Jesse L. Martin, Carlos Valdes, Hartley Sawyer (Photo: Bettina Strauss/The CW)

For the second week in a row, The Flash puts its season-long arc on the back burner in favor of a comedic one-off, making a strong (if unintended) argument in favor of scaling back the show’s serialized ambitions. This fourth season was at its best early on, when the DeVoes were in the shadows and the bus metas took center stage. “Honey, I Shrunk Team Flash” introduces another one of those metas, Sylbert Rundine, dubbed Dwarfstar by a pocket-sized Cisco. The DeVoe arc carries on in the background, but is mostly used as an explanation for the preposterous coincidence that links this week’s two major storylines.

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Barry is still in jail, but that hasn’t dampened what you might perceive as either his boyish optimism or smug overconfidence, depending on how you view the character at this point. Having befriended Big Sir last week, Barry now sets his mind on securing his new pal’s freedom, regardless of whether that help is desired or not. That Big Sir is innocent due to a case of mistaken identity with the very meta the rest of Team Flash is battling this week is the hard-to-swallow coincidence mentioned above, hand-waved by the writers as the master plan of the all-knowing DeVoes, always ten moves ahead in their grand game of six-dimensional chess.

As is so often the case, Barry overreaches in the interest of doing the right thing, and when his lofty promises to Big Sir prove empty, he violates every principle he’s claiming to stand for by whisking the hulking inmate out of his cell and off to the Chinese village where he plans to take a vow of silence and live out his days in peace. So...now it’s okay for an innocent person to be sprung from prison even if a court of law hasn’t determined that judgment? To be clear, I don’t have a problem with this, but Barry’s stubborn insistence on remaining in jail regardless of how badly Central City may need the Flash has predictably bad consequences. The warden, tipped off to Barry’s secret by a hidden camera, locks him in the metahuman wing and cuts a deal with Amunet for his new prize.

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Barry’s share of the episode is serviceable at best, but his absence from Team Flash provides more opportunities to explore new group dynamics. Iris is still the nominal leader, but Harry is leading the charge on finding a way to get Barry in the clear. Cecile has often felt like an eighth wheel on this show, but lately the writing team has made an effort to find more interesting things for her to do. Her turn as Barry’s lawyer a couple of weeks ago was too contrived and uninspired to work, but giving her a metahuman ability as a pregnancy complication is kind of ingenious, as it sets a time limit on a power (telepathy) that could easily become a convenient storytelling crutch. Given this opportunity, Danielle Nicolet displays comic chops the show has mostly kept under wraps thus far.

Derek Mears (Photo: Bettina Strauss/The CW)

The laughs flow more freely this week than usual, from Harry’s musings on incarceration (“Gorilla prison is worse. They throw their scat at you.”) to the sight gags that result once Rundine turns his shrink ray on Cisco and Ralph (Iris stepping on Ralph followed by Caitlin peeling him off her shoe like a wad of chewing gum is the most delightfully Silver Age-inspired visual this show has turned out in a while). The chipmunk-voiced duo is reduced to living in a Lego mockup of Iris’ would-be execution site while Harry tries to perfect an “embiggening bazooka” to blast them back to full-size. The sight of the tiny twosome riding a drone while Rundine throws an array of expanding vehicles at them and the rest of Team Flash strikes exactly the right balance of humor and action.

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That balance probably isn’t sustainable given the way The Flash is set up right now, but when your Big Bad has already been recast and has now been kept offscreen entirely for two weeks in a row, maybe it’s time to rethink that setup. That’s not to say the show should abandon serialization (which would be impossible at this point given its ties to the larger CW-verse), but it ought to be more willing to ditch something that isn’t working. There are very few super-villains who can sustain a full season, so perhaps smaller six-to-eight-episode arcs interspersed with (mostly) stand-alone episodes would be a more effective strategy. “Honey, I Shrunk Team Flash” isn’t perfect by any means, but it feels more like the show I fell for back in the first season than most.


Stray observations

  • You might recognize the hulking Derek Mears from his turn as the arm-wrestling goon Renzo from Twin Peaks: The Return.
  • “Why are you still thinking about Bulbasaur?”
  • The slippery ethics of Barry Allen: he’s not above using his super-speed to cheat at cards, at least when playing against ex-mayor Bellows.

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