Last season, the MVP was Jesse L. Martin. His “dad cop” Joe West was the beating heart of the season, delivering fatherly advice and generally being a good guy. Joe’s character and Martin’s performance has made the lack of material this season has presented him with disappointing. Well, ‘Shade’ moves him back and his family problems to the forefront. Martin, Candice Patton and Keiynan Lonsdale are so at ease with their characters they guide us through a disappointing episode.
A lot of the problems spawn from Wally and his ambition to become a speedster. It’s understandable why Wally wants powers. He wants to help people, but his desire to have powers to do it clashes with the show’s message that you don’t have to have superpowers to be heroic. Whilst previous episodes have signposted Wally’s desires hidden, the plot of ‘Shade’ means they’re fully exposed as Dr Alchemy is coming for him.
Alchemy’s decision to recruit Wally allows for some forced bickering between members of Team Flash. The cast dynamic is so good, their arguments don’t have stakes. Minutes after they finish fighting, they’re best buds again. It’s hard to believe the characters will fall out forever, even if the cast tries hard to sell it.
No one tries harder than Danielle Panabaker. Realising her powers are becoming too hard to control, Caitlin confides in Cisco (Carlos Valdes). The fact that the characters confided with each other is refreshing for The Flash. They usually keep secrets from one another. Too often does the show use secrets as a shortcut for conflict, so the writers make a smart decision. Removing the secret will allow them to explore new conflicts.But, the conflict between Joe and Wally creates the episode’s spine. Joe wants Wally to stay out of danger, to not become super. The characters have gone through this before, but never to this extent. Both Lonsdale and Martin are able to show the complexities of this father-son relationship. Unfortunately, the show doesn’t know how to handle them. The acting is fine, the writing is repetitive.
Fortunately, the writers make some leeway with the other West. Iris (Candice Patton) shows her worth and is willing to do what is necessary however painful it is. In a nice meta moment, she acknowledges that she doesn’t offer much to the team. She’s not a scientist and she’s not a hero. However, acknowledging an error does not correct it. Fortunately, Barry’s insistence that there is no Flash without her is a nice step in furthering their relationship.
As for the Flash himself, he’s just sort of there. Gustin isn’t required to do much but his quick bonding session with Wally, and his admittance that he is always scared when fighting an opponent, has some stinging pathos.
Whilst having an episode that explores character relationships is important, it comes at the wrong point. The plot with Alchemy and Wally is too important, and the way it is tied to the villain of the week is disappointing. Shade is a non-starter. He is easily defeated and shoehorned into a lacklustre episode.