The Good: Obviously good vocals, Decent performances
The Bad: Awful use of handheld cameras, Direction, Minimal original music, Painfully contrived plot and concept
The Basics: A contrived crossover for Supergirl and The Flash, "Duet" is more like an alternate universe episode than a genuine musical.
In modern genre television, the bar has been set pretty high by some of the recent pioneers in serialized television. Shows like Star Trek Deep Space Nine (reviewed here!) and Buffy The Vampire Slayer influenced a pretty wide variety of television writers and directors. Ever since Joss Whedon successfully executed a musical episode in the sixth season of Buffy The Vampire Slayer (reviewed here!), a lot of genre shows have attempted to replicate that success. The Flash is presenting its musical episode in the form of "Duet," which is essentially a Glee reunion as it reunites former Glee co-stars Grant Gustin, Melissa Benoist, and Darren Criss.
And "Duet" is far more contrived than "Once More With Feeling."
"Duet" follows on The Flash episode "Into The Speed Force" (reviewed here!), but it is more directly a sequel to the Supergirl episode "Star-Crossed" (reviewed here!). In the very last moments of "Star-Crossed," the alien or metahuman Music Meister made a random appearance and whammied Kara at the DEO. The thing is, "Duet" is so artificially-created that fans of The Flash are likely to feel very cheated by the sudden adversary who appears in the episode. "Duet" begins after a slight narrative gap from "Into The Speed Force," but directly after "Star-Crossed."
Music Meister is not a villain from The Flash comic books. In fact, like Harley Quinn, Music Meister was created as a villain for a Batman animated series. The thing is, Music Meister in "Duet" cuts into the vast potential represented by one of the most impressive and important villains from The Flash comic books who has not been reasonably explored on The Flash: Mirror Master. Mirror Master is a villain who has the ability to imprison his victims in alternate dimensions and as he becomes more sophisticated at it, he can actually engineer and manipulate those mirror universes. Thus far, Mirror Master has only appeared briefly in the underwhelming episode "The New Rogues" (reviewed here!) and in "Duet," Music Meister's powers seem more akin to how Mirror Master ought to have appeared on The Flash.
Opening 18 years ago with Barry Allen and his mother watching Singin' In The Rain, Cisco walks in on Barry watching the movie again. H.R. calls the pair in to S.T.A.R. Labs, where Mon-El, Supergirl and J'onn J'onzz appear in the breach room. Supergirl is unconscious and J'onzz tells the S.T.A.R. Labs team that Kara was incapacitated by an alien visitor the DEO discovered rather suddenly. That visitor, the Music Meister, appears at S.T.A.R. Labs and incapacitates Barry Allen as well. When Barry wakes up, he finds himself in a night club with Kara.
The Music Meister appears and tells Barry and Kara the rules of the place he has stashed their consciousnesses. They are trapped in a musical, surrounded by familiar people with different identities - Malcolm Merlyn is the club's owner, Winn Schott is the piano player and Cisco is the club's bartender. While Music Meister vows to take control of Central City in the real world, Barry and Kara work their way through the musical drama in which they find themselves. Working at a gangster's nightclub, Allen and Danvers are tasked with finding the daughter of another gangster. Barry and Kara discover the relationship that Millie (the alternate version of Iris) has with Tommy Moran (alternate Mon-El), against their fathers' wishes. In the real world, Music Meister takes Barry and Supergirl's powers and begins committing crimes in Central City. With the threat against the powerless heroes inside the vision being very real, Barry and Kara try to complete the script for the musical while Iris and Mon-El make a desperate effort to rescue them.
"Duet" is more an episode with the occasional song than a musical episode of The Flash. Unlike "Once More With Feeling," "Duet" plays like an episode of Glee with the actors performing cover songs as opposed to new works by the episode's writer. The songlist for "Duet" includes "Moon River," "Put A Little Love In Your Heart," and "More I Cannot Wish You." There is a charming original song in "Duet," (which I assume is called) "Superfriend" and it is fun and appropriately campy. Unfortunately, the effect of the direction during the original number diminishes its impact. The camera is set so far back to capitalize on the dance portion of the song and dance that viewers cannot truly see the actors singing. That effect is contrasted by excellent direction during the second original song at the climax of the episode when Barry sings to Iris and captures Candice Patton's incredible reaction shots, as well as Grant Gustin's singing.
Genre fans will quickly discover that "Duet" is not The Flash's version of "Once More With Feeling," so much as it is The Flash's musical recreation of the Star Trek Deep Space Nine episode "Far Beyond The Stars" (reviewed here!). The thing is, having an episode where all the main parts are recast with alternate identities is not very new, but the derivative nature of "Duet" is fairly apparent. For sure, there is a lot of charm in seeing Joe West and Dr. Stein as a couple, much like seeing a make-up-less Michael Dorn playing an arrogant baseball player in "Far Beyond The Stars," but it is a tough sell on The Flash. Between multiple trips to Earth-2 and the Flashpoint Tangent universe, the novelty of the actors on The Flash playing alternate versions of their characters has very much been done on the show. "Duet" seems like a very minor variation on that now-familiar theme and the whole "musical thing" does not actually add much to it.
Ultimately, "Duet" is a weird course-correction episode for the parallel arcs running in The Flash and Supergirl and on the character front, it is hard not to see it at painfully simplistic. The experience that Kara and Barry share in "Duet" is hardly enough to undo the sense of betrayal Kara felt (literally) yesterday when Mon-El's nine month-old lie to her was exposed. And is the viewer truly supposed to believe that all Iris honestly needed was to recall that Barry Allen could be killed at any moment in the course of his super hero adventures and a song to make her come around?!
The acting, costumes, and musical direction in "Duet" are all fine, but the episode is a powerfully contrived mash-up of ideas that worked far better on the works from which they were taken.
For other works with Darren Criss, please visit my reviews of:
Glee - Season 2
Glee - Season 3
[Knowing that single episodes are an inefficient way to get episodes, it's worth looking into The Flash - The Complete Third Season on DVD or Blu-Ray, which is also a better economical choice than buying individual episodes. Read my review of the third season here!
For other television and movie reviews, please visit my Movie Review Index Page for an organized listing!
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