Grant Gustin (Photo: The CW)

With all the expository throat-clearing out of the way, the powers that be are ready to deliver on their promise of digging The Flash out of the darkness. “Mixed Signals” is a big step in that direction, as it plays up the fun and wackiness of life with the Fastest Man Alive, but it doesn’t quite solve the show’s biggest problem: Whether riding high or down in the dumps, Barry Allen is still the worst.

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Grant Gustin’s charm goes a long way toward papering over this defect, but at some point he needs an assist from the writers who keep going back to the same well. Barry doesn’t listen. He acts impulsively rather than putting his faith in the capable team that has assembled around him. I’m willing to give him a pass this week on the grounds that he’s caught up in rediscovering the thrill of being the Flash, but only if he finally does learn something and absorbs Iris’ words: “You’re not the Flash, Barry. We are.”

Still, all things being equal, I’d much rather see Barry revel in his powers than hang his head and sulk, and “Mixed Signals” provides plenty of the former. He does the Risky Business dance in his boxers while whipping up a super-speed breakfast! He catches up on his stories by binge-watching at a thousand times normal speed! (“Aw, Jon Snow died. Oh, he’s alive!”) He takes care of all the wedding plans without consulting Iris and… yeah, that’s the bad part. Caitlin suggests couples counseling (leaving me to wonder if it might be possible for her to enter into some form of counseling with her Killer Frost side), which Iris initially dismisses until Barry ignores her instructions on disabling a hacked smart car, with nearly disastrous results. A cheerful jerk is still a jerk!

The therapy sessions are interesting in that they allow the writers to put themselves on the couch and come clean about their past transgressions. A rundown of the people in the West-Allen orbit who have died since the series began turns tragedy into a blackly comic reflection on the absurd body count your typical superhero show accumulates over a few seasons, and Barry’s propensity for acting recklessly on his own is given a proper airing. (Their therapist is played by Donna Pescow, a prime-time regular decades ago on the sitcom Angie.) Counseling can only take them so far given the need to dance around what they actually do with their lives, however; it takes a moment of life-or-death peril for the lesson to sink into Barry’s head.

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Candice Patton (Photo: The CW)

That comes during the episode’s highlight, in which Barry’s souped-up new super-suit is hacked by the C-list villain Kilg%re. Introduced in the ’80s comics as an alien, the character has been reimagined for television as a jilted techie taking vengeance on his former partners with his meta computer virus powers. After shaking one to death in an elevator and nearly killing another by sabotaging her insulin pump, Kilg%re takes on the Flash by turning Cisco’s upgrades against the speedster. The result is some vintage Silver Age goofiness culminating with Barry being stuck in inflated-suit mode (reminiscent of this classic Breaking Bad moment). When Kilg%re initiates the self-destruct sequence, however, it’s Iris to the rescue, instructing Barry to zap himself with lightning in order to short out the suit. Miraculously, he listens to her and it works.

It’s too early to say whether this attempted makeover of the show’s tone is going to be effective, since so much of it depends on building a better Barry Allen without turning him into a bland action figure. He can’t be flawless, but he also can’t keep making the same mistakes over and over again. I’d like to think the lesson has been absorbed, but we’ve been down this road before. (I lost track of how many times the members of Team Flash vowed not to keep secrets from each other last season, only to go right back to the secret-keeping.) For now, at least, I’m grateful that the moping and brooding has been relegated to other corners of the CW-verse.

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Stray observations

  • The headline on the newspaper in the therapist’s office gets Barry’s attention: “Mayor Queen is the Green Arrow.”
  • We’re at that part of the season where the big bad only appears in tag scenes to tease upcoming developments, so rendering any judgment on the Thinker would be premature. This week he completes Schubert’s hitherto unfinished Eighth Symphony and mentions finding “the others,” which would appear to tie into the revelation that Kilg%re did not receive his powers via the particle accelerator explosion.
  • I have no idea what’s going on with Wally West’s hair. Is it just me or is it different in every scene?
  • The subplot about Cisco’s dimension-hopping date with Gypsy doesn’t amount to much, other than adding another piece of alternate-world lore: On Gypsy’s Earth, the equivalent of Valentine’s Day is known as One One One Day. (Though I’m more intrigued by St. Shaquille O’Neal’s Day.)
  • Two episodes into the season, we’re still without a Harrison Wells of any sort. Next week, perhaps?

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