The Flash S03E17 “Duet” REVIEW
Essential Plot Points:
- Barry is drowning his sorrows in classic musicals.
- Martian Manhunter and Mon-El arrive on Earth One (via a breach) with the unconscious Kara.
- They explain about how the Music Meister zapped her.
- The Music Meister turns up and zaps Barry too.
- Barry wakes up in a 1930s fantasy world where he and Kara are nightclub singers, and people they recognise are here as completely different characters:
• Malcolm Merlyn is a night club owner and gangster called Cutter Moran
• Cisco is a bell boy called Pablo at Cutter’s club
• Winn is a pianist at the club called Grady
• Joe is a gangster called Digsy Foss
• Stein is his (unnamed) partner/husband
• Iris is Millie, Digsy and partner’s daughter
• Mon-El is Tommy, Cutter’s son.
- The Music Meister tells Kara and Barry they must follow the plot if they want to escape.
- Meanwhile, in the real world, the Music Meister draws on Barry and Kara’s powers to go on a crime spree, teasing Wally about how he’s lost his mojo along the way.
- Wally, Martian Manhunter and Vibe team-up to defeat the Music Meister, Wally rediscovering his Mojo along the way.
- In fantasy land Barry and Kara discover that Millie and Tommy are in love – it’s all very Iris West Side Story (see what we did there?). Their respective dads – rival gangsters – are not happy about his and go to war…
- …With Barry and Kara getting shot in the crossfire (did we mention their powers don’t work here?).
- In the real world, the Music Meister tells Mon-El and Iris that only their love can bring Barry and Kara home.
- So Cisco vibes them both into the dream, because Cisco could now vibe someone into a Jane Austen novel or Disney cartoon if asked. Though probably not a Disney cartoon as Disney owns Marvel…
- Once in the dream, Mon-El’s and Iris’s kisses return Barry and Kara to consciousness.
- The Music Master now reveals that he only came here to reunite the two sets of lovers (and, by implication, to pull Wally out of his depression too – at the start of the episode, when Barry and Wally confront the Music Meister and Barry asks him, “What do you want with Supergirl?”, the Music Meister replies, “Same thing that I want with both of you. To teach you all a lesson.”
- So Mon-El and Kara bury their differences and Barry proposes to Iris though the medium of song. Awwwwww/pass the vomit back* (*delete as per your ability to handle pure schmaltz).
To paraphrase Abba, “No thank you for the music.”
A musical crossover episode of The Flash and Supergirl should work. Could work. But this is a missed opportunity to create something truly special; a half hearted-effort that relies way to hard on its talented cast to inject some fun into proceedings, that neither satisfies as a musical nor an episode of either Arrowverse show.
To understand why “Duet” flounders we need to take a look at why that universally accepted zenith of all musical episodes – Buffy The Vampire Slayer’s “Once More, With Feeling…” – succeeds.
“Once More, With Feeling…” was not only a full-on musical, which obeyed the rules of a musical, it was also a labour of love. Joss Whedon, who wrote it, also wrote all the songs. It was a project he wanted to do and had the skill to do. It’s never been revealed whether Whedon was paid extra for writing the music and lyrics on top of his usual showrunning duties, but it’s possible he wasn’t, or if he was, it was a minimal amount. This meant that “Once More, With Feeling…” was a complete vision, with bespoke songs that weren’t only hummable, but actually moved the plot on, and were invested with emotion, reflecting the inner turmoil of the characters.
In other words, the music served the plot, not the other way round.
You can see where we’re heading with this one…
Yep, “Duet” is an episode cobbled together to serve a conceit, that conceit being that the producers and cast though a musical episode would be fun. The characters who sing have been imported in from the Arrowverse’s four show because they can sing, not because they’re necessary for the plot. As a result, the plot has to be thin enough to excuse this kind of cherrypicking reasoning, and so we get, “Hey, it’s all a dream – anything goes!” plotting. We get John Barrowman because nobody likes bursting into song as much as John Barrowman (and, bless him, he’s clearly loving it) but there is no reason why Malcolm Merlyn would be troubling Barry Allen’s consciousness at the moment, let alone Kara’s. Same goes for Stein. Cisco and Winn’s inclusion would make more sense if they actually had some function in the story, but no, they’re just there to sing.
Another problem is the Juke Box musical nature of the show. Only five songs (which seems pretty threadbare for a “musical” episode as it is); three of those are cover versions; two of them not even particularly relevant to the proceedings. Sure, “Moon River” is a lovely song, but… erm… why? (Unless there’s a metaphor we’re missing). It was a good publicity move to get two new songs written by in-vogue, newsworthy songwriting teams (see “And The Random” below) but it seems paying them may have bust the budget, making the other cover versions necessary.
Most annoying of all, though, is how trite it all is. The plot is virtually non-existent, and the denouement – alien just wants everyone to love each other – is a cop out. The idea that the Music Meister isn’t a villain but a marriage guidance counsellor may have been good twist if we had some inkling why he even cares. Maybe the writers are leaving that for a sequel, which, to be honest, if it involves the Music Master creating a space opera dream world to help Cisco through some issues, we wouldn’t mind at all.
It’s not a total disaster. As we mentioned earlier, the cast is magnificent, and when the episode does work, it’s mainly because their infectious enjoyment shines through. Gustin and Benoist are always a joy to watch together and Candice Patton positively purrs as a proto-moll. The costumes and cod-period detail give the episode a lush visual gleam and the song and dance routine for “Put A Little Love In Your Heart” is wonderfully exuberant with some lovely little acting asides. Darren Criss suffers a little from the Music Meister appearing so soon after Mr Myxlplyx on Supergirl as the two have a similar “impish” vibe, but he certainly lifts the character above the skimpy writing.
On the whole, though, “Duet” is a bit of a bum note.
- All the actors are clearly having a whale of a time, and they look great in their period costumes. Candice Patton may not get to sing but she looks absolutely fabulous as Millie. The producers need to have her being arch more often.
- While it’s difficult to get excited about Barry’s on-off relationship with Iris, it is so, so sweet to see Karamel is back on track. Chris Wood and Melissa Benoist are an adorable couple.
- The big “Put A Little Love In Your Heart” song and dance routing is a lot of fun; in fact, Barrowman looks like he might explode with sheer joy at any moment…
- The business with Barry and Kara arguing over who kicks down the door is disproportionately amusing, but does reinforce the idea that an entire crossover series featuring these two would be awesome – Gustin and Benoist are so great together.
- However, our favourite moment of the whole episode was Caitlin barely batting an eyelid when she walks in to find a bloke with “green skin and sick-ass cape” standing in the Cortex, and greeting him with a simple, “Hello”, like it’s just another day at STAR Labs. This could be Danielle Panabaker’s best bit of acting ever on the show.
“You got a problem with that?”
“No. I love musicals.”
Could’ve Been Good, But…
- “Runnin’ Home To You” is actually a pretty decent little ballad (despite it’s heinous lyrical crime – see below), and Gustin performs it with a lot of charm. But its function within the plot is way, way too cheesy. Having songs in the fantasy section is one thing, but trying to accept that the experience spurred Barry to come over all James Blunt is asking the audience to suspend disbelief to an almost untenable degree.
- “Minute” should never, ever, ever be rhymed with “in it”.
- Repeatedly saying, “Everything’s easier in musicals” is not an excuse to throw logic out of the window. And not entirely true, either. Have they seen Les Miserables?
- The lack of any motivation for the Music Meister’s actions leaves him feeling like a handy plot device rather than a real character. Not that there’s much plot for him engineer…
- Not enough musical moments. Okay, this might be a bonus for some viewers, but if you are going to to a musical, five songs – three of which aren’t even original – is a little half-hearted.
- The episode also breaks a cardinal rule of musicals – lying in song! Cutter and Millie’s dads sing, “More I Cannot Wish You”, when really they wish nothing of the sort. Even if you don’t care a jot about the rules of musicals, surely it’s obvious why this is a bad move; the music shouldn’t just be window dressing, it should support the plot or characters. If the characters sing one thing while thinking something completely different then that’s just the equivalent of them doing karaoke.
- The fight between Martian Manhuner, Kid-Flash, Vibe and the Music Meister is really poorly-staged and looks a little ridiculous at times, especially when Martian Manhunter clobbers the Music Meister mid-flight. It also seems a somewhat glib way to get Wally out of his depression.
- The “Super Friend” sequence looks liked it could have done with another few hours of rehearsal, but nice try… It was an ambitious idea for a weekly TV show.
- Barry and Iris are back together. Regular readers know our thoughts on that one.
- Not a single “Flashdance” gag? Really?
And The Random:
- The three cover versions in the episode are:
• “Moon River”, which was originally performed by Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast At Tiffany’s (1961).
• “Put A Little Love In Your Heart”, which was originally released by Jackie DeShannon in 1969 and reached number four in the US charts. It’s better known it the UK as a cover version performed by Annie Lennox and Al Green, released in 1988 (and featured on the soundtrack to the film Scrooged).
• “More I Cannot Wish You”, which is from the musical Guys & Dolls which premiered on Broadway in 1950.
- The two new songs are:
• “Super Friend” written by Crazy Ex-Girlfriend creator and star Rachel Bloom along with Tom Root.
• “Runnin’ Home To You” written by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, who are currently best known for writing the Oscar-winning song “City Of Stars” for La La Land. They have also worked on A Christmas Story, Dogfight, Edges and James And The Giant Peach. You can hear a special version of the song in the player below.
- Barry is watching Singing In The Rain at the start of the episode, specifically Gene Kelly singing the title track. Barry’s later tap dance routine during “Super Friend” feels very much influenced by Kelly’s “Singing In The Rain” choreography.
- Kara makes lot of references to the Wizard Of Oz in this episode because, according to the Music Meister, she watched it countless times as a kid with her adoptive parents. Kara tells Millie that there’s “no place like home” and misinterprets the Music Meister’s advice to “follow the plot” as “follow the Yellow Brock Road”. There’s also the fact that people in the real world appear in the fantasy world as different characters…
- …But our favourite Wizard Of Oz nod is when Kara ponders about ways of getting home and suggests, “I guess I could click my heels together three times…” because Dorothy wears ruby slippers in Oz, while Kara wears big red boots as Supergirl.
- The Music Meister originally debuted in an episode of the animated series Batman: The Brave And The Bold, where he was voiced by Neil Patrick Harris.
- In a variation of The Flash’s oft-used “Run, Barry, run” line, HR urges Wally, “Get back on the damed horse and ride, Wallace, ride.”
- Why has Cisco got a pair of trainers in a display case?
Review by Dave Golder