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Where there’s a Wells, there’s a way.

Warning: Full spoilers for the episode below.

The Flash has quickly established a compelling family struggle in Season 5, with Barry and Iris dealing with having their time-displaced daughter Nora hanging around Central City. But while that new conflict seems to be working in the series’ favor, there’s still a long way to go when it comes to reinvigorating the supporting cast. “The Death of Vibe” is the first time the new season has turned its attention more towards Cisco, Caitlin and Ralph. It’s also the episode that introduces the Season 5 incarnation of Harrison Wells. But in both cases, the execution is mixed at best.

One thing this episode makes abundantly clear is that Nora has inherited her father’s talent for screwing with time and making bad situations even worse. The opening scene lends a little more context to both her decision to travel back in time and the threat posed by Cicada. We now know that he’s a serial killer who’s destined to never be caught, not even when heroes like Supergirl or Green Arrow are brought to bear. That’s all fine and well, but what’s more interesting is the reveal that Nora has already messed up time so badly that Cicada has now become a different person entirely. This episode featured a nod to the character’s traditional David Hersch identity from the comics while also making it clear that the series is moving in a completely different direction.

The really neat thing in all of this is that Nora name-dropped “The League.” That’s pretty much the most direct confirmation so far that we’re eventually going to see an Arrowverse Justice League. Maybe that’ll be the end result of the Elseworlds crossover in December? So long as Legends of Tomorrow doesn’t get booted in favor of a more traditional team-up series, I’m game.

The Nora storyline remains the driving force of Season 5 so far. This episode’s best moments come as Barry continues leaning into his role as a father and Nora takes his wisdom to heart. These voice-over scenes should by all rights be corny, but they work really well in terms of highlighting Nora’s personal growth and celebrating the show’s speedster legacy. And especially given the damage she’s caused already, it’s nice to see Nora begin making amends and find a way to save Cisco from certain doom.

As for Cicada himself, things aren’t going quite as smoothly. On the plus side, we see more of his fragile human side in this episode, learning that he has a daughter of his own he’s fighting to either protect or avenge. On the down side, he doesn’t cut nearly as imposing a figure in-costume as he did when his appearances were more sparing. In particular, the scenes where Cicada threatened Joe lacked the terrifying quality they should have been able to conjure. The digitized voice shtick for Arrowverse villains is really becoming a tired trope. And if you’re going to go that route, you need a voice actor on the level of Tony Todd (Zoom) or Michael Dorn (Prometheus) to pull it off. As far as I can tell, Chris Klein is doing the Cicada voice himself, and it just doesn’t have the menacing quality it needs. The southern accent alone is enough to see to that.

Nor did the Vibe/Cicada feud do much to spice up this particular conflict. We really needed more context for why Cicada is harboring such a grudge against poor, innocent Cisco. Thankfully, the death alluded to in the title turned out to be metaphorical rather than literal. It’s hard to imagine much being gained by killing off Cisco. Not to mention that the climax did such a poor job of building tension that his death would have felt hollow anyway. The hope is that Cisco’s “death” will actually work out in the character’s favor. Sometimes I wonder how much the series has actually gained by establishing Cisco as a metahuman sidekick. If the end result of this episode is that Cisco has to lie low and give up being Vibe for a while, that might not be such a bad thing.

The biggest development this week involved the debut of Season 5’s designated Wells. The rotating Harrison Wells chair has been an amusing recurring gag over the years, but at this point we may have to question whether it’s outlived its usefulness. Does the show actually need a Wells anymore, especially when it struggles to make use of the supporting cast it already has? Is there a point to introducing a French detective version of Wells when Team Flash already has a perfectly cromulent detective in Ralph? So far, I remain unconvinced.

A big part of the problem is that I don’t enjoy these cartoon character versions of Wells nearly as much as the more traditional incarnations. Tom Cavanagh has done a spectacular job of creating three distinctly unique versions of the same character in Dr. Wells, Harry and H.R. But when it comes to these other multiversal incarnations, Cavanagh opts for broad stereotypes and goofy accents. It just doesn’t have the same impact. If this version of Wells is going to make his mark, it’ll be through his relationship with Nora. Everything else being what it is, he seems the only person capable of seeing through her deceptions.

This episode also brought with it a little more progress on the hunt for Caitlin’s father. Mirroring this new Cisco development, the best I can say for Caitlin’s story so far in Season 5 is that it shifts focus away from her Killer Frost side and back towards her scientist side. But apart from the brief confrontation with her mother, the Caitlin/Ralph subplot didn’t do much to stand out this week. A lot here is going to hinge on the reveal of her father’s identity and what exactly he’s trying to accomplish.

The Verdict

While The Flash has generated some early momentum in Season 5, this episode make sit clear that the show still has a long, uphill race to run when it comes to capitalizing on its supporting cast. Most of the best scenes in this episode still revolve around Barry, Iris and Nora. The attempts to highlight Cisco and Caitlin don’t pay off. And while it’s always nice to see Tom Cavanagh return to the spotlight, the newest incarnation of Harrison Wells doesn’t measure up to his predecessors so far.


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