Subplots are brought to the fore in “Shade,” an episode so preoccupied with moving the season’s various pieces into place, it barely has time for the villain that gives it its title. That’s not really a problem, since Shade quite literally doesn’t amount to much; he’s a metahuman who is barely there, and that’s exactly how the creative team treats him. He appears twice in the episode: once to choke a stockbroker to death and the second time to distract Team Flash while Doctor Alchemy works his spell on Wally. He is defeated by car headlights. Someday, years from now, after this series ends its run, look for one of those clickbait “Every Flash Villain Ranked” lists. If Shade’s not in the bottom three, I’ll eat Joe’s newsboy cap.
With that out of the way, we’re left with an episode that gets to the heart of the dysfunctional Team Flash dynamic, whether that was the intent or not. There’s a contradiction that plays out over and over again on the show, and it was front and center tonight. The various members of the team are constantly giving and receiving pep talks, insisting that they believe in each other, and yet at the same time, they’re always keeping secrets from each other. And they never seem to learn! It’s kind of maddening at times.
Of course it was Barry who set all this in motion (for this season, at least, although the problem goes back further than that) when he created and then abandoned the Flashpoint timeline. He made the decision not to tell anyone what their lives were like in the original time stream, a choice that was bound to backfire sooner than later. Granted, it was a decision made at the request of the rest of the team, but Barry should know by now that secrets never stay hidden long with this bunch, and when they eventually come out, it’s trouble and hurt feelings all over again.
It’s double trouble this week as Wally and Caitlin each contend with the onset of new powers in different ways. Wally is having dreams about his life as Kid Flash—dreams that only Barry knows are actually visions of his life as it was in Flashpoint. Wally desperately wants to be a hero, but Joe fears he won’t be able to do that if he gets his powers from Alchemy rather than earning them the good old fashioned way by being hit with a dark matter blast. Wally’s position is that he actually was hit by a dark matter blast, and should be trusted just as much as Barry. Somehow, though, HR emerges as the voice of reason by suggesting Wally be locked up in the Pipeline until further notice, and Wally goes along with it.
Caitlin, as we know from her visit to her mother last time, is terrified of her new quick-freeze abilities. She finally confides in Cisco, hoping he can glimpse a future in which she doesn’t turn evil, but alas, his vision reveals a Vibe vs. Killer Frost scenario. Of course, he doesn’t tell her right away, because these people never do that, but eventually she gets the truth out of him and starts making plans to leave town. One thing that never occurs to either of them: What if Killer Frost wasn’t the villain in that vision and Vibe was?
That’s a riddle for another time as the hour concludes with a showdown between Team Flash and Alchemy once Wally has led them to his lair. Just as it appears they have the drop on him, another Big Bad Speedster arrives to throw a monkey wrench in the works. It’s Savitar, the God of Speed, and his appearance gives Alchemy the chance to urge Wally to pick up what I presume to be the Philosopher’s Stone in order to claim his powers. Instead he’s zipped up into a big cocoon, while the Flash struggles to free himself from Savitar’s grip. It’s meant as a cliffhanger, but it’s hard to shake the feeling we’re just running in circles.
- Early in the episode, Julian is back to being his usual snotty self. Later on, though, when the shit is hitting the fan, Julian is nowhere to be found. How mysterious. At this point, revealing that he’s Doctor Alchemy would be way too obvious, so there must be something else going on here.
- A screening of The Shining in the park? Don’t get me wrong, I’d definitely be up for it, but it’s not exactly family fun night.
- “You have sentient gorillas on your Earth?” “Oh, yes. Many!” I hope there’s a visit to Earth-19 on tap at some point. It sounds like a wild place.
- HR’s face-swapping device solves one problem elegantly (we still see him as Tom Cavanagh, but he’s free to move about the outside world with HR’s ex-partner’s face), but his plan to turn STAR Labs into a museum strikes me as ill-considered.
- Iris telling Barry it’s hard being a bystander and that she feels like her contribution is limited…well, it plays like the writers hanging a lantern on a problem they still haven’t solved.