Barry is healing from his spinal injury inflicted by Zoom, but is still having trouble getting his speed back, to everyone’s confusion. Harry believes his plan failed and decides to go back home, but Caitlin — knowing this is all about his daughter — convinces him that he is needed and he must stay. They realize that they can close all the rifts except for the one in STAR Labs, meaning Zoom only has one way to get to and from his world. Meanwhile, Grodd returns, mind-controlling scientists to deliver him certain serums and chemicals. The team realizes what they’re dealing with, but Grodd mind-controls Caitlin and has her come to him. Grodd tells her he wants her to help him create a serum to make other gorillas like him, and he trusts Caitlin because she was nice to him. Team Flash tries to figure out how to stop Grodd with Barry still depowered, and they decide to have Harry in the Reverse-Flash costume pretend to be the original Harrison Wells. After brief training from Cisco, Harry conducts the masquerade, and though Grodd doesn’t buy it, they’re given enough time to sedate Grodd and escape. They realize that he still needs to be stopped, though, and Barry needs to do it. Iris contacts Henry, who has been out and about fishing and camping, and Henry gives Barry a pep talk, equating Barry’s feelings of being “destroyed” by Zoom and humiliated in front of the city to Henry’s own trial and being framed for Nora’s murder. He tells Barry to use those feelings to drive him and overcome them, and with that, Barry is able to get his powers back. They use Caitlin to call Grodd out in the open, and then he chases Flash to one of the rifts, where Flash supersonic punches him into the rift. According to Harry, there are other genius gorillas on Earth-2, and that rift sent Grodd to a sanctuary — what we later see is Gorilla City. Patty figures out that Barry hasn’t been MIA because he was sick, and while he comes up with a worthwhile excuse in that his father was in town and he feels weird about telling people given his prison time, Patty still chastizes him for lying to her. Meanwhile, Cisco goes on a date with Kendra and vibes on her, seeing that she is some sort of winged metahuman.
There really isn’t much bad to say when Grodd is on screen, is there? He’s a giant psychic gorilla, and one that continues to be remarkably well-rendered and interesting as a character. Grodd’s first appearance used him as a force for fear and horror, and appropriately so. This time around, he’s significantly more sympathetic, and manages to carry more depth and even a bit of an arc.
It’s not surprising, given that his intellect has been expanding. Grodd is more “human” now, for lack of a better term — he’s not a vicious thug following daddy’s orders like he was before. After spending time without guidance from a father and with an ever-growing sense of self, this is a Grodd on the verge of an existential crisis. He’s not quite there yet — his motivations are still very simple an animal-like, yearning to make more people like him so he’s no longer alone. And he even seems happy to obey “father” when Wells arrives, like a child happy to see a parent home. This is still not the fully-formed leader of armies we’ve seen in other media, which is totally fine — in a lot of ways, this steady evolution is far more interesting.
Grodd’s face has changed substantially since we last saw him, with vividly heartbreaking expressions and eyes remarkably emotive eyes. Though there are certainly points where Grodd looks like a weightless CGI model, there’s considerably more detail in making him react in ways that illicit genuine empathy. The best part of Grodd’s emotional evolution is how this utilizes Caitlin, who smartly never interacted with Grodd in his first episode. We learn that Grodd still has affection for Caitlin, though it’s not the a King Kong/Faye Wray way the episode may have suggested at first. Caitlin was simply nicer to Grodd than everyone else, and he still has “love” in the same sense that any animal would for human companions. There’s a part of Grodd that still hasn’t changed from his genius intellect — and perhaps never will — and it goes a long way to keep him sympathetic even as he rampantly murders just about anyone that gets in his way. He still has the emotional complexity of a child, and that makes him more dangerous and functions as his weakness at the same time. It’s not easy to reason with him, but his weaknesses are easy to exploit, because they’re honest. We and Team Flash all feel really bad for betraying Grodd and tossing him into another dimension, because everything about him has been completely out of his control, from his own creation, to being manipulated into a raging beast by Wells. He’s a truly sympathetic villain, and that the show managed to sell that after his terrifying first appearance is a testament to The Flash‘s signature emotional core.
There’s a lot to love about Caitlin’s involvement, particularly that her feelings never ring false. While the show has addressed her sometimes privileged attitude and short-sightedness when it comes to people she falls for, she’s never been one to be emotionally dishonest. It makes sense that she’d never move past a raw, rather motherly connection to Grodd — again, the same kind of connection any human with a heart would have with an animal that becomes part of their family, of sorts. But we also see the human extent of this in her relationship with another monster-with-a-heart (sort of) in Harry. This season has seen Caitlin fleshed out through relationships far better than the fairly one-dimensional romance with Ronnie last season, as she’s proven to be capable of seeing through the facades people around her erect. More importantly, she has no qualms about calling them out on it, and doing it passionately enough that it makes a dent. She got through to Jay when he was in a pit of despair, she gets through to Grodd to an extent, and she is the only person to break through Harry’s tough exterior.
While this episode doesn’t directly reference it, a lot of this can be traced back to her arc in the premiere, which had she and Barry dig their way out of their respective guilt, despair, and the new cold exteriors they’d crafted. So it makes sense that she’d be capable of connecting with the darker sides of characters now, because she’s personally been there herself. Danielle Panabaker has a great hour this time around, working well with the likes of CGI and against the always-stellar Tom Cavanaugh, and comes out with far more depth than just a damsel in distress plot device. It helps that, like Cisco at the end of last season and Iris at the beginning of this season, we’re seeing Caitlin really flourish and find a place as a unique character.
This opens up Harry to be a bigger player, and boy is that entertaining. What needs to be said? Tom Cavanaugh playing Harry playing Eobard playing Harrison. “Up the creep factor, make it more sincere, like you really love me but you’re gonna have to kill me,” followed by a repeat of season 1’s epic gut-punch of a line over and over and over. Seeing Harry in the Reverse-Flash suit. This whole situation is a love letter to Cavanaugh’s previous character, and while it’s a bit self-indulgent, it also serves as a farewell to that version of sorts. We have room to welcome Harry — who Cavanaugh has competently made into a completely new, different, and equally compelling character — while giving Reverse-Flash an appropriate little swan song. There’s nothing to complain about here.
What there is to complain about, though, is Barry’s thoroughly rushed recovery. This episode excels at giving supporting characters the spotlight while Barry sits most of it out, but the material Barry gets isn’t quite up-to-par with his usual character stories. On one hand, seeing Barry go through a grueling physical therapy process doesn’t really fit the show, and there’s in-story precedent for a speedy recovery given his healing factor. But much of last week’s cliffhanger is deflated right from the beginning of the episode, where Barry’s back has mostly healed. It’s to make room for a psychological arc for him rather than a physical one, where he’s mentally stopping himself from walking, but it turns out to be far less interesting.
Having Barry face his failure and overcome a mental block is not an unwarranted story at all, so the fault isn’t in whether or not it’s organic. But it’s an arc we’ve seen for him before, at least in pieces – his fear held him back when facing Reverse-Flash, we’ve seen him shut down after feeling he’d failed, and he had almost the exact same mental block stopping him from using his speed the first time he lost his powers. “Gorilla Warfare” basically glues all of these character bits together and reuses them as a smoother, but still wholly recycled arc. Yes, there’s precedent for the situation, but it also means this is still technically an arc we’ve already seen before, even if piecemeal, and this particular version of it still doesn’t offer enough that’s different. As a result, it’s just another story about a hero feeling bad about messing up and then having to believe in himself again. Henry literally tells Barry “believe in yourself” verbatim, so the episode is even aware of how derivative the story is, but goes through with it anyway.
That said, having a reason to bring Henry back into the picture is probably where this arc was supposed to differ from the past. And yes, it’s nice to have John Wesley Shipp back giving heroic fatherly advice in a way only he can deliver. But even then, his role — giving Barry advice that no one else can — is exactly the same role he had from prison in the first season. The only difference here is he can talk to Barry during the actual battle with his calm, sage advice — a nice throwback to Barry’s first fight with Grodd, where newly-christened team member Iris similarly calmed Barry over the comm (and she was the one to bring Henry over, too.) And admittedly, Barry and Henry form a nice connection over Henry’s false imprisonment, particularly having your reputation and sense of self “destroyed” by no fault of your own. That conversation is the best part of Barry’s arc, and Shipp delivers a heartbreaking, personal explanation of his very specific but not uncommon situation, which deepens his character. So it’s not as if this storyline is a complete loss, but in an episode that excels at expanding and evolving past storylines to move past them, this just seems like a retread.
The other retread is Patty and Barry, whose relationship has to be put on pause due to Barry’s injury. Again, we have the hero lying to the girlfriend (I assume they’re officially a couple now, and not just in the “going on dates” stage?) and the girlfriend picking up on it and getting annoyed. We had the keeping secrets stuff with Iris last season, which at points nearly ran the show and the Iris character into the ground. So it’s frustrating for the show to go at this type of tried-and-not-true storyline again, comic book staple or not. But, in its defense, Patty’s detective skills are far better than anyone else he’s ever dated, and the show has tried very hard to make her catch onto things easily and quickly, as she does here. I postulated that Patty’s story might be a tragic one, as she has the potential to uncover Barry’s secret herself very soon and might find herself in the danger everyone expected Iris to be in. That’s still possible, and these recycled relationship troubles might be justified if the story moves in an unexpected direction. But until then, it’s hard to root for Barry and Patty together if it doesn’t feel like anything new.
It’s also hard to be totally on board with the Cisco/Kendra stuff, mostly based on what we know. Like Patty, Kendra is played by a charismatic actress and seems genuinely likeable. But it’s hard enough to do proper reveals of characters’ identities on comic book shows when we know the source material, and it’s even harder when this episode’s big reveal — that Kendra is some sort of hawk-like girl — has been majorly advertised for a while. So it’s inevitable, but also makes it hard to get invested when it all hinges on being set-up and hype for the upcoming spin-off. We know Kendra is going to jet off doing bigger things than dating Cisco, and she’ll doing it far too soon for there to be a dramatic oomph when she leaves. It’s a careful balance these shows have to make when crafting spin-off material, but between this and Firestorm, so far they’ve felt more like diversions for The Flash rather than integral parts of the full universe. That said, Cisco and Kendra’s first date(s) are cute, for what it’s worth, and The Princess Bride is a perfect date movie for Cisco to pick out.
“Gorilla Warfare” is a far from perfect installment of the show, lots of highs in the Grodd storyline but yawns at just about everything else, thanks to a lot of story beat recycling. The best parts of “Gorilla Warfare” are the ones with the titular gorilla, and this time it’s less because of geeky excitement and more because Grodd is actually an interesting character with an intriguing story. Though, that’s not to say it’s not without any geeky excitement — we have our first glimpse of Gorilla City, after all. And a psychic gorilla had to be supersonic-punched into a rip in space-time to get there. Can’t really complain about that.
Odds & Ends
- Unless I completely spaced for part of the episode, I’m guessing there was a flashback between Caitlin and Grodd cut, considering one of the better promotional images (used above) looks to be pre-season 1 Caitlin and Grodd.
- Henry’s return makes his abrupt exit in the premiere even more baffling, given that he was apparently fairly easy to find and admits he was just fishing and camping. He could have easily said he was just going to take a long vacation after he was released from prison with less fanfare, rather than the melodramatic conversation about leaving Barry to be a hero and whatnot.
- The bit with Iris and Barry fake-grilling Cisco to elaborate about his date is weird, but kind of funny.
- Jesse L. Martin absolutely sells how terrified Joe is about Grodd’s return. This guy was truly traumatized.
- Hey, the not-Watchtower makes another appearance! The interior even looks a little bit like Smallville‘s version.
- I completely forgot that Henry was a doctor. You’d think he’d be helpful to keep around. Maybe he’ll find a role in the DCwU as sort of a superhero-focused doctor? One who can treat them and keep their secrets, a la Marvel’s Night Nurse or DC’s Dr. Emil Hamilton.
- Nice to see the West and Allen clan hanging out — it seems Iris and Henry have a mutual father/daughter relationship now, and the fusion of families is very sweet.
- “Father never ask, father take!”
- “You got talking gorillas on your earth too?”
“Remind me to never go there.”