The Flash really wants you to know that it’s all about fun again. Take it from this week’s cold open: A very wealthy man gets into a high-tech elevator after nonchalantly purchasing a penthouse, but then the elevator gets hijacked by a metahuman and spends a full 30 seconds rocketing up and down this 100-story building, like the world’s worst Twilight Zone Tower of Terror knockoff. Then, when the metahuman tires of toying with this rich guy, he sends him plummeting all the way down to his death. See? Even the murders are zany now!
I’m being a bit flip, but that tonal dissonance is important in “Mixed Signals.” At its heart, this episode captures the show’s desire to move in a new direction without sacrificing its desire to do right by its characters. Although season four is a bit of a tonal reboot, it’s not by any means a continuity one, and we can’t just paper over the show’s previously oppressive darkness with just a wink and some speed lighting.
I find this version of The Flash fascinating. We’ve gotten to a point where the CW’s Arrowverse has been around long enough that these shows can be self-referential without it being annoying or insufferable, but instead natural and extremely comic-booky. While Arrow occasionally lets the meta bleed into its plots — mostly revolving around the “Should Oliver Queen kill?” argument — The Flash is far more suited for this sort of stuff; its time-traveling and repository of alternate Earths practically make it a machine for self-examination and reflection.
It’s amazing The Flash hasn’t really interrogated itself, you know? I don’t necessarily think the show will do that all that much — it’s too cerebral a direction for a show that’s pitching itself as fleet-footed and fun — but I can’t help but find myself tickled by the way it has a conversation with itself out of necessity, even if it doesn’t intend to. Case in point: Barry Allen doing Tom Cruise’s Risky Business routine while making breakfast and picking up coffee in an extremely delightful sequence that is both charming (Barry is catching up on six months of missed TV at 1,000x speed) and indicative of developing story lines (Iris seems perturbed that Barry took it upon himself to get wedding arrangements back on track so she wouldn’t have to worry about them).
At S.T.A.R. Labs, Caitlin notices Iris’s discomfort and offers a suggestion: When she and Ronnie went from being co-workers to being in a relationship, they saw a couple’s counselor. Maybe it’ll help for Barry and Iris too?
Meanwhile, thanks to Cisco, Team Flash deduces that the elevator murder was perpetrated by a metahuman, just in time to intervene as another wealthy man loses control of his Tesla. Because Barry neglects Iris’s advice to both bring Wally along and redirect the car in a safe direction, he’s forced to stop the speeding vehicle in probably the most hilarious fashion the Flash has ever saved a life: by dismantling the car as it speeds toward a construction site, finishing just in time. All that’s left is the poor guy in his driver’s seat, skidding toward the construction workers.
Anyway, Caitlin’s suggestion that Barry and Iris should see a counselor leads to the episode’s funniest scene, where they try to simultaneously downplay and acknowledge the downright cartoonish amount of tragedy they’ve faced in the time they’ve known each other. (A lot of people have died!) This is cut short when the metahuman goes after the Tesla driver at CCPD, where Joe is about to question him, and sends a bomb squad robot into the office with a live grenade. Barry, literally running away from therapy, arrives in time to grab all the shrapnel from the grenade and save the two of them.
In this failed attempt, the case finally takes shape. This rich guy is Tim Kwon, and thanks to some more research from Cisco, they realize he’s connected to the first victim, Curt Weaver. It turns out Kwon and Weaver worked together on an app named Kilgore, which they sold to make their fortune. There are two other people on the former Kilgore team, which means one — Sheila Agnani — is the next target. As for the other one? He’s a guy named Ramsey Deacon, whom Joe saw moments before he was attacked, making him suspect No. 1.
Tim, feeling unsafe, flees the police department to warn Sheila about Deacon’s attacks, except he’s too late. Deacon is already there. He attempts to kill Sheila via insulin overdose — she’s got an automated dispenser — and then kidnaps Kwon, leaving just before Kid Flash arrives to save Sheila.
Meanwhile, Barry and Iris make it back to therapy for an emotionally raw scene. Iris is angry at Barry for leaving her, for never talking to her about his dramatic self-sacrifice at the end of season three, for treating his fiancée as something less than the partner she is. “You are not the Flash,” Iris says, in perhaps what might be the show’s most profound statement on its brand of superheroics. “We are.”
Following this catharsis, it’s time for the final showdown with Deacon, who’s now calling himself Kilgore (or Kilg%re if you want the accurate DC Comics spelling). He’s got Kwon strung up in a garage to record a live confession, admitting that he conspired with the rest of the Kilgore team to sell the app against Deacon’s wishes. Deacon is ready to kill him after this admission, but both Flashes show up to stop him. The only problem? Barry’s new suit is loaded with tech that Kilgore can exploit, which leads to another hysterically funny action sequence as Barry’s suit goes haywire with everything from a flotation device to a remote lock in case someone tried to take off his mask while unconscious.
Ultimately, Barry bests his own suit by zapping himself with lightning, and then quickly administers a sort of Kilgore antibody that Cisco cooked up. The day is saved, but unfortunately at the cost of all that cool Flash tech, which Barry might be better off without now. Oh, and there’s a mystery too: Deacon wasn’t in Central City for the particle accelerator explosion, which means there’s no explanation for his powers. Deacon isn’t telling, but he’s plenty comfortable saying that there are plenty more like him, and that Barry will be hearing from them very soon.
• The love life of Cisco Ramón: A minor subplot in “Mixed Signals” has to do with Cisco’s repeated attempts to have a date with his dimension-hopping girlfriend, Gypsy. It’s fine, but for once, I’d like Cisco to have an actual, fleshed-out, romantic arc that doesn’t just involve him ending up with some metahuman girl who he thinks is hot. Let’s see something develop!
• The Thinker thinks: In this week’s tag, it’s implied that the Thinker is behind Deacon/Kilgore, and that he ultimately wants Kilgore incarcerated in Iron Heights’ metahuman facility. What’s more, we’re told he has 11 more metas to send Flash’s way.
• Killer Frost Watch: At one point, Caitlin struggles to keep herself from changing into Killer Frost. I’m curious to see where this goes — Caitlin doesn’t really do much this week other than tell Iris and Cisco how poorly they’re communicating with their partners, so something new would be welcome.
• This show is funny! Nothing really profound to say here. I just laughed a lot watching this episode, and it was nice.