Eventually every decade will have its nostalgic resurgence, but as someone who lived through it, “The One With The Nineties” only proves that the decade in question was never that interesting to begin with. For the most part, it was warmed-over Eighties leftovers. Hey look, it’s Blockbuster video! Remember Space Jam? (Yeah, that one’s coming back, too.) Put on your colorful Zubaz because this is how we do it!
That’s not to say that this week’s episode of The Flash is without its pleasures, just that the central conceit doesn’t open the door to quite as many possibilities as the writers might have hoped. With Barry sidelined for the week (he’s almost literally on ice, tucked away in a rejuvenation chamber until the episode’s closing minutes—and I’m sure Grant Gustin appreciated the breather), the focus is on Cisco and Chester as they set out to place isotope boosters in the Central City suburbs in order to detect the new Forces. In Masonville, where Chester grew up, they are hit by a green wave of energy that traps them in town. As they soon learn, they are stuck there on a specific day—December 4, 1998.
The comic possibilities may not be limitless, but at least the MTV-ready undercover outfits are good for a chuckle. The real point of this excursion is to delve into the back story of a character we haven’t gotten to know very well at all, Chester P. Runk. In order to repair the gizmo they hope will get them back to the future, Chester has to interact with the father he hardly knew as a child on the day before he lost him forever to a car accident. Although Chester had always assumed his father never had time for him because he was always too busy with his inventions, he learns that Pops cared in his own weird way, teaching him the virtue of dumpster-diving and finding treasure where others see trash.
Yeah, it’s corny “Cat’s In The Cradle” stuff, but it’s the first time Brandon McKnight has been given anything to work with besides wacky one-liners, and he delivers the emotion necessary to carry the scenes. In order to get back where they belong, however, Cisco and Chester have to get past Dion, who Cisco will later dub the Still Force. (I mean, at the risk of being too obvious, I think I would have gone with Time Force here, but naming supervillains is his job, not mine.) A high school athlete who never got to the NFL due to an injury, Dion has created a time loop that allows him to relive his glory days, but does not permit him to change his fate.
Dion’s potential for entertaining chaos becomes clearer when he sends a green wave through Central City that scrambles time, giving Team Flash makeovers reflecting various eras. Jazzy Joe and Hippie Frost are both cool, but the clear winner here is Iris, strutting into STAR Labs straight out of a 1972 Pam Grier blaxploitation classic. The time blast also sends Roman Centurions and a T-Rex on the loose and a World War II submarine into the middle of a busy street. So far, at least, the Still Force is a lot more fun than the other two (Strength and Sage, for the record).
Dion isn’t so much defeated as inadvertently talked into a different course of action by Chester. He can’t change his past, but he does control his own future—and everyone else’s, too. Unlike the other two forces, he doesn’t appear to be after the Speed Force, although that may be because he’s not aware she still exists. And apparently she’s sticking around for a while, bonding with Iris over Barry’s security blanket and getting her reassurance that Barry will be happy to have her as a houseguest, despite her resemblance to his late mother. When he finally emerges from hibernation, Barry doesn’t seem so sure of that, but that’s a story for next week.
- The cold open with all hell breaking loose followed by the “24 Hours Earlier” cue has really been done to death by now, hasn’t it?
- Yes, the episode title is a nod to that show of the Nineties, Friends, which started every episode title with “The One...”
- “We’ve been Under The Dome-d!” As someone who recapped all three seasons of that show, I suffered no small amount of PTSD at Cisco’s reference.
- When Cisco temporarily reverts to his seven-year-old self, he’s brought back not by references to Atlantis or King Shark vs. Gorilla Grodd, but by Chester’s mention of Game Of Thrones.