The Flash – Season 5 Episode 21
“The Girl With the Red Lightning”
The Flash has the team prepare to make use of Thawne’s plan to destroy Cicada’s dagger before she can unleash her Metahuman killing bioweapon.
It would be hard to deny that this time of year on Arrowverse shows can get somewhat repetitive. The end of a given season whether it be The Flash, Arrow or Supergirl usually deals with a significant failure or defeat on the part of the heroes that allows the villain plan to be set in motion and produce a ticking clock counting down to some form of widespread annihilation. Last year it was the Enlightenment and this year it’s the dispersal of a lethal Metahuman cure prototype to kill all of them.
In fairness the episode does try to justify future Grace’s position on this by revealing that she is from a future ravaged by dangerous Metahumans. The root cause of her hatred is the influence her uncle had on her but this has been cultivated over years by the abundance of threats from powered individuals. If played correctly this could have been a really strong motivation attached to a nuanced villain but the execution here just adds it to the mixture of other things without spending any time on it. This is a common failing of The Flash and it looks to be a problem that the writers are in no hurry to fix. There’s a story about accountability on the part of Team Flash that is failing to be told here. The fact that they are largely responsible for the creation of Metahumans whether that be accidental or not there is a plot there and the lack of exploration is problematic.
Another significant motivating factor for Grace is the hallucination of her uncle driving her to kill all the Metahumans as a way to honour him. It seems to be all but forgotten that Grace was the one who killed him because she felt that he had abandoned everything that he stands for. There’s something to be said about the idea her uncle represents for her manifesting through that hallucination and encouraging her down the same dark path that led to his undoing but it’s not something that receives much development either. The end result is yet another poorly developed villain that has long outstayed its welcome. Cicada should never have been a full season threat as proven by the conflict playing out in pretty much the same way each episode.
This episode brings back the psychic connection established between Nora and Grace. Nora gets the idea is to use it in order to track her location when accidentally having her red lightning triggered when running to confront her. The plan is identified as being too dangerous by Barry and Iris but predictably Nora isn’t willing to listen to them and takes it upon herself to give it a try. Naturally this doesn’t go so well and opens herself up to the Negative Speed Force once again. In theory this represents a significant threat as it’s something that none of them understand while also running the risk of sending Nora further down a dark path that she won’t be able to return from.
There’s something of a retcon from prior episodes as it is strongly suggested that Nora’s connection to Grace is the cause of her anger rather than feeling abandoned by Barry following being banished to the future. This makes little sense as it was clear that the cause of her anger were the feelings associated with Barry losing faith in her so suggesting that her connection to Grace caused those negative motivations to manifest cheapens the conflict and makes for a shallow attempt to add weight to an obvious plot device. It doesn’t work on even the most basic level and invalidates what was a compelling perspective based disagreement with wider consequences.
The conversation this leads to is somewhat interesting as it takes stock of how far Nora has come since her introduction. In fairness to her she takes great care to not give away her own location as she makes sure she isn’t looking at anything that could point back to S.T.A.R. Labs. Barry still insists that she has to do what she’s told but Nora makes a case for how much better a hero she has become by pointing out how inexperienced she was compared to everything she has learned. She sees this risk as one she’s entitled to make as an adult and appeals to her parents to stop trying to protect her. Instead she wants them to support her in facing that danger. It’s a good scene that highlights the perception Barry and Iris have of their time travelling adult daughter. It’s hard for them not to see her as a child since she hasn’t actually been born yet but at the same time they have to accept that they have been teaching her how to be a hero so can’t stand in her way when she embraces that and starts taking risks. This acceptance in theory moves the parent/child relationship to the next level as they now fully accept Nora as an adult and as a peer. Whether this development is a permanent fixture or not remains to be seen but it’s a strong step forward in the context of this episode.
Other than revealing the above mentioned motivation behind Grace’s hatred of Metahumans there isn’t a lot to take from the conversation Nora and Grace have. Part of that is because Grace spends most of it psychotically grunting. Nora does actively decide not to give into the anger that Grace placed within her mind and manages to figure out that Grace is heading to CCPD which should have been fairly obvious anyway. Once again an idea that had potential being squandered by subpar execution.
In case Grace’s plan can’t be stopped there is an idea to offer the cure to any Metahuman who wants it and use CCPD as the assembly area for any Metahuman volunteers. This of course creates an easy target for Grace as well as a volatile situation in its own right since a group of scared individuals with powers are confined to the same area. It’s Joe’s responsibility to sort this out and he starts to crack under the pressure at first which seems completely out of character considering he has always been good in a crisis and always had no issue taking charge. I feel that this is setting up Joe moving into a defined leadership role next season as he is seen to have found that inner confidence that allows him to take charge. I would argue that he always had it which leaves this plot feeling redundant as it relies on Joe being out of character.
The fight between Team Flash and Cicada towards the end of the episode is fairly well executed in some aspects. It’s refreshing to see Cisco deal with a technical problem for a change and the ticking clock associated with a bomb that can kill Metahumans maintains the urgency. The rest of the fight is fairly standard Team Flash vs. Cicada stuff but the additional elements certainly elevate this sequence.
Thawne is still sitting in the background with his plan remaining a mystery to the team. The only person focused on getting to the bottom of it is Ralph who has a very strong feeling that there is more to this than any of them know. Cicada’s dagger is a particular sore spot for him as he tries to use the rules of time travel to explain that something doesn’t add up in terms of where and when the dagger game into existence. The first problem is that Ralph is trying to explain something that can’t be explained from an audience perspective as the writers have been woefully inconsistent with time travel rules. At this point pretty much anything goes so a lot of Ralph’s attempts to explain what’s going on feel like nonsense without consistent rules to back up his conclusions. Still he comes to the realisation that the dagger is a significant part of Thawne’s plan and they can’t destroy it because that’s exactly what he wants. This realisation comes at an inconvenient point as Barry has just fired the Mirror Gun at the dagger to destroy it completely which will undoubtedly lead to the return of Thawne. If that gets rid of Cicada then I’m all for it.
Another uneven outing that fails to make use of obvious potential that could add much needed depth to Cicada while delivering really strong development in the Barry/Iris/Nora relationship. This episode offers some explanation as to what motivates Grace to hate Metahumans to the point of being comfortable committing genocide. The time period she comes from is apparently overrun with dangerous powered people so she is trying to put a stop to that at an earlier point. As motivations go it’s not bad but very little time is spent exploring how that relates to her personally in terms of what was taken from her. It’s also muddled with the presence of a hallucination of her uncle. There’s something to be said about her own perception of what her uncle was driving her down the same dark path but this idea isn’t well developed either. Bringing back Nora and Grace’s psychic link could have been interesting but the episode doesn’t do much with this either. Their conversation fails to be profound as it’s punctuated by a lot of grunts from Grace as Nora declares that she has chosen not to turn out like she did. Once again this had potential that it fails to live up to.
The reveal that Nora tapping into the Negative Speed Force was because of her psychic link with Grace undermines how lost and abandoned she felt as a result of Barry banishing her into the future. An external influence wasn’t required in this case as it’s perfectly reasonable to assume that feeling abandoned by her father would cause her to tap into her darker side. This connection is a shallow attempt to add weight to an obvious plot device and cheapens some strong characterisation for Nora. The threat of her being consumed by the Negative Speed Force leads to a strong moment where Barry and Iris express concern and Nora talks about how much she has learned in her time with her parents. She takes stock of how far she has come and reiterates that she’s an adult capable of making her own decisions so requires support rather than permission. This forces Barry and Iris to reconsider how they see her and accept that they shouldn’t punish her for doing exactly what they taught her to do. The idea to offer the cure to any Metahuman that wants it before Grace can set off her weapon makes sense but Joe acts painfully out of character in this moment as he is overwhelmed by the situation. We have seen numerous examples of Joe taking charge in a crisis situation with no issues. Thawne is in the background with his plan remaining a mystery. Ralph is the only one interested in solving this mystery and manages to conclude that destroying the dagger is exactly what he wants them to do. How he reaches this conclusion is anyone’s guess considering it relies on using this show’s ever changing time travel rules to justify his conclusion. If it leads to the return of Thawne and ends Cicada then I’m all for it.
- a motivation for Grace that makes sense
- Nora appealing to her parents to be treated like an adult
- doing very little with Grace’s motivation
- revealing that Nora’s anger had nothing to do with her because it came from her connection with Grace
- Joe being overwhelmed by a crisis and forgetting his well established leadership skills
- Ralph’s conclusions about Thawne’s plan relying on time travel rules that are ever changing
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