This episode was.... surprisingly not to bad. And we got even closer to an actual costumed supervillan again! Too bad I've now noticed a disturbing trend with the female characters who appear on the show. More on that to follow but first....
The Plot: There's a new vigilante in town... or is it an old one? A new vigilante seems to have started taking care of crime in Central City with extreme prejudice -- mowing down criminals with automatic weapons. A new psychiatrist in town seems to think the Flash might actually be responsible or, if he isn't, that the Flash is just as much a criminal. This causes Barry to question his motives as the Flash and to seek out the 1950's vigilante hero Nightshade -- physician Desmond Powell (first seen in episode 9, "Ghost in the Machine"). Powell puts Barry's mind at ease and quickly comes out of retirement when it is discovered that this killer vigilante is calling himself Nightshade!
Powell and the Flash set out to clear the name and memory of Powell's heroic deeds but they are unprepared for the new Deadly Nightshade, who has decided that any heroes who are not for him are against him... and he has found a way to even the playing field with the Flash...
My Take: Well, any episode with the excellent Jason Bernard as Desmond Powell gets an instant boost for me. There are certainly a few tropes thrown in here -- such as the tired old one about some "expert" who declares the hero is actually a villain or responsible for the crime and criminals or is messed up in the head leading said hero to have something of a crisis of conscience -- but it works fairly well here as a plot device to bring Powell back into Barry's circle.
And Jason Bernard sells it beautifully. He seems to have the uncanny knack of keeping his character grounded and relatable and most of all REAL despite the rather funny costume.
The villain here is both good and bad. His characterization is really, really thin. We're talking like cheap, 1 ply college dorm toilet paper thin. And as a result we just don't invest in him like we should. We don't feel any pity for him as a character who actually could have been a genuine hero if he hadn't gotten so twisted up, nor do we pity him as a man tortured by a family past he can never really redeem. On the flip side we can't really boo or hiss him as, even with his extreme body count, he never feels capital 'E' evil -- he just, actually, comes across as a little pathetic. As Deadly Nightshade, though, he does come up with an exosuit that looks appropriately comic book like in a good way and he proves clever enough to keep the Flash at arm's length for a while AND make a decent fight partner at the end.
This brings us to the other problem here that I've suddenly taken note of with this series... the female characters don't seem to come off very well. Here Denise Crosby (Tasha Yar of Star Trek: Next Generation) plays the misguided psychiatrist. Like many of the female characters who have appeared in the series to date she is, well, as I said, misguided, and career driven. These attributes are not portrayed as positive. The script leaves her character somewhat ridiculed for holding such silly views that Our Hero the Flash could be mentally unstable. She is also somewhat cast as the 'dateless, dry stick, who doesn't know how to unwind or step back from the job' type. Of course, by the end of the story the MALE characters in the form of Barry Allen and Desmond Powell have taught her how wrong she was about vigilantes in general and have caused her to do one of those 'transformation' things where she leaves her glasses behind, puts on a sexy dress, and becomes a totally different woman. It's subliminated sexism. Like I said, I missed it myself for a long time and only recently became aware of it. It sucks a lot of fun out of the story.
And speaking of the story... There are some really good moments here -- mostly between Barry and Powell as two crimefighters going out and kicking butt. There is some definite humor and the plot, on the whole, hangs together pretty well. The pseudo-science doesn't go too far off the mark so there isn't too much here that comes off as ridiculous or laughable. I do wish the writers would have let the identity of the Deadly Nightshade come as a surprise to build up suspense and also allow Barry and Powell to do some real detective work together but, eh, I won't quibble. And the characterizations of the villain and Croby's Dr. Frost are wallpaper paste and sexist respectively and the villain's exosuit ends up getting short shrift.
Overall, as a comic book fan, this episode really FELT like one of those great, old team-up stories where two heroes got together to fight crime together. The original Nightshade also has the look and feel of one of the old Mystery Men or Pulp Heroes like the Shadow or the Crimson Avenger and I LOVE the old pulp heroes so I have to plant this story in the "win" column. If you want to check out a Flash episode then this is one to look into.