Thursday, April 8, 2021

The Flash 7x06 Review: "The One with the Nineties" (Remember When) [Contributor: Deborah MacArthur]

“The One with the Nineties”
Original Airdate: April 6, 2021

I hope everyone has their rollerblades strapped on tight and their no-skip CD player loaded up with whatever bubblegum pop strikes their fancy, because some time travel shenanigans mean that Cisco and Chester P. Runk are taking us back to 1998! Well, technically a new “Force” — i.e., the godlike beings similar to the Speed Force — is taking us back to 1998, but Cisco and Chester will be our guides. I’m going to have to ask everyone to please put your Tamagotchis in sleep mode for the duration of this review.

Oh, hey, you know the funny thing about this episode of The Flash is that it takes place in a time that a good percentage of the viewers will have no memory of. And by “funny” I mean “existentially terrifying for me, personally.”


The first hint of Time Shenanigans comes at the episode’s opening scene, where a woman on her phone is briefly confused by a man dressed as a Roman soldier and then way-more-than-confused by an actual T-rex. But wait! This is just the show skipping ahead of itself a bit, as we go back about a day and see Team Flash (minus the Flash, who’s recuperating in a cryo-pod all episode) discussing what’s up with the new, powerful villains Fuerza and Psych. Cisco and Chester come up with a sensor that should be able to alert the team whenever one of the new Forces is near, but they have to go a ways out of town to test it.

Out testing their new sensor, Cisco and Chester are hit by a wave of green light. They’re unharmed, but notice that their cell phones and the van with all their equipment are gone, and Cisco figures out that they’ve been trapped inside a forcefield dome. They head into a nearby town, where they’re shocked to see a Blockbuster store advertising that copies of Space Jam are back in stock. Considering that Cisco and Chester are in 1998 and Space Jam came out in 1996, I think the people of this town either need to find a new movie to love or just buy their own copies.

Initially, Cisco and Chester absolutely love being in 1998 and I can’t say I blame them. I’d certainly like to go back to an era when I didn’t have to do taxes. But it can’t all be fun and games and both of them agree they need to find a way back to the future. They figure this time travel business must be the work of a new Force, and decide that Force might be at the local high school. Cue Montell Jordan’s “This is How We Do It,” a wardrobe change into suitably hideous 90s clothing, and a montage of interviewing teens while surreptitiously scanning them for Time Godliness.

While interviewing a phenomenally stupid kid, they’re interrupted by a jock with a new boxy, 90s cell phone and another kid, getting a spike on their sensor. They follow the other kid and trip him up with a reference to The Matrix, which hasn’t come out yet. Another wave of green hits, resetting Cisco and Chester in the town — and resetting Cisco, mentally, back to the age he was in 1998. Chester can only pull Cisco back to his real age by getting him to remember Game of Thrones, making me wonder if the show ended a lot better in The Flash’s universe than it did in ours, because if that were me I’d probably just regress further out of shame and anger.

Adding a little Groundhog Day onto their Back to the Future, Cisco and Chester realize they’re stuck in a time loop. As entertaining as this episode is, a lot of the elements in it aren’t really explored to their full potential and the time loop situation is one of those, since we don’t really get the full effect of a “time loop plot.” No repeatedly trying things only to have efforts undone at the end of the day, no eventual spiral into desperation... I have to wonder why they bothered to add this aspect at all.

Since their sensor was fried in the last green time blast, Cisco and Chester go shopping for parts at the electronics store Chester passed up earlier in favor of dumpster diving. In the store, Cisco mentions that the last power converter they need was bought by a guy who turns out to be Chester’s dad, who Chester says is destined to die the next day. Chester’s memories of his father are complicated, as the man was an inventor who traveled around to sell his inventions and never spent time with his son.

This gives us the emotional arc of the episode: Chester goes to his father to ask for the part they need and learns that his father is a much more complicated, much more loving man than the one Chester remembers. He refuses to give Chester the part, instead throwing it in the garbage for young Chester to find later, thus indirectly teaching Chester the value of perseverance, ingenuity, and finding worth in what other people might see as trash. Then he and Chester build the part they need together, allowing Chester to really spend a day with his father for the first time in 23 years — maybe even his whole life. It’s touching and wonderful and nice to see a different side of happy-go-lucky Chester P. Runk.

Later, Chester takes what he learned from his new experience with his father and tries to use it to talk down the time-controlling Force that sent them back to 1998, who turns out to be the jock with a 90s cell phone we saw earlier in the episode. While the jock, Deon, is obsessed with his past because his future didn’t go the way he wanted, Chester implores him to stop letting one moment define his whole life and start looking forward. Deon’s anger starts affecting things beyond the town and into Central City, sending Team Flash into styles of decades past (Joe: 1940s and cool, Frost: 1960s and groovy, Iris: 1970s and far out, Caitlin: 1980s and... no one looked good in the 80s) and potentially risking people getting thrown into the Stone Age.

Chester’s words get through to Deon and he calms down, but then he seems to imply that he’ll start changing everyone’s futures instead of just trying to change his own path. Way to villain it up, bro! The time warps stop and Cisco and Chester return to the present day and S.T.A.R. Labs, but there’s one more Force out there planning who-knows-what and Team Flash remains wholly unprepared to deal with this batch of godlike beings.


So, this was a really fun episode but I find myself at something of a quandary regarding everything that happened outside of the main storyline: Iris and the Speed Force bond over their love of Barry, and Frost deals with being an independent being. Both these storylines would get at least a passing mention in my reviews under normal circumstances, but the A-plot of this episode is packed with so much stuff (time travel, time loop, a time god, mental age regression, learning more about Chester, a very good emotional thread for Chester) that just couldn’t find a place to squeeze them in. 

I also couldn’t simply throw the plot mentions down into the bullet points below because I think the fact that these supporting plots even exist in this episode is what prevents “The One with the Nineties” from being a truly excellent “filler” episode (quotes around “filler” because something dealing with the season arc technically can’t be, but the main character isn’t a focus so... hard to see how this one fits in). I feel like if they pruned back everything not revolving around Chester and Cisco, this episode would’ve seemed much less haphazard and I would have liked it a lot more — but as it is, it’s still pretty good... Fly? All that and a bag of chips? I’m not up on my 90s slang, I don’t know how to put a bow on this one.

Other Things:

  • I’m so glad the Cisco/Chester duo has a name: “Team Chesco.”
  • “Tonight we’re gonna party like it’s 1998?” Dang it, Chester. That was going to be the subtitle of this review!
  • “We are 17. We love The Real World. We like Beanie Babies and The Matrix.”
  • Anyway, I’m a year older than Cisco and being older than characters on the TV I watch is really weird.
  • Brandon McKnight, who plays Chester, is FANTASTIC in this episode and I really hope he gets to do more on the show as the season progresses.
  • Chester’s incognito name when he goes to buy the power converter from his dad? John Boyega.
  • I don’t fully understand how Deon is, well, Deon, but also the Still Force. Are the Forces possessing people? The Speed Force isn’t possessing anyone. How does this work?


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