I’m sad that, after such an amazing run, the Arrowverse is going away, with just a few episodes of The Flash left and neither Superman & Lois nor Gotham Knights being connected in any meaningful way. At the same time, it’s hard to root for Barry Allen’s adventures to continue when the show’s final season is already stumbling more than running. Spoilers follow for The Flash Season 9, Episode 03, “Rogues of War.”
“Rogues of War”
Barry (Grant Gustin) and Iris (Candice Patton) start to put together the pieces of what’s happening in Central City and believe they know what the Rogues are after. Team Flash works together and recruits some unlikely allies to help, and the plan does not go as Team Flash expects. Meanwhile, Allegra (Kayla Compton) does her best to avoid having a conversation with Chester (Brandon McKnight).
The first time I wrote the episode number down for this episode, I wrote 3×09 instead of 9×03. And as I look back at the episode, that feels right–this episode harkens back to some of my least favorite sections of The Flash throughout its nine-year run.
While the villains are more accurate to their comic-book counterparts than in the past, the episode in general feels like a throwback in the worst possible way. Obnoxious will-they-won’t-they drama, unimpressive costumes and fights, and a questionable speedster villain that the show thinks we’re way more invested in than we actually are make up the bulk of the story.
In the show’s defense, they’re working hard on trying to actually tell some stories about Barry and Iris after putting entire dimensions of spacetime between them for two full seasons, but it always feels like too little, too late. When the episode opens, the happy couple is in France (they could be eating pasta in Italy) taking a cooking class. It’s a fun start to the episode, but it gives way to more Barry-Iris drama.
The couple is actively trying to get pregnant, and in the meantime trying to check off all their bucket list stuff. At the same time, Iris is worried she won’t get the chance to break one more big story before she has a family to take care of, and the episode spends a good amount of time on that while the team is trying to literally protect time itself from a vengeful villain.
While that’s going on, the show sprinkles awkward scenes between Allegra and Chester throughout, with Chester trying awkwardly to make headway with Allegra while she awkwardly avoids it because having feelings is hard. While I like Brandon Knight and Kayla Compton, the two don’t have quite enough chemistry for the show to spend as much time on it as it does. With the show almost in the rear-view mirror, it feels like time wasted.
Rogue vs Rogue
That’s all backdrop, though, for the main plot: the rogues we’ve met so far, including the Fiddler and Captain Boomerang, have been stealing tech. Barry immediately identifies the components as things necessary to make a Cosmic Treadmill. There’s one more piece they need, and of course, there’s only one in existence.
For some reason, Barry doesn’t call up Layla and the people at ARGUS to get their help and instead decides to put together a team of reformed rogues to pre-steal the device. The team includes Jaco the fire-wielder, Hartley the Pied Piper, Goldface, and Chillblaine. I like each of these characters in isolation, but when you get them in a room together they’re kind of insufferable. Jaco is too goofy, Chillblaine is too melodramatic, and Goldface absolutely cannot resist chewing scenery.
Their opponents, meanwhile are Captain Boomerang, the Fiddler, and Murmur. Murmur is the most potentially interesting of these. This villain appeared in a season of Arrow, but this is a post-Crisis reimagining that brings them much more in line with their comic-book counterpart despite two major changes. This Murmur appears to be a metahuman that can maybe absorb sound and is a female character, whereas the comic book Murmur was a guy without powers. However, this character has the creepy mask, jumpsuit, and knife to match the look of their comic counterpart, and gives off a creepy vibe much closer to the books.
With that said, the writers just threw in this character as a third member of the Red Death’s Goofy Goon Squad without having even given them an episode to develop in. In fact, they look similar enough to Ragdoll that I thought maybe it was a new costume for that character–which isn’t great.
The heist appears to be going down well, but then Chillblaine betrays the team. Chillblaine, who is single-mindedly obsessed with resurrecting his dead love, and whom Barry prevented from doing so. Why Barry thought he would be a good ally in this situation doesn’t really make sense to me.
Things go sideways quickly, and things devolve into a series of one-on-one battles between the different rogues with a bunch of pipes and colorful lights in the background, and none of them are very interesting. Jaco and Fiddler flirt a little bit, but it’s the forgettable kind of dorky instead of the endearing kind. And again, despite the literal timeline being at risk, Barry takes the hardware and doesn’t destroy it.
The whole episode is just hard to believe, as the various parts fail to provide support for each other. It’s just a bunch of stuff that falls apart both separately and together.
The Bad Guy Who Goes Fast
One of The Flash‘s most frustrating problems is the overreliance on speedster villains. After the awesome first season of the show, we relived the same storyline with Zoom, Savitar, Godspeed, the Reverse-Flash again, the Reverse-Flash again, and now Red Death.
In the comics, Red Death is the abhorrent combination of Flash and Batman of Earth-52, an earth that was already dying. Batman forced the combination, giving himself corrupted Speed Force powers and trapping Barry’s consciousness in his body. We’re still somewhat in the dark on this Red Death’s origins, but we know that this character is Ryan Wilder of Batwoman, played once again by Javicia Leslie. It’s great to see her wearing the bat symbol again, but the whole thing just doesn’t work for me.
At the end of the episode, when one of her rogues questions her motives, she tells him, “I am Vengeance!” This should feel like an awesome Batman throwback, but Leslie doesn’t put the same kind of conviction behind it that someone like Kevin Conroy or Robert Pattinson managed. Instead of getting chills, I got giggles. We’re supposed to find this character scary, but we don’t know anything about them or their motives, and the two characters have had very little interaction despite both being in the Arrowverse, so it feels cheap and unearned to have this character come back like this.
I want this last season to be good–Arrow gave us a shortened season that felt like a victory lap through past characters, and I genuinely enjoyed it. It was almost enough to make me want more Arrow. This feels like a reminder of why it’s time for The Flash to retire.