REVIEW: The Flash, S5E14 – Cause and XS

The Flash tried its hand at a Groundhog Day-esque storyline this week in “Cause and XS,” which echoed last season’s Zari-centric Legends of Tomorrow episode as well as Barry’s first encounter with time travel back in season one. As implied by the title, the latest take on the tale was Nora’s (Jessica Parker Kennedy) fifty-three attempts to keep her mother Iris (Candice Patton) and the rest of the team safe from Cicada (Chris Klein). And while she was tearing her hair out trying to save the day, Cisco (Carlos Valdes) was finding fifty-three ways to mess up his date with Kamilla. It was a foolproof premise, one that usually brings both tears and laughter, but something was missing this time around – something other than series lead Grant Gustin, that is.

Nora’s no-good, very bad, horrible day.

That’s right, Barry was once again missing in action, although his reason remained plausible. Instead of getting himself locked in the pipeline, he was sent into the Speed Force to finish cooking Cisco’s metahuman cure with… tachyons or something. While he was working on the latest plot device, Nora was left in charge for an entire hour and her father expressed his full faith in her. “Cause and XS” could just have easily been called “Murphy’s Law” because everything that could go wrong in that short hour did, starting with Cicada kidnapping Iris from her workplace and killing Not-So-Killer Frost (Danielle Panabaker) the moment she stepped in to rescue her. Nora immediately ran back to the start of the hour and kept her mother from leaving STAR Labs only for Ralph (Hartley Sawyer) to get himself killed instead, then Sherloque (Tom Cavanagh) sent Cisco to an early grave, and once everyone else was trapped in the lab Cecile (Danielle Nicolet) was taken instead, and… You get the picture.

Parker Kennedy did her best to infuse every iteration with pathos, and a few of the deaths (such as Cisco’s) actually resonated while a few others (like poor Caitlin’s) were just comical. But for the most part, the tension that comes from not knowing what the force at work is or from knowing said force is unbeatable can’t be found in The Flash‘s latest attempt. That’s because Cicada has been such a subpar villain so far that it’s hard to believe Nora alone couldn’t take him, let alone Nora and one or two of her fellow superheroes. Aside from the reduced stakes, there isn’t a believable explanation for why she can only travel to a certain point or why she suddenly can’t grab her dad from the Speed Force for help. Zari’s time loop was controlled by Gideon in “Here I Go Again” and the exhaustive effort of slowing down the bomb was evident in every second of Gustin’s performance during “Enter Flashtime,” but in “Cause and XS” Nora’s time loop is controlled by the writers and the only exhaustion comes from the audience tired of repeating the same few scenes.

She asked you out for a reason, Cisco.

As if admitting that this week’s episode of The Flash isn’t as dramatic as expected, Cisco repeatedly compared the situation at hand to his own failed first date(s). Thanks in no small part to Ralph getting in his head, the normally adorable tech genius tried out several variations of douche in order to impress Kamilla, and each timeline turned out worse than the last. While it was understandable at first that he couldn’t learn from the previous take because he didn’t remember it, once he specifically Vibed her saying she was hoping for brain over brawn, it no longer made sense for him to continue in the same vein. Yet continue he did, until Nora actually explained what was going on and he abandoned the date altogether to gang up on Cicada with the rest of the squad.

Thankfully, the less-than-final showdown against the Big Bad contained some pretty cool effects, showcased a nice amount of teamwork, and allowed Nora to grow as both a character and a hero. And of course, Cisco salvaged his evening with Kamilla after the fact by just being himself, like he should have done all along. Barry’s return at the end, complete with a Jay Garrick-inspired speech about fracturing the timeline that Eobard Thawne immediately discounted in the future, also gave the episode a bit of closure before a nearly month-long hiatus. Overall, it wasn’t a bad hour of television, just a disappointing one.

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