Last week’s midseason premiere of The Flash was perhaps most notable for giving almost everyone in the cast their own mini storyline. Tuesday’s episode went the other way, focusing instead on only one main story and one subplot.
And although “Dead or Alive” kicks off with a voiceover narration from HR, who acts as the episode’s Macguffin, it’s Cisco who gets the biggest spotlight this week after Gypsy, a “Collector” from HR’s home Earth-19, arrives to detain HR for the crime of inter-dimensional travel. As fast as Barry is, Cisco beats him to the punch when agreeing to challenge Gypsy to a trial by combat to determine HR’s fate.
Vibing With Cisco
We’ve seen this setup before: Unlikely and hopelessly outmatched sidekick agrees to a one-on-one battle to the death. But instead of going the expected route, which might have involved casting some intimidatingly large, hulking male as the adversary, we instead got variation on the Cisco/Golden Glider dynamic with a female villain with a soft spot for our Vibe. She’s still perfectly willing to kill him in trial by combat in order to carry out her duty, but you get the sense she’d feel bad about it.
There’s a lot to love about this episode: Julian becoming team efficiency expert, Kid Flash no longer being sidelined because “he’s not ready yet”, the writers’ possible acknowledgement that defeating the last two seasons’ big speedster villains largely just came down to Barry learning to run faster while stating that’s not going to cut it this season against Savitar. But what makes this episode a particularly strong entry is that the group finally recognizes HR as a true member of the team and come together to keep him safe and here with them on Earth-1.
Further, it’s nice to see that the most recent official recruit, Julian, is also the one who discovers the weakness Cisco’s able exploit to win against Gypsy by catching her off-balance as she emerges from her self-generated portals.
Most critically though, there’s no character better suited to ultimately validating HR’s presence in STAR Labs as part of Team Flash than Cisco. And that’s because every version of Harrison Wells on this show has served in some manner as a father figure to him. Reverse Flash’s fake Wells persona in season 1 was hauntingly most fatherlike in the moments right before killing Cisco before Barry unintentionally turned back the clock on the day and influenced events enough so that that encounter never happened. After that betrayal, it felt particularly meaningful when Earth-2’s Harrison Wells — who Cisco renamed “Harry” — finally earned Cisco’s trust. And Cisco’s been similarly reluctant to develop a relationship with this new Wells, “HR.” Last week, he called him “useless.” HR poses the central question to Cisco: “You don’t even like me; why would you risk your life for me?” But, if HR is to finally be truly accepted by both the team and the audience, Cisco had to be the vehicle for that.
HR’s question is especially important because the stakes are raised when the team considers whether turning their backs on HR might alter events enough to prevent Iris’ impending death at the hands of Savitar in May. Since altering the news events they observed from the future became their new mission last week, this episode immediately challenges that mission with a “do the ends justify the means” dilemma. What ethical line are they willing to draw to save Iris?
Speaking of Iris
Iris also gets a subplot this week involvin recruiting her brother in order to investigate a dangerous story. We find out this week that Joe remains the only one on the team to not know his daughter is fated to die in May. Iris proves willing to stare down the barrel of a gun in order to accomplish something important with what limited time she may have left. After all, if she dies in May at the hands of Savitar, she can’t die today. Or maybe Wally has a point when he shouted, “Are you trying to get yourself killed?”
And Wally is the key to the episode’s closing moments as Barry accepts no training will make him faster than Savitar by May. He’s devised a new plan. The Flash is not going to save Iris; Kid Flash will.
This is easily one of the strongest installments of this uneven third season. Watching the team work together on one problem and mostly put their personal issues aside was nice to see again. It’s also great to see Julian immediately prove his value to the team. Also, while I still want to see Iris find a use on the team as more than just Barry’s confidant, it was nice to see her assert her independence as a character by doing something for herself without Barry.
And everything about HR works in this episode. Tom Cavanagh continues to nail the humor of this version of the character as well as the humanity. I was on board with keeping Earth-2’s Harry in the series and was very skeptical when HR was first introduced, but now he’s one of the best parts of any scene he’s in.
But finally, the real MVP of the episode is Carlos Valdes’ Cisco. And though I’ve been eagerly waiting for development with his relationship with Golden Glider, I wouldn’t mind seeing something further between him and Gypsy.