom started off well and suffered from a poor conclusion, Savitar was never interesting, Godspeed was a collection of wasted opportunities and the others haven’t made a sizeable impact. Red Death risks becoming another unmemorable addition to the long list of underwhelming Speedster antagonists.

Flash

Jenna, I haven’t seen you since you were a baby!

The ingredients for something interesting are there. Ending the previous episode with the reveal that Ryan Wilder is inside the armour sets up a story that is potentially very personal. Team Flash having to fight a corrupted ally is a compelling prospect as they can’t treat her like any other villain. This show has done variations on this idea before but the notion of a fallen hero needing to be guided back to who they once were is always an interesting starting point. Outside of the “Armageddon” arc last season that took place in an alternate timeline, Nobody on Team Flash has interacted with Ryan Wilder so there are no established relationships to draw on but she is another hero and one they are affiliated with so that creates at least a loose connection to explore.

That potential is very quickly squandered by Red Death being Ryan Wilder from an alternate timeline, presumably, the one featured in “Armageddon” so any personal connection that could enhance the story disappears. Javicia Lesley is unfortunate to have very little to work with as an actor as the bulk of her contribution to this episode is exposition. The show commits the cardinal sin of telling rather than showing when it comes to Red Death’s origins. She talks about being adopted by the Waynes, turning the weapons and/or abilities of criminals against them, applying that same logic to her allies and being betrayed by the Flash from her timeline. There’s no reason to invest in it because the delivery of the details is so dry and they make no material difference to the story playing out here.

If she is from the “Armageddon” timeline then her Flash would be Eobard Thawne so a betrayal isn’t surprising but she also asks Iris about her husband Barry and references his speed so it could be that she’s from a different alternate timeline where Ryan and Iris are best friends and Barry is the Flash. It’s difficult to say and the writers have proven that they can’t be trusted to maintain consistency between stories so it may simply be an inconsistency that will stick. The second part may offer clarity on this. Regardless of the timeline she’s from, she hates the Flash and wants to return to her own timeline to get revenge on the version of the Flash native to it. To do that she needs Barry to power the cosmic treadmill as it can only be powered by organic speed whereas hers is artificial.

Flash

The safe word is Robin!

Ryan being powered by an artificial version of the Negative Speed Force is treated as a big reveal but it’s functionally meaningless. After the -definitely final- death of Thawne at the end of the previous season, Barry has been on alert for the next avatar of the Negative Speed Force. Red Death’s attack prompted him to assume that she is the new avatar which could have been interesting if the fallen hero idea was pursued rather than an alternate timeline variant as Ryan could be corrupted by exposure to a powerful cosmic force through no fault of her own with the resolution being her finding the inner strength to sever her connection to this seductive power. Instead, it’s an alternate Ryan creating an artificial source of speed because of events that have no bearing on the main timeline the show inhabits. She also gained the ability to quote various Batman adaptations.

There are other issues in how Ryan is established as an antagonist. She mentions building her suit and creating the artificial Negative Speed Force and having previously reverse-engineered the weapons and/or abilities of criminals to add to her own arsenal. The Red Death suit can also be remotely piloted so she is positioned as a tech genius on the level that many versions of Bruce Wayne aka Batman are portrayed. Despite her apparent genius, she doesn’t know how to build her own cosmic treadmill despite having access to the blueprints and knowing exactly what components are required.

It’s understandable that she was unable to obtain at least some of them herself while she was trapped in whatever limbo she was supposed to be trapped in but lacking the engineering know-how to assemble a cosmic treadmill when she boasts about everything else she created makes no sense. She’s a mechanical genius but also not a mechanical genius depending on the needs of the scene. The inconsistency adds to the difficulty investing in the story as nothing holds up under scrutiny and the stakes aren’t well established.

Flash

It’s important we don’t lose our heads

Another issue is that the threat of Red Death never feels urgent enough to create any meaningful sense of jeopardy. It’s down to how repetitive the tactics are. Blacking out the city, capturing Barry and threatening Iris are all standard practices by this point and this episode fails to do anything interesting with them. Bringing in Barry’s team of reformed Rogues accomplishes little more than finding him with them contributing nothing after the fact.

Mark betraying Red Death amounts to an underwhelming development. There is at least an attempt to earn it when Barry tries to appeal to his better nature and assure him that making mistakes doesn’t damn him completely. Prior to this conversation, Mark felt that he had gone too far and that his bridge with Team Flash was burned so he had no choice but to continue on the path he’d chosen. Barry points out that making mistakes doesn’t mean there’s no chance of redemption and cites the mistake he made assuming that Red Death was the new Negative Speed Force avatar. The examples are hardly comparable but it’s enough to make Mark think and he sabotages the cosmic treadmill so that the plan fails. His burst of heroism seems to get him killed though his death is shrouded by smoke so that may not be the case. Dead or alive his actions ruin Ryan’s plan which causes her to pivot to making her mark on this timeline.

The episode does impress in one area, Iris comes across well in the extended conversation Ryan has with her. She is suspicious but doesn’t tip her hand in an obvious way. Candice Patton plays these scenes with impressive subtlety as Iris scrutinises Ryan’s story asking the right questions to prompt her to slip up and carefully observing everything she does before revealing that she isn’t fooled. Candice Patton should definitely be commended for what she is able to deliver with minimal dialogue opposite a scene partner tasked with reciting information as if she’s reading a Wikipedia article.

Flash

Not fooling anyone

Some attention is given to the slow-burning plot questioning whether Joe and Cecile should stay in Central City. The question is explored through the return of Jenna (Adina Insley) in what might be her second appearance. It’s certainly the first with this actress. Previously, she has been a sometimes mentioned fixture of Joe and Cecile’s lives that has no measurable impact on them. Periodic references are made to calling a babysitter or Jenna being asleep upstairs but she hasn’t been an actual material part of the show. Her introduction remains a bizarre decision on the part of the writers that has been all but ignored since it was made.

This episode attempts to use her in a meaningful way by making her the basis of Joe and Cecile’s decision to leave Central City. Joe wants to leave because he wants Jenna to have a normal childhood away from constant danger. Cecile wants to stay for practical reasons like a reasonable commute to work but Joe is fixated on the safety aspect. The glass from the window exploding out towards Jenna would seem to support Joe’s claim but Cecile using her newly acquired telekinesis to stop it akin to the stories about mothers lifting cars when their children are threatened changes Joe’s mind because he sees that Cecile needs to be in Central City so that she can be a hero. Jenna drawing a picture of her mother as a superhero punctuates that point and they decide to stay.

It’s such a bizarre conversation as it begins with Cecile coming around to Joe’s way of thinking before Joe states that he understands her previous point of view and they agree to stay. Behind the scenes, it is known that Jesse L. Martin is leaving as a full-time cast member to have a reduced role in the final season. It appears that he will be mentioned as staying home with Jenna while Cecile continues working with Team Flash. It’s one solution but a weak one as it’s out of character for Joe to stand idly by while his family are in danger but consistent characterisation is a distant memory on this show so it’s in no way surprising.

Flash

So are we staying?


Verdict

A weak episode full of squandered potential that delivers an underwhelming villain, inconsistent characterisation and painfully dull storytelling. The ingredients for an interesting villain are there with the notion of a fallen hero and ally corrupted by an overwhelming force creating potential for compelling drama. This potential is squandered by Red Death being Ryan Wilder from an alternate timeline so any personal connection that could enhance the story disappears. Javicia Lesley is unfortunate to have very little to work with as an actor as the bulk of her contribution to this episode is exposition. There’s no reason to invest in her story because the delivery of the details is so dry and they make no material difference to the story playing out here. Ryan being powered by an artificial version of the Negative Speed Force is treated as a big reveal but it’s functionally meaningless. Other issues with Ryan as an antagonist include her being established as a tech genius while simultaneously having no idea how to build the cosmic treadmill and having to make others build it for her. The inconsistency adds to the difficulty investing in the story as nothing holds up under scrutiny and the stakes aren’t well established. Another issue is that the threat of Red Death never feels urgent enough to create any meaningful sense of jeopardy. She uses repetitive tactics that aren’t used in interesting ways. Bringing in Barry’s team of reformed Rogues accomplishes functionally nothing as well. Mark betraying Red Death amounts to an underwhelming development. There is at least an attempt to earn it when Barry tries to appeal to his better nature and assure him that making mistakes doesn’t damn him completely. His burst of heroism seems to get him killed though his death is shrouded by smoke so that may not be the case. Dead or alive his actions ruin Ryan’s plan which causes her to pivot to making her mark on this timeline.

The episode does impress in one area, Iris comes across well in the extended conversation Ryan has with her. She is suspicious but doesn’t tip her hand in an obvious way. Candice Patton plays these scenes with impressive subtlety as Iris scrutinises Ryan’s story asking the right questions to prompt her to slip up and carefully observing everything she does before revealing that she isn’t fooled. Some attention is given to the slow-burning plot questioning whether Joe and Cecile should stay in Central City. The question is explored through the return of Jenna. This episode attempts to use her in a meaningful way by making her the basis of Joe and Cecile’s decision to leave Central City. Joe wants to leave because he wants Jenna to have a normal childhood away from constant danger. Cecile wants to stay for practical reasons like a reasonable commute to work but Joe is fixated on the safety aspect. The glass from the window exploding out towards Jenna would seem to support Joe’s claim but Cecile using her newly acquired telekinesis to stop it changes Joe’s mind because he sees that Cecile needs to be in Central City so that she can be a hero. Jenna drawing a picture of her mother as a superhero punctuates that point and they decide to stay. It’s such a bizarre conversation as it begins with Cecile coming around to Joe’s way of thinking before Joe states that he understands her previous point of view and they agree to stay.

Overall
  • 2/10
    Mask of the Red Death, Part 1 - 2/10
2/10

Summary

Kneel Before…

  • the subtle handling of Iris testing her suspicions as she talks to Ryan

 

Rise Against…

  • squandering the potential for engaging character-driven storytelling by having Ryan be from an alternate timeline
  • Javicia Lesley’s contribution being little more than exposition
  • the Red Death threat never feeling urgent
  • Ryan using repetitive tactics in uninteresting ways
  • inconsistencies around Ryan being a genius
  • Barry’s team or reformed Rogues having no reason for being there
  • the clunky handling of the question around Joe and Cecile leaving Central City

 

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User Review
6.12/10 (17 votes)

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