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A new villain emerges in Central City.

Warning: Full spoilers for the episode below. Check out this week’s Arrow review hereWe won’t be posting weekly reviews of Supergirl, Legends of Tomorrow, or Black Lightning, but we’ll check in on those series at midseason and for the season finales. 

Not everything has been sunshine and roses for The Flash Season 5 so far. Last week’s disappointing episode served as an uncomfortable reminder that the show still has plenty of hurdles yet to cross. But for the most part, the series seems on stronger footing this year. “News Flash” is further proof, capturing the vibe of the classic Season 1 and 2-era Flash nicely.

As I’ve said in recent reviews, one of the big improvements this season is that the writers seem to have a better grasp on blending humor and character drama. The lightheartedness of those first two seasons is back in play, but not to such an exaggerated degree that it becomes forced and empty like it was in Season 4. The one-two punch of iris’ disastrous breakfast and Barry’s horrific softball skills helped kick this episode off on a very fun and entertaining note.

On the other end of the spectrum, there was plenty of Allen family drama to be had this week as the simmering tensions between Iris and Nora finally bubbled over. Now we know that Nora resents her mother for hiding Nora’s innate speed abilities for most of her life. This shifts the ongoing Nora/Iris storyline in a more compelling direction, especially given that there’s no clear right or wrong in this feud. Nora’s rage over having an important choice stolen from her is valid, as is Iris’ desire to protect her daughter in the wake of losing her husband. The fact that this revelation seems to put a dampener on the previously sunny Barry/Nora relationship is just icing on the cake.

That said, I do hope the full story behind future Iris’ actions and Nora’s trip to the past is more complicated than just this mother/daughter feud. There’s been too much mystery and conspiracy afoot these past few weeks for there not to be a bigger payoff there. Luckily, this episode seem to suggest there’s more yet to be revealed, especially with how dodgy Nora has become whenever anyone digs too deeply into her past.

“News Flash” is also by far the most “villain of the week”-driven installment of Season 5 so far, which brings with it the usual complaints about underdeveloped villains. I appreciate that the writers at least tried to add a little depth to Spencer Young (Kiana Madeira) by establishing a professional rivalry between her and Iris. But that amounted to little in the end. Spencer was introduced as little more than a walking bundle of Millennial stereotypes and never grew much from there. Does anyone actually say “lit” outside of ironic tweets and Nancy comic strips?

But, if nothing else, Spin’s mind-controlling powers posed an interesting challenge for our two speedsters. There’s clearly a bit of social satire there in terms of commenting on how people can become way too susceptible to the influence of social media. Also neat is the revelation that dark matter has begun infecting technology in Central City as well as people. “Meta tech” is one way to shake up the usual crop of metahuman villains.

Another big plus this week is that “News Flash” made better use of Sherloque Wells. It seems unlikely that this new version of Wells will ever live up to the standard of his three predecessors. The goofy, inconsistent accent alone is pretty much a guarantee of that. But at the very least, this Wells is developing a fun dynamic with Ralph. Last week’s episode raised the question of why Team Flash actually needs two detectives. But by playing the two characters off of each other and having Ralph trying to one-up his more flamboyant, intelligent rival, the new Wells is starting to find his niche.

Thankfully, this episode didn’t completely shy away for the Cicada storyline. Ralph and Wells’ manhunt offered a few more glimpses into the private life of this metahuman serial killer. We know why he wears the mask and the reason for that distinctive, raspy breathing. We also seem to get full confirmation that he was empowered by the destruction of DeVoe’s satellite, with that shard boosting his strength even as it seems to be slowly killing him. It seems a wise choice to spend so much time showing Cicada in pain. It humanizes the character even as we know very little about his background and true motivations.

One other thought – after giving it a few weeks, I just can’t get behind the redesigned Flash costume. Seeing so much of it in broad daylight in this episode just draws attention to the garish colors and the very poorly designed helmet and neck area. As much as I respect the costume designers for trying to shift away from the functional approach of early Arrowverse seasons and towards something unabashedly comic book-y, I’m starting to miss Barry’s Season 2 and 3-era costume. Maybe Season 6 will bring about another redesign?

The Verdict

While this wweek’s Flash failed to add a memorable new villain to Barry Allen’s sizable rogues gallery, it did provide ample amounts of humor and family drama. The early scenes delivered plenty of that lighthearted Flash humor the early seasons did so well. That humor was balanced out by some compelling drama between Iris and Nora, suggesting that dark days lie ahead for the West/Allen family.


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