The Flash – Season 5 Episode 3
“The Death of Vibe”
The Flash introduces a new Harrison Wells, furthers Caitlin’s quest to find the truth about her father and continues to develop Cicada as the main antagonist.
One thing the writers can’t be accused of so far this season is wasting time. We are only three episodes in and already there has been significant development on the main villain. In prior seasons it would be approaching the midseason finale before this much information had been revealed. I still have my doubts that Cicada has enough going for him to sustain an entire season but for the moment he is more than compelling enough.
The episode begins with Nora explaining what she knows about Cicada to further establish his threat value. It’s brief and expositional but I enjoyed seeing the inside of The Flash Museum. It also helps establish the unpredictability of events as Cicada is too early from Nora’s perspective so the changes in the timeline caused by her have somehow created a scenario where Team Flash have to deal with Cicada earlier than they normally would have.
There will be no simple fix to this problem either. Cicada was never defeated at any point so just keeps appearing with no apparent way to stop him. Apparently many people try to take him on including Supergirl, Green Arrow, the Legends and “The League”. Hopefully the latter means Justice League and the Arrowverse will eventually form their own version of this. His ability to remove metahuman powers will definitely have a part to play in him defeating everyone he comes into contact with but the mention of Green Arrow who obviously has no enhanced abilities teases how formidable he is when dealing with those without powers. It paints a very scary picture around what Team Flash are up against so now the audience has to be shown how much of a threat he can be.
This episode accomplishes this to some degree though flounders a bit in the execution. For some reason he is fixated with going after Vibe without properly explaining where that particular interest comes from. It does create tension as one of the main characters is being actively pursued but it’s difficult to invest in that fixation when the episode does nothing to explain why Vibe is his current target and not anyone else.
Despite this it offers a good opportunity to get a sense of how Cicada goes after a target and how methodical he is in tracking them down. Looking at a few crime scene photographs is enough for him to see a connection to Joe and use him as bait to lure Vibe into his trap. The interactions between Joe and Cicada when Joe is being held prisoner by him are interesting enough though Cicada seems to become less intimidating the more he is featured. His digitised voice is effective in small doses but carrying out entire conversations using it certainly diminishes the impact to a huge extent. In order to make this work there would have to be a decent pedigree of voice actor like Michael Dorn as Prometheus or Tony Todd as Zoom but Chris Klein’s voice digitally altered doesn’t really cut it over a long period of time. It might have been better had he used his own voice as it would have been a reminder of his humanity which would have enhanced the terror of the situation.
Joe’s integrity is further reinforced by him refusing to point Cicada in the direction of Vibe even if that means endangering himself. He shows a lot of bravery no matter how much pain he suffers. Cicada appears to have some form of a conscience or at least a weak spot for family as he seems almost regretful that he has to hurt Joe to get what he wants which may deprive a family of someone important to them. It’s not enough to make him change his mind so he is clearly fully committed to his self imposed mission no matter what it may cost him or others.
Based on his experience with Cicada Joe is able to intuit that he’s a family man. This is confirmed later in the episode when he goes to visit his sick daughter in hospital. It turns out his real name is Orlan and his mission is at least partially motivated by curing his daughter. It’s all somewhat cryptic but his powers may have the potential to heal her. He also has an injury that refuses to heal suggesting that he might be on borrowed time himself but doesn’t care what happens to him as long as his daughter is restored. Based on the speed of plotting so far I’m optimistic that further answers will soon be forthcoming. The details we have received of his life so far make him an interesting and slightly sympathetic villain that I want to learn more about. At this point we know what drives him but the details are still a mystery and that’s definitely enough for this early stage in the season.
Loosely connected to the Cicada plot is the introduction of a brand new Harrison Wells; he’s an interdimensional French detective who goes by Sherloque. He is enlisted to track down Cicada because solving unsolvable mysteries is his speciality. To my mind he isn’t the best Wells the show has had. It feels like he falls under the same banner as the one note joke versions of the character that have appeared periodically. In theory it’s interesting to have a Wells who is still a genius but uses his intelligence in a different way though his personality and the accent is a little tedious in large doses. It also comes across as if Tom Cavanagh is doing a half baked Benedict Cumberbatch impression as Cisco directly addresses in this very episode.
Sherloque does have some potential that definitely has room to be explored. As with any previous version of Harrison Wells, he has a natural back and forth with Cisco that is always fun to watch so there is definitely some comedic potential to be mined from that. I like the idea of him basically being a con artist who goes from universe to universe catching Cicada because he always turns out to be the same person with the same psychological profile. This doesn’t apply here because the changes in the timeline have resulted in Cicada appearing earlier as a different person meaning that Sherloque is outed as a fraud and has to stay around to pay back the money that he dishonestly took from Team Flash and spent instantly. He also seems to have a particular interest in Nora and an ability to influence her in some way at least based on the hint that he knows it wasn’t her idea to help Barry stop the satellite. Nora is noticeably taken aback by him asking her that question and doesn’t entirely have an answer for it. Whether he actually knows something or has used his powers of deduction to figure it out is unclear at this time but there is definitely something there to be expanded on.
It could be argued that having Sherloque around is redundant since Ralph is an investigator as well but it ends up being a great point of development for him. He ends up realising that he’s a lot better at the job than he thinks he is and he clearly enjoys being on a case that he can sink his teeth into. It also helps that his more insufferable personality traits are downplayed in favour of him being a more thoughtful and competent member of the team. Pairing him up with Caitlin works really well and moves them both forward along compelling lines.
Caitlin’s quest to find the truth about her father continues to be an interesting narrative for her to follow. Danielle Panabaker is getting a lot of screen time and it’s very much her own story to follow through on that isn’t connected to the main plot. It’s a lot better than having her sitting in the Cortex relaying information or finding excuses to let Killer Frost out and makes for a radical departure from the sort of storytelling that Caitlin has been involve with in the past. In terms of what is happening in the plot it’s a little predictable but the emotional foundation is what makes it stand out and could be a positive shift for Caitlin as a character.
Barry and Nora’s relationship continues to be as charming as ever though it’s starting to get somewhat repetitive. The pattern of Nora making a mistake, learning from the mistake and applying what she learned continues which works to some extent but comes across as cartoonish at worst. Her lesson in this episode is an example of how cartoonish it might come across. Barry teaches her that it’s valuable to take her time to consider the situation before acting. It’s a really simplistic lesson that should have occurred to Nora before now in her time as a costumed hero. I did like that she used her speed to consider the situation in a fraction of a second and tackle it with a new perspective. It makes for a good use of her powers and is a clear indication of some sort of growth on her part albeit hammy and on the nose.
At this point the relationship dynamic is still weighted in favour of Barry and Nora with Iris being on the sidelines. As of this episode Nora is due to move in with them in an effort to create that connection by having Nora and Iris spend more time together. The closer quarters will certainly provide opportunities for and explanation of why Nora doesn’t feel all that close to her. For the most part the difference in connection is shown visually as Nora is far more affectionate around Barry but doesn’t go near Iris. Little gestures such as hugging Barry and not hugging Iris make all the difference in showing that there is a rift before setting out to explore why that is.
The title of the episode is accurate yet misleading. Cisco doesn’t meet his end here though that expectation is subverted in a reasonably clever way. Having Vibe killed off in a public sense to protect him from Cicada is a nice idea because it automatically opens Cisco up to different storytelling not reliant on him being Barry’s metahuman sidekick now and again. His powers are still intact and can still be used to help but I get the feeling he will return to a more technical support driven role as he was in the first season. It’s too early to say whether it will be a positive shift or not but it does create interesting possibilities. The death scene as it played out was fairly clumsy as it should have been obvious that Cisco wasn’t dead but the characters react as if he definitely is. Everything about it felt so staged and Nora’s misdirection shouldn’t ever have been something that Cicada fell for. Still, removing Killer Frost and Vibe from the mix while keeping Caitlin and Cisco has lots of potential and goes some way towards making the team feel less overpowered.
Another strong episode that makes a few mistakes here and there but makes up for them when considering the overall package. The development of Cicada as the main antagonist is working really well because there are significant steps forward already. He does lose some of his menace with his digitised voice being heard in large doses but the scenes he shares with Joe mostly work and pay off with the reveal that he is motivated by his sick daughter. It’s possible that he doesn’t have the mileage to sustain a whole season but he remains compelling enough for now. The introduction of Sheloque Wells is a mixed bag and doesn’t feel entirely necessary. He feels a little too over the top to be tolerable for a long period of time but there’s enough there to keep him interesting for now particularly in how he relates to Nora. Nora’s continued pattern of making a mistake, learning from it and applying that lesson is starting to feel a little repetitive and the usage here was very on the nose even if there was a good use of Nora’s powers. Her relationship with Barry continues to be endearing and the rift between her and Iris is showing signs of being addressed soon.
Ralph is used really well in this episode being paired up with Caitlin. The presence of Sherloque helps him see that he’s better at the job than he thinks he is and his more insufferable qualities are thankfully toned down to the point that the character actually becomes somewhat likeable. Pairing him with Caitlin is a good idea as it gives her someone to bounce off as she explores the predictable but emotionally fascinating missing father plot. Cisco shelving the Vibe identity at least for a while might end up being a positive shift for him even if the “death” scene felt really staged and lacking in authenticity. Removing Vibe and Killer Frost will go a long way towards stopping Team Flash from feeling overpowered and puts these characters in positions where they can experience different stories.
- developing Cicada quickly and along interesting lines
- downplaying Ralph’s more insufferable qualities
- Caitlin’s fascinating emotional story
- cutting back on Team Flash’s overall power level
- the potential for Cisco to be involved in different stories
- visual touches showing the contrast in comfort level Nora has with Barry and Iris
- Nora’s lessons feeling hammy and repetitive
- Sherloque Wells coming across as a little too over the top
- Cisco’s “death” feeling staged and lacking authenticity
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