Monday, March 6, 2023

The Flash 9x04 Review: "The Mask of the Red Death, Part 1" (New Villain, Old Problems) [Contributor: Deborah M]

“The Mask of the Red Death, Part 1”
Original Airdate: March 1, 2023

Is the title of this two-parter clever or predictable? It really rides the line. Just like this episode rides the line between interesting and frustrating. In “The Mask of the Red Death, Part 1” Team Flash learns a little bit more about Red Death while I start to realize that the pacing issues of this show are definitely going to last well into the eleventh hour. This one came like a thief in the night to steal my patience, let me tell you.


The episode begins with Red Death/Ryan Wilder intimidating her crew of criminals with more Batman quotes, calling them a “superstitious and cowardly lot” before going off and pulling in a random rogue to help her kidnap Barry. The new member of Team Red Death is Roy Bivolo, a.k.a Rainbow Raider, who overwhelms Barry with fear while Red Death causes a city-wide blackout. Credit to the show: the sequence of Red Death zapping out all the power in Central City is pretty cool looking.

Once nabbed, Barry gets a meta-dampening cuff and some chains to keep him in place while Red Death monologues. Barry finally learns that Red Death is female and also learns that Iris has a role to play in the scheming. Parallel to this scene of Barry and Red Death, Ryan Wilder shows up at the West-Allen apartment seeking Iris’s help with an injury she claims was caused by the EMP that knocked out Central City’s electronics. Just before the viewer can go, “Hey, wait a minute—” the Red Death talking to Barry is revealed to be a remote-controlled suit.

Okay, that’s a really neat idea, but wouldn’t it have been better if Ryan were introduced early on, making viewers doubt she was Red Death, and then doing a big reveal at an opportune moment? You could string viewer interest and intrigue along while also letting non-Batwoman fans get to know this character. Removing the mystery from Red Death right off the bat (no pun intended) deflates all the drama and tension from the plotline as a whole, and quickly ruins what would otherwise be a handful of compelling concepts. This is why there’s a general writing rule that your audience should not be a step ahead of your characters, which audiences of The Flash have been since pretty much the start of this season.

Anyway, Ryan tells Iris that she, too, was attacked by Red Death and had all her Batwoman gear stolen, conveniently explaining the Wayne technology Red Death has been handing out to low-tier villains. Iris, because she’s a smart cookie, is obviously suspicious and that suspicion only grows when Ryan starts walking around the apartment like she’s super familiar with it despite having never stepped foot in the place. Iris pulls a gun that looks like a Star Trek phaser on Ryan because her story is suspicious, and Ryan confesses she’s from another timeline where the Flash is “the world’s greatest villain”.

Ryan pleads her case, but her story is falling apart even as she’s telling it. Alternate-universe Iris and the Flash were a couple and Iris and Ryan were best friends, but the Flash went evil? But the Flash only went evil after Ryan started copying technology from heroes and villains alike? But Ryan was good the whole time even though she was playing with artificial speed forces and pre-arresting villains via time travel? Ryan was just an innocent victim of the Flash’s pointless rage and accidentally got spit out in this timeline when she tried to hide in the Speed Force but all she wants to do is return to her own timeline? Yeah, none of this is adding up and it’s no surprise that Iris doesn’t buy it.

The only thing Iris believes is that Ryan accidentally killed her timeline’s version of Iris, and when she lays out all the ways Ryan’s story is bunk, Ryan attacks and disarms her. Ryan calls her Red Death suit to her, the pieces flying in and assembling on her body one by one. I assume the show was hoping I’d be so wowed by those special effects that I wouldn’t question how the suit phased through walls to get inside the apartment. Sadly, that was not the case.

Iris gets dragged to the Red Death warehouse, where the completed cosmic treadmill is waiting for its power source: Barry, who will run himself to death and create a wormhole for Ryan to travel through. Ryan threatens Iris in order to incentivize Barry into running and if you’re wondering how they could precisely tune this cosmic treadmill to this particular Ryan’s timeline/reality, stop. Stop wondering that. Wondering things like that makes the writers uncomfortable so shhhh. Also off limits: thinking about how, if all Red Death’s crew needed was for Barry to run on a cosmic treadmill, and all they needed to do to make that happen was kidnap/threaten Iris, why did they bother building a completely new cosmic treadmill instead of using the one that already existed? 

Was it, perhaps, because... the plot needed it to happen? Heyo, one of my least favorite things to write in a The Flash review two episodes in a row! This final season is shaping up nicely, folks.

Thanks to a little pep talk about second chances earlier in the episode, Mark double-crosses the team he double-crossed Team Flash for and overloads the treadmill’s capacitors, throwing the energy at Ryan and knocking out her artificial speed/the Red Death suit. Team Flash’s rogues show up for… really no reason, since they have to escape again right away, leaving Mark behind to (presumably) be killed by Red Death’s crew. Is he actually dead? Unclear. Would I care if he was? A resounding no. Allegra uses her teleporting powers to get Team Flash back to STAR Labs, where they proceed with the kind of tense final recapping of events only a two-part episode can deliver. The gist is, Red Death will probably hate this Barry just as much as she hates her timeline’s Barry and they should be ready for everything to get worse.

And yeah, Ryan seems pretty darn angry at the Flash. She embraces her supervillain status and decides, since Barry ruined her chances of returning to her own world, it’s time to take over this one. As one does. Look, I don’t want to get in the way of a good villain world-conquering, but once again I must remind everyone that a cosmic treadmill still exists and she could totally try her scheme again if she really wanted. It gets put on freaking display in a public museum in 2049.

Other Things:

  • Note to self: add “hella awk” to my vocabulary. It’s just stupid enough to be fun.
  • It’s nice that so many Central City villains learned ASL so they could keep Murmur in the loop.
  • “Her suit’s recharging, we gotta go!” — Jaco, who literally just showed up, had no idea who Red Death was, and would not have realized the suit needed to recharge. Excellent writing, The Flash!
  • Khione to Goldface: “I do not like you.” Have him tell you about his book club, Khione. It’ll win you over.
  • Chester and Allegra continue to annoy me with their relationship waffling.
  • Well, that “Joe wants to leave Central City” plot went nowhere. Turns out they’re not moving after all.
  • How much do you want to bet the theme of second chances we got in this episode will circle back around?


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