Who could’ve guessed that even as the psychotic robot Ultron made his live-action debut, another classic comic-book foe would step up to become the most frightening supervillain of the week?
Fans have been waiting since “The Flash” pilot for Grodd to step into the spotlight, and how that he has, he doesn’t disappoint. He’s one of those villains that blurs the line between campy and cool. Done right, he’s one of the most brutal and terrifying antagonists in the DC Universe; done wrong, well, he’s just a talking gorilla, with all the silliness that entails. This week’s episode gets it right – and then some.
Before we get to the hot monkey action, however, we have to wade through some soap opera elements, as last week Iris West discovered Barry Allen’s greatest secret. This week, those revelations come home to roost as Iris calls Barry and her father to task for hiding the truth from her. These scenes are rather good: They’re well-acted, with plenty of gravitas, and finally explore Iris’ character. In fact, instead of the episode opening with Barry’s usual monologue, Iris provides the voiceover, revealing to viewers her feelings about discovering the big secret. My only complaint is that this same ground was covered not too long ago on “Arrow,” when Laurel discovered Ollie’s secret. However, while this is another trip back to the trope well, these soap opera sequences actually play a key role in resolving the conflict between Grodd and The Flash.
It would be difficult for the show to pull off Gorilla City and have people buy into it, but doing a “Planet of the Apes” Caesar riff worked for Grodd’s live-action origin. And having Cisco call out the similarity between Grodd’s story and the modern “Apes” films absolved the episode of being a simple carbon copy. Tying Grodd’s origins to Harrison Wells seamlessly made the gorilla a part of the shows’ central narrative and provided him with a motivation for attacking Team Flash.
But Barry and company weren’t Grodd’s only targets. First, he has to deal with the man who tortured him, General Wade Eiling. Grodd doesn’t actually appear until halfway through the episode; at first it seems as if the freak of the week is robber with a golden mask who attacks gold shipments. I thought he was Goldface, but the thief turns out to be Eiling under Grodd’s mental control. What the gorilla wants with gold is never explained, but the incident certainly brings Eiling and the threat of Grodd to Team Flash’s attention.
Barry and company imprison Eiling and set out to track the latest threat to Central City. Let’s not forget that Harrison Wells, the Reverse-Flash, still holds Eddie Thawne captive, so the last thing they need is another distraction. But there’s a literal 800-pound gorilla in the room, giving Team Flash no choice but to spring into action. First, they learn Grodd’s tragic origin, and it’s revealed Caitlin Snow once bonded with him when she cared for the ape in STAR Labs. Grodd saw Wells as a father, so we discover the Reverse-Flash has a feral engine of psychic death as a weapon against his enemies.
Grodd’s location can’t be divined by the geniuses Barry, Cisco or Caitlin, or by the cop instincts of Joe West, so a new member of Team Flash steps up and uses her sources to find him: Iris West proves her worth by using her reporter’s resources. What follows is a trek through the sewers by Barry, Joe and Cisco to confront the ape. This moment is surreally terrifying, as the group descends deeper into the sewers and finds Grodd’s scrawls on the walls. The episode uses Grodd’s powers to perfection, fully displaying how horrific an animal with vast telepathic abilities could be. The horror continues as Grodd abducts Joe and in the episode’s most potent scene, forcing him to point his own gun at his head. Jesse L. Martin really sells this moment, as the usually tough and confident Joe is reduced to a quivering bundle of fear by the awesome might of Grodd.
The Flash confronts Grodd, but he’s unable to fight him because of the beast’s mental might, Whenever Barry tries to attack, the gorilla projects memories of being tortured by Eiling, causing The Flash to feel the pain Grodd had to live with for so long. It’s a perfect touch in making Grodd slightly sympathetic, and more than a one-note villain.
Barry is able to tag Grodd with a tranquilizer dart, which he uses as a tracker. The final confrontation sees Barry try the same sonic punch trick he used to take out Girder, but this time, Grodd catches his fist. Yeah, awesome. Barry is laid low again by Grodd’s psychic power, but Iris is able to use her voice to calm Barry, allowing him to overcome the ape’s mental attack. All of that earlier soap opera stuff turns out to be the key to defeating Grodd. Finally able to fight, Barry puts Grodd in the path of a train, but we know that it’s just an inconvenience for the gorilla, who’s later seen climbing a building to close the episode.
The Flash narrowly wins his first battle with Grodd, but the beast is still loose. A victorious Barry releases Eiling, who begins an Ahab-like quest to find Grodd. I don’t know what Season 2 will bring, but I hope to see tons more of Grodd and his war with Eiling.
So Grodd is still out there, and Wells still has Eddie. But how will Eddie feel about his lover and friends now that Wells has shown him that future newspaper revealing the story about Barry disappearing during a “Crisis”? You know, the one with a byline that read Iris West-Allen. There are just two more episodes, which might be filled with tragedy for poor Eddie. It’s hard to get hairier than a battle with a psychic gorilla, but if the Reverse-Flash’s plans are any indication, that might be exactly what’s going to happen.
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