Saturday, March 6, 2010

Nowhere Man

Yes, I know, I've fallen behind. What can I say -- life sometimes interferes with life. But either way, your humble hostess Stressfactor is back with yet another episode of The Flash.

Episode 10: "Sight Unseen"

Tina is working late at STAR Labs when 'a little man who was not there' unleashes a toxin into the building. Now she and her boss are infected and have four hours to live. To make matters worse, STAR Labs failsafes will irradiate the building if anyone tries to breach the building seal. It's up to Barry to figure out who this 'invivible man' is and get the anti-toxin or else Tina dies. Adding to his plight, there are indications that the mystery man also intends to use more of the toxin to poison Central City itself! It's going to be a long night for both Barry and the Flash.

My Take:
Every series, sooner or later, likes to do some kind of variation on a "beat the clock" story. The Flash is somewhat unique since it decided to do TWO of them. This one, which is a quasi-"beat the clock" and the next one in line, which is a true "beat the clock" (something I'll discuss with the next review). These type of stories are really effective when done well; they amp up the tension, they put the hero on the wire, but lives most literally on the line. Problem is, this story? Not done so well.

One major failing right out of the gate is the amount of plot holes and improbabilites we have to swallow. I mean, from the start we see that whatever gadget the invisible man is using to make himself invisible it interferes with electrical equipment -- it causes lights to flicker, it causes radios to get static interference, it prevents a car from starting, it causes security TV's to go fuzzy, etc. It is supposed to be an electromagnetic device to bend light (yes, it's comic book science, get over it. In the 1960's everything that wasn't "ATOMIC!" was "MAGNETISM!") and yet, while still wearing the activated gadget our villain is able to use a computer with no problems whatsoever! And these are 90's computers! The kind where just sneezing around one seemed to cause it to crash! And we're supposed to accept that a guy wearing some kind of sophisticated electromagnet is just blithely booting up a computer and loading a virus?! Seriously, a nice EM pulse next to the server would have just fragged the whole thing anyway.

And then there is STAR Labs safety measures... I mean, what kind of a place has a lockdown that will irradiate a building and yet apparently there is NO ONE IN THE WORLD WHO CAN SHUT DOWN THE SYSTEM SAFELY!!! I mean, you know, if there were a chemical leak or something, even if you assume that everyone in the building is dead you can't just.... you know... LEAVE THE BUILDING SITTING THERE! At some point someone has to be able to start getting in there to clean up, neutralize the chemicals, etc. so that the building can either be safely put to use again or else safely abandoned. And besides all of that -- there is also the case scenario of what we see this episode -- people infected with a poison or a disease but where there is some hope of administering an antidote -- in which case you need protocols for entering the building and safely removing the sick people for treatment. I could just see STAR Labs motto now: "Work here but if anything happens to you you're on your own because we don't care." Just... stupid.

And then... we've got a guy who checks off most of the mad scientist supervillain boxes... Created a device which basically gives you a superpower? Check. Got a line in crazy, dramatic, death and threat filled ranting? Check. Going to destroy a major metropolitan area? Check. Got a cool costume? No check. GAH!! This is one of the things that drives me crazy about this series. It's like they WANT supervillains but they DON'T want supervillains. They want villains who have all the trappings of supervillains but hen they don't want them to LOOK like supervillains. We saw this in the previous episode where the Ghost started out the episode with a cool (by 1950's standards) costume and yet when he enters the modern era they're quick to stick him in a button down shirt and pleated pants. And really, NO ONE looks good in pleated pants. Here, we have our quasi-mad scientist -- a tall but slightly portly fellow with glasses and thinning hair wearing pleated pants (again!) and a jersey top.... and a duster and wide brimmed fedora. Seriously, if you're going to try to make the duster and fedora look seem cool a dark green knit top and pleated pants are NOT the way to go!

And our villain also has a number of plot conveniences centered around him. For one, while being about six foot (according to one witness) we're supposed to believe that this ill scientist -- this somewhat out-of-shape guy -- is able to lift a full-grown, also slightly portly man, off the groud by his throat and strangle him! Not only do we have to swallow that, but we have to believe that, somehow, just the fact that he's invisible means that the Flash... the FASTEST MAN ALIVE... cannot catch him. I mean, we're expected to believe that in the ONE SECOND it takes the Flash to move across the room to where he heard the invisible man's voice coming from said invisible man has managed to move far enough away that the Flash can't find him. Writers, the guy is INVISIBLE, not INTANGIBLE. And there's no way this out-of-shape guy could be moving THAT fast.

And is that enough terrible stuff to swallow for one episode? Oh no. No, here comes that LOVELY old chestnut -- the arrogant, jerk of a Federal Agent... oh, who also happens to be corrupt as well. Got enough sterotypes in there yet?

In the episode's defense... there are a FEW nice touches. There are a couple of good lines of dialogue (I particularly like it when Barry tells the corrupt Fed to "Pack up your cloak and dagger") and it is a nice touch to try to humanize the mad scientist and show him as someone haunted by the horrors his work has unleashed, as someone wanting to get the truth out there (Yes, that was an X-Files reference), as well as being sick which has likely contributed to his madness. the problem is that these little touches are just too little to save a story that was filled with way too many plot holes and pushed suspension of disbelief past the breaking point.

I will say this as well, overall, the 'invisible' effects largely hold up over time. There are some sequences which look like the action was filmed backwards and then run forwards but it isn't too egregious.

Unless you're a completist, a purist, or someone who likes to rip stories apart MST3K style, this episode can be skipped like a hopscotch board.

Flash Facts:
Barry and Julio were planning a night at the racetrack and Tina was supposed to go with them. When Barry returns to Julio waiting at the lab Julio greets him by singing "I've got the horse right here..." and then says to Barry "We've got the guys where's the doll?" These are references to the musical Guys and Dolls (which was based on some short stories of Damon Runyon's). The opening song is called "Fugue for Tinhorns" and consists of three gamblers looking at their racing forms and each one backing a different horse and insisting that their horse will be the winning one. The song opens with the line "I've got the horse right here, his name is Paul Revere..." It's a fun little musical. For those wanting to see it, the only version of it put to film was in 1955 featuring Marlon Brando and Frank Sinatra. But for voices -- I far more recommend listening to the 1992 Broadway revival cast album featuring Nathan Lane and Peter Gallagher.

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