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This week’s episode of The Flash may be entitled “Monster” but to paraphrase the old saying: you shouldn’t judge an episode by its title. The monster-that-wasn’t (more on that later) is hardly the focus of the episode, let alone the most formidable opponent Barry Allen has to contend with. After last episode’s supervillain-centric focus, Julian Albert—the snarky British CSI specialist with a deep dislike for Barry—is a bit of a comedown. With that said, the Barry/Julian dynamic is the strongest part of an episode that featured some curious character motivations and plotlines that threaten to derail The Flash off the path to greatness.
The most significant long-term development to come from this episode is the development of Caitlin’s ice-based powers. Fearing that she’s losing control of her abilities, Caitlin seeks the assistance of her mother, who so happens to be a renowned biomedical engineer and CEO of her own research company. This episode marks the first on-air appearance of Caitlin’s mom, Dr. Carla Tannhauser (Susan Walter); previously, we knew little about their relationship aside from the fact that it was distant and that Caitlin considered her cold (ironic, given the powers she’d later develop). The episode title of “Monster” could, in fact, apply to Caitlin as much as anything as she begins to manifest a Killer Frost persona whenever she uses her cold-generating abilities. It’s strange enough that The Flash writers would have Caitlin go to her mother—a woman with whom she barely communicated—rather than confide in her friends. Stranger still is the scene where Tannhauser’s assistant Nigel tries to confine Caitlin to the facility; the scene doesn’t stem organically from anything that preceded it and it has the effect of making Caitlin’s character seem foolish for gong to her mother in the first place. Seeing Caitlin segregated in her own story away from Team Flash has the effect of making her plotline seem less important than the rest of the events of the episode, which is a shame given how much the character has already suffered.
Ever since he created the Flashpoint timeline, changes to the previous continuity, like Caitlin’s powers, have occurred. In addition, Barry has had to contend with Julian’s cutting jabs and outright derision. Neither Barry nor the audience has really understood why Julian hates Barry other than he just…does. “Monster” fleshes out a credible case for why Julian, from his point of view, is justified in his feelings towards Barry. Julian sees Barry a slacker and a fraud who’s gotten by on his boyish charm. Viewed through Julian’s eyes, Barry is the typical good-looking preppie who got by while he had to struggle every step of the way for what he’s earned. (Perhaps “struggle” isn’t quite the right word, as we find out later in the episode that Julian came from a privileged background, albeit one he rejected to pursue science.) Sure, we as the audience understands why Barry has to “disappear” so frequently, but Julian naturally wouldn’t because he isn’t part of the “cool kids club,” i.e., Team Flash. There’s something to be said for a character that’s not afraid to puncture Barry’s nice guy act, and Tom Felton imbues his portrayal of Julian with enough humanity that he’s more than just a grating jerk.
Speaking of grating, how about that H.R., huh? The alternate-universe Harrison Wells wasn’t exactly an instant hit with me when he first appeared last episode and a prolonged exposure to the character in this episode hasn’t helped things. Episode writer Zack Stentz teases viewers with the notion that the insufferably glib H.R. persona might be an act—which it is! Until H.R. is ultimately revealed to be…a scientist/novelist who serves more as an idea man than the one who can actually manufacture solutions. In effect, what that leaves us with is a Harrison Wells who, if you’ll pardon the expression, is as useless as tits on a boar. I’m not exactly sure why The Flash would need another would-be comedian—Cisco is more than capable of handling that role, thank you—but to be sure it is a strange place to take the Harrison Wells character after two seasons of malevolence and bad-assery.
Last and certainly least, let’s discuss the “monster” that inspired the title for this episode. On one level, you have to give the showrunners credit for adding a non-metahuman threat to the mix, but the logical hoops the episode goes through to discount the existence of monsters is kinda silly when you think about it. After all, this is a universe in which characters have time travelled and met alternate versions of themselves—how far-fetched are monsters really within that context? Instead, in a Scooby Doo-ish twist, the monster turns out to be a hologram that’s limited to a specific area of Central City because that’s the limit of the technology’s range. Also, we find out that the nefarious mastermind behind the scheme is a nerd tired of being picked on at school. Again, not as formidable a threat after the Mirror Master and the Top.
On the bright side, it appears that Barry and Julian are beginning to patch things up by episode’s end. Maybe not quite the beginning of a beautiful relationship, but it could serve to prove that enemies can become allies if given the chance.
This Week in References
No appearances from any previously established DC Comics characters. Tune in next week to see if that changes!