Perhaps I shouldn’t have been so hopeful after last week’s episode. After all, The Flash would inevitably had to turn its focus back onto the new elements introduced this season, which means its most glaring issues still haven’t been solved.
To its credit, “Monster” is split between several story lines that don’t overlap, which makes for an interesting viewing experience. Don’t get me wrong: The show has its bright spots, particularly Caitlin’s story line and anytime someone from the West story line shows up. But at this point, I can’t help but wonder if the writers behind The Flash know why people watch this show. I can tell you it’s definitely not for Julian, even if he is played by Tom Felton. I would totally be fine with the show killing off Julian or transferring him to some other city or whatever shows do when they need to write off a character that is obviously dead weight.
Instead, “Monster” spends considerable time fleshing out Julian and his backstory. He’s so smug and rude, though, that it’s hard to muster up sympathy for the guy. The first time we see him in this episode is when Barry walks in on him meeting with Captain Singh. He goes on and on about the various violations Barry makes. Captain Singh sternly says Barry does good work and needs to learn to work within the parameters of the system, but that isn’t enough for Julian. He wants to see him punished. It’s clear that his issue with Barry isn’t that he’s a chaotic presence. He’s angry that anyone, especially someone he looks down upon, would be praised. Barry tries to smooth the issues between them, even offering to give up his side of the lab if he can tag along with Julian to the crime scene as a Godzilla-sized monster rampages through Central City.
Eventually, Julian admits why he hates not only criminal metahumans but the Flash in particular. “I don’t need a deep personal reason to hate metas,” he says. He looks down upon them for squandering their abilities, and then tells Barry about what what he would do with such power. That’s it? He’s jealous? Even after the Flash stopped Julian from shooting and killing the person behind the monster attacks — it was just a 15-year-old kid manipulating a hologram — I couldn’t really care for his character. Sure, Julian’s view softens after he realizes he almost killed a teenager. “I was really wrong about the Flash. So I could be wrong about you too,” he says. But unfortunately, his backstory makes his jealousy even more ridiculous. Apparently, Julian came from an ultrarich British family and was going to become the heir but decided to strike out on his own. The rise of metahumans made him feel powerless, end of story. Julian doesn’t add anything to the show and I’m not sure where we’re going with him. Now that he’s reevaluated his hate for the Flash, does he really have any link to Doctor Alchemy? Every time he was onscreen, I thought about the other characters who could have made better use of his screen time.
As I watched “Monster,” I began to wonder if The Flash’s creators understands its greatest strengths. They obviously realize that Tom Cavanagh is one of the show’s best actors, otherwise we wouldn’t keep seeing various iterations of Harrison Wells. But Candice Patton has sold Iris as a character even when she had barely anything to work with. Jesse L. Martin kills it week after week. Can you give them something a bit meatier to do than give Barry another pep talk? Can we see Iris as a journalist, especially considering she writes about metahumans? Can we see Cisco use his powers more? Can we have some consistent narrative logic about S.T.A.R. Labs? I don’t expect The Flash to be a masterpiece, but it was terribly uneven this week. I wasn’t even sold on H.R. Wells, the new recruit from Earth-19.
At least Cavanagh is having a lot of fun with this new version of Harrison Wells. H.R. is a character with absolutely no chill. He cracks jokes every other sentence. He’s full of boundless energy. Maybe it’s all the coffee he’s drinking? Apparently, coffee was wiped out in a blight on Earth-19. There’s obviously something up with the guy, though. Barry is willing to give him a chance, but Cisco isn’t as convinced. It’s evident that H.R. isn’t contributing much help, which leads Cisco to rifle through his things. When H.R. finds out, he tells Cisco that he’s not only a scientist, but also a best-selling novelist. If Cisco just listens to his recording, H.R. says, it’ll explain everything.
The guilt trip H.R. lays down momentarily throws off Cisco, but not for long. By the end of the episode it’s clear to everyone that H.R. is a fraud. Somehow, they got the only Harrison Wells who isn’t a scientist. On Earth-19, he was just the face and “idea man” behind S.T.A.R. Labs. He tries to play it off and say he’s looking for redemption; when the Earth-19 public found out the truth, his career faltered.
H.R. is lucky Team Flash is eager to give people second chances. (Well, everyone except Wally, who calls him a “con man.”) H.R. gets a few weeks to prove his worth, but I don’t think he even deserves that. Can we get Earth-2 Harrison Wells back?
There is one story line I loved this week, thankfully. In an effort to get help with her growing powers, Caitlin turns to her mother, Dr. Carla Tannhauser (Susan Walters), a biomedical engineer and CEO of a research company. We’ve heard bits about Carla before, so it’s no real surprise that she’s a terrible mother. But it isn’t just that she’s emotionally distant. She’s condescending, treats Caitlin with casual indifference, and is remarkably selfish. It takes Caitlin slamming her fist down and freezing half of her desk to get her mother’s attention.
Carla starts to test Caitlin’s powers between denigrating her career and decisions. She apparently can’t understand why Caitlin would work at S.T.A.R. Labs for “that crackpot.” Caitlin wanted to make a name for herself and live her own life. But Carla only sees her as a disappointment. Every time Caitlin tries to open up to her mother, she only gets an insult in return. It’s clear Caitlin didn’t come there to figure out a cure. She was just looking for some comfort. She hoped that her newfound abilities might mend their relationship. “You never acted like my mother again after dad got sick,” she tells Carla. “You barely even look at me.”
Caitlin shares that her husband died over a year ago, so she understands what her mother went through. (Anybody else surprised to learn she was married to Ronnie in this timeline?) That Carla didn’t know Caitlin’s husband died shows the distance between them. It takes one of Carla’s workers confining Caitlin in hopes of continuing the experimentation for this tense mother-daughter relationship to change.
Caitlin isn’t scared but angry when she’s confined: Her eyes go white, her voice changes, and she starts freezing the scientist’s arm. Carla is able to stop Caitlin from killing a man and this exchange starts to shift their relationship. While “Monster” doesn’t work as a whole, the episode is considering several ideas at the heart of Caitlin’s story line: the desire for power and control, and the ability to find some sense of redemption. But while Caitlin’s relationship with her mother is changing for the better, the rest of her life is in question. The episode ends with Caitlin watching a video message from Carla, who implores her to not use her powers. Each time she uses her powers the ability to treat them grows all the more distant. Unexpectedly, Caitlin’s eyes go white and she freezes the computer without meaning to do so.
I’ll be honest: I’ve never thought Danielle Panabaker was that good of an actress, but her character has the most fascinating and complex story line on The Flash right now. What will happens after Caitlin tells everyone about her abilities? Will The Flash push her back to the sidelines, or make her a hero in her own right? The answers to those questions will determine both the worth and direction of the season.