Jessica Camacho, Tom Cavanagh/The CW

The death sentence hanging over Iris West’s head could very easily render the back half of season three into another extended exercise in dark, gloomy superheroics of the sort that made much of last season such a drag. So maybe it’s a hopeful sign that, despite the life-or-death stakes of this week’s outing (titled, appropriately enough, “Dead Or Alive”), it’s a relatively lighthearted, angst-free hour with Team Flash. That’s probably because it largely revolves around HR, who is almost completely devoid of the brooding, temperamental qualities that often characterized his predecessors in Harrison Wells-dom.

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That’s not to say this Wells is completely lacking in depth, despite his ample comic relief value. As the episode opens, it is HR who supplies the narration, placing himself at the heroic center of Team Flash’s exploits as both man of science and man of action (equipped with a really big vortex cannon). As it turns out, this spin on his Earth-1 adventures isn’t for his amusement alone; he’s been beaming these accounts of his exploits back home to Earth-19. That’s a no-no, because inter-dimensional travel is strictly forbidden on his earth due to an earlier invasion from yet another parallel planet. A collector is sent to retrieve him and bring him back to face his punishment, which is death.

That collector is Gyspy (Jessica Camacho of Sleepy Hollow and the short-lived Last Resort), who happens to possess the same Vibe powers as Cisco. She also happens to be Cisco’s type (hot and deadly), which means he can’t stop asking her out and trying to flirt with her no matter how badly she’s kicking his ass at the time. When it turns out that the only way to save Wells is through trial by combat, Cisco beats Barry to volunteering for the job. (The most surprising part of this is that Cisco references Lord Of The Rings instead of Game Of Thrones.) He has 24 hours to prepare for their battle to the death.

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While this is going on, the B-story involves Iris reminding Barry (and us) that she’s a journalist, remember? If we do remember, it’s no thanks to the writing staff, who have found fewer ways to work Iris’ profession into the show ever since she started hanging out with the gang at STAR Labs. They hang a lantern on this failing by giving Iris a speech about not wanting to be seen only as a girlfriend, sister, daughter, and so on, but that only serves to draw attention to the fact that they’ve dropped the ball in giving Iris a life of her own.

Now that her life is in danger, the creative team tries to make up for lost time by giving her a big scoop on an arms dealing operation. Better late than never, and it does provide a nice opportunity for her and Wally to work together, but this plot mostly exists to show us that knowledge of the future has made Iris fearless: believing that she can’t be killed until the date revealed to Barry, she recklessly challenges a gunman in the warehouse holding the arms shipment. She gets her scoop, but manages to piss off both Wally and Joe in the process. Joe is still in the dark about the fate that awaits Iris, because that’s just how Team Flash rolls.

Barry is still trying to stop being the worst, but it’s always one step forward and two steps back. He’s working well with Wally now and he’s the voice of encouragement when the rest of the team keeps insisting Cisco is going to get killed taking on Gypsy, but when he and HR go behind Cisco’s back in an attempt to take out Gypsy before their showdown, it goes poorly and leaves him making apologies again. Communication is key, Barry. Will you never learn?

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Cisco prevails after all, thanks to a strategy tip from Julian (who, as expected, has assumed the role of Team Flash’s dour, pessimistic know-it-all). He and HR have a nice bonding moment when Cisco expresses his belief that, unlikely as it might seem, HR will save his ass one day. All in all, it feels like a calm-before-the-storm episode. Despite a few kinks, the team is relatively in sync, with their humor and adventurous spirit intact. The Flash is almost always at its best with those qualities at the forefront, but the pull toward darkness may still prove too hard to resist.

Stray observations

  • Aren’t you glad you watched The Flash tonight instead of, oh, I dunno, something else that might have been on at the same time?
  • Jessica Camacho fit in well as Gypsy, bringing a fun-loving vibe (no pun intended) and strong chemistry with Carlos Valdes. I suspect we haven’t seen the last of her.
  • HR’s tortured pronunciations of “Francisco” are my favorite running subplot. One of them tonight sounded like “Francheesego.”
  • The best part of the Cisco/Gypsy battle was their breaching through a series of Earths, including Supergirl’s (featuring a brief cameo by Eve Teschmacher).

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