The Flash: 207 “Gorilla Warfare” Review
Reviewed by Louis Rabinowitz.
With Barry still feeling the bruises after last week’s brutal beating at the hands of Zoom, and with the double-whammy of the Arrow/Legends of Tomorrow crossover extravaganza and the mid-season finale on the way, now was the ideal time for The Flash to settle down and deliver a quiet breather episode. In many ways, Gorilla Warfare was a bit of a breather from the crazy antics of the last couple of episodes… but only in parts. There was still the giant telepathic gorilla running around, after all.
For most of Gorilla Warfare, Barry was out of actions, which lead to some fun tinkering with the traditional formula. The Flash has always put a generous emphasis on Barry’s supportive team dynamic, and it was great to see characters like Cisco and Wells step into the fray with Barry on the comms in a reverse of the usual status quo. Standalone villain episodes can often fall victim to a tedious set formula, so the unusual decision to put entirely de-powered characters in the field initially paid off really well, forcing The Flash to dip into a different bag of tricks than normal. Plus, we saw Wells suited up in the old Wells’ Reverse Flash outfit, which allowed Tom Cavanagh to showcase his considerable talents further by performing an approximation of Earth-1 Wells that was almost accurate, yet felt just off enough to not feel like an exact copy. The complicated mechanics of alternate universes gave Cavanagh a tough task this week, but he continues to display why he’s perhaps the show’s strongest actor on a week-by-week basis by passing whatever test The Flash throws at him.
Onto Grodd, then, whose debut last year was a triumph of impressive CGI and strong direction yet suffered from poor timing, with Grodd’s story impeding upon the Reverse Flash arc’s progress. Wisely, Gorilla Warfare doesn’t try and rehash last season’s episode, instead opting to head into more nuanced and surprising areas with the character. If Grodd Lives focused mainly on his power, then Gorilla Warfare flips the script to focus on the gorilla’s intelligence and shreds of empathy. Bizarrely for a massive gorilla, Grodd is slowly becoming quite a complex character, and Gorilla Warfare does a great job of fleshing out the gorilla’s more sympathetic side by giving him a motivation that’s less evil and more pitiful; his loneliness and desire for more like him feels like a natural progression from last season, which depicted him in his early days as a lone powerhouse. Since then, Grodd has really evolved both physically (the CGI is sparing as you’d expect, but still impressive on the CW’s shoestring budget despite not quite reaching standards of the terrific King Shark from earlier this season) and emotionally, and Gorilla Warfare takes advantage of that to deliver a different, fresh take on Grodd that generally retains his fearsomeness and imposing physicality. Notably, Barry still doesn’t physically take him down, so Gorilla Warfare manages to avoid undercutting the fearsome depiction of Grodd last season as one of the few villains Barry could defeat.
It’s also worth talking about the note Gorilla Warfare leaves Grodd on. The Flash has excelled at providing moments of comic book absurdity no-one thought would ever be portrayed in live action on a continuous basis (see: the Reverse Flash’s costume ring, Grodd in the first place, King Shark), and Gorilla Warfare continues that tradition by depicting Gorilla City for the very first time on screen. It’s at a budget-friendly distance, and I’m not expecting any future episodes to delve into the city much at all, but once again The Flash has to be commended for working in barmy fan-pleasing nods to the comics in ways that feel entirely natural to the story. It also gives the chance for Grodd to really develop and evolve further among his kind while waiting for an inevitable third appearance, ensuring that one of The Flash’s best villains continues to progress and chance between every appearance. Let’s just hope he doesn’t bring any more of his kind through the breach when he comes back…
Outside from Grodd, things were a little patchier, though not without merit. Barry’s latest bout of self-doubt was necessary for the story, and ensured that Zoom’s first appearance had genuine emotional repercussions, but it’s hard not to feel that The Flash was treading well-worn ground here. Indeed, last year’s episode seven saw Barry lose his powers thanks to a psychosomatic condition caused by his lack of self-belief, and it didn’t play out that differently to how it does this episode. It’s well-acted by Grant Gustin, but The Flash is going to have to innovate more if it wishes to explore Barry’s doubts in a more original and compelling manner in the future. Barry and Patty’s relationship, unfortunately, is also showing signs of strain as a storyline. There’s signs that Patty will figure it all out sooner than Iris did, but Barry’s secret keeping is a weirdly retrograde step in a season that’s done a commendable job of cutting heavily back on plots fuelled by secret keeping. Time will tell to see how this pans out, but keeping Patty in the dark really isn’t the best use of this promising character.
Henry’s appearance, tied to the self-doubt story, is a general success. John Wesley Shipp has always fit the role like a glove, and he’s as warm a presence this episode as ever. Barry’s heart-to-hearts with Henry have always been an emotional highlight, and their chat here benefits from the fact that Henry feels like a character with a richer back-story here. Freed from prison, he’s no longer pigeon-holed into one driving arc plot (his wrongful accusation), so there’s a freshness to Barry and Henry’s scenes that shows an upside of Henry’s weirdly handled release from prison. However, Gorilla Warfare does hit one wrong note with Henry, and that’s his final bit of motivation to Barry as he prepares to take down Grodd. It’s a strange, unusual example of simplistic and lazy writing that leaves a key emotional moment feeling a little flat, with Henry’s words feeling generic and meaningless, cribbed from the several other pep talks that people have given to Barry as he battles a villain. As iffy as I was, and still am, on Henry’s sudden departure in the premiere, Gorilla Warfare does, overall, make a good case for Henry as a recurring character who pops up for a bit of motivation when the plot requires it. Hopefully The Flash will work out a way to have him around for a couple of episodes on end, as Shipp is always a stalwart.
Cisco’s storyline, meanwhile, is slight but does its job well enough. Kendra doesn’t feel like a particularly well-defined character, but all The Flash needed to do here was to hint further at her destiny as Hawkgirl that’ll reach its fruition in the crossover. This plotline, at least, is giving Cisco a little more to do rather than just help out and deal with his new powers, and should hopefully lead to Cisco having a more active role in the crossover (because Cisco in a crossover means more of his reactions to all the crazy stuff going on, and that can only be a good thing). At the very least, it’s unobtrusive set-up, and takes enough of a backseat that The Flash’s own plots can come to the fore – and with the amount of set-up we’ve had on The Flash and Arrow these seasons, some low-key set-up is thoroughly welcome.
Gorilla Warfare has its flaws, but it bridges the gap between Zoom and the crossover in style, providing an entertaining enough story while bringing the ongoing plotlines to a place where the pause button can be pressed briefly without slowing their momentum. There’s a hell of a lot to look forward to when it returns with the first slice of this year’s Arrow crossover, which packs in Vandal Savage and origin stories for Hawkgirl and Hawkman alongside all the team-up action you’d expect. So, of course The Flash is taking a week off next week…