A Casual TV Fan's Guide
The Flash, part three
Rated: N/A :: Air dates: 1990-1991
By Dan Toland
06 March 2008 — After eight months of preemptions and lackluster ratings, the writing was on the wall for The Flash. By the time the first episode of Disc Five aired, there hadn't been a new episode in over a month, and the series was banished to the Saturday Night Death-Slot. This is a damn shame, because what follows is the best run of episodes this series produced, and nobody saw them. There were rumors at the time that the series might be picked back up as a number of TV movies due to the increase in quality, but nothing ever came of that, and the cast all found other projects within a year or two.
However, for our purposes, the episodes we're about to go over chronicle a series finding confidence in its own concept.
Writer: John Francis Moore and Howard Chaykin
Guest starring: Jason Bernard as Desmond Powell / The Nightshade and Denise Crosby as Rebecca Frost
The Plot: A vigilante calling himself the Nightshade is killing criminals in Central City. Naturally enough, Desmond Powell, the actual Nightshade, is unimpressed. Meanwhile, Dr. Frost, a psychiatrist under Powell's staff, has a bug in her butt over vigilantism in general and the Flash in particular.
Good Stuff: The new Nightshade has had a small tweak to the design; he looks really badass.
Look, kids! It's Tasha Yar!
The Flash and the Nightshade have a chance to do a real team-up in this. It's really fun. They have a great double act; Powell can't keep up, but is obviously better at investigation than Barry. There's a fair amount of mutual frustration that's entertaining as hell.
Not So Good Stuff: Not a blessed thing.
Random Observations: The role of a young heiress, the victim of the first wave of criminals killed by the new Nightshade, is played by a very young Jeri "Seven of Nine" Ryan (billed here as Jeri Lynn Ryan).
Overall: Another winner. It's doing something different from the earlier Nightshade episode, "Ghost in the Machine," but it does it equally well. "Ghost" was more popcorn and fun; this is a little deeper. A topnotch episode that raises questions about the nature of vigilantism and the role the Flash plays in the larger scheme of the judicial system.
Writer: Gail Morgan Hickman (from a story by Paul De Meo and Gail Morgan Hickman)
The Plot: Leonard "Captain Cold" Wynter, a hitman with a freeze gun, is making his way through the Central City underworld. Meanwhile, Barry is trying to dodge a reporter who's Lois Lane in all but name.
Good Stuff: First of all, Cold himself is great. Some people complained that he didn't look like Captain Cold in the comics, but seeing as how Captain Cold in the comics looks completely magoo, that's not the end of the world. Michael Champion plays him with a touch of creepy intensity, and yet manages to inject some playfulness. So, I'm able to get over the fact that he's not dressed like my little brother in his snowsuit.
Some of the freeze effects are really nice.
Not So Good Stuff: For the second episode in a row, nothing is really leaping out. Terri Kronenberg, the reporter, is irritating as hell, but she's supposed to be.
Random Observations: This is the first episode since "Tina, Is That You?" and the second since "Sight Unseen," that's had a meaningful science-ish / tech scene at STAR Labs. For a dynamic that was so important at the season's beginning, they've gotten away from it for a long time. I like these scenes; besides giving Barry someone he can confide in, it establishes that he can't do everything by himself.
Overall: Two good episodes in a row. This could start a trend.
Writer: Stephen Hattman
The Plot: In an attempt to create a race of speedsters, an evil scientist clones the Flash. However, Pollux — the clone — has a preschooler's mental capacity, and no ingrained sense of right and wrong.
Good Stuff: John Wesley Shipp does a great job with the role of Pollux. He's confused, angry, sad, playful. Some of the emotions that play across his face are heartbreaking. His blue Flash suit is kinda cool, too.
Not So Good Stuff: Lenny von Dohlen overacts with abandon as the scientist who creates Pollux. We get it; you're into money and power and not so much with the child rearing. Boo. Hiss. Stop talking.
Random Observations: Fashion alert: Pollux steals some clothes, which we're supposed to recognize as being pretty ridiculous. However, except for the Donald Duck sailor hat, nothing he's wearing is really all that goofier looking than anything, say, Julio has on. (Disclosure: I, too, had a closet full of printed silk shirts back then.)
Overall: Not perfect, but a good showcase for Shipp. The prerequisite "evil twin" story, except that Pollux wasn't really evil; he's a child having a tantrum. Definitely worth your time.
Done With Mirrors
Writer: Howard Chaykin and John Francis Moore
Guest starring: David Cassidy as Sam Scudder / The Mirror Master
The Plot: Stasia Masters, a thief and old acquaintance of Barry's, is in town, and she's on the run from her ex-partner — Sam Scudder / Mirror Master. Scudder deals in stolen STAR Labs technology, such as the crystal that's gone missing from Tina's lab.
Good Stuff: I'm putting this here, but this is a "your mileage may vary" sort of thing. Barry goes undercover as "Professor Zoom" in an effort to get Tina's stolen crystal back. This might be the single silliest thing Shipp has had to do so far (although, the final episode will give it a good run for its money). His role as Zoom includes big spiky hair, bizarre sunglasses and a weird accent of indeterminate European origin. This will either make you laugh or cringe. I laughed. Oh, and apparently, Barry doesn't like snakes.
Not So Good Stuff: There's a subplot in which Tina's estranged mother is in town. This kinda blows on two levels: one, the actress playing Tina's mom is playing her like a camp nighttime soap queen. Which, ew. Also, this requires Amanda Pays to emote. As we've already seen in "Tina, Is That You?" this tends not to work so well.
Random Observations: For the first time, we see another branch of STAR Labs — Silicon Valley.
The character played by David Cassidy bears virtually no resemblance to the Rogues Gallery character, other than his name.
Overall: This episode really doesn't have any strong minuses against it. If you don't walk in expecting Mirror Master from the comics, you get a master criminal with a good gimmick and a great sense of humor. Who, incidentally, is played by Keith Partridge.
Disc Five has easily the most consistent quality episodes on the whole boxed set. Two great episodes with Nightshade and Captain Cold, and another pair of pretty good episodes to boot. None of these are the best episodes, but this is the best disc overall.
Good Night, Central City
Writer: Jim Trombetta
Guest starring: Bill Mumy as Roger Braintree
The Plot: Thieves create a device that induces sleep, leaving them unhindered to pillage Central City. Meanwhile, Internal Affairs is sniffing around Barry.
Good Stuff: Bill "Danger, Will Robinson!" Mumy is on hand as the scientist who invents the sleep machine. He's good here as a basically decent person who's allowed himself to get caught up in a dangerous situation.
The plot to wire the sleep machine to affect the city is inventive. They make good use of facilities most major cities have but rarely use, and tend not to get picked up on.
Not So Good Stuff: Internal Affairs is the all-powerful, mustache-twirling bogeyman it usually is in cop shows. It's an easy, lazy plot device and Trombetta falls into it.
Two cars collide, and there's an unfortunate Hanna-Barbera sound effect. Jeez.
Random Observations: Central City has both a branch of the US Mint and a Federal Gold Reserve. (Which kinda goes against the implications in other episodes that this is kind of a small, unimpressive town.)
Overall: This episode had some good ideas and carried them off pretty well. Also, Tina is given a lot to do, which is a good thing. (Despite Pays' limitations, she's very likable, and does what she's called on to do here.)
Writer: Gail Morgan Hickman (from a story by Gail Morgan Hickman and Denise Skinner)
The Plot: Alpha, an android created by the government as an assassin, escapes and looks to Barry and Tina to help her.
Good Stuff: Throughout the series, we hear what an uncool stiff Barry is. Here, when he dances, we actually get to see what everyone was talking about. It's hilarious.
Not So Good Stuff: The guest cast — pretty much all of them, but particularly Laura Robinson as Col. Powers, the big bad, who couldn't act blonde — are uniformly inept.
Does it really only take two minutes to search STAR Labs? Really? I don't think you could search my bedroom in two minutes.
Barry is awfully casual about who he speeds in front of here.
Have you ever seen a street gang dressed in bowler hats and Sgt. Pepper jackets?
Random Observations: Someone stole Peter Gallagher's eyebrows and gave them to Alpha.
Omega, another android (played by Sven-Ole Thorsen, who was a heavy in the last episode as well), looks and sounds exactly like the Terminator, right down to the haircut. I'd cry foul, except this aired a full two months before T2 was released.
For the only time all season, a song not created expressly for the episode appears: C+C Music Factory's "Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now)", which was charting at the time. If you were around during the time it was an omnipresent, inescapable fact of life on the radio — it's actually kind of nostalgic.
Overall: Extremely not good. After a run of six good episodes in a row, this feels like it's something from the first half of the season.
The Trial of the Trickster
Writer: Howard Chaykin and John Francis Moore
Guest starring: Mark Hamill as James Montgomery Jesse / The Trickster and Joyce Hyser as Megan Lockhart
The Plot: It's the other one with the Trickster.
Good Stuff: Go back and read "The Trickster." All of it still applies. Hamill is fantastic. Corrine Bohrer (a character actress who was all over TV at the time, and is best known now for her role as Veronica Mars' mother) turns in a fun, if not always totally successful, performance as Prank, the Trickster's even more unhinged sidekick.
Remember when I said three episodes ago that Barry's performance as Professor Zoom was the silliest thing he had done in the series? And that I said we'd be revisiting that claim in the last episode? Well, here we are. The victim of the Trickster's mind control, John Wesley Shipp gets the opportunity to clown around, put on goofy voices and just generally be as over-the-top as Mark Hamill. You will either love this or hate it. I put it under "Good Stuff," so I think you know where I stand.
Not So Good Stuff: Nothing specifically bad. This isn't as strong as the first Trickster episode, largely because of Bohrer's uneven performance.
Random Observations: Whole lotta 'splosions. If they were burning through the last of their budget, they spent it on cars and C4. There are no less than eight exploding cars in here.
Overall: The series ends on a high note.
Disc Six is only three episodes long (as was the first disc, although that had the two-hour pilot). With its two good episodes and one dog ("Alpha"), and no bonus features of any kind, which would normally take up the rest of the space on the last disc of a series, I can't recommend this one — unless you watched "The Trickster" and want to see part two.
The Flash was a maddeningly inconsistent series that sprinkled good episodes among lots of filler, until halfway through the season, when it finally found its voice and hit its stride. If you remember the show fondly, or are a fan of the character, you would do well to actually grab the set. Although, I will personally come to your house and knock the crap out of you if you pay the full $60 sticker price. You can get it for as little as $15 online! If, on the other hand, you're only interested in watching an episode or two, order the fifth disc from Netflix. It doesn't have "The Trickster," which is easily the best episode, but it has four episodes that range from solid to near-classic and scratches the supervillain itch with both Captain Cold and Mirror Master. Plus there's the "evil twin" / Reverse Flash story. If nothing else, it's a fun way to spend a few hours.
Man, I did not realize when I started writing this, I was actually gonna have to watch 23 hours of television.