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Regular readers of my reviews of The Flash can testify that I haven’t exactly been the biggest fan of HR Wells. OK, I’ll admit it: I can’t stand the guy. From the moment he became part of Team Flash this season, his cloying, eager-to-please geek/hipster persona has been hard to take. It was as if The Flash had its own Poochie, except HR was in all the episodes and was being asked to carry a fairly significant amount of the storytelling load. Even the other members of Team Flash can hardly seem to stand him, and keep in mind that they worked with an incarnation of Wells that killed Barry’s mom.
Perhaps The Flash showrunners recognized the antipathy many (OK, maybe it’s just me) feel toward HR when plotting this latest episode, “Dead Or Alive.” In it, a interdimensional bounty hunter called Gypsy (Jessica Camacho) comes to Earth 1 in order to bring HR to justice. Apparently on Earth 19, the world HR and Gypsy come from, travelling between dimensions without permission is a crime punishable by death. (And you thought the airports on our world were rough!) Unsurprisingly, HR hasn’t been discreet about his dimension traversing escapades, as he’s been publishing superhero fanfic in which the Flash is a sidekick to HR Wells, Science Hero. Annoying as he is, Team Flash realizes that it can’t let Gypsy take HR back to their world for execution, so Cisco steps up to challenge Gypsy to a trial by combat. It doesn’t help matters that a) Gypsy is much more adept in using her vibing powers than Cisco is in using his and b) they’re attracted to one another and would rather be doing other things beside fighting.
As with most plotlines in this season of The Flash, this plotline has both good and bad in it (but no ugly thanks to the beguiling Camacho). The best thing about it is that it justifies HR’s existence on Team Flash and makes him a sympathetic figure in the process. One of HR’s more grating character traits is his incessant neediness, but, as it turns out, he was compensating for the fact that he considered himself a fraud despite his great successes on his world. The reason he came to Earth 1 was to make something of himself, to be a hero. This episode also evolves the relationship between HR and Cisco; as characters who tend to suck the oxygen out of a room with their antics, it’s perhaps natural that the two would be in conflict. But “Dead or Alive” allows their relationship to mature into one of real communion. The one-on-one scenes between the two characters are affecting, thanks in large part to fine acting by Tom Cavanagh and Carlos Valdes.
On the flip side, “Dead Or Alive” continues an unfortunate trend of presenting cookie-cutter antagonists for the Flash to fight. Although she’s given significantly more lines and screen time than one-note blokes like Plunder, Gypsy is presented as a bland, by-the-books bounty hunter type with no real glimpse into her background and motivations. Her only real defining character trait in this episode, aside her zeal in capturing HR, is that she has a crush on Cisco. Given that she’s supposed to be this uber-competent bad ass, it’s awfully reductive to her character. Also, it’s a bit strange that the character would be called Gypsy, given that she bears little resemblance to the Gypsy in DC Comics. I suspect the only reason the showrunners gave her the name Gypsy is for those fans who make the association with the infamous Justice League Detroit era that featured both Gypsy and Vibe, Cisco’s superhero nom de plume. Since the fight between Vibe and Gypsy ended with neither dying, we’ll presumably see Gypsy again. Hopefully next time she appears she’ll have more of a personality (not to mention a more colorful/interesting costume).
The B plot for this episode has Iris following the trail of arms dealers trafficking in sci-fi grade weaponry. Since Iris knows that her impending death at the hands of Savitar won’t come for another four months, she confidently rushes into danger (while recruiting her baby bro Wally for some speedster insurance). But because she suspects she may still die, Iris wants to make sure she leaves her mark with a big story. Both Barry and Joe are concerned by Iris’s recklessness, but unlike Barry and the rest of Team Flash, Joe doesn’t know what’s motivating it. The sliding scale of morality and general “truthiness” is off whack once again at Team Flash headquarters; while we can understand their instinct to protect Joe, why would they think (based on prior history) that keeping a secret like that from him will end well? But on the plus side, we get to see Wally cut loose as Kid Flash, along with hints that he may play a larger role in the fight against Savitar.
While it’s easy to point to holes in plotting and characterization, overall The Flash has picked up in quality since returning from its midseason hiatus. If nothing else, the storylines have been less doom and gloom—which always seemed like a bad look for The Flash to adopt—with a greater focus on Team Flash camaraderie and fun superhero action. The Iris-Savitar megaplot that this season is building up to definitely has its potential pitfalls—really, another instance of the Flash mucking with the timestream?—but at least it looks like things are looking up before we get there.