Kevin and Bethany stop monkeying around and really get into the heart of this week’s episode. Grab a latte and note the nearest exits, because it’s time to take a look at CW’s The Flash.
Expectation and obligation.
Everyone feels it. It’s an intrinsic part of being, for us as well as superheroes. It surrounds us, binds us all together, and it’s a force that really just kind of sucks.
There’s a lot that can be said about expectation in this week’s episode, and that’s what I’m going to do – it comes directly into play for pretty much everyone, in ways that we may not have even considered.
Oh, and a giant gorilla attacks, too.
Though this episode is old, spoiler warnings are in effect after the cut.
We’ve already established that Barry internalizes his guilt, especially for things he merely perceives as being his fault (even if they really aren’t. The thing is, it’s hard not to empathize with that, especially when he lists off the reasons why he does it.
The citizens of Central City gave him the Key To the City, after all, and entrusted him to keep them safe, and Zoom shows up and dangles him like a hunting trophy to show the entire city that they can’t depend on him after all.
Of course, we know that’s bullshit, and the rest of Team Flash knows it’s bullshit, but it’s easy to understand where he’s coming from with that.
Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown, after all.
Let’s talk about Harry.
Harrison Wells from Earth-2 is a curious doppelgänger, in that nobody else in Team Flash has ever met their local equivalent. The “Harrison Wells” whom they (and by extension we) knew was never Harrison Wells at all, and it’s incredibly frustrating to Earth-2 Harry that they keep making the comparisons.
“He’s not Wells! I’m Wells!”
Harry is not Eobard Thawne. Harry is not the Reverse-Flash. Harry is Harrison Wells, inventor, father, particle physicist, and creator of the particle accelerator that accidentally blew up underground, releasing a wave of dark matter which unlocked latent powers in metahumans across Central City.
He’s fighting an uphill battle to erase a stigma created by someone who not only was not him, but wasn’t even his Earth-1 duplicate.
So, of course, what does he do to help take down Grodd? Dress in the Reverse-Flash’s speed suit.
Maybe showing up in that suit without warning anyone wasn’t the best plan, Harry.
Look, I’m not saying that the rest of Team Flash is wrong to be wary and distrustful. Like Joe says, the last person who wore that face killed a bunch of people. Harry has to deal with the expectations and obligations created for him by someone else entirely, and he does it with considerable aplomb.
What’s fascinating to me is that this is the first real step he’s taken towards becoming the new Science Dad, a hole in the team which was only temporarily filled by Dr. Stein.
- Cisco didn’t split his Google alerts into “work” and “personal”. Come on, man.
- The Princess Bride is a great date movie; I cannot deny this.
- I know I said that Barry falling off the treadmill won’t ever stop being funny but I was wrong
- I’ve had to spend a lot of time in hospitals – not for me, but for family. Often for my mother’s many sports-related injuries. Watching Barry go through all of this for his recovery was very stressful.
- Joe is appropriately terrified of Grodd. Now that I think about it, Grodd is the meta that hurt him the most – not just physically, but mentally. Grodd violated Joe’s brain, and that episode in the first season was especially heartbreaking to watch. You can just hear all of that coming back in Joe’s voice when Patty calls him about the gorilla hairs.
- Barry using Harribard’s wheelchair is really disturbing.
- Barry playing dispatch is interesting, because like he says to Ex-Con Dad, it’s usually the other way around.
- Grodd’s theme is back and remixed with the Flash theme during the chase sequence. The driving jungle drumbeat is an excellent addition. There are other remixes of character leitmotifs this season – notably later on when Captain Cold’s theme is mixed together with the Trickster’s.
- Was I not supposed to spoil that surprise?
- (Is it racist to call it a jungle drumbeat? I’m honestly asking.)
- Grodd is lonely and wants other gorillas to be with. They send him to Gorilla City.
- That’s not going to come back and bite us in the ass at all. Ever.
- Hmm. What episode of Season Three is broadcasting tonight?
This is not the first time Barry has struggled with recovering after a bad defeat. Cisco once described it as “the yips“.
In Barry, it seems to result from a combination of being unable to use his super-speed (the last time, his powers were stolen; this time, his back was broken) and self-recrimination. We’ve discussed Barry’s guilt before, and I’m gonna talk about it again, because this goes all the way back.
I feel like Barry really internalized his inability to keep his father out of jail. Nobody believed him because A) he was six and B) what he saw seemed, at the time, to be unbelievable. It wasn’t his fault that he could not make anybody, even Joe, believe him.
His career in forensics is an offshoot of his determination to spring his Dad. If he could only prove that his father hadn’t done it…
It never worked out the way he wanted it to. (God, does anything? Ever? For anybody?) His guilt was childish and incorrect – it was never his fault. (In fact, the fault lies only with the time-traveling speedster who murdered his mother, creating a crime so baffling it was simplified by the police, who were not capable of dealing with a crime involving time travel.)
The trouble with this little grain of guilt is that there’s no therapy which could have wheedled it out. Nobody believed him – they believed either he was lying to protect his father or trauma had caused him to invent memories – and so nobody could find the root of the real trouble.
It is why Barry’s first instinct is self-doubt, and why he struggles so hard to come back from such massive blows. There’s the part of his brain that chants, obsessively, in a little boy voice: “It’s all your fault.”
Where Kevin talks about expectations and obligations, I fall back more to a quote from the Vorkosigan Saga. The context is similar enough to what’s going on here that I don’t need to go into detail (also because I can go on and on and on about it), but the quote is this: “Reputation is what other people know about you. Honor is what you know about yourself.” This is similar to what Henry says to Barry about losing the faith of other people as the trial dragged on – he had to deal with the fact that almost everyone lost faith in him except Barry. He knew what the truth was, but could not prove it, and he had to go on that alone.
This is what Wells has to deal with. His reputation is unearned and unfair. Not only is he not the Wells they thought they knew, but that man wasn’t even Wells.
Barry fears the loss of his good reputation, but also fears that he lost his honor–
–because the whole city was shown that Zoom beat him, and badly. He sees his ability to fight Zoom and the other metahumans (and one metagorilla) as completely tied up with his ability to run really fast. It takes both Dads to point out that he is not just one thing, he’s also brilliant and can contribute more than just speed. (Though this is key to getting Barry to the point where he can also contribute his speed, which is Not Nothing.)
It sounds cheesy to talk about, but it’s something worth taking to heart. Sometimes, like Henry Allen, all you have left is your honor. Nobody believes in you (except for maybe one small person) and you just have to deal with it and go on, holding it in your heart that you did no wrong, and accepting that the world believes differently.
Sometimes, like Barry, you have to fight your own self, to see that you still are who you are, and you can still do what you can do. We all struggled with guilt and fear, and it’s hard to get past, but there’s strength in it.
All right, let’s end on a list:
- One of the best things about them bringing Dr. Allen home to help Barry is how everyone is basically like “oh, yeah, Barry’s other Dad, hey Dr. Allen, welcome back”.
- Henry has spent his time away camping. Which makes a lot of sense – it’s about as far from prison as you can get. Seems like it’s been good for him.
- Hawkgirl Hawkgirl Hawkgirl Hawkgirl
- I’m so pumped for this.
- Cisco’s “take two” date is super sweet and very Cisco.
- The Princess Bride is a great date movie, and also a great not-date movie, and a great movie just in general, especially to watch with friends who also have the movie memorized because I will obnoxiously quote the whole movie the whole time I cannot stop.
- For Christmas, when I was either five or six, my brother and I got four movies. Labyrinth, The Princess Bride, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and another movie I can’t remember.
- We wore out the tapes on both Labyrinth and The Princess Bride.
- (Recently I got to hit one of my #lifegoals by singing “Magic Dance” to an actual infant I was holding; it was pretty great.)
- One of my favorite things about this episode with Grodd is how much Caitlin’s compassion for Grodd informs the whole episode. It was what made him come to her in the first place, and it was what moved Wells to talk about the portal to Gorilla City. Caitlin really is compassionate towards him, understanding that Grodd is desperate and sad and lonely and in a place he does not belong.
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