After a run of four incredibly fun episodes that have been highly significant from a larger thematic perspective, The Flash hits something of a speed bump in Season 3’s fifth chapter. “Monster” is still reasonably entertaining, and may end up having some long-term importance in terms of what it reveals about three major characters, but it’s a rare episode where a majority of the plot feels like an afterthought.
The Splash Page
One thing that The Flash has done very well over the past four weeks is actual superheroics, showcased in multiple thrilling sequences of the Flash and his fellow speedsters zooming around Central City fighting off freaky Rogues. “Monster,” however, mostly reserves its effects budget for one big image: the key scene where Barry takes a rope and tries to trip up a mutated dinosaur that’s been randomly appearing around town. During this spectacular, eye-popping piece of action, Cisco tells Barry to imitate the destruction of the AT-ATs (pronounced “at-ats”) in The Empire Strikes Back which goes completely over the new Harrison Wells’s head, betraying something important about him to his new team.
But before getting back to the man who calls himself “H.R.,” it’s also important to note that when the Flash does his best snowspeeder impression, the scene exposes the main failing of this episode. To put it bluntly: There’s not much of an A-story here. The title character of “Monster” is meant to be what this hour is primarily about. But as our hero races into action at the end, he finds out that the towering beast is actually a hologram generated by an attention-seeking teen who matters so little to the overall plot that he’s quickly whisked off-screen.
The villain’s main purpose is to provoke the meta-hating Julian Albert into action, and to push the story toward a moment when the snippy CSI almost kills the bad guy. Afterward, a chastened Julian lowers his defenses enough to confess to his partner that he’s always been colossally insecure, thanks in part to growing up in a life of privilege. The big beast in “Monster” ultimately turns out to be Julian’s arrogance and ego. Through skillful weaving, the Flash finally brings it down.
As mentioned, the slippery identity of the Earth-19 Harrison Wells very quickly becomes a big deal in this episode just a week after he made the leap across universes. Cisco snoops around and finds out that H.R. is gathering information about his new home as research for one of his popular adventure novels — because he’s both a “writer” and a “scientist” on his world. In case his nickname didn’t give it away, he’s essentially his dimension’s H.G. Wells.
Even more important is what comes out later, when Barry and Cisco discover that their new super-genius S.T.A.R. partner isn’t actually all that smart at the science stuff. Wells not knowing about The Empire Strikes Back is only one of the big tells. Before long, it becomes obvious that he’s just repeating whatever his cohorts say whenever they start to get too technical.
As it turns out, on H.R.’s Earth he has a partner (unnamed, for now) who’s the Wozniak to his Jobs. He needs someone by his side to flesh out his bright ideas, because he himself doesn’t have the engineering know-how. An idea man isn’t really a position that Team Flash needs to fill, given that they’ve all got sharp minds. But Barry decides to give H.R. a tryout period to see if a spontaneously inspired weirdo who doesn’t really understand science can be useful. If nothing else, this new arrangement should make the next few weeks of intense Flash action a little … well, different.
To Be Continued
The third major character development in “Monster” involves Caitlin Snow, who goes to see her esteemed scientist mother Dr. Carla Tannhauser (played by Susan Walters) for some help with her rapidly manifesting Killer Frost powers. The two share some touching moments, with Caitlin confronting her mom for being so cold to her over the years. Then, out of nowhere, Carla’s assistant Nigel tries to imprison Caitlin to study her meta-human abilities more closely. The situation arises suddenly and resolves just as quickly, almost as though it was originally meant to be a much bigger part of the episode. Instead, that moment feels tossed-off … and will seem even stranger if for some reason Dr. Tannhauser never refers to Nigel again.
The real Caitlin-related cliffhanger in this episode has to do with her mom’s warning about the Killer Frost powers. They’ll begin to irreversibly control Caitlin the more she uses them. In response to that news, Caitlin lashes out with a freeze blast at a computer. It looks like this is going to be a problem for Team Flash fairly soon.
- Okay, here’s a wild theory — and possibly a spoiler if it turns out to be true, so consider yourself warned. What if H.R. is lying about his earlier lie? What if he’s neither a writer nor a scientist, but is instead another of the Flash’s major Rogues, similar to the way the Season 1 Harrison Wells turned out to be Reverse-Flash? Who could he be? One possibility: the 64th century magician Abra Kadabra. Here are the clues: The drumsticks H.R. fiddles with throughout the episode and his mini-recorder both resemble magic wands. Also, at one point he boasts about how he and his Earth’s Flash helped win World War M, which recalls the “M-Metal” that powers Citizen Abra’s time machine in the comics. (Also, H.G. Wells wrote The Time Machine. Just saying.) Granted, that’s all a bit of a reach. But it could be something to keep an eye on in the weeks ahead.
- Among the quirks of Earth-19: All the coffee was wiped out by blight, the people say “sumptuous day” and “until next communion” instead of “good morning” and “see you later,” and while both Earths produced an Alfred Hitchcock, H.R.’s version was responsible for the questionable classic Murder on the Titanic.
- Another example of how awesome Iris West has been this season: During the first monster attack, Barry finds her out on the street, trying to help out passengers trapped on a bus. She tells her boyfriend that she doesn’t need super-speed or a fancy costume to act like a hero. Damn straight.