Warning: Spoilers Ahead.
A Prison Break is always a fun watch – that is, unless you’re on your fifth season and really scraping at the bottom of the barrel (am I right or am I right?). Despite a great premise, a good performance from Grant Gustin and interesting developments for Kim Engelbrecht’s character ‘Marlize DeVoe’, once again the show’s inability to maintain conflict and utilise complex characters betrays itself in the long term.
After accidentally outing himself as The Flash to the prison warden, the thirteenth episode of this season finds Barry Allen confined to an undisclosed metahuman wing in Iron Heights Penitentiary. In order to stop the metahumans and himself from being sold to Amunet Black, Barry must work with the villains he’s put away to escape from Iron Heights.
Raising the Tension
Over the past couple of seasons, writers for The Flash have showcased a growing inability to push their characters to their limits and commit to escalating stakes and plot points throughout the season. While the uncertainty of Flash’s fate was the biggest strength of last night’s episode, the quick resolution of Barry’s prison arc felt too sudden and unearned – symptoms of a script that was not thematically cohesive enough to reach a thoughtful climax. Instead of complimenting the central conflict of the episode, (characters of opposing values being forced to work together) Ralph Dibny and Team Flash’s side-arc diffused tone and conflict in favour of humour. Where time was spent hammering home the same ol’ message about Ralph being a competent person, ideally the episode should have delved into Ralph’s unapologetic moral ambiguity (or something of the like) to echo Barry’s decision to align himself with his Rogues Gallery against an even greater threat.
As an extension of this, perhaps the episode’s the biggest disappointment came from the swiftness with which Barry was proven innocent, removing crucial stakes from the rest of the season. The six-episode long plot point paying homage to the famous comic book arc “The Trial of The Flash” (The Flash issues #323-#350, 1983) was to be praised for venturing outside the rinse-and-repeat safe zones cemented over the last three seasons. What the abrupt end of the arc (with no apparent long-term consequences in sight) signifies now is a potential step backwards into that comfort zone, and a giant, gaping plot-hole as to where DeVoe’s convoluted plan is going.
Similarly, this episode saw the return of ‘powers that conveniently develop for the sake of the plot needing them to, which you’ll remember appeared last week in the form of Cecile’s pregnancy-induced telepathy (I know, right!). Though audiences may have gotten a kick out of Ralph’s new ability to shapeshift, what this use of deus ex-machina exemplifies is an inability to write within the rules the writers have created for themselves, and hence for the characters to resolve their problems in ways that are meaningful to the story and more importantly, are earned.
While this week’s episode saw its ups and downs, tonal inconsistency and the penchant to favour humour over better storytelling was not totally able to keep a great presence and good lead down. “True Colors” still stands as a serviceable adventure with enough intrigue and excitement to leave you still wanting to see more of The Flash.
CW’s The Flash returns on the 27th of February.