The Flash S03E14 “Attack On Central City” REVIEW
Essential Plot Points:
- HR is throwing a party to mark Friends’ Day – his world’s equivalent of Valentine’s Day. Harry is not impressed.
- Jesse and Wally tell Harry that Jesse is staying on Earth-1 to be with Wally. Surprisingly he doesn’t explode and appears to give them his grumpy blessing.
- Gypsy appears and attacks. They manage to knock her unconscious and put her in a containment cell. But when she awakes she cannot remember anything after turning up on Earth-2 in pursuit of a fugitive.
- Team Flash works out Grodd must have mentally taken her over, and since he can’t do this across universes he must now be on Earth-1, having forced Gypsy to open a portal.
- He is, but he’s being very slow about actually doing anything now he’s here.
- Eventually he gains control of an army bigwig who can order the deployment of nuclear weapons and starts a countdown to launch some missiles.
- Luckily Barry foils this plot thanks to some tchnobabble, lucky guesses and HR’s knowledge of military hairstyling.
- So Grodd is forced to attack. At bleedin’ last. Well in a minute. There’s some character stuff to get through first.
- Barry agonises over the possibility that he will have to kill Grodd to stop him once and for all. Both Iris and Harry tell him not to be stupid – he’s the Flash, not Green Arrow, so he doesn’t kill. He’ll have to find another way.
- So Barry sends Cisco off on a mission.
- Oh, and meanwhile, Harry pretends to be terminally ill in an attempt to get Jesse to return to Earth-2 with him out of sympathy. But Jesse’s not falling for it in the slightest and calls him out on it marvellously in front of the whole of Team Flash.
- When Grodd and his army finally start attacking Central City, Barry, Jesse and Wally hold them off until Plan B materialises…
- …Cisco and Gypsy emerge from a breach, swiftly followed by Solovar.
- Solovar and Grodd have a big WWE-style slap down and Solovar wins.
- Barry pleads mercy and Solovar spares Grodd’s life.
- Solovar and the other gorillas (who now consider him their leader) return to Earth-2’s Gorilla City and Barry hands Grodd over to ARGUS to deal with.
- Later, Barry proposes to Iris because there’s no timeline like the present… or something.
- Wally and Jesse are having an evening in, but when Wally goes for a take-out, he runs into Savitar…
We know gorillas are an endangered species but for long stretches of “Attack On Central City” we did wonder if the series had secretly relocated to an alternate Earth where they were completely extinct. After the glorious B-movie cheese of “Attack On Gorilla City” and the promise of more fun to come, this sequel is a bit of a disappointment.
Okay. There are gorillas. And they do attack a city. But it’s very late in the episode and only one suspiciously deserted street. The Grodd vs Solovar slapdown is pretty decent but it’s too little too late. Maybe we were expecting too much after last week, but a few screaming pedestrians and a montage of gorilla carnage as they entered the city wouldn’t have gone amiss. There is some gubbins with nuclear missiles, but to be honest, that feels a lot like good old-fashioned padding.
You could argue that this is TV and a TV series can’t rely on massive special effects sequences every week. Fair comment. So you’d expect some really good character work and a thrilling pacy plot to fill the gap. And The Flash usually excels at really good character work and thrilling pacy plots. But here… not so much.
Okay, the Cisco/Gypsy scenes are fun, as Cisco decides that coming on strong is the way ahead and he’s ultimately rewarded with a smacker… but not entirely sure if it was a heartfelt or teasing smacker. That was great.
Plus Barry’s proposal was sweet. And Joe got to pull a few comedy faces again, which is always good value.
However none of that cancels out where the episode goes very wrong indeed. And the biggest surprise is that the thing that goes very wrong is Tom Cavanagh. Twice. It’s unheard of for Cavanagh to be the weakest thing in an episode but here he’s in a battle with himself for that honour. Frankly, both HR and Harry are portrayed and written very, very poorly here.
With Harry the problem partly appears to be that Cavanagh has been playing HR so long that he’s forgotten how to play Harry. Yes, Harry was always grumpy and self-absorbed but there was still a certain charm and human warmth to him. Here that warmth’s almost completely absent (aside from his chat with Barry about finding “another way”, as we expand on below) so Harry simply comes across as a jerk. It’s not entirely Cavanagh’s fault; the whole lying-about-his-imminent-death plot is very weak, and his animosity towards HR is just plain mean-spirited. Talk about being hard on yourself.
One mitigating factor is that his irritation with HR is justified because HR is even more dimwitted than usual this week. Sure he’s irritating by nature, but usually kinda goofily cute with it. This week he’s simply the village idiot. By the time we get to Harry’s exasperated, “Two minutes? Ten seconds! Can you not even tell time?” you kinda know how Harry’s feeling.
The other main thread of the episode doesn’t really go anywhere either. Barry frets about the need to kill Grodd, and everyone else advises him against it, so he has to find “another way”. It’s a lovely sentiment, and while he does find “another way” it simply seems like the same kind of solution he’d come up with any other week. There’s no great moral dilemma or clever twist that marks out this victory as much different from any other. And leaving Grodd with ARGUS is hardly a revolutionary idea – it seems the obvious choice, and far from a watertight one.
If all this sounds nitpicky that’s partly the fault of the lethargic pace which leaves your mind wandering and looking for things to nitpick. Often The Flash is a triumph of smoke and mirrors over hokey plotting but here the distraction techniques are feeling a little tired.
- The Grodd vs Solovar battle was pretty decent when it finally happened.
- Proverb of the week: “You know what I always say: a fella that can’t tell the difference between balls and lanterns is in trouble when the lights go out.” You can’t actually argue with that!
- Cisco being amusingly upfront with Gypsy: “So you did all this for the city, huh? ’Cause I’m pretty sure there’s a different reason you chose to help us.”
- And then Gyspsy responding with this…
Joe: “Y’all want to put a bunch of magnets against my skull to look into the mind of a psychotic, murderous ape?”
Joe: “Fine.” – The look on Joe’s face when he has to wear a cybernetic turtle on his head is priceless…
- Jesse cottoning on to her father’s ruse in about a millionth of a nanosecond.
- HR – hairstyle analyst extraordinaire.
- While Harry was mostly annoying this week, his speech to Barry about the need to find another way was one of the episodes strongest moments, as we saw the real Harry – harsh, but essentially caring, human and self-aware: “Barry, there’s a thousand things I’ve done that I’m not proud of. Some of them recently. Every time I do one of those things, it makes it easier to do it the next time. I look at you, out there battling the darkness, with honour and hope, and I’m reminded there’s always another way. Always. Killing Grodd is not your answer. Saving one life doesn’t justify taking another. Find the other way.”
- The cliffhanger with Savitar.
- Harry was never this unlikeable before. It’s like Tom Cavanagh’s forgotten how to play him.
- Plus, did they make HR extra stupid this week just to excuse Harry’s grumpy behaviour?
- It takes ages for the “Attack On Central City” to happen, and then it’s a bit of a damp squib.
- After the episode spends so much time ramming home how Barry needs to find another way to defeat Grodd rather than killing him, the final solution – getting Solovar to slap him down then handing him over to ARGUS (you know, the people who let King Shark escape) is a bit banal.
- Technobabble overload. The pseudo-science exposition scenes for both Cisco’s supervibe and Joe being able to backwards mind-read Grodd may as well have been delivered by three fairies going “Salagadoola mechicka boola Bibbidi-bobbidi-boo!”
- How come Gypsy gave that speech about the visions of horror she witnessed when she was under Grodd’s control, when a few scenes before she didn’t seem to know she had been under Grodd’s control?
And The Random:
- The speedster to whom Gypsy is talking on Earth-19 is presumably the Accelerated Man as detailed in The Multiversity Guidebook #1 (2015). Although he’s never actually appeared in a DC comic book story, he is listed as being an inhabitant of Earth-19 along with Bat Man, Shrinking Man and that world’s Wonder Woman.
- Cisco: “Harry, this thing, if it fries my brain…”
Harry: “It’s an improvement”
Cisco: “Was that Rocky?”
Indeed it was. Harry is paraphrasing this exchange:
Mickey: “Your nose is broken.”
Rocky: “How does it look?”
Mickey: “It’s an improvement.”
- That’s not Harry’s only nod to the Italian Stallion in the episode, though. He later calls Barry Rocky when he’s punishing a punch bag.
- “We have to figure out who the hell this is.” Our first guess was Clint Eastwood circa Dirty Harry.
- When Cisco asks Gypsy for her help to stop Grodd, she asks, “Are you trying to Luke Starkiller me?” Clearly on Earth-19 George Lucas decided to keep the name “Starkiller” from his original treatment for The Star Wars (sic). In our universe the character Anakin Starkiller became Luke Skywalker.
- This is the second time that Grodd has tried to make Joe shoot himself; he previously did so in “Grodd Lives” (1.21).
- The film Wally and Jesse are watching at the end is Casablanca (1942). They didn’t fancy King Kong (1933), then?
- On Earth-19:
• “Weird Al” Yankovic is the poet Alfred Yankovic.
• Friends’ Day is the equivalent of Valentine’s Day
- Caitlin: “As far as I’m concerned, they can throw him in the same cage as King Shark.”
Cisco: “Mmmm, I’d pay money to see that fight.” – What’s the betting the writers are working on this particular supervillian team-up for next season already?
Review by Dave Golder