Review: The Flash 5×04 – “News Flash”

[Editor’s Note: This review may contain spoilers]

Director: Brent Cowell

Writers: Kelly Wheeler and Lauren Certo

Starring: Grant Gustin, Candice Patton, Tom Cavanaugh, Jesse L. Martin, Jessica Parker Kennedy, Danielle Panabaker, Hartley Sawyer, Danielle Nicolet, Kiana Madeira

Summary

While Nora and Iris’s issues finally come to a head, Team Flash must deal with a metahuman who can brainwash people with news headlines and Ralph and Wells team up to solve the riddle that is Cicada.

Positives

What I liked most about this episode was the character growth and the surprises, just the way the flash should be every week. Points of interest this week have been Nora, of course, Iris and surprisingly the detective skills of Ralph Dibny. We will go in order.

The mystery that is Nora Allen is slowly coming to light. This episode was good in that they examined her relationship with Iris as well as revealed new personality traits about her. And, given the CW is all about inclusion and openness as the commercials advertise, the writers have made Nora a member of the LGBT community. It was pretty hilarious when Barry actually realizes this seconds after Iris does, and Grant sells that in a very subtle way that is still funny.

But what’s more important is the truth behind her distance from her mother, which turns out to be a grudge with a lot of merit. She’s angry with her for withholding the truth about her and her abilities all her life. The revelation that she only recently discovered she was a speedster and did not grow up with those abilities explains why she is so inexperienced with them. I will go one further and say she is as inexperienced as Barry was in his first year, so it’s hard to tell how long she has been XS in the future. It’s not about hero worship or wanting to get another father she never knew outside of the stories. It’s about trying to keep Iris at an emotional distance because the pain is too much to be around her right now. She feels hurt and betrayed by the only parent she had, the only family she had. In her eyes, her mother kept the most important part about who she was away from her without giving her a say. It’s a natural reaction and it’s played as such.

The decision on the writers’ parts to keep this fact concealed up until now was a wise decision. And, like any child upset at both of her parents, she turns away from the experiment of living together and moves in with Papa Joe instead. I will examine both sides of this decision later on. As for her abilities this episode, the effects were amazing; she truly is as fast as Barry and does in fact wind back time when she increases her speed. The stadium fight makes sense when all the facts are revealed, even if it takes away the shock value from the trailer. The fact that Nora did not get the truth from Iris and that she discovered it on her own suggests that a friend or a possible love interest in the future pointed this out and there was a confrontation between the two. It’s not that dissimilar from the other CW series Black Lightning, in which the daughters never knew about Jefferson pierces activities as a vigilante, nor their own metahuman abilities until they manifested.

Still, according to Legends, the era Nora comes from is a time of severe oppression of metahuman activity. The scene in which Nora finally breaks down is Jessica Parker Kennedy‘s best moments this year in the character. Well one part of the mystery is solved, the other part that Wells noted at the end of last week is still up in the air. Was it really Nora’s decision to go back and stop that satellite?

Speaking of the satellite, using that as a possible origin point for Cicada was brilliant, as well as the creation of meta-tech. Given that the satellite was loaded with dark matter thanks to the Thinker last year, it’s only natural to assume that it was a gigantic dark matter bomb that exploded over Central City, not only infecting individuals but objects and technology as well. Wells was right in that Cicada and the dagger are biologically connected because they both got their abilities at the same time. That eliminates the original particle accelerator explosion of 2013 as a likely suspect.

The final scene this week, coupled with the investigation, shows a chink in Cicada’s armor; that which gives him his powers is also slowly killing him, poisoning him. The fact that the dagger is an extension of him explains where he got that wound. But that doesn’t explain why he is targeting other metahumans and what his daughter has to do with this.

The camaraderie between Wells and Ralph was good in this episode and Ralph had the chance to shine. After spending a year as the comedic, ineffective, sleazy, arrogant, and sometimes buffoonish detective, he actually showed some skills today. The connection he made between the mask and the actual company that Cicada worked at was impressive and provided Sherloque with the foundation he needed to complete his own deduction. He’s even getting respect as the Elongated Man and walking with confidence. This is a different Ralph from last year. Less moments of cringe and more reliable assistance. He is actually evolving into the Ralph from the comic. Even Caitlin is taking notice of Ralph now through both their investigation into her father’s whereabouts and their friendship. I haven’t seen her look at anyone like that since she fell for Hunter Zolomon.

What makes this week’s baddie, Spencer Young, unique is that, besides not getting a cold name from the absent a Cisco, she is the antithesis of Iris West-Allen. And, in many ways, she is very similar. She is the Iris that did not make it as a journalist. She also proves that you don’t need to be infected by the dark matter to become a horrible person; Spencer was deliberately causing disasters through brainwashing people and she had no second thoughts about it or the consequences. In that flashback to the finale in which you see her phone infected by the dark matter, you don’t get the impression that she is a malevolent person. Rather, she seems ambitious and gutsy, but only when she knows the possibilities this presents her with does she go all “Death Note.” Even her support of XS as a possible gravy train for her career was thrown aside in favor of self-preservation.

It’s also through her that we see a new variation on the villains you’ll see this year: People coming into contact with technology infected by the dark matter explosion from the S.T.A.R. Labs satellite and how it twists their character by freedom of choice. The writers even use the media as a weapon of choice for Spencer, hence why Iris throws out that very unpopular “fake news“ name drop.

Candice Patton, as Iris, again had some good scenes this week, especially in her interactions with Nora. You really feel that mother-daughter connection and how she’s trying to do whatever takes to repair it. And she’s right in that she and Nora are in a push and pull relationship; one moment they connect during her putting out the fire, and then Nora throws the Dad wall back up.

Iris’s attempts at being an instant Rachel Ray at the breakfast table were hilarious, and her confrontation with Spencer was like seeing herself in a cracked mirror.  It was also cool seeing her get into action like a mama bear should via a breach and a dart rifle during the stadium fight. It’s also the moment that gives her a worthy counter to Nora’s argument.

I want to now go back to the debate between Nora and Iris because behind the action, their conflict was the central focus for this episode. What makes their argument so strong in this episode is that both are right. Iris should not have withheld information about her daughter’s abilities; the least she could have done was have discussions with her daughter about them and, when the time came, she would allow for her to access them. And yet, at the same time, what Iris did was from a place of love and the desire to protect her daughter.

Barry didn’t side with Iris for the sake of keeping peace; as a speedster himself who has suffered great loss through mastering these powers, he knows intimately the double-edged sword they are. Yes, these enable the user to do great feats and makes one’s time management skills remarkably easier. They have made her father into a hero beyond reproach, but they are not without a catch. The Speed Force itself is a sentient paradoxical entity reaching from the big bang to the end of time. Sentient enough to send Time Wraiths after speedsters that break an unwritten set of rules, or imprison said offenders for eternity like Zoom or Savitar or even Barry himself for a time. Adults with those powers have changed the timeline and ended lives as the result, like Nora Allen and Dante Ramon. The thought of a child growing up with that kind of power with no speedster around to rein them in is an irresponsible scenario to risk.

From an emotional level, Nora was only three when Barry vanished in the Crisis in 2024 and never returned. She was the only part of Barry that she had left and she didn’t want to lose her daughter the way she did her husband. In that light, Nora was wrong about it being control; The Speed Force is a gun that was too dangerous for a child to use or be governed by. And what’s worse is once it is in someone’s hands, it’s near-impossible to remove. She was trying to protect her only child the best way she knew how. Iris’ only mistake was not trusting her daughter enough to handle those abilities. If the level of technology in 2049 is at a point where a speedster’s powers could be dampened, surely there could have been levels settings installed to get her little girl accustomed to them.

Given she’s said it’s only been six months since receiving her powers – the same amount of time it took for her dad to get fast enough to break the chronal barrier – she is still an inexperienced user of a power that is more dangerous than any metahuman ability recorded for its time-altering potential. The emergence of Cicada is proof that Nora wasn’t ready to make this trip. She created her own Flashpoint that everyone has to deal with now. In a way, she is no different from Joe in his efforts to protect his daughter, even in not knowing when to trust her child to make her own decisions. There is that much subtext in those conversations between mother and daughter, and Candice and Jessica are at their best this week in their emotional delivery. I personally can’t wait to see the second round of discussions.

Negatives

This may get me flack, and I apologize in advance if it offends because it’s not my intention. Given that the CW is all about openness of all races and orientations, there are times when it feels forced for the sake of living up to the status quo for the year. They’ve done it in Arrow, established it in DC’s Legends of Tomorrow and Supergirl, and now they’ve brought it to The Flash.

LGBT representation is a norm in today’s society, but it doesn’t make sense to bring it to the forefront with every new character. Even the second generation heroes in the Arrowverse this year – William Clayton in Arrow and now Nora West-Allen on The Flash – have been made LGBT. I’m just saying that it feels like the writers are doing this as some kind of mandate from the producers to the point where it risks being an overused plot device bordering on satire. I get the need for inclusion, but when it’s done to get ratings it risks losing its impact due to overuse.

Verdict

I’m giving this week a 5 out of 5, and the credit goes to the incredible performances of Candice Patton and Jessica Parker Kennedy as Iris and Nora, respectively. This was the episode that everyone had been waiting for; it would’ve been ridiculous to stretch this to the midseason finale before the facts about what went wrong between mother and daughter were brought to light. Kudos also on the writers’ part to giving Ralph more legitimate skills and relevance to Team Flash.

Before I sign off, I want to give an update on a complaint I noted over the last couple weeks regarding Joe West sitting down all the time. According to a recent report, Jesse L. Martin sustained a back injury before filming commenced and will have to take a medical leave to deal with this problem, which explains why he’s been shown sitting or just standing still against a wall so far this season.

Get well soon, man, because to paraphrase a season one quote, the CW may need The Flash, but we, the fans, need our Detective Joe West. All the best everybody and I hope you had a Happy Halloween!

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Jay

I'm an Ontario-based news writer, as well as graphic illustrator with his own commission business. I've been a comic collector since I was ten and have enjoyed the lore of these larger than life figures ever since. I graduated with an HBA from the University of Toronto in Humanities and have worked for both local and online news outlets.