The Flash: 121 “Grodd Lives” Review
Reviewed by Louis Rabinowitz.
Back in The Flash, when Harrison Wells appeared to be a friendly, altruistic scientist and the only sighting of the Reverse Flash had been a yellow blur, the camera briefly flicked past the sight of an empty cage with its bars twisted out of shape, bearing the name ‘Grodd’. Since then, the infamous ape villain has lurking in the shadows – teased, and seen briefly back in Crazy for You and Fallout, but never playing a major part in events…
With the relaunched Planet of the Apes franchise setting a high watermark for ape CG, and the CW’s other attempt at a gorilla, in season two of The 100 a brief, unexplained and mildly hilarious failure, it’d be hard to blame The Flash’s writers for holding back until at least season two on a full appearance for Grodd. Thankfully, The Flash isn’t a show that holds back on things for too long – and Grodd firmly entered the spotlight in this week’s episode; and considering the tough limitations of a CW budget that left Grodd in the shadows for most of the episode, The Flash’s first proper take on Grodd was a fairly resounding success. The gorilla’s limited appearances were more of a boon than a hindrance, framing Grodd as if he was an elusive creature from a horror movie and helping to considerably ramp up the tension of the Grodd hunting scenes in the sewer. It might have been a tad disappointing that Grodd only appeared for the first time halfway through the episode, but the clever way that Grodd Lives uses its limitations in a successful, tense manner helps compensate for the relative lack of actual screen-time for Grodd.
And thanks to some relatively solid (if quite clearly limited) CG work, Grodd’s actual on-screen appearances worked equally well, with the character’s first scene with Joe anchored by a fantastic display of pure, unadulterated terror from Jesse L Martin that really helped sell Grodd as an a terrifyingly imposing presence (who, it’s worth noting, hates bananas). It’s notable that Grodd Lives took great lengths to display Grodd’s utter superiority against Barry, with old, previously plot devices like Barry’s speed punches, a quickly cooked up piece of tech from the Star Labs team and the supersonic punch from earlier in the season completely failing to work against Grodd, and Grodd’s psychic attacks almost flooring Barry.
The gorilla, just like Captain Cold in his first appearance, even got away scot-free at the end of the episode with his goals accomplished, showing how Barry was completely unable to defeat Grodd (even having to rely on the old ‘inexplicably frequent subway trains’ trick to disable Grodd). In many ways, this does show how unsustainable Grodd would be a season’s Big Bad, as there’s no realistic way Barry can beat him, but it’s intriguing to see Barry completely out of his depth in a way that we haven’t really seen him since his first encounter with the Reverse Flash, and great to see Grodd’s powers fully done justice to in his first appearance by totally outclassing Barry. With more Grodd doubtless on the way in season two, Grodd Lives was an impressive introduction to the telepathic gorilla.
Grodd Lives wasn’t all Grodd, though, with plenty of time devoted to the considerable emotional fallout of Iris’ discovery of Barry’s secret last week. The writing of Iris’ character has often been irritating, and there are elements of that frustration in Grodd Lives, but placing Iris in the loop yields some of the best material the character has had all season. The ever-growing legion of people knowing Barry’s secret while Iris remained oblivious was getting kind of ridiculous, with a fairly flimsy excuse justifying it all. Therefore, it was somewhat cathartic to see Iris finally confront and tear down the web of secrets Barry and Joe had spun, with her furious reaction feeling entirely justified and fairly satisfying to watch as secret after secret (it’s honestly quite surprising to see the sheer amount of secrets Joe and Barry were actually keeping laid out) tumbled out as if they were everyday facts.
Grodd Lives also makes the best case yet for the actual purpose of Iris’ character beyond love interest and participant of the CW-mandated love triangle, by positioning her as the ‘heart’ of sorts behind Barry’s crime-fighting quest. It’s Iris’ voice that gives Barry strength to snap out of Grodd’s psychic attack (in a moment that was as clichéd and cheesy as you’d expect from a scene of that type, but it worked as a way to let the Iris plot dovetail into Grodd), and Iris who forms the reasoning behind most of Joe’s decisions, so while it’s not apparently clear what Iris brings to Team Flash exactly, the character finally feels fully relevant to the show, and not just an extraneous, slightly dull superhero love interest.
As for actual progress on the Reverse Flash plot, which exploded last week, Grodd Lives didn’t deliver much. The scenes with Wells and Eddie were enjoyable enough, with Tom Cavanagh clearly relishing the chance to play Wells as a smirking villain with an ego that appears to be the size of a double-decker bus. I said last week that Eddie certainly looked as if he didn’t have an evil bone in his body, and based on what we saw in Grodd Lives, that statement might actually have been a tad premature, with the seeds sown here for a potential villainous turn now Eddie’s aware that he’s destined for failure. In an episode with relatively few big revelations, seeing Wells casually tear Eddie’s life apart was a highlight of the episode, completely upending the life of a character who has been a tad uninteresting because of his stability.
Almost all of Grodd Lives works, yet it’s an episode that would likely have been even more effective if it had been placed as a purely standalone episode earlier in the season. As the antepenultimate episode in the season, and following on from a major game-changer that saw the arc plot speed (sorry, pun not intended) forward, Grodd Lives was disappointingly standalone, seeing Wells’ plan almost stall out (as for actual advancements in the Reverse Flash arc, Wells builds a key… and that’s pretty much it, excluding the stinger) and the only serialised development given to Iris; a plot that works on its own, but really should have happened earlier in the season. Things will almost certainly pick up again this week, but the erratic, stop-start pacing of the season’s story arc is beginning to become noticeable, and it’s questionable if it was wise for The Flash to take such a detour so close to the season finale
There’s just two episodes left now – and with Wells turning the particle accelerator back on in the stinger (it’s a pretty amusing end note to see that Wells was hiding in the same building as Barry all episode), things are finally beginning to come to a head. And in next week’s penultimate episode, almost everyone comes to the party – metahumans, Captain Cold, and the heroic Amell duo of Arrow and Firestorm all make appearances in Rogue Air!
Grodd Lives is too standalone for an episode so late in the season, but with a great take on a villain that appeared to be a bit of a challenge to pull off, and material with Iris that actually works, it’s a pretty damn good standalone episode.
Scene of the Episode: For the Love of Grodd – Barry takes on Gorilla Grodd, and eventually wins with the help of a subway train – or does he?