NOTE: Full spoilers for this episode of, “The Flash” are present in this review
The Flash is frustratingly stalling more than ever lately, and that’s not good, since Season Five is starting to approach its climax. “The Girl with the Red Lightning” sets the stage for the final battle against Cicada II well enough, but it unfortunately has to do so with a storyline that doesn’t end up amounting to anything from pretty much every angle, and does little more than waste the viewer’s time. The resulting payoff at least promises a fairly solid season finale to follow this, but the fact that this episode feels like such a waste perfectly hammers home just how many elements of the Cicada storyline just haven’t ended up working that well this season.
Regardless, now that Cicada II has started to gather everything that she needs to unleash a deadly metahuman-killing virus on Central City, derived from Cisco’s prototype cures (which is, admittedly, a pretty decent endgame for a big bad on The Flash), Team Flash has to try and stop her from getting more ingredients for the virus. This is a fair enough story conflict for Season Five’s penultimate episode, but as you can imagine, every single effort made by Team Flash is completely in vain. Somehow, they’re always one step behind Cicada II, and as a result, Grace ends up building her metahuman-killing device in no time flat. Not only that, but a particular gizmo that she happens to swipe from Ollins Laboratories, a company seemingly put together by Cisco’s lazy, inept college roommate (weird that the show didn’t expand on this, but maybe it’s a tease for Season Six), will also allow Grace to kill not just every metahuman in Central City, but every metahuman in the entire U.S. How convenient.
While Team Flash is chasing their tails with Cicada II, a few members at least wise up and start thinking of better plans. Surprisingly, it’s actually Nora and Ralph that use their heads the most in this episode, while everyone else just keeps charging after a villain that they inexplicably seem to be too slow to truly catch up to. This is especially satisfying in Ralph’s case, since he’s logically applying his skills as a detective to deduce that something isn’t right with Thawne’s supposed plan regarding Nora and Cicada. Ralph correctly points out that the timeline manipulation doesn’t appear to add up, but Barry and Iris keep stupidly shutting him down, which sadly perpetuates Barry in particular acting like a moron for no real reason, simply to create more obstacles for the heroes. Considering just how much of an outrageous stink Barry kicked up about Nora working with Thawne, why does Barry all of a sudden not want to listen to Ralph when he warns that the battle against Cicada II may just be part of a larger plan by Barry’s arch-nemesis?
Nora, meanwhile, tries to tap into the Negative Speed Force to exploit her psychic connection to Grace. Because I guess that’s a thing now? As strange as this is, it does at least lead to a nice moment between Nora and her parents too, even if this also means that Barry and Iris yet again have to act like idiots, even though Nora is obviously being the voice of reason. After Nora suggests tapping into the Negative Speed Force to try and isolate Grace’s location (which is a risky, but genuinely inspired plan), Barry and Iris spend a bunch of time fighting the idea, saying that it’s too dangerous. Um, I’m pretty sure that Nora has been through far worse than that, guys. Even worse, once Barry and Iris finally do pull their heads out of their rear ends and realize that they don’t have time to come up with a better option, Team Flash instantly has a plan to make this work anyway, placing Nora in the old Thawne Speed Trap from all the way back in Season One. Why bother freaking out about Nora’s idea in the first place then? It’s just more pointless story conflicts that end up going nowhere!
Joe didn’t help this issue either, despite an especially inspired subplot idea for him and Cecile. After Joe and Cecile talk Captain Singh into allowing the CCPD precinct building to serve as a makeshift clinic for administering the metahuman cure, thus saving as many Central City citizens as they possibly can from Cicada II’s virus (even if Singh backs down on his protesting unrealistically quickly), Joe gets quickly overwhelmed by the influx of metahumans that want the cure, forcing him to confront his dependence on Singh for guidance. Then Cecile gives him a pep talk, and then everything is fine. Of course. You know, one should really start a drinking game with how many Arrowverse conflicts seem to be solved with a pep talk. At the very least, a complementary subplot with Sherloque ends up delivering a more satisfying result on this note, when Sherloque brings Renee to the precinct to take the cure, and she decides that she doesn’t want to in the end. The result of Sherloque leading Renee over to his Earth, but opting to stay behind with Team Flash until they defeat Cicada II, is both bittersweet and fitting, hopefully setting up a happy ending for Sherloque’s character, should he opt to depart Team Flash in the season finale.
After so much tail-chasing and unfulfilling storytelling all crashes together in a sea of lost potential, Nora’s psychic vision eventually tips Team Flash off that Grace is headed to CCPD to steal the dark matter energy from the large collection of metahumans there. Well, duh! Team Flash seriously needed Nora’s Negative Speed Force trip to try and guess this plan?! Well, in any case, there’s a decent little scrap between Team Flash and Cicada II at the CCPD building, which at least caps this episode off with a reasonably exciting climax. Ralph, Barry and Killer Frost desperately try to fight off Cicada II while Cisco frantically tries to disarm the virus, which he of course successfully does, right as Barry finally manages to knock out Cicada II. All appears to be well, but Ralph ends up figuring out Thawne’s true plan right as it’s too late, with the episode ending as Barry and Cisco prepare to destroy Cicada’s dagger with the Mirror Gun… Which is exactly what Thawne wants them to do, since Cicada’s dagger is what’s de-powering him for his execution in the future! Oops. Nice going, Team Flash… You really should have listened to Ralph on this one!
By the time, “The Girl with the Red Lightning” achieves any actual story momentum in its final moments, it’s too little, too late. The prospect of Thawne being freed and returning to menace Team Flash in the season finale is pretty exciting, but the final stages of Cicada II’s plan end up being just as dry and unfulfilling as so many other Cicada storylines that Season Five of The Flash has had to suffer through. Thus, Season Five’s penultimate episode ends up feeling like a complete filler episode for the most part, and that’s not what a penultimate season episode should ever, ever feel like! Yet again, any promising potential from the Cicada storyline is quickly wasted on poor writing, which unrealistically turns Team Flash’s finest into emotionally unhinged and incompetent buffoons, while also pushing conflicts that don’t end up going anywhere, and simply fill up space in the runtime. Maybe The Flash’s fifth season can at least cap itself off with a reasonably good season finale after this, but at this point, this season well and truly feels like a write-off. Frankly, I’d settle for anything that hovers even a little bit above the same frustrating mediocrity that has defined far too many of this year’s episodes.
The Flash's Cicada story momentum yet again fails to launch in Season Five's penultimate episode, with, "The Girl with the Red Lightning" often doing little more than wasting viewers' time.
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THE GOOD STUFF
Nora finally definitively proving her heroic worth to her parents
Ralph correctly deducing Thawne's plan, and just barely failing to stop it
Sherloque's bittersweet resolution with Renee
THE NOT-SO-GOOD STUFF
Barry and Iris inexplicably refusing to let Nora step up
Joe's precinct drama quickly goes nowhere
Barry and Iris ignoring Ralph's warnings about Thawne doesn't make sense