The Flash – Season 9 Episode 5
“The Mask of the Red Death, Part 2”
The Flash concludes the Red Death arc with Central City under siege and Barry doubting his leadership ability.
With this being the final season and the first arc ending after five episodes, it’s reasonable to expect that there’d be a sense that the show is going somewhere by this point. Instead, viewers are met with more of the same storytelling that became the norm several seasons ago. Things happen that lack impact and the characters move on to the next trial where the process repeats.
The previous episode contained a promise from Red Death that she would bring her brand of justice to the timeline the failure of her plan trapped her in. Her new plan involves creating psychic copies of herself to maintain her version of order using Grodd to maintain the copies. How she got the idea to use Grodd to help her create psychic copies of herself to brutally punish anyone who commits a crime is never explained and the effect on the city isn’t shown beyond a shoplifter being killed for stealing a TV. As always the threat never feels urgent or tangible and this iteration of the “Central City under siege” trope fails to stand out from the numerous other examples of that happening.
Dialogue within the episode even makes reference to this being a typical Wednesday which is designed to be a semi-meta joke referencing the day the show airs but there’s a failure to recognise that there are no stakes associated with these situations because they practically do occur on a weekly basis.
There isn’t much to say about Red Death as a character. Beyond the fact that she is an alternate version of Ryan Wilder played by Javicia Lesley, there’s nothing to distinguish her from any other cackling maniac that Team Flash comes into contact with. The previous episode at least made some attempt to take advantage of the similarities that exist between her and the Earth-Prime version of the character but this one does nothing of the kind. She’s also strangely passive even after putting her plan in place. She deprives Barry of his speed rather than killing him and seems content to sit idly by once she believes that she has achieved what she set out to do. It’s a common villain mistake but still stands out as being a foolish way to behave for someone who is supposedly very far ahead of the curve in terms of strategy.
The inclusion of Grodd for what is likely to be the final time is underwhelming. Visually he looks as good as ever. The CGI rendering is excellent and he is confidently displayed in daylight to show off how impressive he looks but on a character level, he suffers massively. Evil Ryan explains that she recruited him because he’s upset that gorillas lost their sentience which cost him his tribe so was malleable to joining her. It drifts by with no further explanation because there’s no way for it to make sense. Grodd was reformed in his last appearance so it’s difficult to accept that he would play a part in Red Death’s brutal form of justice because of the loss of his tribe. It isn’t shown what Evil Ryan did to convince him so it amounts to a thing the audience simply has to accept despite there being no logic to it.
Another aspect is Barry being a bad hero, something that is already evident based on how often he makes mistakes and forgets things he should have learned years ago. In this case, Evil Ryan tells him that Grodd is his greatest failure because he taught him how to be a hero and then never followed up after that point. This supposedly left Grodd vulnerable and receptive to joining Evil Ryan’s cause. This was only made possible because Barry failed to follow up with Grodd after helping him reform.
In fairness, this is consistent characterisation for Barry as there are many examples of him forgetting about people once he deals with a given encounter. There was also the time he destroyed Caitlin’s lab and left without making any effort to comfort her as a friend. The trouble with Barry’s actions is that he is so rarely punished for them so this is somewhat refreshing. The problem with this example is that the details are too vague to be an impactful example of Barry failing in any way. He didn’t follow up with Grodd but the situation didn’t necessarily lend itself to him doing that so the idea of a failure being pointed out and Barry realising that he has been negligent doesn’t land.
Barry spends some of the episode feeling sorry for himself and doubting his ability to lead the team. He talks about Team Red Death being fully in sync while Team Flash is falling apart and is apparently resigned to defeat. This comes after the highlighting of his negligence where Grodd is concerned and his team of Rogues lamenting the fact that the fight is lost. This moment is a standard example of the hero being at their lowest point at the midpoint of the story before triumphantly making a comeback and solving the problem. It’s a proven formula that The Flash deploys whether it makes sense in context or not.
It takes nothing more than a short conversation with Joe to shake Barry out of his misery and motivate him to take action. Joe tells Barry that he has a gift for bringing out the best in people and that he has to trust that any seeds of goodness he has planted in others will take root. If he has faith in his own way of being a hero then others will share that faith. It’s enough for Barry to realise that he has to bring out the heroism that he taught to Grodd. He easily convinces Grodd to help him and gets his speed back due to a remnant of the Speed Force left within Grodd during their last encounter. He has his speed for a few minutes before Red Death defeats him but he is saved from death by his team of Rogues experiencing a predictable change of heart and coming to his rescue before being nearly instantly defeated.
The actual defeat comes from the -not so- surprise appearance of Ryan Wilder with a handy speed-cancelling Batarang. Such a gadget would be very useful for every hero to have in their arsenal, especially earlier in the episode when Barry had lost his speed and really needed something to level the playing field.
Ryan fights with the depowered Red Death briefly before Barry removes her armour with no trouble. It’s such a weak conclusion to an underwhelming arc. Ryan’s appearance is meaningless because no attempt is made to explore how she might feel about being faced with a corrupted version of herself. The only reference is a quip about Evil Ryan being her on a bad hair day. The fight isn’t challenging and Evil Ryan is dismissed with a line of dialogue about being sent to Iron Heights. Nothing that happened in this arc will have any impact on the characters, the world they live in or the rest of the season as it’s a self-contained villain with nothing beneath the surface.
Other than spending a single scene in S.T.A.R. Labs among people she is meeting for the first time, Ryan does nothing of note. Some reference to Barry’s experience with the previous Batwoman and his views on the inheritor would have at least been something even if it would have been the predictable platitude of the cape and cowl being in the right hands. She invites Iris to the monthly brunch she has with Kara, Nia and Alex before leaving and that’s all Ryan Wilder aka Batwoman’s appearance amounts to. No mention is made of the fact she was considered missing not two episodes ago nor is any attempt made to address that her team was worried about her. Once again, this smacks of no effort and it’s a complete waste of what could have been an engaging crossover.
The only other content of significance the episode has to offer is Joe changing his mind again on leaving Central City. His change of heart comes after Cecile uses her powers to locate Evil Ryan and ends up locating the still-alive Mark without meaning to. This leads Joe to conclude that Team Flash needs Cecile more than it needs him. He tells Barry that he doesn’t see his value to the team any more because nobody has anything left to learn from him. Barry assures him that it isn’t the case but he sees himself as a spare part and considers his work to be done because he has passed on everything he knows and the lessons have been learned in full. Cecile on the other hand has abilities that are useful to them so taking her away from that wouldn’t be fair.
Joe’s compromise is that he and Jenna move to the country while Cecile stays in the city but comes to live in the country at the weekend. He has effectively engineered a status quo where Cecile gets to abandon her daughter five days out of seven in favour of being a member of Team Flash and both of them are apparently ok with this. Fortunately for Cecile, villains and apocalyptic events keep standard office hours so juggling work, heroics and a family will be no problem for her.
External factors have influenced Joe’s departure so he had to be written out of the show without removing Cecile because Danielle Nicolet is still under contract but there had to be a better way of doing it than making her out to be a parent who accepts only seeing her partner and young daughter two days a week as a reasonable adjustment. Of course, the damage is already done because Jenna is barely mentioned and her appearances can be counted on one hand with fingers left over but addressing that their daughter is something that both need to consider and having the characters arrive at a decision that willingly separates a young girl from her mother the majority of the time is ludicrous.
One of the issues Cecile raised in an earlier conversation about leaving Central City was the length of the commute she’d be facing coming in and out of the city every day. This is a practical and realistic consideration that would come into play when exploring the possibility of moving but this episode offers the reminder that no such problem exists as Team Flash have access to the smoke bombs that Nash used to instantly travel from one place to another. Cecile and Joe could move to Australia and Cecile could still commute back to Central City every day. Joe’s argument should have been that she could use those to come back and forth while Joe enjoys his retirement raising their daughter out of harm’s way. That would involve the writers of this show considering the resources the characters have available to them outside of the moment they’re required for something specific.
Another issue with this development is that Joe doesn’t have a discussion with Iris about it. He talks to Barry and the foundation of their conversation is their father/son connection but no such interaction exists between him and Iris. It’s a notable gap as he’s proposing being in the lives of his family far less than he currently is so having some sort of moment with Iris where they exchange words on the subject should have been a requirement. It’s especially egregious when considering that he leaves knowing Iris is pregnant so is moving far away when he has a grandchild on the way. The reveal that Iris is pregnant was also laughably poorly handled.
Not everything about Joe’s departure was poorly handled. Joe telling Barry that he has imparted all the wisdom that he can and that he feels secure in leaving because he recognises that Barry is ready to stand on his own without parental support is something that works at least to some degree. The actors have always had a strong onscreen rapport that comes across clearly whenever they interact. In a better show it would be growth for both Barry and Joe to collectively realise that Joe has done his job as a parent and Barry is ready to face the world without his guidance but in this show it’s nothing but words as Barry continually makes the same mistakes and has to be given the same advice over and over again. Perhaps the problem could be solved with an advice-dispensing Joe hologram to remind Barry of what to do when he’s being stupid. Despite that, Grant Gustin and Jesse L. Martin play these interactions wonderfully and fully sell the emotional weight of their farewell. It’ll be an adjustment not having Joe in subsequent episodes though it’s highly likely he will return for at least the finale.
A weak episode featuring an underwhelming conclusion to the Red Death arc and ludicrous character decisions. Red Death’s plan numbers among the more bizarre villain plans this show has featured and as always, the threat never feels urgent or tangible. It fails to stand out from any of the other sieges Central City has faced. There’s nothing to distinguish Red Death from any other cackling maniac Team Flash has faced. Nothing is done to capitalise on any similarities that exist between her and the Earth-Prime Ryan Wilder despite some effort being made in the previous episode. She’s also strangely passive even after putting her plan in place. She deprives Barry of his speed rather than killing him and seems content to sit idly by once she believes that she has achieved what she set out to do. The inclusion of Grodd is underwhelming. Visually he looks great but he suffers massively on a character level. It’s difficult to accept that he would play a part in Red Death’s brutal form of justice and the episode makes no effort to justify his decision beyond the superficial. Another aspect is that Barry is a bad hero because he failed to follow up with Grodd after their last encounter. This is consistent characterisation for Barry but the details are too vague in this example for Barry’s mistake to be as clear as it needs to. It’s enough for him to feel sorry for himself and doubt his ability to lead the team but takes nothing more than a short conversation with Joe to get him back on task. He gets his speed back thanks to a Grodd related contrivance and is quickly defeated by Red Death but saved by his team of Rogues experiencing a predictable change of heart.
The arrival of Ryan Wilder with a handy speed-cancelling Batarang is also underwhelming. She fights her alternate self for a few seconds before Barry removes her amour and sends her to Iron Heights. Ryan’s appearance is meaningless because no attempt is made to explore how she might feel about being faced with a corrupted version of herself. Other than spending a single scene in S.T.A.R. Labs among people she is meeting for the first time, Ryan does nothing of note. No mention is made of the fact she was considered missing not two episodes ago nor is any attempt made to address that her team was worried about her. The only other content of significance the episode has to offer is Joe changing his mind again on leaving Central City. His change of heart comes after Cecile uses her powers to locate Evil Ryan and ends up locating the still-alive Mark without meaning to. This leads Joe to conclude that Team Flash needs Cecile more than it needs him. Joe’s compromise is that he and Jenna move to the country while Cecile stays in the city but comes to live in the country at the weekend. He has effectively engineered a status quo where Cecile gets to abandon her daughter five days out of seven in favour of being a member of Team Flash and both of them are apparently ok with this. It completely ignores the in-universe technology they have access to that would render a long commute meaningless and chooses to go with a decision that is ludicrous. Joe has a conversation with Barry about leaving that works because the actors sell it but doesn’t talk to Iris nor does he consider the fact that he has a granddaughter on the way once he learns about that. The reveal that Iris is pregnant was also laughably poorly handled. It’ll be an adjustment not having Joe in subsequent episodes though it’s highly likely he will return for at least the finale.
- the impressive CGI rendering of Grodd
- Grant Gustin and Jesse L. Martin wonderfully performing their scenes together
- the threat of Red Death never feeling urgent or tangible
- this iteration of the “Central City under siege” trope failing to stand out from the numerous other examples
- nothing to distinguish Red Death from any other cackling maniac encountered by Team Flash
- Red Death being oddly passive
- doing nothing with the similarities that exist between her and Ryan Wilder of Earth-Prime
- Grodd’s inclusion being underwhelming
- his participation in Red Death’s plan not making sense
- Barry being painted as a bad hero not landing as well as it needs to in this case
- the easy defeat of Red Death
- no exploration of Ryan dealing with a corrupted version of herself
- Ryan doing nothing of note
- Joe’s plan to leave Central City while Cecile remains on Team Flash five days out of seven
- Cecile accepting this
- ignoring technology the team have access to that would make Cecile’s commute a non-issue
- the laughably poor reveal of Iris being pregnant
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