Monday, April 4, 2022

The Flash 8x09 Review: "Phantoms" (Ghostbusters) [Contributor: Deborah M]

Original Airdate: March 30, 2022

The Flash is inching a couple plots forward this week: Iris’s time issues and that potential metahuman serial killer we learned about last week. For the second episode in a row, we’re low on laughs and hijinks and high on themes of grief. I know I wasn’t complaining about having a heavier episode last week, but that was when I was under the impression that the thematic elements were a one-off — yet here we are again. Considering what we find out about the cold fire killer at the end of this episode, I’ve got a feeling we’re going to be dipping into this particular well several more times over the season.


At STAR Labs, Chester has made a scanner that could help them locate the cold fire metahuman as soon as they “flame on.” He wigs out every time he glances at the display board and photos of the two previous cold fire victims. Chester’s reaction doesn’t make a lot of sense at this point in the episode, but I’ll come back to that for proper nitpicking when it’s relevant.

When an alert for the cold fire does come in, Barry arrives too late to save the victim. The next we see, the place is a crime scene and Barry and Chester are there as CSI. Again, Chester is leary of the fried body and briefly zones out, only to be pulled back to reality when it’s revealed that some of the black fire that killed the person is still lingering on the corpse. Barry phases out, speeding to Chester’s lab to retrieve a vacuum tube thing they can hold the fire in. That’s a new power Barry just displayed, right? The phase-then-zoom power?

Back in Chester’s lab, Barry leaves the science part of the investigation in Chester’s hands while he goes off to fill Kramer in on what they know. Chester is clearly wary of the black flame (which is a really cool looking special effect, by the way) and the next thing we know, it has escaped its tubular prison and started to engulf the whole room! But then Chester is woken up by Allegra, Cecile, and Frost to reveal that it was just a nightmare.

Later, Allegra and Chester are talking before being interrupted by the black fire engulfing the room again, except this time it’s not a nightmare. Allegra hits the distress button on her phone that calls Barry, and even though the usual spinny-arm-tornado attack Barry uses against fire does nothing to it, the black flame briefly forms the vague shape of a human before disappearing without a trace.

Chester confesses to Allegra that he thinks the black flames are the ghost of his father. When he saw the human-shaped form the flames took, he felt like he’d been transported to the moment his father died in a fiery accident. And here’s my issue with this, and Chester’s throughline of being afraid of the flames/its victims: Chester never encountered the actual flames before now, and when he investigated the first body last episode he didn’t seem too afraid of it. For this idea to make sense, Chester should have encountered the flames at the beginning of the episode, had the implication that he was personally connected to them and scared by them, and then continued to hit that beat until this confession moment revealed what he’d been thinking about every time he zoned out. It’s like something was edited out of the episode that shouldn’t have been.

With that nitpicking out of the way, we return to the show: the black flames are invading STAR Labs. Barry and Frost go to distract (?) the flames, leaving Chester to technobabble everyone to safety. But Chester can’t make a dent in the flame’s progress and he starts to fall into despair — which Cecile can sense, but not entirely from Chester. She realizes the despair and grief is actually coming from the flames, which crowd into the room before taking the form of Chester’s dad. 

Cecile tells Chester that the figure of his father, which is urging Chester to take his hand and go with him somewhere, is feeding off Chester’s grief and he needs to fight against it. Allegra urges Chester to think about how much his dad loved him, which pushes Chester into a lovely little false montage of him showing his father around STAR Labs as he thinks about how proud and impressed his dad would be with the man Chester has become. It’s enough to knock Chester out of the thrall of the black flames and he “sends them packing,” as he puts it to Barry when asked later.

With this new development in the black fire meta situation, Joe was able to track down a connection between all the victims so far: each one was suffering from some kind of grief. The team surmises that it is attracted to and feeds off grief, and Chester adds another level of difficulty when he explains that the fire wasn’t being controlled by a person with metahuman powers at all — it was, itself, the thing they were fighting. Cecile confirms that she felt emotions from the flames, and everyone arrives at the conclusion that the flames are alive.

In the aftermath, Cecile and Allegra comfort Chester with the knowledge that everyone on Team Flash is a bunch of traumatized, grief-stricken orphans so he’s not alone! And they’ll all help him work through his specific brand of trauma together, because they’re a family! Then Cecile probably senses the romantic feelings between Chester and Allegra and bounces, leaving the two of them to continue making googly eyes at each other but not actually doing anything to progress their relationship.


Iris gets a temporal check-up from Deon and explains her weird memory lapses. She even mentions meeting up with Deon in the train station during that alternate reality where Joe died, but Deon doesn’t remember it. He laughs it off and starts to head out, but then he picks up mutations in Iris’s… time aura? I’m not entirely sure what Deon looks at when his eyes go green and glowy. He says he wants to run things by the other Forces and Iris shouldn’t bother Barry with whatever’s going on until he has more answers. Oh, secrets! Those never end poorly.

At Iris’s media empire office, Sue Dearbon is back, bearing the gift of info-dumping! There’s a potential meta in Coast City people are calling a ghost because it can walk through walls, and it turns out latent meta genes are just a thing and Central City isn’t all that special because Sue’s seen metas all over the world. Hmm... that doesn’t sound correct, but fine. Iris wants to go with Sue to check out the meta, but she clearly has ulterior motives.

In Coast City, Sue calls Iris out on her distracted behavior and they find the meta they’re looking for in a coffee shop. Her name is Tinya and she’s one of my least favorite archetypes: the snotty, overly hostile, independent teenager. Tinya fries Iris’s phone and runs off.

With Iris’s phone out of commission, Sue has to download the dark matter app so she and Iris can track Tinya down again but it’ll take something like seven hours. In the meantime, the two have a little chat about what’s really bothering Iris and Iris confesses that she needs a distraction from her time sickness problems. Sue tells Iris she needs to stop trying to distract herself and just confront her fear head-on. This conversation leads to a revelation on where to find Tinya: an abandoned apartment that was the last known address of Tinya’s mother. 

Yeah, it’s just a storyline about Tinya wanting to find and impress her mom with her new superpowers vaguely connected by the thinnest plot thread of Tinya being a “ghost” in Coast City and the cold fire being a “ghost” haunting Chester. I think the writers definitely could’ve pulled these two plots together a lot better.

We end with Barry and Iris video chatting about their respective storylines. Iris wants to make Tinya a superhero; Barry wants to keep Iris safe from the black flames. Just after they say their goodbyes, Deon arrives to tell Iris he knows what’s wrong with her, and it’s not good news. Guess we’ll get that info next episode!

Other Things:

  • Why didn’t the black flames go after Barry last episode when he was grieving his dad?
  • Really good acting from Brandon McKnight as Chester this episode, by the way.


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