The Flash: 313 “Attack on Gorilla City” Review
Reviewed by Louis Rabinowitz.
The Flash has cooked up several recurring foes in the past, but none have been quite like Gorilla Grodd. Back at the start of the series, where Grodd was nothing more than an Easter Egg name on a broken cage, it hardly seemed likely that The Flash would ever tackle the difficult task of bringing such an unusual and expensive villain to life on its budget. Two Grodd episodes later, and here we are in season three, heading into a two-parter subtitled Gorilla City. Things changed fast.
Unlike last year’s two-episode trip to Earth-2, which was frontloaded with crowd-pleasing cameos and fan-service before the second episode got down to the legwork of more complex plotting, Attack on Gorilla City keeps many of its cards for the concluding half. The entire episode is predicated on an attempt to stop a gorilla attack on Central City, and that attack is only coming next week. But there’s still plenty to enjoy in this episode, which makes sure to pack in several crowd-pleasing moments and visuals including a central fight scene that counts among one of the most ambitious set-pieces of the entire series, all the while playing the completely ridiculous concept of a city of hyper-intelligent apes entirely straight. Attack on Gorilla City might not have been the pedal to the metal blockbuster some were expecting, but it still possesses that keen affinity for the silliest parts of the source material that’s distinguished The Flash’s most ambitious episodes. Grodd has always been an effectively threatening villain for Barry because of the sheer extent of his powers and the pure rage against humanity that fuels him, and Attack on Gorilla City manages to meaningfully evolve his character. The entire plot of the episode hinges on his increased intelligence and strategic knowhow in using Barry in his power play to take control of the city, and what began in past episodes as anger towards mankind has now become an irrational fury that’s translating itself into blunt action in order to convert the world in his image. With the reversed fortunes of the heroes locked in cages and Grodd lording over them, Attack on Gorilla City portrays Grodd the super-villain fuelled by bloodthirsty desire for retribution as opposed to the unknown factor or the tragic antagonist, and it’s fun to see him presented in this more powerful and aggressive light.
One of the central challenges in depicting Gorilla City and its populace is The Flash’s low effects budget, which makes it hard for the show to render complicated characters or ambitious CGI environments. It’s a huge step up in visual ambition from Grodd’s previous episodes, which still took pains to keep the gorilla in the shadows as much as possible. With the considerable barriers in mind, however, this was a pretty good stab at depicting the city of the apes, even if it’s a little credulity-straining to have the heroes arrive in some cold pine forests that look like British Columbia before travelling to the exotic city that lies right next door. Attack on Gorilla City makes its money shots – a swoop through a temple, a rotating shot around a packed colosseum – count, and the relative sparsity of full-on glimpses of the city makes its grandeur all the more impressive when we do see it represented.
The same goes for the presentation of the actual gorillas, which The Flash often gets around by having Grodd and Solovar speak through the characters we know. Besides the obvious benefit of cutting down on shots of the expensive CGI creations, it’s a good way to communicate the insidious power that the gorillas hold in their ability to instantly strip the free will of those around them and shape them into drones, and it allows Tom Cavanagh and Carlos Valdes to play an unrepentantly evil antagonist for a short period of time (it’s comforting territory for Cavanagh, of course). It’s easy to complain that there wasn’t enough of the city or the gorillas, but what Attack on Gorilla City presents is a resourceful and shrewd usage of CGI that takes advantage of every loophole in the book while ensuring that the big effects shots are used as efficiently as possible.
When Attack on Gorilla City does decide to take the kid gloves off, it’s all the more exciting. The centrepiece of the episode, and doubtless the source of most of the visual effects budget, is the duel between Barry and Solovar, and it certainly delivers on the epic significance that the episode ascribes to it. Does it look genuinely realistic? Of course not – the green screen of the wider stadium isn’t credible for a moment. It does, however, tick exactly the boxes you’d want for an effects-driven set-piece like this – a fluid, propulsive pace that keeps a heightened sense of peril up as Barry is constantly driven back by Solovar’s responses to his attacks, and a keen focus on big, splashy money shots such as Barry’s knockout punch or Solovar batting him away with a shield. It’s impressive spectacle that’s compressed and tightened to within an inch of its life, hitting the necessary beats rapidly, cramming the impressive moments closely together, and then wrapping it up rather than outstaying its welcome by drawing attention to the artificiality of the CGI. Attack on Gorilla City understands the power of delayed gratification, delivering the four-colour silliness that we’d hope for and expect from an episode that travels to Gorilla City after a significant amount of time to build up the anticipation of such spectacle, showing again how the episode is forced into some good storytelling habits out of pure necessity. If next week’s episode builds on this as the trailers have hinted, then we’re in for a treat.
In amidst it all, Attack on Gorilla City does its best at creating a throughline that’s relevant to the main story arc as Barry faces an opportunity to override his own morality in exchange for crossing another future event off the board. The idea that murder is so abhorrent to Barry does feel a little contrived – like every other DC show on the CW, The Flash has always had a hazy relationship with the morality of its hero on lethal force, as we’ve seen Barry kill villains without much guilt in the past. But within the confines of the episode, it’s a good way to reassert the optimism and resourcefulness that defines Barry Allen’s character in the face of adversity. The odds are believably stacked against the entire team in Gorilla City, so their consideration of desperate options such as killing Cisco and allowing Killer Frost to be let loose are, at least in that moment, emotionally realistic options to take, but in a sign of how The Flash has found sight of itself again, it doesn’t plumb the darkness of those ideas for long. Instead, it reasserts the ability of these characters, especially Barry, to persevere and to work out a way out of their problems, with their escape from Earth-2 feeling all the more satisfying after The Flash threatened to tip into dark territory after a successful run of episodes that have found success on the lighter side. This isn’t the most thematically weighty of episodes by any means – it’s hard to consider mature aspects of the human condition in the face of giant psychic gorillas – but it serves its purpose well both as a fun escape from the claustrophobic formula and as a stress test that proves the mettle of Barry and Team Flash their continuing quest to kill Iris.
Before diving into the episode’s main subplot, it’s worth highlighting the stealth MVP of the episode, which is Tom Cavanagh. He’s played so many characters that it’s easy to take his chameleonic ability to carve out distinctive personas for granted, but Attack on Gorilla City makes it clear just how valuable his talents are to The Flash on an ongoing basis. For one, he makes for a pretty imposing quasi-villain as the main mouthpiece of Grodd and Solovar’s threats to the team, growling away threats in a cadence that seems utterly alien despite the familiarity of the face. For the first time since HR’s introduction, moreover, we get to see two versions of Harrison Wells in the same episode, and the sheer disparity of their characterisation, from HR’s bubbly optimism and openness to Harry’s comic gruffness is thrown into light. It’s never possible to believe for the second that Cavanagh is playing the same person, which creates a fun and unusual dynamic with HR and Jesse that’s fatherly in a deeply weird way. It’d be a dark day indeed for The Flash if the never-ending conveyor belt of Tom Cavanagh characters stopped running, and Attack on Gorilla City is just one more showcase of why exactly that is.
Meanwhile, on Earth-1, Attack on Gorilla City dives back into the unfinished business of Jesse and Wally’s relationship, and the results are somewhat scattered. Violett Beane and Keiynan Lonsdale work well together, with the nervous, tentative chemistry of two people who don’t quite understand their feelings for one another, but the show’s intent is a little ambitious. Simply put, Attack on Gorilla City tells a story of their relationship that The Flash hasn’t earned the right to tell yet, because it hasn’t had the time to sufficiently develop the reasons behind their attraction. They’re attracted to each other because they’re young, and because the show said so, and there’s not a lot more behind it. Therefore, the idea that they feel strongly enough about each other for Jesse to consider moving Earths is hard to really believe, indicating a relationship that this show just hasn’t laid the groundwork for.
Furthermore, the episode struggles to give Jesse her own individual voice. Wally’s point of view is well-established and fits his characterisation, but Jesse feels opaque throughout, giving only the opinions necessary to spark conflict with Wally before changing her mind after a pep talk with HR. Her only inner life lies with her father as far as we know, and there’s absolutely no development of the life she could be leaving behind beyond that one relationship, such as her friends, or her established role as Earth-2’s resident speedster hero. Her decision, and her agony over it, therefore feels somewhat lacking weight because we don’t have an idea of what she’s actually sacrificing – no sense of loss is tangible to us as viewers. Wally and Jesse are refreshing in some ways as a fumbling, smaller-scale pairing that lacks the operatic star-crossed lovers weight of Barry and Iris, but The Flash is rushing through their relationship without making its big developments credible and substantiated in character development, which is unfortunately wasting a lot of potential.
Surprisingly for a two-parter, Attack on Gorilla City seems to end at peace, with the threat of Grodd safely put to bed. That’s before the stinger, however, when Grodd’s Plan B is revealed – mind controlling the bounty hunter Gypsy that we met two episodes back to open a breach for what looks like a reasonably massive army. It’s a tantalising set-up for what looks to be an exciting and action-packed conclusion to the Gorilla City arc as the fight moves to the much cheaper Earth-1, and it seems as if we’ll finally get the Flash/Kid Flash/Jesse Quick team-up that this season has been building to, piecemeal, for quite some time. The threat of an entire army of apes would seem to be an ambitious one for this show to pull off credibly, but The Flash has surprised us before. Who, in season one, expected this show to feature the Flash battling Solovar in a gorilla-packed stadium?
Attack on Gorilla City is surprisingly restrained in parts as it holds back plenty for next week’s conclusion, and it suffers from a weak emotional subplot with Wally and Jesse. But with a satisfying depiction of Gorilla City, some genuinely impressive and impactful CGI and an engaging test of Team Flash’s ability to survive under pressure, there was still plenty of bang for buck.