Monday, May 11, 2020

The Flash 6x18 Review: "Pay the Piper" (Dull Dramatics) [Contributor: Deborah MacArthur]


“Pay the Piper”
Original Airdate: May 5, 2020

I don’t think I praised last week’s episode enough and, in the aftermath of this week's, I feel like I should right a wrong. The previous episode was pretty much wall-to-wall plot and emotion, everything seemed critical and cohesive (except for the Caitlin/Killer Frost two-scene arc, but that was so tiny we can essentially ignore it). Great acting, great pacing — I even loved actually writing the review, because it wasn’t a chore to re-watch the episode!

But, man. This week. Not the worst episode the show has ever delivered, but the contrast is staggering. “Pay the Piper” is a scrambled mix of references to the season arc that only seem to be there out of obligation, everyone being overly grumpy and angsty for the sake of drama, and the re-introduction of a speedster villain who might legitimately be the most boring speedster villain this show has ever produced. And, considering that the primary motivation for speedster villains is “run faster” — that’s saying something.

Oh, and Pied Piper returns. He’s the best thing about this episode.

GOD, SPEED IT UP ALREADY


Jeez, I was so mind-numbed by the end of this one I actually forgot Joe West made an appearance at the beginning. Wait, how does Barry know where Joe’s witness protection house is? I distinctly remember Singh telling Joe the only people who knew where Joe was going as he was being taken away were literally the people driving him to his destination. I’m not one to complain about any scene with Jesse L. Martin, but come on, The Flash.

Barry’s reason for visiting Joe: “It’s about Iris,” he says, miserably, and then takes a ridiculously long pause before elaborating. What a great way to give your father-in-law a heart attack! Don’t bury the lede for drama when delivering news about a man’s daughter. But yes, eventually he informs Joe that, while her doppelganger is totes dead, Iris isn’t — just trapped in a mirror dimension Barry isn’t so sure he can rescue her from. Nice to know last week’s heartfelt speech about how you’ll never give up hope and promise to bring Iris home just ended in you giving up hope for ever getting Iris home, Barry. Remember what I said in the intro for this review, about this episode being full of angst for the sake of drama? Count this as the first tally on that list.

Second tally on that list: Barry lets Team Flash know about the whole Mirrorverse situation and Cisco, whose girlfriend is a confirmed doppelganger, doesn’t take the news well. He seems to blame Barry for not having a plan and goes full-tilt fatalistic, insisting that Kamilla could already be dead, dead I say! Hey, Cisco? I love you, buddy, but maybe try to remember that the person you’re blaming and shouting at also has a loved one you’re declaring potentially dead. Barry responds with even more ramped-up emotions, sending his emotion-powered speed monitor (still don’t get how that’s a thing) into the red zone before Cecile, once again, plays emotional mediator and calms everyone down.

Later, while Barry is chatting with Allegra about the whole doppelganger situation, there’s a surprise visit from Godspeed. If you don’t recall Godspeed, I haven’t got much to say to jog your memory because, as previously stated, he is phenomenally boring. He wears a white speed suit. Um… There were robotic duplicates of him that were never explained. He says stuff like “Give me your velocity!” like a complete tool. That’s it.

He also gives Barry an excuse to focus on completing the personal Speed Force rather than dwelling on the potential loss of his wife to an alternate mirror dimension. Barry later gets a talking-to from Nash about his priorities, but honestly I think Barry’s in the right. He’s got multiple situations going on at the moment (Godspeed, a Mirror universe, and Eva walking around town) and at least two of them could be helped if he had full speed power. I get that the show is implying that Barry is running away (ha!) from his fears about Iris, but getting the Speed Force up and running is the most proactive thing for him to do.

But that’s all for later. For now, we have to deal with the dullness that is Godspeed. The good news is the show went about this by reintroducing Hartley Rathaway, a.k.a. Pied Piper, and he’s great. The bad news is, this snarky meta doesn’t do nearly as much to make up for how insurmountably boring everything surrounding Godspeed is.

Hartley is brought on board because Godspeed let out a sonic boom when he attacked and, as a sound-based meta, Hartley is something of an expert in sonic... anything. Unfortunately, the post-Crisis timeline means there’s a lot of bad blood between Hartley and Team Flash. Turns out, Barry fought against Pied Piper and his crew and ended up causing one of them, Roderick Smith, to fall into molecular instability. As far as anyone is aware, there is nothing that can be done for Roderick — but that doesn’t mean Barry won’t promise to save him in exchange for Hartley’s help.

The initial attempt to help Roderick doesn’t end well, which sends Hartley into one of those “I never should have trusted you!” pseudo-villain spirals. Oh, and Hartley knows all the alter-egos of everyone on Team Flash so it says something that, despite being angry at the people who promised and failed to help him, Hartley doesn’t hold that against them. It’s either uncommonly decent behavior for a meta villain, or further evidence for my theory that literally everyone of any importance in Central City has just been humoring Barry about the whole “secret identity” thing, so blackmailing him is pointless.

After some back and forth, Barry clues into the fact that Roderick wasn’t just a henchman, but Hartley’s boyfriend. Yeah, no duh, Barry. Most villains don’t go into a frenzy when their goons get injured and even fewer team up with their enemies to ensure said goon’s safety. Barry and Hartley bond over their most-loved loved ones being in danger and trying anything to get them back, which leads to Barry chasing after Godspeed and Hartley showing up in the nick of time when Barry’s speed fritzes out halfway up a building and he almost plummets to his death.

Barry and Hartley repeat the combination of speed force lightning and sound waves that resulted in Roderick’s injury on Godspeed. It works, successfully dropping the boring speedster villain onto a car. Godspeed bleeds blue electro-blood, which I guess Team Flash will just harvest to solve their problems. That’s ethically sound, right? They use it to save Roderick and smiles all around! Except that the Godspeed they killed wasn’t the real Godspeed, even though it bled and certainly wasn’t a robot. I’m very disappointed because it means this snoozefest of a character will be back someday.

In the end, Barry makes a big, rousing speech to Team Flash about how they’re going to save their friends from the Mirrorverse. Huzzah!

Other Things:

  • This episode had so many freaking pep talks.
  • “Let’s not bicker over who killed who.” Nice Monty Python drop, The Flash.
  • Mirrorverse plot: Iris found Kamilla. Iris is losing her marbles because mirror-world.
  • Caitlin/Frost plot: Ralph is still Frost’s life coach and he’s doing a good job. Frost is afraid of meeting Caitlin’s mom.
  • Nash Wells shows up and tries to explain the multiverse/Crisis, before Barry stops him and just says he’s Harrison Wells’s twin.
  • I really liked the blurry-reflection camera effect on Iris and Kamilla when they were having their chat in the Mirrorverse.

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