Review: The Flash 5×15 “King Shark Vs. Gorilla Grodd”

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

Director: Stefan Pleszczynski

Writers: Eric Wallace and Lauren Ceto

Starring: Grant Gustin, Candice Patton, Carlos Valdes, Danielle Panabaker, Tom Cavanagh, Jesse L. Martin, Daniele Nicolet, Audrey Marie Richardson, Zibby Allen, Dan Payne, David Hayter (voice), David Sobolov (voice)

Summary
As the team prepares to test their new metahuman cure on King Shark – the results of which causes friction between Barry, Cisco, and Caitlin based on the methods – Gorilla Grodd steals S.T.A.R. Labs technology to enhance his telepathic abilities; Joe reconnects with Iris just in time to address Cicada’s effects on her.

Positives

Before we get into it, I would just like to say a hearty welcome back to our beloved Jesse L. Martin and his character Detective Joe West! La-Z-Boy Joe is dead! Long live Detective Joe! We will get to his relevance in this episode later.

Now on to business. This throw down was teased by our favorite fangirl from 2049, but the writers and effects department put the effort in to deliver serious fan service to the audience this week. But what anchored everything was the issue of choice surrounding Cisco’s meta-human cure. Its potential to be a choice is equal to that of it being a weapon, and it was masterful to have Barry himself be the one to walk the fine line between two possible uses. It has been a while since we’ve seen the central members of Team Flash be at odds, and it was a breath of fresh air to see that when one breaches an established path in a spur of the moment. For months, Cicada has had the upper hand and has threatened Barry’s family and friends. Grant makes Barry’s defense of his actions work in that there isn’t a hint of doubt or regret in his forcing the cure on King Shark. In retrospect, Barry’s eagerness to see this achieved has been mounting each week, so when the cure is physically at hand, that eagerness betrays the team’s mandate. A diplomatic approach, however upset by outside forces, was abandoned by the team leader for personal reasons and Cisco and Caitlin justifiably called him out on that. They are the two main scientists on this meta-human cure with both a professional and personal investment in this project. They have argued and resolved lingering conflicts. So both are understandably outraged that their best friend proved the upstart by yanking that choice away from King Shark. The resulting complete reversal of his transformation matters only on its effectiveness. There were multiple ways that Flash could have saved Cisco and Caitlin, and he chose the quick and easy path at the cost of his friends’ trust.

As to King Shark himself, it is through the humanity of Dr. Tanya Lamden and the scenes with his human self Shay Lamden that this character’s layers come to the surface (deliberate pun intended). From his two main appearances in season 2 and the cameo last season in the crossover, King Shark has largely been an expensive effect used by the show. Dan Payne is an excellent choice to portray Lamden in that you can feel the angst and conflict within him; like a shark brought to the surface, his portrayal of a human with his senses and his emotions once more within his control and returned was accomplished with the right amount of subtlety. His conversation with Tanya about sunsets and how his world has been “gray and dull” since his mutation was more important than him noting the differences between Earth-1 and his Earth-2. The addition of the science of sharks plays very well in the final fight as well, and is educational for audiences. The chemistry between Dan and Zibby, albeit very brief, is believable given their characters’ history with each other. For Tanya, it’s a very difficult resolution she’s trying to reach regarding her feelings for this version of her husband, whom she lost in the Earth-1 particle accelerator explosion. You don’t have to be Sherloque Wells – nice use of him for this situation by the way – to see that Tanya’s used the convenience of his mutation and status as an experimental study as a buffer. And now, here he is completely human. Awesome transformation back, by the way. The writers make the right decision to have Shay retain his humanity – both from his brief return to humanity and the upgraded crown – so that it puts King Shark on the road to redemption and the new shift in his dynamic with Tanya is allowed to remain and evolve. There is an admitted “Shape of the Water” aspect to this new relationship.

Speaking of crowns, it’s a masterstroke on the part of the writers to relate the telepathic tech to this week’s returning baddie, Gorilla Grodd. Lyla’s guest spot this week connects to both Grodd and Shark since, though A.R.G.U.S., she’s linked to both. Grodd had not been seen on the show since season 3, and his last relevant scheme was on DC Legends of Tomorrow. Smart move linking his escape to last year’s enlightenment. The crown had been teased in season one, but worn instead by Barry. Such a head ornament needed relevancy to a super strong telepathic gorilla. Fortunately, this show’s creative team is experienced in taking trademark tech and bringing it into hyper-reality with a believable significance to either a plot or a character or both. Having a scientist with mind-reading tech seems like a perfect target for someone who now knows how powerful they are and wants to get stronger. This episode really shows the culmination of what’s been a gradual evolution of this character. From season one’s giant sewer-dwelling simian with limited telepathic speech till now, fans can see the scheming, ruthless wannabe despot he’s known as in the comics in all his glory. It’s understandable that the writers would want a clear divide between both meta-human monsters by having one temporarily restored to their natural state in order to keep Grodd the only heel in this installment. Thankfully the title was accurate and properly teases the fight in the beginning of the episode, then picks up where it leaves off after the episode fills in the gaps. What also worked was keeping Barry and Nora out of 90% of the fight so that the sole focus was a dazzling CGI battle appropriately at night. Evening settings work best for the multitude of CGI characters so that they mask the potential flaws in the final renderings. Overall the tone and pace work well in delivering one of the best fights this season by two fully-digital opponents. Plus the crown felt like a lot like the title in this WWE-style match and both Barry and King Shark sold it at the end.

Now we come to the second draw for this week: the aforementioned return of Detective Joe West. The best way to bring Joe back into the fold was go against type and have him focus directly on his daughter and not on Team Flash’s current dilemma. Tying last week’s time loop into a present-day fear of Iris’s to go back to her office is understandable. She feels like she overreached in stopping Cicada and now he knows where she worked. In 52 different timelines, he deliberately targeted her office and whoever was in there. In true Joe West style, one of the CW’s favorite dads related his own need to heal his mind and body in Tibet – our official reason for why he’s been absent – to his daughter’s need to take power back. And he does so in a way that speaks of their relationship via the heavy bag, another callback to season one’s flashback to young Iris sparring with young Barry after his tussle with young Tony. It’s important to establish the relevance of a character’s presence after a long absence, and some of the best scenes have always involved interactions between Joe and Barry and Team Flash in general. The everyman’s perspective is needed, and to have that back brings back some soul that’s been missing this season.

Negatives

As previously mentioned, CGI-rendered characters are always best utilized in dim lighting and evening shots. The shots during the day and in a normally lit room did King Shark and Grodd little justice, respectively. And they kind of stole the non-explained expandable pants maguffin from Hulk. When Shay changed back you’d think the pants would be more slack. There are also some parts of the fight that seem static at back. Also, I feel that Joe should’ve been involved to an extent considering his history with Grodd. The man’s afraid of gorillas and we needed more than an anti-ape GIF image on a smart phone. Sorry.

Verdict

Besides the shoddy day CGI effects, we got a great brawl and devastating well-deserved uppercut to Gorilla Grodd. The ethical debate was also very well-handled and a strong comeback for ol’ Joe. The writers did a great job in expanding what could’ve been a one-dimensional gorilla-shark fight into an emotional and ethical story which worked for the most part. Looking forward to next week’s episode. See you guys next week.

Rating:

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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.