In the wake of Mirror Monarch's all-out assault last week, Central City is a city on the mend. It's all hands on deck, and a sense of renewal is in the air, bolstered by everyone feeling like they're all in this together. But the rebuilding of Central City has several complications: the ongoing trauma experienced by the Mirrorverse's kidnap victims - but more immediately, the return of 64th-century menace Abra Kadabra!
Spoiler Level: Medium
I’ve said this before, but The Flash is at its best when it fearlessly, unabashedly leans into its comic book roots. This week’s episode, “Central City Strong,” does just that when it comes time for its villain of the week Abra Kadabra (David Dastmalchian, friend of The Comic Watchers Show and fearless Baba Yaga-fighter). In a fascinating take on the fallout from last season’s “Crisis on Infinite Earths,” Kadabra is experiencing the memories of unrealized futures and alternate Earths that will never occur – most pointedly, a world where he’s happily married and has a beautiful baby. He blames the Flash for the loss of this future, and sets out to make things right as only a supervillain can: by blowing up Central City.
Dastmalchian has two modes throughout the arc of “Central City Strong.” The first is prototypical over-the-top supervillain, full of wild proclamations, quirky gesticulations, and a mad gleam in his eye. And he’s fine at that, but does come off a bit too one-note. The episode runs risk of collapsing in on itself (at least for this arc), but then, as everything climaxes and his loss is laid bare, that cartoonish veneer is cast aside, and Dastmalchian effortlessly pivots to a man beset by real loss and an inability to cope. He makes a genuine human connection with our hero, and by extension the audience – something that many of Flash‘s villains of the week lack. Dastmalchian manages to portray an astonishing amount of depth considering, just fifteen minutes earlier in the episode, he was a bleach-blond mustache-twirler. (Never mind that his plan for destroying Central City is so bonkers, the only possible response is to just go with it! This is superhero stuff, dammit!).
But as satisfying as all that is, Abra Kadabra’s arc is just one component of “Central City Strong.” The episode’s themes are healing, renewal, and community. Central City was wrecked by Mirror Monarch’s assault; now, everybody bands together for the cleanup. It’s a fine sentiment, and doesn’t feel out of place as in the real world we inch toward a post-pandemic society. In practice, though, it’s heavily reminiscent of a lot of pop culture made in the shadow of 9/11 in this particular sentimentality – insistent on communal togetherness bringing about healing; heartfelt yet heavy-handed. There’s also a strong sense that Flash is moving forward (especially in the episode’s climax, which comes out of nowhere but is legitimately intriguing despite some questionable sub-Aughts CGI) from last season’s arc, as “Central City Strong” serves as both an epilogue to what should have been season six’s finale but also a palette cleanser and breath of fresh air. Everybody slows down. Everybody takes stock, and The Flash takes a (relative) moment to exhale.
One of “Central City Strong’s” best uses of this downtime is to explore the fallout from Mirror Monarch’s assault. Not dissimilar to the Snap support groups we saw in Avengers: Endgame, we learn that there are similar groups in play for Mirrorverse survivors in Central City. The end result is somewhat by-the-numbers, but allows Iris (Candice Patton) a chance to have an arc of her own independent of Barry (Grant Gustin), something she’s been desperately lacking since at least season five. Patton shows off some fine acting chops, letting down her reporter defenses and professional façade (and rocking a no-nonsense just-above-the-shoulders new haircut to boot) and lets her vulnerabilities show in ways that Iris typically doesn’t – thanks to the encouragement of Allegra (Kayla Compton), whose relationship to Iris is finally beginning to bear some fruit beyond employer/intern and “shoehorned member of Team Flash.” It all puts a nice bow on Iris’s recent storyline and gives Patton a great chance to flex a different set of dramatic, even vulnerable chops than usual.
Barry, by contrast, is predictably beating himself up for not realizing “Iris” was a Mirrorverse dupe for a good portion of last season, and is overcompensating with lavish gifts, whirlwind vacations in Europe, and so on. The guy genuinely feels bad for not realizing there was an imposter in his wife’s place, and who wouldn’t? That “It’s all my fault” sentiment plays out again later in the episode, when Barry realizes he was tricked by Kadabra and as a result Central City is now in danger. While there’s a kernel of truth behind feeling this way, at some point, moping became Barry Allen’s default mode – and the show needs to knock those particular cobwebs off of him before he becomes insufferable for it. Smile, guy! His solution to the Kadabra situation at the episode’s climax helps him to work through his emotions, but how long before the show’s writers fall back into this by now standard trope?
Almost every actor in this episode is bringing a classic sense to their characters, honestly. Caitlin/Killer Frost (Danielle Panabaker) has a smallish role (for now) but nails every scene she’s in, owing to some great chemistry with Carlos Valdes’ Cisco. Cisco, by turn, is cracking wise and dropping pop culture references left and right, as he should be. Valdes’ on-screen chemistry with Gustin is a particular win; he has the ability to pull smiles out of Barry that we might not see otherwise. He even manages to vibe (sorry) with Brandon McKnight’s Chester, bringing about an energy not unlike Legends of Tomorrow‘s Ray and Nate – although, Chester has yet to be given any sort of agency whatsoever beyond science support at this point. Who is he? Why is he here? Is he going to contribute anything that Cisco isn’t already? Flash‘s writers need to give the character a reason to exist, or find a way to write him out.
That said, these are pretty minor quibbles in the grand scheme of things. The Flash may have hit a comfortable, even predictable rhythm by now in its seventh season, but it’s still an entertaining and even endearing show. Episodes like “Central City Strong” are why. It isn’t high art, but it isn’t trying to be: it’s just plain fun, man. And sometimes that’s enough.
- Am I the only one who thought, “…Spike?” when Kadabra first appeared onscreen? (Buffy fans know.)
- Like all Arrowverse shows, Flash sometimes leans pretty heavily into some cornball dialogue. This week’s offender? Danielle Nicolet’s Cecille, who somehow managed to say, “Death itself, maybe?” when describing the surprise villain toward the end of the episode and keep a straight face.
- No Wells this week? Am I still watching The Flash?! Tom Cavanagh is no longer in the opening credits, so maybe we’ll get a break for awhile.
- Danielle Panabaker has some pretty fun stuff ahead for Caitlin/Killer Frost this season. I loved what happened in the stinger, and hope this plays out for awhile rather than just a one-and-done episode.
- The episode’s denouement was yet another down-in-the-dumps drag. Writers, let’s have some fun, and stop giving our characters reasons to be sad, okay? There seems to be a fallacy in the Flash writers room that drama must always equate to being depressed.
- I don’t know what in tarnation that was at the end of the episode, but the shoddiness of the CGI meant I didn’t even realize she was supposed to be female at first. I realize these CW Arrowverse shows have limited small-screen budgets, but those FX were not okay on any level post-2003 or so.
The Flash has a renewed sense of healing and hope as season seven gets into full swing. Thanks to some great character writing and some genuinely fun performances from all actors involved, "Central City Strong" turns into a fine outing for a show that - by all rights - should be feeling long in the tooth by this point. But it isn't, and despite some campy dialogue and an overreliance on melodrama at times, this was a fun outing that brought closure and gave our leads some space to breathe in between (wait for it) crises.
The Flash s7 e4: “Central City Strong”
- Writing - 8/108/10
- Storyline - 8.5/108.5/10
- Acting - 8.5/108.5/10
- Music - 7/107/10
- Production - 7.5/107.5/10
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