The Flash took last Tuesday off because of election day, depriving a traumatized America of TV’s liveliest superhero series at a time when even a mediocre episode would’ve been welcome. This week, the show returns with “Shade,” which moves briskly ahead with this season’s major storylines while also introducing two fan-favorite comic book villains. Though not as giddily entertaining as some of this year’s peak hours, this Flash was still filled with plenty of geek-friendly derring-do. Even at its darkest, it was more fun than what was on television one week ago.

The Splash Page

About halfway through “Shade,” Caitlin asks Cisco for a favor. After swiping her friend’s power-dampening handcuffs to quell her growing Killer Frost abilities, she finally comes clean and admits that she’s been surreptitiously freeze-y for months. She asks Cisco to use his Vibe abilities to peek into her future and see if she’s destined to turn evil, like her Earth-2 counterpart. That’s what leads to this episode’s literally chilling central image: a bleak vision of things to come, with a fully costumed and fully malicious Killer Frost battling Vibe in some barren landscape.

Cisco’s vision is a big deal for a couple of reasons. Primarily, it presents a problem for the S.T.A.R. team, which now has a potentially useful superhero on their side that they have to try and “cure,” lest they someday end up at war against one of their best friends. But the deeper point of the Killer Frost scenes — that some outcomes are inevitable — also ties into another of this unusually plot-packed episode’s major storyline, involving Wally West’s recruitment by Dr. Alchemy to become Kid Flash. As soon as Wally starts having dreams of becoming a speedster, Barry and Joe warn him not to be seduced by Alchemy’s promises by confessing that in the Flashpoint reality, gaining powers ultimately led to Kid Flash’s grave wounding. Wally’s response? “That’s that me, not this me.”

So there’s the real question raised by “Shade” … and, for those who want to extrapolate, raised by everything Barry’s done since he started hopping across dimensions and monkeying with timelines. Are there some things about the Flash’s reality that are immutable? Must Killer Frost always be a killer? Will Kid Flash always race headlong into his own demise? And even if these futures could be changed, is it worth the risk to find out? That’s what The Flash seems to be asking over and over this season: Can destiny ever be bent without breaking?

Panel-By-Panel

All that talk above about Killer Frost, Kid Flash, and cruel fate completely fails to mention the Shade … who’s, y’know, the actual villain of the week who gives this episode its name. And that’s a shame, because the Shade is DC Comics royalty. He’s a Golden Age and Modern Age bad guy who fought the original Jay Garrick version of the Flash in the ‘40s and later became a complexly amoral figure in one of the best superhero comics series of the ‘90s: Starman.

This TV take on the character works just fine visually, capturing the ominousness of a dark shadow rising, taking corporeal form, and squeezing the life out of his victims. But while the two big action scenes with the Shade are plenty exciting — especially the second one, with the Flash and Cisco flooding an outdoor park with light to neutralize him — once Barry finally subdues the creep, his part in the story is, disappointingly, pretty much over. We never learn his secret identity, what he was after, or anything else pertinent. The drama with Kid Flash and Dr. Alchemy ends up taking precedence … which is fine. But here’s hoping the show hasn’t seen the last of this Rogue, who’s really meant to be a hall-of-famer.

To Be Continued

The big reason why Wally’s troubles matter more than the Shade’s is that he ends up pushing this season’s arc to its next major crisis. With Dr. Alchemy luring him to embrace his alternate-reality self and become Kid Flash, Wally volunteers to follow that inner voice and lead the Flash and the CCPD to their naggingly elusive nemesis. But just when it looks like the good guys have finally got their man (or whatever Alchemy is), Wally grabs the villain’s power-gem and changes into another of the “husks” that keeps popping up all over town, while Barry suddenly sees another speedster zooming around the room and flinging cops about. This new being — all shiny, beefed-up, and gnarled — grabs the Flash and announces its name as “Savitar,” which is another one that the comic book’s fans know well. And without giving too much away … well, let’s just say that the team is in big trouble.

Flash Facts

  • So what’s the latest on H.R. Wells? He continues to be an annoyance to Cisco and Caitlin, primarily by trying too hard to be helpful. (This week, he proposes that S.T.A.R. Labs cover up its Flash-supporting activities by reopening as a museum.) And he continues to fiddle with Earth-19 technology in such a way that the wild “H.R. is actually evil magician and erstwhile Flash comics rogue Abra Kadabra” theory remains viable. Case-in-point: In “Shade” he uses another magic wand-like device to change his appearance so that to everyone but the team (and the home viewer), he’ll resemble his old partner Randolph Morgan. Presto change-o!
  • Other fun facts about Earth-19: Their money looks like stone triangles, and when asked if they have sentient gorillas like Earth-1’s Grodd, H.R. laughs, “Oh yeah … many.” (Gorilla City, anyone?)
  • Of all the annoying things H.R. does this week, perhaps the worst is monopolizing Cecile’s time during the “movie in the park” date that Joe finally asks her to go on with him.
  • Movie buffs also had to be a little irked that the Shade showed up in the park just when the citizens of Central City were getting ready to watch The Shining. If the show ever does have a scene with the Shade being interrogated by the CCPD, the cops’ first question should be, “Dude, What do you have against Stanley Kubrick?”
  • Barry asks Julian to join the gang at The Shining, but his CSI partner declines. Apparently their bonding session last week wasn’t enough to turn them into friends.
  • A nice scene between Barry and Iris happens as the latter admits that she sympathizes with Wally’s desire to be a superhero because, as she says, “It’s hard being a bystander.” Iris West (and Candace Patton’s performance as well) has been a real standout this season.
  • During the recap off what Dr. Alchemy has done in Central City so far, Joe tallies up the number of husks he’s left and the Alchemy-created Rogues who remain unaccounted for. There are still three who haven’t made their presence known. Is it too late to put in a request for Rag Doll?