No Flash episode title has brought such a smile to my face upon reading it, or been so satisfying to type, as “Grodd Lives.” Yes, with just two episodes left this season, Mssrs. Berlanti and Guggenheim made good on the unspoken promise they made viewers back in the show’s pilot, when we saw an empty battered cage in S.T.A.R. Labs, and a sign mounted next to it with the name “Grodd.”
While he may be best known to mainstream audiences for his appearances on the ’70s and ’80s Superfriends, comic fans have thrilled to the hyper-intelligent primate’s exploits since his first appearance in May 1959’s Flash #106. One of the Scarlet Speedster’s oldest foes, his telepathic powers initially came from an alien ship that crashed in his African homeland, leading him and his fellow apes to construct a sophisticated Gorilla City. But with only forty-three minutes and a CW budget with which to tell this monkey’s tale, his origin is somewhat modified for television. The product of the amoral General Wade Eiling’s experimentation, this Grodd was transformed by the particle accelerator explosion. Here he’s driven by his hatred of the military man, and his devotion to his “father” Harrison Wells, who sets him loose on the city in an effort to distract Barry and his friends from his ongoing plans.
The producers make several smart decisions in creating a realistically rendered oversized ape without the limitless funds of a Hollywood movie. They keep Grodd largely in the shadows, playing with light and sound to create a classic movie monster in the mode of Alien‘s Xenomorph. They also rely heavily on Grodd’s telepathic abilities, thus eliminating the need to portray him speaking English. We wind up getting no more Grodd than I thought we would, but far more than I ever dared hope for when that empty cage was revealed. The overabundance of great one-liners this week (through its characters the show wisely acknowledges the ridiculous of the premise) goes a long way toward selling us the most fantasy-filled episode this year.
If only we could believe so thoroughly in the non-CGI character showcased in “Grodd Lives” — Iris West. Alas, poor Iris has suffered the fate of far too many superhero love interests these many months, alternating between damsel in distress and directionless cypher. Here she confronts Barry with her knowledge of his alter ego, finally acquired last week, waltzing into S.T.A.R. Labs before a dumbfounded Cisco and Caitlin. (Apparently someone forgot to reactivate the building’s security system after Wells left.) She’s angry as hell at Barry and her dad, whom she learns insisted Barry not tell her his secret for her own good. She’s entirely justified in being pissed off that all the men in her life have been secretly making decisions for her. The problem, however, is that the show hasn’t given her much of a life beyond these men. Iris says they need to stop worrying about her, but she doesn’t have much purpose other than to be worried about. So we’ve never really had cause to believe she could contribute something substantial to Team Flash, should she join. She winds up getting limited here to mere emotional support. That’s not unimportant, but it doesn’t bode well for her future on the show when she’s reduced to saying things like “Stand up to Grodd” and “Do it for me” like some kind of halfhearted cheerleader. Of course the fact that the episode in which her agency is finally addressed concerns a ten-foot-tall talking gorilla is less than fortuitous.
We don’t see all that much of Wells this week, but what we do get of him is choice villainy. Tom Cavanagh excels at playing evil, and he’s never been quite so cruel as when his character tells a still captive Eddie — an ancestor to the man who wears Wells’ face, Eobard Thawne — that he’s the only Thawne to be forgotten in the family’s history, and that he won’t even “get the girl.” Proving his words, he shows Eddie the future newspaper in which her byline reads “Iris West-Allen.” For a genius-level time traveler, Thawne is pretty careless about what information he doles out to his victim, which makes me worried the good-natured detective will be the first of the show’s cast to be sacrificed.
Though it’s cause for celebration that we live in a world where we can watch the Flash fight his most outrageous foe on TV, the means by which Grodd is dispatched are perhaps a tad too convenient. Rather than outsmart or physically subdue his opponent, Barry gets lucky when a passing subway train smacks the disgrunted ape into next Tuesday. (Oh how I wish. There’s no such thing as too much talking gorilla.) But we’re treated to one last look at him as he ascends a Central City highrise, a loving nod to the mother of all giant monkey movies.
— Seriously, Iris just walking into S.T.A.R.? Not as bad as Vicki Vale ambling into the Batcave maybe, but way up there.
— It’s also hard to be sympathetic to Iris when she blames her dad for Eddie’s kidnapping.
— And then the script has her ask what the red and blue markers on the screen mean when they are clearly labeled “Barry” and “Grodd”. And THEN she cracks Joe’s already broken ribs when she hugs him. Yeah, this wasn’t Iris’ finest hour.
— “Alligators. CHUDs. ROUSs. Am I the only one who watches movies around here?”
— As if Cisco didn’t shine bright enough with the quips this week, he brings a banana with him into the sewers. God, how I love that nerd.
Next week: Barry confronts Wells and gets a little help from his friends, the Arrow and Firestorm.
What did you think of this week’s episode? Let me know in the comments below or on Twitter (@JMaCabre).