Friday, October 20, 2017

The Flash 4x02 Review: "Mixed Signals" (Listen and Learn) [Contributor: Deborah MacArthur]

"Mixed Signals"
Original Airdate: October 17, 2017 

This is the version of The Flash I adore! “Mixed Signals” is a lighthearted, fun, funny episode that manages to be all that and also include some significant character development and a deft sprinkling of the season plot arc. Why can’t all the episodes be this good? The dialogue was snappy, the villain of the week was... okay, he was a bit one-note and clearly just a piece in a much larger puzzle involving The Thinker, but still. Everything else about this episode was marvelous. Whenever we have an episode this excellent, I’m reminded why I love this show. Before things got gloomy, The Flash was once a lovely hour of delight and whimsy — and we got a much-welcomed return to those halcyon days this week!


A lot of this episode’s humor comes from Barry’s utter joy at being out of the Speed Force. Even though — or maybe because — he doesn’t remember being trapped for six months, Barry seems to be reveling in his return. He’s speed-watching all the television he missed on as special Cisco-invented DVR that plays at 1,000 times normal speed and enjoying massive breakfasts while re-enacting the famous “Old Time Rock and Roll” scene from Risky Business, not to mention clearing out the whole wedding to-do list on Iris’s behalf. The problem is, Iris never asked Barry to make those wedding plans without her, and it’s clear that she’s a little upset that he did it — and even more clear that Barry is too high on being home to realize he’s a little overzealous about... well, everything.

See, the problem with this peppy new-and-improved Barry is that he’s so enthusiastic about everything, he’s not bothering to listen to the people around him (especially Iris). It’s an annoyance when he’s planning a wedding without Iris’s input; it’s a danger when he makes assumptions during a rescue, fails to listen to his fiancĂ©e’s warnings, and ends up nearly killing the person he was trying to save by sending their speeding, out-of-control vehicle toward an active construction zone. In the end, Barry saves his target by speed-disassembling his car (does insurance cover that sort of thing in Central City?) but it was something he wouldn’t have had to do if he’d just listened to Iris’s instructions in the first place.

Caitlin senses the tension between Barry and Iris and advises that they see a couples therapist, since that’s what she and Ronnie did when they started dating as co-workers (remember: Caitlin and relationships don’t mix only because her significant others keep dying, not because she’s inherently bad at them). At first Iris is opposed to the idea — she and Barry are the “gold standard,” after all — but it starts seeming like a valid plan and, perhaps as a counter to Barry doing tons of stuff without her input, she makes an appointment to see the therapist without his.

Most of the scenes between Barry, Iris, and the therapist are wonderfully funny and, while Grant Gustin has frequently displayed his excellent comedic timing in episodes past, they provide a rare chance for Candice Patton to do the same. As could be expected, a lot of it is Iris and Barry trying to avoid actually saying what they do for a living and why their ability to communicate has such high stakes attached to them, plus a touch of Barry just flat-out not understanding why they’re in therapy... even as he and Iris start listing all the people close to them who have died. It’s quite a long list. Yeah, I can’t imagine why you two would need therapy, Barry.

But Westallen couples therapy exists for more than just my amusement. They have actual problems to work out. For Barry and Iris, their issues go back to the moment when Barry decided to enter the Speed Force and leave Iris behind. In their last therapy session of the episode, Iris comes right out and asks Barry why he left her alone to deal with life without him. Just like cancelling training to have a nice night at a Thai restaurant with Iris, or finalizing all the wedding plans to allow her to relax, Barry’s intentions regarding the Speed Force were genuinely good. He tries very hard to think about others before himself, but Barry is still stubborn and ignorant of the effect his actions might have on the people around him — especially Iris, who often gets left in the (literal and metaphorical) dust.

Barry and Iris are about to get married, which means that Barry can’t keep leaving Iris out of the decisions he makes. Granted, those decisions won’t all be as monumental as stepping into the Speed Force forever, but even the little things are important when you’re supposed to be in a partnership with another person. After Iris’s outburst, Barry realizes that he can’t keep on going with the weight of the city on his shoulders — and, more importantly, he doesn’t have to. Iris isn’t looking to step away from the leadership role she adopted during Barry’s six-month absence, so that means “The Flash” can’t be just Barry now. It has to be Barry and Iris, as partners.


And then there’s the metahuman of the week that Team Flash has to deal with while all this relationship drama is happening. A disgruntled Silicon Valley tech nerd with the power to psychically infect technology is trying to kill off former partners responsible for making billions off of an app he helped create. He successfully kills one target (“shaken to death” in an elevator does not seem like a nice way to go out) and his second was Tim Kwon, the man whose speeding car Barry dismantled. Each one of the victims got a message reading “Kilgore” as the technology around them flipped out, but then the metahuman responsible showed up anyway so I don’t really get why he bothered. Like, bro, you only do the creepy message if you want it to be a sinister mystery.

Our metahuman, Ramsey Deacon, targets the fourth member of the team by taking over her “smart” insulin pump, but Wally is thankfully there to save the day and administer glucose to keep her from dying. Meanwhile, Kwon is the person whose murder Team Flash interrupts over and over — first with the speeding car, then with a grenade in the CCPD building, and a third time in the climactic fight with Deacon.

In said climactic fight, Barry has the misfortune of facing a tech-controlling meta in the new, techy suit Cisco made for him, leading to even more amusing comedy hijinks as Barry’s suit flips out, Wally gets knocked out, and the team members have to figure out how to stop Deacon’s final attempt to kill Kwon. Essentially, Barry has two foes: Deacon, and his own clothing. Cisco even wired the suit with a self-destruct (in case of evil Barrys) in addition to a weapons system, a deadlock system (to prevent unmaskings), and an inflatable raft. Panicking and without very many options, Barry calls S.T.A.R Labs collect on a payphone, and Iris gives him the only viable idea: fry the suit by running up some electricity and throwing a lightning bolt at himself, then defeat Deacon the old-fashioned way.

That’s just what Barry does, coming to in time to stop Deacon from shooting Kwon and to hit Deacon with a serum designed to neutralize his powers. Later on, we see Deacon in his holding cell — where he admits that he was nowhere near the Particle Accelerator explosion when it happened, but he’s keeping quiet about how he actually got his powers.

Deacon is being watched by The Thinker, who... is still thinking about stuff, I guess?

Other Things:
  • Apparently Barry’s go-to Thai meal is pad see ew. Samesies, Barry!
  • Barry zipping around to collect shrapnel from an exploding grenade, then zipping out and coming back into the room all normal was such a prime The Flash scene. It felt very season one, in a good way.
  • Iris pulling Cisco and Barry out of a pop culture nerd-spiral was great. Team Leader Iris!
  • I want to quote all the funny lines from this episode but that would put me way past my usual word count.


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