Violette Beane, Grant Gustin, Keiynan Lonsdale/The CW

The promised gorilla invasion of Central City plays more like Waiting For Grodd-o for most of tonight’s hour of The Flash. If you thought last week’s visit to Gorilla City didn’t quite live up to expectations, here’s an ape invasion almost completely devoid of simian action until its closing minutes. Instead, we’re mostly treated to another downbeat, self-serious exploration of team dynamics and speedster soul-searching, in which the only character who really knows how to have fun is treated like crap over and over for no apparent reason.

HR is something of a divisive character. It’s not unreasonable to suggest that the joke has run its course and that there’s no reason an essentially useless member of the team is allowed to stick around. Another way of looking at it, though, it that HR brings a much-needed joie de vivre to the proceedings, particularly on a night like this where the prevailing mood is enervated glumness. Who else would be thoughtful enough to decorate the speed lab for Friends Day and pass out personalized cards to the rest of the team? Hats off again to Tom Cavanagh for creating one portrayal sympathetic enough to make his other performance the target of my ire.

In truth, for most of “Attack On Central City” it felt as if there was something a little off about Cavanagh’s take on Harry. Maybe he’s been in HR mode for long enough now that he’s a little rusty at infusing Harry’s gruffness with the right proportion of humanity. He got there eventually, by the time he was saying his goodbyes, but too much of his performance was tilted toward Harry’s jerkish side, particular in his gratuitously nasty treatment of HR. (Spitting toothpaste in his coffee? Really?) He also overplayed his hand in the scene in which Harry tries to convince Wally he’s dying, but that he shouldn’t tell Jesse. It was too obvious from the jump that this was a ruse.

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Grodd’s impending invasion sparks a familiar superhero crisis for Barry: to kill or not to kill? This is Arrow’s bread and butter, but it’s never been that much of an issue here, since the Flash simply isn’t cut from that ”dark avenger” cloth. Still, it’s a question that makes sense in this context. Grodd isn’t human, and the society he’s chosen for himself operates on a kill-or-be-killed basis. Barry has a deeper motivation, of course: if killing Grodd prevents the gorilla invasion, that changes the future that ends up producing the murder of Iris at Savitar’s hands. Iris urges him not to sacrifice his humanity for this shot at saving her, and Wells reminds him that there’s always another way.

That other way involves Cisco enlisting Gypsy to the cause. His irrational confidence that she’s really into him (or his attempt at bluffing same) may not be justified, but he does manage to appeal to her heroic side, and together they bring Solovar through the breach just as Grodd’s attack is getting underway. It’s a smart payoff to Barry’s dilemma: if he had killed Solovar when he had the chance, this rescue would not have been possible. The slugfest between Grodd and Solovar up and down the side of a skyscraper plays a bit like a cut scene from a King Kong video game, but it comes as a relief after the largely action-free episode leading up to it. In the end, Barry convinces Solovar to leave Grodd alive in their custody, and the rest of the apes return to Earth-2.

Taken as a whole, the two-part Gorilla City adventure serves as a showcase for ambition outstripping budget and ingenuity. Berlanti and company clearly want to deliver on the goofy anything-goes appeal of DC’s Silver Age, and it’s to their credit that they keep trying to pull off these fan-friendly events. It’s a hit-and-miss proposition: for every giddy success, like the first visit to Earth-2, there’s a clunky outing like this one, where the limitations of weekly television are laid bare. Still, I’d never want the creative team to stop swinging for the fences, even if the result is a harmless pop-up to the infield.

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Stray observations

  • Easter egg alert: We see Gypsy briefly interacting with a speedster on Earth-19. He goes unnamed, but judging from his costume and earth of origin, this is the Accelerated Man.
  • Solovar and Savitar should never be featured in the same episode. That’s a recipe for typo disaster.
  • Tonight it was Jesse L. Martin’s turn to play Grodd, which was fun, but not quite as much fun as Jesse L. Martin with light-up magnets on his head.
  • Casablanca is Wally’s favorite movie. I would have guessed one of the Fast And The Furious entries.
  • “Are you trying to Luke Starkiller me?”

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