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Notwithstanding the episode title, “Mixed Signals” clearly makes its intentions known: namely, to deliver an hour (including commercials) of Flash-focused fun. This is a welcomed development after a season premiere focused on clearing the cobwebs from the collective downer that was Season 3. While “Mixed Signals” is still somewhat tangled up in the plot strands from last season, it offers us a Flash that isn’t afraid to laugh at danger or even, on occasion, at himself.
Now that Barry’s back in our dimension, he’s sowing his oats as the Fastest Man Alive. We see him recreate the “Tom Cruise dancing in his underwear” scene from Risky Business—the cynic in me might grumble that the homage is old hat, but I’ll take Risky Business Barry over last season’s Mopey Barry any day. We also get treated to creative uses of his speed powers through sequences such as this one: Barry flips a pancake in the air, realizes he has no coffee, races to a coffee shop to buy a cup, then catches the pancake before it lands on the frying pan. Risky Business Barry is also crazy-in-love with his fiancée Iris, to the point where he makes all the wedding arrangements without her. As any bride-to-be can tell you, such effrontery cannot and will not stand.
Barry’s cocksureness is also a problem for Iris not only in their private life together, but in their professional lives as Central City’s crime fighters. Since Barry stepped into the Speed Force at the end of Season 3, Iris has taken on a leadership role in the Team Flash hierarchy, a reality that Barry is slow to realize. Iris confides her frustrations with Barry to Caitlin, who recommends to Iris that they consider couple’s counseling. “Mixed Signals” episode writers Jonathan Butler and Gabriel Garza play the counseling scenes largely for laughs, which at times seems inappropriate given Iris’s very reasonable concerns and the tonal awkwardness of having the characters acknowledge the number of friends and family members they’ve lost.
But to the writers’ credit, they ultimately steer Barry to a place where, emotionally speaking, he should’ve been all along: acknowledging Iris as an equal partner. As she tells Barry, “You’re not the Flash, Barry. We are.” The fact that Barry is willing to absorb Iris’s words shows a growth in the character that historically hasn’t been there, given how often he’s gone out of his way to be secretive with his significant others. Or maybe it’s just indicative of the denseness of men in general, as Cisco has woman problems of his own with his interdimensional girlfriend. (As a side note, it continues to chafe me that they would refer to her by such a racially insensitive codename, especially since it has absolutely no relationship to her cultural identity or even her power set.) Cisco’s girlfriend wants to spend 1:1:1 Day—her dimension’s equivalent of Valentine’s Day—with her man, but Cisco and the rest of Team Flash are busy tracking down and defeating this week’s baddie. To Cisco’s credit, he makes it up to her by showing her his “schmoopy” side in the end.
Speaking of this week’s baddie, “Mixed Signals” introduces us to Kilg%re (and no, that’s not a typo). Instead of the evil alien artificial intelligence from the comics, we are introduced to a disgruntled computer programmer named Ramsey Deacon (played by English actor Dominic Burgess). Deacon seeks revenge against his former partners for screwing him out of millions and for making him a metahuman who controls technology by infecting it like a computer virus. Given the villainous ciphers seen on The Flash (not to mention other CW superhero shows), it was nice to be presented a character in Deacon/Kilg%re with his own story arc and not just another baddie for Barry to punch.
Deacon murders a douchebro tech guy by trapping him in, and then smashing, an elevator and later attacks another investor by mechanically upping her insulin levels. For his part, Barry is also vulnerable to Deacon’s powers thanks to the new high-tech Flash suit Cisco built. Even while Barry’s in danger, Butler and Garza manage to find the humor in his predicament by having the Flash suit respond in a variety of unpredictable ways. Those light touches paradoxically serve to make the superhero drama that much more gripping. By episode’s end, Team Flash learns that Deacon wasn’t in the particle accelerator that gave Barry and most of Central City’s villains their powers, thereby hinting at a larger mystery that will presumably occupy the Scarlet Speedster’s attention this season. If more episodes like “Mixed Signals” are in the offing, I’m more willing to believe that we in the audience will have fun uncovering that mystery this season.