REVIEW: The Flash, S5E21 – The Girl With the Red Lightning

No one would ever accuse The Flash of needing more episodes in a season, but all the exposition in “The Girl With the Red Lightning” makes a 23rd installment – if only to spread out the anvil-dropping explanations over more than a single hour. Despite Ralph (Hartley Sawyer) figuring out that Thawne’s (Tom Cavanagh) plans have plans at the start of the episode, the rest of the team proceeded to make all the choices that would let Eobard have his way – thus setting the stage for the season finale.

Ralph is right, and he should say it.

With Gracecada about to unleash her virus across the entire city, and potentially the whole world, Joe (Jesse L. Martin) and Cecile (Danielle Nicolet) set up a makeshift hospital at CCPD to offer the cure to any Central City citizen who wanted it with Caitlin’s (Danielle Panabaker). While this course of action naturally led to Grace attacking the police station before “The Girl With the Red Lightning” was over, it also allowed for the best storyline of the night. Surprisingly, that belonged to Joe West, who experienced the pressures of being a boss for the first time. Left in charge thanks to Captain Singh’s busy schedule, Joe had to learn how to cope with hundreds of angry civilians and dozens of worried police officers all looking for his guidance. Thankfully, with Cecile’s support he quickly found his bearings and turned his decades of parenting skills into leadership ones. It not only served as a reminder of how well he and Cecile work as a couple, but also as nice foreshadowing of his future as CCPD’s eventual captain.

Barry (Grant Gustin) and Iris (Candice Patton) also showed off some of their teamwork, but The Flash still tragically had them take a backseat as a couple and as individuals. Their parenting of Nora (Jessica Parker Kennedy) remained at the forefront, however, as they went through the same steps of benching their daughter out of concern only to realize that it was better to let her help them like she wanted. Or was it? Even though it wasn’t necessarily Nora’s fault, everything that Westallen and the rest of the team did felt pointless once Ralph highlighted the biggest issue at the start of “The Girl With the Red Lightning”: Grace still killed people in the future, before she ever came back to the past. Why did Thawne’s plan rely on removing her dagger (and sending it to an unknown location) if she must have another source of power?

This really took up 10 minutes, and for what?

The fact that no one, not even Iris the journalist or Sherloque the detective, seemed interested in pursuing this line of questioning took what could have been an exciting episode of The Flash and made it seem rote instead. If only the characters had caught onto the discrepancies in Thawne’s plan sooner – although that would have required them and the audience to know there was a plan at all – then the viewers could have enjoyed the true villain of the season earlier than the last minute of the penultimate episode. Because, yes, despite finally understanding that Grace didn’t need her dagger to kill people, Cisco (Carlos Valdes) and Barry still went ahead and spirited it away using the mirror gun than Thawne instructed Nora to build. Which, of course, sent the dagger straight into Thawne’s hands and released him from custody seconds before his death penalty would have been carried out.

Now the team will have to fight a war on two fronts: against Gracecada and against Thawne, but neither one has been developed enough over the course of the season to feel very high stakes at all. Which was evidenced by the fact that Sherloque was able to have an entire subplot with his girlfriend (and ex-wife on a billion other Earths) Renee, who couldn’t decide whether to take the cure or not and finally agreed to pay Sherloque’s Earth a visit to hide… without Sherloque’s company, sadly. Even the title of “The Girl With the Red Lightning,” which sounded promising, ended up being nothing more than a revelation that Nora’s Negative Speedforce had been fueled by her psychic connection with Grace. It didn’t really do anything but create space for a feel-good Westallen family moment, which was undercut by the fact that they were all wrong this week.

But at least Thawne is finally free and ready to wreak some havoc for the finale. And if we’re lucky, Iris will actually get to write about it on her site instead of being forced to simply nod and smile in the background of Barry and Nora’s scenes. Let’s just hope that next season brings better pacing along with fresh storylines for our favorites.

The Flash airs Tuesdays at 8/7c on the CW.