[WARNING - This review contains SPOILERS for The Flash season 3, episode 11.]
The Flash's season 3 midseason premiere was a thoughtful episode, giving the characters necessary time to process all that happened and was revealed during the far more climactic midseason finale. Last week's episode, 'Borrowing Problems From the Future' also worked to bridge the two halves of The Flash season 3, the back half of which continues tonight, moving Barry's focus from trying to change the past to trying to prevent an unthinkable future.
In tonight's episode, 'Dead or Alive' -- written by Benjamin Raab, Deric A. Hughes, and Zack Stentz, directed by Harry Jierjian -- the mysterious woman who appeared at the very tail end of last week's installment, hopping through a portal from one universe into this one, is revealed to be a bounty hunter tracking down H.R. (aka the Harrison Wells of Earth-19). Her name is Gypsy and, as she clearly demonstrates, has powers similar to those of Cisco (aka Vibe). She's hunted H.R. down for the crime of interdimensional travel -- turns out that's illegal on Earth-19 -- and plans to return with him either dead or alive (get it?). With his only hope of remaining on Earth-1 being to win a fight to the death with Gypsy herself, Cisco steps in to fight in his place, pitting the inter-dimensional and vibrational meta-humans against one another in a duel to the death!
Pushing It to the Limit
Cisco has had his meta powers for some time now, first developing them roughly two years after being hit with the blast from the particle accelerator. Though they took a little while to develop, his ability to "vibe" through time and space, learning important information and later opening portals to wherever Team Flash needs to go, has become an invaluable asset for the team. Not to mention the concussive blasts he can shoot from his hands, giving him a kind of offensive ability as well.
Gypsy, on the other hand, is in an entirely different league and it's great fun watching her use those same powers at such an advanced level. Seeing her in action makes it obvious why she's such an effective bounty hunter: her vibe powers make it easy to track and apprehend her target, portal-ing from one dimension to another and then using those same portals to disorient her victim. The vibrational blasts, too, are quite useful -- and Gypsy's are way more powerful than Cisco's -- but what's most interesting is the effect they can have on speedsters. When Gypsy first arrives at S.T.A.R. Labs and announces she bringing H.R. back with her, Wally tries to stop her -- only she stops him with her vibrational blast, right in his tracks! This is a new development for The Flash but it makes a lot of sense given that vibe-ers (what do we call them?) can manipulate waves and vibrations, affecting the very speed and movement of a speedster. It's a neat trick and one we may even see Cisco learn before the season is out. (Could be really handy against evil speedsters, after all.)
When it comes to fighting Gypsy, Cisco is painfully outmatched and there's no training montage The Flash could produce that would ever have him ready in time. He may push his vibe powers to the limit in this episode, but he still has a way to go. Nevertheless, Cisco pushes himself to get better, to be stronger, all so that he can repay a debt he feels he owes to a man with H.R.'s face -- the first Harrison Wells, or at least the man they (and we) were first introduced to as Harrison Wells. Like Barry, Cisco saw Wells as a mentor, and even though that went sour (like really sour, like he tried to kill them sour), he would still like to be the one to save Harrison Wells for a change. Cisco may not quite have the control of his powers he needs to be a hero, but he sure has the heart of one.
Luckily, though Cisco manages to defeat Gypsy -- thanks to a little clever thinking on Julian's part, proving himself a good addition to the team, even if he's kind of a dick about it -- he doesn't kill her, leaving her character open to return for a training session... or maybe a date?
Why Come Here?
Though what made 'Dead or Alive' such a fun episode was Cisco learning the full extent of what vibrational powers can do (and being downright charming in his efforts to flirt with Gypsy), the crux of the episode deals with H.R. knowingly breaking Earth-19's law against inter-dimensional travel -- the punishment for which is death! That's mighty extreme, prompting everyone to wonder why H.R. would risk his life to come to their Earth? He may say it was because he was bored or because he wanted his life be meaningful (an interesting statement that Iris also echoes in this episode), but every time we learn a bit more about H.R. he only comes across as more suspicious.
Since his arrival, there's been something off about this version of Harrison Wells and it goes beyond his quirks. He says he's researching for a book he's writing, and this episode seems to confirm H.R. has been sending transcripts back to Earth-19, but he could just as easily be spying on Team Flash -- and for whom is even more worrisome. He wouldn't be the first person to trick Team Flash and betray their trust; he wouldn't even be the first Harrison Wells to do it. But if that is where his character is going, poor Cisco, sticking his neck out for another Wells who wouldn't do the same for him.
It may still all be misdirection, and H.R. is just as harmless as he claims, but he's definitely hiding something and that secrecy will only lead to further mistrust -- as if the characters on The Flash didn't already keep too many secrets.
Stop With the Secrets!
Seriously, these people have a problem with being secretive and Iris' arc in 'Dead or Alive' makes that abundantly clear. Now, to be fair, Iris is far from the only character keeping secrets and she is suffering the trauma of learning she could die in a few months, but it's painfully predictable that once Barry tells her to lay off the high-tech weapons case (hey, so that's where Plunderer got his gun) she immediately goes to Wally for help with the case, telling him it'll be their secret. And while they do solve the case and catch the arms dealers, just like the Iris and Wally crime-fighting duo of the Flashpoint Earth, her secrecy puts them in danger unnecessarily -- not to mention hurting the trust between her and Barry and her and father. Iris may have a point that Barry can't be the only one risking his life for good, but there's got to be a time and place for such risk. And being honest with each other is key to knowing when it's the right time to risk it all.
Speaking of, how long will they keep it a secret from Joe that Barry saw a future where Iris dies? That's sure to have repercussions, even if they do manage to save her Savitar, because as The Flash continues to illustrate -- keeping secrets only leads to more trouble.
'Dead or Alive' didn't deal too heavily with Barry's plan to change the future, though his seeing at least some version of Wells atop that building in the future did come up when discussing whether or not to turn over H.R., thinking that this may be one of the actions affecting their future. Still, preventing Iris' death at the hands of Savitar is Barry's number one goal this season and he'll stop at nothing to achieve it -- even if that means asking someone else to do the saving. Can Barry do a better job at encouraging Wally to get better than he did Cisco? Let's hope so, otherwise, Iris is doomed.
The Flash season 3 continues next Tuesday with ‘Untouchable’ @8pm on The CW.