The Flash S03E05 “Monster” REVIEW
Essential Plot Points:
- Barry has moved in with Cisco until he finds his own place.
- Cisco is having his doubts about HR.
- Caitlin visits her estranged mum, Dr Carla Tannhauser, at her workplace. Tannhauser is busy but sits up and takes notice when Caitlin displays her frosty powers. She cancels all appointments and agrees to help study Caitlin to see if there a way to control her powers/stop her going to the dark side.
- Julian tries to get Barry reprimanded for a whole list of minor infractions; Captain Singh pays lip service to telling the golden boy off, annoying Julian even further.
- There’s a Cloverfield-style monster at loose in Central City. Nobody seems too concerned as it doesn’t actually do much except overload transformers and set off car alarms. Some extras half-heartedly pretend to flee like crowds in a Ray Harryhausen movie.
- Barry does a buttering up job on Julian in the hope that Julian will let him join him on the monster case, so that Barry can learn more about the creature. Julian is reluctant until Barry promises to move out of their joint office in return for Julian mentoring him.
- Later, while out working the case, Barry saves Julian from an exploding transformer and Julian begins to soften a little, though Barry is alarmed to see that he’s carrying a gun.
- Back at STAR Labs Cisco is increasingly suspicious of the advice that HR is handing out; he just seems to be repeating what other people are saying in a slightly different way.
- When Barry returns to STAR Labs, he and Cisco search HR’s belongings and find what appears to be an incriminating recording…
- …But all is not what it seems. HR urges them to play the rest of the recording, and it turns out that what seemed to be an evil plan was just notes for a book.
- Wells claims that he’s a scientist and author. But there’s still a twist to come…
- Later, when Barry engages the monster again, it becomes obvious that HR has not got a clue! Cisco calls him out for being a fake. It does indeed appear that his pants are on fire.
- Anyway, by now Barry has worked out that the monster is a hologram.
- Cisco tracks its power source to a nearby building.
- When Barry gets there Julian is already there aiming his gun at the perpetrator of the bogus Cloverfield (quite how Julian has located the guy too is never made clear).
- Julian shoots but Barry runs in and saves the guy… who turns out to be just a teenager. Julian is mortified at how close he came to killing a minor.
- Later, Julian comes clean about his meta issues with Barry and they grow a little closer.
- Meanwhile HR has some explaining to do. Turns out he’s not a scientist on Earth-19 at all but a kind of jumped-up marketing guy with a partner who does all the science-y stuff. He argues that he’s still a great ideas guy who can bring his knowledge of how metas were defeated on his Earth to the table. Barry says he can stay but he has to prove his worth.
- Back at the Caitlin plot… not an awful lot of any importance happens. All you need to know is that eventually relationships thaw a little between mother and daughter and Tannhauser discovers, “These powers you have, the more you use them, the more difficult they’re going to be to reverse. I’m sorry, honey, but listen to me. You must not use these powers under any circumstances.” Easier said than done.
“Monster” is a six-of-one/half-dozen-of-the-other affair that has a lot of incidental details to enjoy, but they fight hard to distract you from some really sloppy material at the heart of the episode.
So in the good corner we have Cisco sussing out HR and Julian getting a chance to come across as something more than a mere one-trait character (with great performances from all the actors involved).
In the bad corner we have some really dull and largely pointless guff with Caitlin and her mum, and an utterly inane villain-of-the-week plot that takes your suspension of disbelief and tramples all over it until it lies whimpering and twitching in a pulpy mess on the floor.
Honestly, apart from the very final scene of the episode did any of the Caitlin scenes advance her arc plot at all? It’s not like her mum was a particularly interesting character; she seems to have been introduced solely to make an extended “frosty relationship” gag. Icy mothers who place work over family are a staple of US drama and Tannhauser has little new to add. Okay, things thaw between the two eventually but only with the delivery of trite set of heart-to-hearts (“My work got me through it…” “I lost my husband last year”, etc); there’s no real tension of drama here. Especially not from “suddenly psycho jealous employee” whose sole purpose, it seems, is to force Caitlin into a Killer Frost moment. This whole section feels like it’s been forcibly extracted from a reluctant writer who has no real interest in the characters; the result is rather lifeless.
The central monster plot is just plain awful, though the CG monster FX are very good which helps. The revelation that the monster is a holographic fake created by a bullied teenager makes no sense at all for so many reasons, some of which are listed below in “The Bad”. But the bottom line is this is an idea that may have seemed cool when somebody pitched it in the writers’ room, but then nobody bothered to think it through. It’s at this point that somebody usually goes, “But this is a show about a man who can run so fast the travels through time… and you want reality?” But there are levels of reality. There’s a lot you can let slide on a show like The Flash but when one concept leaves you with so many, “But hang on…?” questions it ruins the show’s own internal credibility. Oh, let’s be honest, it just makes the show look stupid.
All of which is a shame, because Zack Stentz wrote one of the best episodes of last season, “The Runaway Dinoaur”. But that was a very different kind of storytelling; there was only one through-plot (as opposed to three parallel plots here) and the story was essentially character-driven. Tellingly, it’s the character moments that are most successful here. Stentz gives Cisco, HR and Julian some great material and Valdes, Cavanagh and Felton all rise to the occasion. Felton’s final scene is especially strong; even more than before we hope he isn’t revealed at Alchemy.
- The misdirection with HR is exactly what the show needed. Now he’s proven not to be evil – just a bit of a useless prat – let’s hope things stay that way and he doesn’t actually turn out to be evil after all.
- Besides, we’re already warming to HR – as an amusing character to watch on screen, at least. Being stuck in a room with him would be unbearable. Especially when he seems to be channelling David Brent: “You have Hitchcock on this Earth? Mm-hmm. Oh, brilliant. Murder On The Titanic! ‘Who did it?’ ‘Who cares? We’re drowning!’”
- Great episode for Julian. It’s actually a relief when he says, “If you think I’m gonna break down now and tell you that one killed my parents and that’s why I have to do this job, I’m not, okay? I don’t need a deep, personal reason to hate metas,” because, yeah, that would have been cheesy. But as it turns out, he does have a personal grudge of sorts; the advent of metas made his life’s work pointless. What he fails to mention is how he appears to have rebuilt his life jolly well since then. He is, after all, an acknowledged authority on metas, so he’s hardly a nobody. Maybe what he really begrudges is having to learn all over from scratch again. Whatever, Tom Felton puts in a great performance, and sells the idea Julian is profoundly hurting on some level. The final scene between him and Barry in which his attitude towards the Flash softens and he actually admits his mistake in nearly killing a teenager before they agree to go for a drink, really helps you feel for the guy.
- “Because of him, the police have got lethargic.” On the other hand, Julian may well have a valid point here. Maybe the show should have an episode or arc plot exploring if the police have become overreliant on the Flash.
- If the monster’s a hologram, surely somebody would have noticed much sooner that it wasn’t actually causing any damage?
- That teenage kid was so odious and whiny you actually think less of Joe for bothering to reason with him. And where the hell did he gets the smarts/money/tech to pull off a stunt like this?
- There’s some truly terrible comedy music underpinning the scene in which Barry asks Julian to be his mentor.
- The Caitlin plot seems about 75% pointless and 100% dull.
- Why doesn’t Team Flash ask to meet HR’s partner if he’s the brains behind the pair? Or is that going to be a big reveal for later in the season…? Start to worry if HR casually reveals, “Oh yeah, he’s called Alexander, by the way.”
And The Random:
- “You can add tardiness to the list, captain,” says Julian to Singh about Barry. There is, of course, a running (ahem) joke in both the show and the Flash comics about Barry – despite his super speed – always being late.
- “Kind of reminds me of that Hitchcock movie where the extra covers his ears before the gun goes off,” says Cisco. He’s referring to the climax of North By Northwest (1959). In the video below, keep your eye on the kid sitting at a table to the right in the background.
- Is HR called HR because he’s like the world’s most annoying Human Resources manager?
- “I… I’ll take care of him. No one will ever know about this. I promise,” says Caitlin’s mum about Nigel, which sounds deeply, deeply ominous. We hope she means she’ll pay him off and not that she’s going to bump him off.
- When Barry saves Julian from the exploding transformer, Julian says, “Cheers”. It’s such a delightfully British term of gratitude, you have to wonder if Tom Felton ad libbed it.
- Twice in the episode HR mentions that Earth-19 suffered a coffee blight. The Alt-universe in Fringe also had a coffee shortage. This is not the first time The Flash has referenced Fringe. In “Rupture” (2.20), Cisco says a machine, “looks like the Vacuum,” to which Jesse responds: “What’s the Vacuum?” leading Cisco to surmise: “Huh, no Fringe on Earth-2.”
- Other differences we learn about Earth 19:
• Alfred Hitchcock directed a movie called Murder On The Titanic.
• Gladiator was called Sweaty Men, and flopped.
• Good metas and bad meta fought each other in an arena in a climactic event called World War M.
• In place of “See you later,” they say, “Until next communion” and then do some voguing.