As has been well-documented here and here, my love for the moments when The Flash speed-punches subtlety out the window and whips out its CGI monster card knows no bounds. So you’d assume that an episode quite literally titled “Monster” that concerned a massive beast stampeding through Central City as Barry tries to zip-tie its legs like an AT-AT in Empire Strikes Back would be, in scientific terms, my jam. Unfortunately, not even the love child of Joon-Ho Bong’s The Host and the creature that killed Bryan Cranston in Godzilla could move here because, in the end, there wasn’t much of a point. The Flash seems to have a problem; it has a few relatively simple stories to tell (Flash vs. Alchemy, Allen vs. Alpert, Snow vs. Frost) and too many episodes to tell them in. The result, so far, is filler episodes like “Monster” that feel as hollow as the holo-gram the titular beast turned out to be.
With that said, Tom Felton is putting in stellar work as Julian Alpert, who brings some actual poignancy to an episode that, again, centers around a big old bug-alien hologram controlled by a high school kid on a laptop. I mean, this is The Flash, so there’s solid betting odds that by the end Alpert will have somehow been another secret evil speedster the whole time. But for now, it’s great that Alpert, for all his overblown snippiness, has relatively low-key motivations for being the character he is. He doesn’t have a grand vendetta against metas, he’s just annoyed at them, annoyed in the way any of us are annoyed at the latest technology that makes our 9-5 that much harder. “Just when I got to the top of my field, the world changes overnight,” he tells Barry. That’s not a super villain origin, that’s me getting pissed at iOS 10.
Which is also why, by the end, Alpert coming around on both Barry and The Flash (and metas in general) feels satisfying, and not like the emotional rush-job that plagues many CW shows. Because Alpert’s frustration isn’t directed at metas, not really, it’s directed at himself, at self-worth issues most likely instilled in him as the heir to a rich family I’m just going to go ahead and assume are named the Malfoys. It’s a frustration that nearly caused him to kill a teenager just to prove himself. Barry showed how wrong Alpert’s mindset was by doing something only a meta can do: he caught a bullet, instead of firing one.
Caitlin, in an attempt to figure out how to be less Frosty, visits her cryo-scientist mother Dr. Carla Tannhauser (played by TV veteran Susan Walters). Again, there isn’t much here–Caitlin’s mother, if you missed all this here symbolism, is a cold person–because The Flash is inching its Killer Frost storyline along at the speed of actual water turning to ice. One of Tannhauser’s techs attempts to lock Caitlin in the lab because he’s sick of all his hard work benefitting his boss, something I think is called “having a job”, and Caitlin blue-eyes into pseudo-Killer Frost momentarily until her mother intervenes. “I know I wasn’t much of a mother, and I know I have a lot to make up for,” Tannhauser says. “But I know I didn’t raise a killer.”
Meanwhile, The Flash tries its hardest to make us believe H.R. is the third time-traveler with dubious intentions using the face of Harrison Wells. In a nifty bit of parallel storytelling, H.R. turns out not to be the monster we expect, but a bit of a hologram himself. The Wells from Earth-19, underneath his hyper-specific coffee orders and overbearing cheeriness, is not so much evil as he is a conman; he’s a scientist in name only, and spent most of his time on his Earth writing books and providing the face to competent researcher’s actual work.
So, yes, he’s basically Gilderoy Lockhart. Change the title to Barry Potter already, CW.
But really, even if “Monster” is frustratingly shallow, it is fun. I would fully accept an entire episode of H.R. naming Earth-2 movie titles that are different on Earth-19. But the problem is that The Flash’s biggest disappointments are its A-stories, every time. That seems to be the real consequence of Flashpoint: Barry Allen created an alternate universe where he’s the least interesting character on his own show.
- Absolutely no surprise that Cisco uses the correct, albeit sonically ugly pronunciation of AT-AT (Personally I’m team AY-TEE AY-TEE forever).
- I understand that Team Flash is “all about redemption,” but I really don’t see what purpose H.R. can serve going forward other than bringing everyone coffee ohhhh that’s exactly what purpose he’s going to serve.
- If we don’t get at least a clip of the groundbreaking Alfred Hitchcock classic Murder on the Titanic this show is dead to me. As dead as all those gladiators in Sweaty Men.