After showing 50-plus episodes of television it must be hard to do something unexpected. Every show settles into a certain set of rhythms and plot points. On The Flash alone, there have been multiple speedster villains, time-travel do-overs and two untrustworthy versions of Harrison Wells. ‘Monster’ subverts these beats as Team Flash has trust issues it has to sort out… whilst fighting a giant monster.
It’s odd that a group as close-knit as the Barry (Grant Gustin), Cisco (Carlos Valdes), Iris (Candice Patton) and Caitlin (Danielle Panabaker) have so many trust issues. But, then again, The Flash has made a point of grounding its super-heroics by having relatable protagonists. What friendship doesn’t squabble and mistrust each other every now and then? Caitlin is struggling to come to terms with her burgeoning powers and turns to her mother, and, please excuse the pun, their relationship is frosty.Caitlin has always been defined by three things: her prodigious science skills, her dead husband and her ability to remind everyone about her dead husband. She’s not exactly a feminist icon. So any attempt to widen her story is appreciated. Her mother, Dr Tannhauser (Susan Walters) serves to create empathy whilst being a warning of what Caitlin could become if she doesn’t talk about her problems. Dr Tannhauser is cold-hearted, but Caitlin will literally become cold-hearted. The monster-mother metaphor may be obvious and cliché but that doesn’t stop the characters’ tête-à-têtes from being entertaining.
This is down to the performances. Walters does exactly what she was brought in to do, but Panabaker delivers Caitlin’s confusion and fear. Having comparatively little to do in the first two seasons, Panabaker is relishing the opportunity to give Caitlin some depth. She may often be sidelined, but the team dynamic doesn’t work without her. The wedge her new powers are creating between her and the team is going to get more devastating.The writers realised early on that the way the cast clicked and the team dynamic was one of the reasons for the show’s success. This means there is a need for more Tom Cavanagh and a third Harrison Wells. This version, H.R is a bit of a goofball compared to his evil and exasperated predecessors. The fact both Reverse-Flash and Harry were shady makes any version of Wells a suspect and ‘Monster’ plays with this trope. There are moments where Cavanagh makes ominous recordings to himself. Cisco is suspicious and the storyline’s conclusion is a pleasant surprise. H.R and Cavanagh’s performance is a hoot.
It’s just a shame the GIANT MONSTER subplot is relegated to the background. The storyline exists to explore Barry and Julian Albert’s (Tom Felton) relationship. The story and Felton’s performance make Julian less dickish but it feels like a wasted opportunity. It would have been awesome to see the team deal with a monster of Godzilla-size proportions. Instead, there is angst, and whilst the angst has an emotional impact, sometimes a crazy, crowd-pleasing action scene is what is wanted.