The Flash: 118 “All Star Team Up” Review
Reviewed by Louis Rabinowitz.
Previously on The Flash: Harrison Wells, pioneering scientist and mentor to Barry Allen, was revealed to be not Harrison Wells – having stolen the real Wells’ DNA in a car accident a couple of decades before, the ‘Wells’ we’ve been watching for the past season was in fact Eobard Thawne wearing some sort of genetic camouflage. Meanwhile, Eobard’s secrets soon began to spill out as Barry and Joe figured out that ‘Wells’ was in fact the Reverse Flash…
This week’s episode, All-Star Team Up, was a somewhat breezier affair than the portentous final moments of last episode indicated, packing in an Arrow crossover alongside the more angst-oriented serialized story. Felicity Smoak has already made two visits to Central City earlier in the season, but this time she brought a new face in tow – Ray Palmer, aka the ATOM. Ray has felt slightly at odds with Arrow’s broodier atmosphere at times, with a slightly sunnier disposition than most of Starling City’s residents – so it wasn’t much of a surprise that the wisecracking vigilante was a great fit for The Flash.
Though Ray, disappointingly, didn’t have too much of an impact on the story, only suiting up briefly in the final act, Ray’s quickly established rapport with Cisco was great fun (fittingly, both characters gave the villain of the week her name), and Brandon Routh’s charismatic performance proved to be a good antidote to some of the more melodramatic material this episode. Likewise, Felicity’s appearance was a little more of a success, with her role in the story being far more involved than Ray’s. While Felicity had a couple of fun one-liners that harked back to the character’s more light-hearted days in the earlier seasons of Arrow, the computer hacker was cast mainly as a much-needed confidante for the confused and panicking Barry. If Ray’s appearance felt a little gratuitous at points, then Felicity’s key role in pushing Barry to trust Caitlin and Cisco fully justified the crossover. To have a purely standalone episode at this point in the season would be disappointing, so having the appearance of the Arrow characters have a major impact on the ongoing Flash storyline helped paper over some of the cracks in the standalone story.
The villain of the week was Brie Larvan aka the Bug-Eyed Bandit, a mad scientist with a swarm of robotic bees. Though the bees did provide a few neat (as horrific as PG violence can be, anyway) horror movie visuals (bees bursting out of dead bodies and air vents), the Bandit was a disappointing mess of a villain, with a handful of lines and a meagre amount of screen-time. The Flash has delivered its fair share of poorly developed bad guys before, but these bland villains are at least excusable in the early stages of the season while the show is still finding its feet. To have a villain as bad as those early villain missteps in the final stage of the season, especially taking into account The Flash’s improvements in the villain department in the 2015 run, is a thorough disappointment. It’s also a little surprising given the talent of guest star Emily Kinney (The Walking Dead), who has proven herself in other shows as an actress far better than the lacklustre material Kinney is given in All Star Team Up.
Meanwhile, Eddie began to struggle a little under the weight of keeping Barry’s identity secret – and he was soon called out by Iris, with the tensions between the two coming to a head at a group dinner scene where pretty much everything that could go wrong, did go wrong. It was good to see the emotional cost of keeping Barry’s secret from Iris explored in some detail, going a little way to rebuffing viewer complaints about how Iris is now the only main character not to know about Barry’s identity – and the suggestion that the secrets do more harm than good shows a degree of self-awareness from the writers. Drawing out the inevitable revelation may be frustrating in the short term, but the fairly nuanced exploration of the cases for and against the traditional ‘we’re keeping them safe!’ excuse indicates that the writers may be playing a long game; building up to a revelation and ensuing conflict that could provide a satisfying payoff to all the secrecy that seems a tad frustrating at the moment.
Unfortunately, in exploring these consequences, The Flash ended up making a few key mistakes with Iris. Barry’s love interest has been an extremely inconsistent character across this season, with potentially interesting subplots for the character built up only to be knocked on the head soon after before they could reach their potential – and All Star Team Up wasn’t exactly the finest hour for the writing of Iris’ character. Iris’ self-centred attitude and aggression throughout the episode ended up making her look very unlikeable indeed – it’s up to the viewer whether or not Iris is justified in her actions (and to the credit of the writers, Iris is given some reason to be aggravated), but it’s concerning that with her big ‘getting together’ moment with Barry presumably getting closer, the character still isn’t likeable enough at times.
Barry wasn’t having a great week either – reeling from the realisation that Wells is the Reverse Flash, Barry found himself with almost no-one to trust. The attempt to produce some suspense regarding whether he’ll entrust Caitlin and Cisco with his discovery doesn’t entirely hit the mark, as we’ve clearly seen already that both characters aren’t working for Wells, and Barry’s dilemma therefore had a fairly obvious conclusion hanging over it. However, the road to that inevitable moment that came at the end of the episode was entertaining, with some red herrings chucked in for good measure (such as Cisco misdirecting Barry by accident) to exacerbate Barry’s worries – and the conclusive moment as Cisco took a bee for Ray (a sentence that I never expected to type) was a neat heroic moment for Cisco.
The stinger of the week saw the season arc take a giant leap forward as Barry finally shared Harrison Wells’ true identity with Caitlin and Cisco – considering the relative lack of major arc plot advancements in All Star Team Up, finishing the episode off with a crucial, game-changing moment prevented the episode from feeling too much like an exercise in wheel spinning. A particularly interesting part of the stinger, however, was the revelation that Cisco has been experiencing some unusual ‘dreams’, which were in fact flashes of that moment back in episode fifteen where Wells chest-punched Cisco in an alternate timeline.
It’s a revelation with both pros and cons; having these flashes suddenly pop up with no prior warning exactly when they would be convenient to get Cisco on board with Barry is an undoubtedly contrived deus ex machina, but having the events of Out of Time (an episode that appeared to have been wiped off the map thanks to Barry’s time travel) crop back up again managed to legitimise The Flash’s strongest episode yet as more than just a ‘what if?’ alternate timeline episode. It’s also notable that while Cisco appeared to believe Barry for obvious reasons, Caitlin seemed just a little more sceptical. This scepticism could end up being a frustrating way to drag out the upcoming confrontation with Wells – but nonetheless, Caitlin’s doubts could mean that the quest to take down Eobard Thawne just got a little more interesting… Next episode, Barry hunts down a shapeshifting metahuman, while Joe and Cisco travel to Starling City for answers to the question: Who is Harrison Wells?
All Star Team Up is something of a mixed bag, with an uninspired story of the week and some weak writing for Iris, yet the episode’s positives such as a fun crossover and a hugely important final scene keep the episode from falling well below par.
Scene of the Episode: Well, Well, Wells – Caitlin and Cisco join the fight against Harrison Wells – but one is slightly more keen than the other…