Thursday, February 2, 2017

The Flash 3x11 Review: "Dead or Alive" (Who Tells Your Story) [Contributor: Deborah MacArthur]

"Dead or Alive"
Original Airdate: January 31, 2017

I hate it when the episode has such a perfect and comprehensive title that I struggle to come up with a clever subtitle for it, but that’s the case with “Dead or Alive.” The title covers the two main ideas of the episode: the “wanted, dead or alive” retrieval of H.R. by an Earth-19 bounty hunter, and Iris’s struggle with her looming, possible death and what she can do to make her life matter after she’s gone. One half of the title’s meaning is action-packed sci-fi fun; the other half is a well-written, well-acted internal struggle for Iris that gives the character more to do (and more emotional motivation) than she’s gotten in a long, long time. Far too long, in my opinion, and I actually regret that her plot thread was resolved by the end of the hour.

So anyway, I went with a Hamilton quote for my subtitle. That’s a good fallback for cleverness, right? I mean, my motto is “If you can’t be clever, quote Hamilton.”


As it turns out, traipsing through alternate dimensions is not a legal thing on H.R.’s Earth-19, which makes me wonder what the heck those people were doing in order for Earth-19 governments to put a planet-wide ban on all multiverse portals. Was there just a rash of people pulling their alternate selves through so they wouldn’t have to go to work that day? An onslaught of super intelligent gorillas? Just too many speedsters — wait, actually... that’s a perfectly valid reason to stop the multiverse portals. Please, Earth-1, do whatever it takes in order to put a halt to all the speedsters popping up.

H.R. never informed Team Flash that he was breaking the law by visiting them, so it’s a huge surprise when a metahuman with the questionable name of Gypsy pops up to haul him back to Earth-19. Everyone is understandably confused and, shockingly, reticent to let H.R. go with the bounty hunter. I kinda thought they just tolerated H.R. as a goofy, occasionally useful eccentric, so it’s interesting how strongly they oppose the idea of him getting put to death for his crime. The most surprisingly defensive of H.R. is Cisco, who goes as far as challenging Gypsy to a trial by combat. You know, in between flirting with her in a way that is somehow simultaneously suave and nerdy-awkward.

Much of the main plot revolves around the team trying to save H.R. and, really, trying to save Cisco from his trial by combat situation. Because the trial is to the death and Gypsy seems to have a lot more power than Cisco does, though they seem similar in nature (and not at all like the powers the character has in the comics, according to my research, so I don’t really understand why they picked this character to give those powers to).

Pretty much everyone thinks Cisco is going to die and they work on trying to stop it from happening. Behind Cisco’s back. Yeah, that won’t make everything worse than — oh, wait! It totally makes things worse than they were before, because Barry has the genius idea to ambush Gypsy and ends up getting H.R. swiped for insurance. So, rather than allowing Cisco to prep for combat and maybe think of a way out of the whole situation, Barry just makes it even harder for the team to get around the trial because now Gypsy has who she’s after and is really only sticking around because she has an honor system and promised Cisco.

Cisco and Gypsy eventually get their universe-hopping fight scene (they even end up on Supergirl’s Earth!) and, after Gypsy taunts Cisco for not giving it his best, they seem pretty evenly matched. It’s Cisco who gets the upper hand in the end, though, and (of course) he spares her life.

Gypsy is moved by the compassion of Team Flash (and the charm of Cisco, I have no doubt) and decides she won’t take H.R. back to Earth-19 to be killed for his crimes. That’s the good news. The bad news is that her long-standing perfect retrieval record means no one would ever believe that H.R. got away, which means that she has to tell everyone he’s dead and he can never go home.

But we all know that this show gets a new Harrison Wells every season, so I’m sure they’ll get around that somehow. New Earth? Death by gorilla attack? Cloning gone wrong? Who knows! But I do hope the next Harrison Wells is grumpy. Julian Albert is doing well filling in for Grumpy Harry with some high quality English Snark, but it’s just not the same and Julian will probably be evil soon anyway.


I once equated Iris West to a shooting star in one of these reviews, and it’s been unfortunately accurate: chances for Iris to shine are few and far between, so rare that when these moments do show up, you might as well make a wish. Now we’ve had two episodes in a row where Iris gets a review section all to herself? How sadly unprecedented! And, judging by the previews for the next episode, there is even a chance she’ll get her own review section then, too. Remarkable. Keep the Iris stories coming, The Flash. You’ve got a lot of missed opportunities to make up for, and I hope you realize that.

Here’s the thing, though: throughout this “Save Iris” storyline, a majority of the “weight” has been on Barry. How much Barry loves Iris. How he doesn’t want her to die. And that’s understandable — of course it is! Iris is the most important person in Barry’s life right now — but it makes Iris a supporting role in her own story. When opportunities arise to spotlight a character that has been largely underutilized throughout a series run, it’s strange for a show to continue focusing on the character who has all the story and development. We know Barry would be sad if Iris were to die. We know that he’s struggling with the flash-forward to her death. We want to know what Iris thinks of her death, the possibility that she might not be saved despite all the work her friends are putting into saving her.

“Dead or Alive” touches on Iris’s feelings, mostly revolving around the legacy she hopes to leave behind. People don’t normally get into journalism to be forgotten, after all. There’s a permanence in print that appeals to those who grow up to be journalists, not to mention the idea of changing the world (or, at the very least, changing the city in which they live). So it’s no surprise when Iris’s search for a legacy leads her to a big story that could put her on the front page — a big, dangerous story about smuggling high tech guns out of a warehouse that Iris manipulates Wally into helping her enter.

My favorite scene of the episode was the one that took place in the warehouse, actually: Iris (naturally) gets caught by one of the smugglers, but her impending demise has made her reckless. The scene, wonderfully acted by Candice Patton, takes only a few minutes but manages to perfectly reveal Iris’s mindset at this point as she steps right up to the gun pointed to her chest and says “Everyone’s gotta go sometime, right?” She thinks she’s going to die at the one, particular moment that Barry saw, but there’s a glimmer in her eyes as she faces down the criminal and I wouldn’t be surprised if, in the back of her mind, she thinks going out in a blaze of glory in that warehouse with the big story at her fingertips would be just fine.

More of this comes out later (after Iris is rescued from the warehouse by Wally) when she’s talking to Barry. The Iris/Barry scene has less oomph to it, though, because the show does what it’s been doing this whole plot and gives the “pain” of Iris’s death to Barry, instead of letting her own it for herself. When she talks about how she doesn’t want to die like her mother, leaving nothing important behind, Barry tells Iris that her mother left behind “the woman I love” and, eh. You could’ve done better with that, Barry. And writers.

Like I said, next week is another story about Iris dying — but this time it’s a different dying! Man, I really hope Iris saves herself at the end of all of this. This much Damsel in Distress on TV is way too 1960s for my tastes.

Other Things:
  • It took me until a Google search to figure out where I knew the actress playing Gypsy from, and then I did that Google search and... oh. Right.
  • The Flash-Forward scene. In Lego. Amazing.
  • Iris manipulates poor, unsuspecting Wally so easily. Can you even imagine how they would’ve been as children growing up together?
  • "I challenge you to trial by combat." "What are you doing?" "I'm challenging her to trial by combat."
  • "She must've been having an off day." "...." "What?!" "Wow." Seriously, I’m really starting to love Julian.
  • There were so many brilliant and wonderful pieces of dialogue in this episode. Except for that “woman I love” line from Barry. That was meh.


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