The Flash has always been at its best when it goes all out and wears its comic book trappings most proudly. The heavier arcs are fine and all, but The Flash is so much better at being fun than it is at being serious. Grodd’s episodes in particular have always been a highlight, so it’s no surprise that “Attack on Gorilla City” and “Attack on Central City” make for a mostly very entertaining arc.
(Expect spoilers to follow.)
Starting with last week’s “Gorilla City”, the first episode of the two-parter is most definitely the stronger of the two. There’s something just inherently entertaining about watching Team Flash, going adventuring into Earth-2’s African jungles in search of the kidnapped Harrison Wells (an African jungle that looks suspiciously like a British Columbia forest). The show’s budget limitations are obvious enough, with most of the runtime spent either wandering through the woods or trapped within Grodd’s cells, but the larger set-pieces more than make up for it and holy shit does it look good for a CW show. The gorillas themselves may not be quite Andy Serkis-level, but they really do look amazing, even on the close-ups.
The arena show-down between the Flash and Gorilla King Solivar is a hell of a lot of fun and surprisingly cinematic. Barry’s CGI model probably spends more time on screen than the real Grant Gustin, which is arguably for the best as itgives the show a lot more freedom with the fight. It feels a little more like a video game cutscene, but it’s the Flas fighting in an arena against a giant gorilla and it looks great so that is absolutely fine. The show does the best with what it has and it’s great to see them still aiming so high.
Which is what makes “Central City” the more disappointing half of the pair. There’s still plenty to like, especially character-wise, but it seems the budget ran out. Instead of the promised battle, we spend most of the episode waiting for Grodd to show-up. Grodd’s nuclear missile plan feels a little generic for a giant telepathic gorilla with an army of similar sized apes, and the scene where Barry is forced to disarm the missiles by speed-typing thousands of possible codes would be a lot more exciting if he hadn’t done the exact same solution a lot more non-chalantly in last season’s “Family of Rogues”.
The final battle is exciting in the build-up, including Grodd’s brief control of Joe and forcing him to almost shoot himself, but mostly lacking in execution. Most of the fight is off-screen, as Wally and Jesse become blurs of lightning fighting blurs of gorillas. The surprise duel between Grodd and Solivar makes up for it a little because, once again, two giant apes fighting is basically going to be fun no matter what. It’s just a shame that “Central City” doesn’t quite hit the same highs as its preceding episode.
On the more interesting side, this episode takes Barry a little darker than usual as he actually contemplates killing Grodd, tying into his obsession with preventing the vision of Iris’s death in the future. Compared to Arrow, The Flash has rarely toyed with Barry crossing the line that Oliver Queen basically lives on. The only times Barry has killed has been when fighting specific meta-humans and the show has normally glossed over it, silently asserting that it was okay because it was in self-defence.
But Barry’s vision of the future has worked well as a motivation for the character and considering his series-spanning love for Iris and how long Grodd has been a significant enemy for the team, I can buy Barry’s temptation to slide a bit darker in this episode. It plays well with the gorilla mantra of “kill or be killed” and his choice of mercy when dealing with Solivar and though Barry deliberately killing would definitely be the wrong move for the character, it’s definitely interesting to see his obsession with changing the future weigh on him in this way.
The main part of the mini-arc that didn’t work for me was Wally and Jesse. Wally has grown on me a lot this season and Jesse has always been pretty great, but her moving to Earth-1 just like that really doesn’t sit right. For one thing, they barely know each other. Crossing Earths is so easy, wouldn’t it make more sense for them to just long-distance it for a while?
The main problem is that the discussion never acknowledges Jesse’s life on Earth-2, beyond her dad. Although I assume she doesn’t have much of a social life after being away for so long during the Zoom storyline, she is that Earth’s equivalent of the Flash and at no point is that a factor. Her arc previously in this season was about becoming a superhero of her own, but now she’s willing to give it up and leave the world she protects just like that? Never does Jesse suggest Wally coming over to her Earth, although I wouldn’t be surprised if that was later used as an exit for Wally if they ever need one.
On the bright side, Tom Cavanagh is a gift and this two-parter gives him plenty of opportunities to keep delivering, playing a total of three versions of Harrison Wells. Although HR has gradually become more endearing as the season goes on, it’s great to see the return of Earth-2 Harry, especially in the scenes where he is mind-controlled and used as a mouthpiece for Grodd. Cavanagh is easily one of the most talented actors on this show and the writers know it. Harry’s exasperation with the endlessly cheerful HR is fun to watch, although spitting toothpaste in the latter’s coffee is too far, man.
The Flash is unfortunately never going to have the budget to pull this kind of story off in the way it wants to, but at least it keeps on trying and that’s part of the appeal of the show. We actually got to see a mostly-realized Gorilla City, so it can’t be all bad. Next week promises the return of the Savitar plot, so things are probably about to get a lot darker again.
The Little Thoughts:
- I’m really liking Tom Felton’s Julian as an addition to the team, especially in his ridiculous explorer’s get-up. He plays a lot better now than he did as a potential villain and his development alongside Caitlin has worked well for both characters, whether it goes romantic or not (it’s the CW, of course it will). There’s a good chance he won’t outlast the season, but it’d be nice if he did.
- The line that finally sold me on HR: “I’m sorry, too. Sorry I took the smile from your face.” That’s a damn hard line to make work, but Cavanagh bloody delivers.
- Cisco’s romance with Gypsy feels a little forced, but I think I like it. But maybe don’t claim having a terrible love life in front of Caitlin ‘all my ex-boyfriends are either dead or supervillains’ Snow?
- Fun fact: I’m about 95% sure this is the episode I saw being filmed my first day in Vancouver, a few blocks down from my hotel. Stumbling across the Flash, Kid Flash and Jesse Quick in costume, even from a relative distance, was an actual geek-out moment for an English kid like me.
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