NOTE: Full spoilers for this episode of, “The Flash” are present in this review
The Flash didn’t quite hit the ground running right away with the start of its fifth season last week, but it was hardly a terrible start. We did at least get a promising big villain teased, and while she hasn’t quite come into her own as a character yet, Barry’s and Iris’ future daughter, Nora does present potential for an interesting shake-up to the show’s lead ensemble. Fortunately, as of this week, it seems like this season’s new challenges are indeed positioning The Flash on a gradual upward trajectory, with Season Five’s very solid sophomore episode, “Blocked” rounding off an especially standout week for the Arrowverse, even when the Arrowverse’s current best show, Legends of Tomorrow still won’t begin its new season until next week.
Granted, “Blocked” still suffers from yet another disposable villain-of-the-week, and once again, I have to wonder if it’s becoming redundant to complain about these throwaway metahuman criminals that Barry and Team Flash keep running afoul of, yet just as quickly defeating in most cases. This week, we get Block, our latest obscure DC Comics villain (whom even the show cheekily admits has a laughably lazy name, when Cisco disinterestedly coins it while mourning Gypsy), once again from the newer Prime Earth era, who is just another opportunistic criminal that’s looking to use her powers to make money and cause trouble. Yes, in a rare turn, a female metahuman threat turned out to be disappointingly bland this week, breaking the show’s weird streak of more interesting female villains-of-the-week, but oh well.
In this episode’s defense however, Block wasn’t the endgame. The whole trouble with Block was meant to cause two plot-convenient issues that Barry would have to deal with, with the first being Nora once again being impulsive and getting herself in trouble, and the second being an excuse for Team Flash to have their first confrontation with this season’s over-arching baddie, Cicada. That confrontation will definitely leave an impression as well, since Cicada’s bolt-like daggers are not only completely within his mental control, but also have the ability to absorb the powers of Barry, Cisco and Ralph alike, leaving them completely helpless! Surprisingly though, Cicada also seems to have a strange connection to Nora, since he decides to let Barry live after Nora notices him, and the episode then ends with Nora admitting to Team Flash that she knows who Cicada is. It could just be because Cicada would have inevitably ended up in the Flash Museum, but something tells me that there’s more to this than that, and Nora is probably keeping another major secret from her new friends, one that is bound to come out later in the season.
Nora’s character is still a little grating and annoying, possibly by design, and I can’t help but wonder how she ever got by under her XS identity when she’s this inept in combat with present-day metahumans, which exist in the past to her! Nora having very advanced knowledge due to the more accessible and developed scientific foundations of the future is an interesting idea that nicely allows Nora to stand on equal CSI footing as Barry, but she’s currently better out of her costume than in it. There weren’t ultimately real consequences for Nora screwing up yet again either, beyond her getting hurled to the other side of Central City in a cube, which she obviously would have survived anyway, since the cube just breaks apart after traveling too far from Block. Even then, I’m still wondering why exactly Barry needs the help of another speedster? Sure, it’s a bonding experience, I guess, but when lives are on the line, should that really be Barry’s or Nora’s first priority?
Fortunately, the Nora storyline once again did at least thrive when Nora wasn’t operating as XS. Nora’s desire to win Barry’s approval with over-eagerness and recklessness tied into a great conversation between Barry and Joe, which was likely one of the strongest elements of the episode, wherein Joe naturally points out that Barry was much the same when he was younger, namely over-eager and accidentally causing trouble with his own overcharged ambitions. It’s not only a good grounding moment for Barry, but also for Cecile, who overhears the conversation and finds her own wisdom in it, after she panics upon losing her mind-reading powers, leaving her unable to understand the cries of her infant daughter. The themes about success occurring in its own time and not being able to skip rungs on the ladder of life really rings true as well, and the moment of Barry showing some of his recorded failures to Nora in turn, all moments taken from Season One archive footage that S.T.A.R. Labs conveniently kept in storage, was both heartwarming and funny.
Speaking of heartwarming and funny, we got much the same effect from a fairly amusing Cisco-driven subplot, wherein Cisco starts becoming especially depressed about his break-up with Gypsy. Caitlin enlists Ralph to try and help the situation, which goes about as well as you’d imagine, but this does at least lead to some solid humour. Eventually though, Caitlin storms off when Cisco and Ralph try to distract themselves with Caitlin’s father’s forged death certificate, leading to Cisco having a talk with Caitlin at Jitters. Like the Barry/Joe conversation, this was very smartly done, since Caitlin and Cisco exchanging their thoughts led to Cisco finally fully realizing that he can’t change what happened with Gypsy, whereas Caitlin can still find out the truth about her lost father. This was not only a great character moment for both Cisco and Caitlin alike, but also nicely led into Cisco vibing the death certificate with Caitlin, leading to both of them discovering that Caitlin’s mother is somehow involved in Caitlin’s father’s disappearance. We still don’t know exactly who Caitlin’s father is, but this latest addition to the overall mystery kept things moving on an intriguing note, suggesting that there’s a lot more to Caitlin losing her father than initially thought.
“Blocked” was a very good episode of The Flash that was both smartly written and very humourous, while also having some great heart underneath all of the well-intentioned screw-ups. Block is still another lame villain-of-the-week, and that’s pretty much par for the course on this show in too many instances, but at least the first proper confrontation with Cicada was memorably chilling, especially when the show once again seems to be finding its way back to setting up some great season-long mysteries. It’s still very early, and we still can’t yet know if Season Five of The Flash can sustain all of these interesting story developments through to May, but I’m glad to see that The Flash seems to be slowly building itself back up to an exceptional storytelling standard, so long as it doesn’t fumble any of these promising leads down the line. Cicada is another non-speedster villain with tons of potential (then again, so was The Thinker), and the secrets that Nora is still hiding will no doubt create another way for the future to haunt the team, even when there’s seemingly no more deadlines looming before them in the immediate future. I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before that Cicada issue becomes a very pressing concern for Team Flash though!
The Flash is continuing to pull itself back together with a very good episode this week, nicely introducing this season's big villain, while also deepening some promising mysteries with Nora and Caitlin.
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THE GOOD STUFF
Clever parallels between the characters' dramatic arcs
Superb, highly chilling first confrontation with Cicada
Humourous heart-mending subplot with Cisco, Ralph and Caitlin
THE NOT-SO-GOOD STUFF
Even the show admits that Block is a lazy villain-of-the-week