Tuesday, December 6, 2016

New Heroes, New Villains: "The Present" Is The Annual Christmas Episode Of The Flash!

The Good: Good performances, Speeds along the season's plot well, Awesome special effects
The Bad: Generally predictable plot, Light on character development
The Basics: "The Present" creates a prophecy for The Flash, which sets up the rest of the season, while entertaining!

When it comes to The Flash, the series started out incredibly good, in a way that both respected the source material and managed to not fall into the usual, stale conceits that plague a number of genre television shows these days. Unfortunately, as the series has progressed, it has not respected its fans as much and the show has picked up some of the worst conceits of other works. So, for example, near the climax of the second season, Barry Allen's father was killed in front of him . . . only to have him replaced at the end of the next episode by his Earth-3 doppelganger. It guts the emotional resonance of the death of the important character to have a virtual stand-in for him put into the series. The return of the Earth-3 Jay Garrick, who is essentially Henry Allen from Earth-1, comes in "The Present."

"The Present" comes on the heels of "Invasion!" (reviewed here!), but fans of The Flash would do well to have seen the Legends Of Tomorrow episode "Invasion!" (reviewed here!) before watching "The Present." After all, The Flash and Cisco were heavily featured in the climax of the DC Television Universe crossover and understanding where Barry Allen and Cisco Ramon are at the beginning of "The Present" is enhanced by having seen where they ended "Invasion!" (from Legends Of Tomorrow). As well, H.R. had begun training Wally and the identity of Alchemy was revealed.

Four years ago in the Indus Valley, Julian Albert is an archaeologist who uncovers a box with a mysterious power in it. At S.T.A.R. Labs in the present, H.R. decorates for Christmas while the rest of the team works to learn about Savitar and Cisco starts hallucinating his brother Dante. Cisco hunts down a dissertation on the Hindu Broma (Philosopher's) stone, which is the stone Alchemy uses to make people into metahumans. Confronting Albert, Allen is lied to about the forensics expert finding the stone and Albert denies knowing anything substantive about Savitar. On Earth-3, the Flash is taking out their version of the Trickster and Barry goes over to get information from Jay Garrick.

Garrick informs Barry that Savitar is coming for Barry, as Speedster myth states that Savitar only appears to speedsters before he comes to kill them. H.R. trains Wally West to be faster than Barry, while Barry and Jay try to learn more about Savitar. Garrick encourages Barry to return home to Iris, where he learns that Julian Albert might possess the Philosopher's Stone. The two Flashes confront Alchemy before he can restore all of the Flashpoint metahumans, with Jay being wounded by Savitar. But when Barry stops Savitar by boxing back up the Philosopher's Stone, Julian Albert has no memory of being Alchemy. Cisco Ramon evaluates the box and it appears to not actually exist! As Dante continues to appear to Cisco, it becomes clear that Vibe is being manipulated by the same force that took over Albert!

Arguably what is most impressive about "The Present" is that director Rachel Talalay managed to get Mark Hamill for a single scene! The Earth-3 incarnation of Trickster is virtually The Joker, which is somewhat hilarious and well-executed.

"The Present" includes an amusing subplot featuring Joe West and D.A. Horton as their relationship heats up. The pair flirt and challenge each other with their respective grandmother's egg nog recipes. Jesse L. Martin and Danielle Nicolet have great on-screen chemistry and their flirtatious banter is a nice change from the heavy emotional scenes that Grant Gustin presents for most of the episode.

While Barry Allen struggles with dealing with Savitar and interacting with both Jay Garrick and Iris, Wally West is outed as training with H.R. Wally is getting faster and stronger, much to the chagrin of Joe West. Wally is presented in "The Present" as an adult who is angered by not being treated like an adult and he holds his own in the episode as a credible speedster, even when he is not running. Wally steps up as a hero and he makes a good attempt to thwart Savitar, which is an awesome entrance for Wally onto the field of battle.

Grant Gustin and Tom Felton interact brilliantly in "The Present" as Barry Allen and Julian Albert. Gustin manages to have a strength of presence on-screen to rival Felton, which is no small feat. Felton as an adult actor has managed to becomes someone who can take a tiny role and fill the screen with his on-screen presence. Felton is a powerhouse in The Flash in the minor role of Julian Albert and Grant Gustin confronts Felton in a scene that raises the bar for what one might expect of Gustin!

"The Present" continues to present Savitar as arguably the coolest special effect on television today. Savitar looks awesome in "The Present" and is enough to make viewers excited to see more of him.

"The Present" is a bit predictable, especially for those who know the source material. In The Flash, Vibe originally appears as a villain post-Flashpoint. "The Present" begins to put Cisco Ramon on the path to the Dark Side and that is much more predictable than it is audacious.

The conclusion to "The Present," however, is robbed of any credibility by the whole "Invasion!" crossover. At the end of "Invasion!" Supergirl was given a communications device and Vibe and Barry Allen have shown an ability to go over to her Earth at will. Either way, as the S.T.A.R. Labs team tries to figure out what to do with the Philosopher's Stone to keep Savitar permanently trapped, they think that the most credible way to dispose of the box is by putting it in space. For those not following the thread, the solution might seem obvious in a way that the S.T.A.R. Labs team does not realize: take the box to Supergirl's Earth and ask her to fly it into her sun. Problem solved. Yet, that is not what happens in "The Present."

The result is an episode of The Flash that works very hard to answer virtually all of the questions set up in the first half of the season and set up the second half of the season exceptionally well. But, "The Present" is thematically light and does not stand nearly as well on its own as some of the other Christmas episodes of The Flash!

For other works with Andre Tricoteux, please check out my reviews of:
"Killer Frost" - The Flash
"Fail-Safe" - Legends Of Tomorrow

[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 season and episode reviews, please visit my Television Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2016 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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