This week’s Flash episode may be a classic example of “too little, too late.” The season has been perpetually bogged down by the underwhelming Cicada storyline - one that started off well enough but quickly proved it didn’t have the legs to last an entire year. Had “Failure is an Orphan” come along in November or December, that would be one thing. But to be this deep into Season 5 and see the Cicada conflict only beginning to kick into gear is frustrating, to say the least.
To be fair, the buildup this week was enjoyable enough. The issue was more in terms of the lackluster payoff. Early on, “Failure is an Orphan” succeeded in creating a sense of finality and impending doom. The early interaction between Nora and Thawne made one thing abundantly clear - win or lose, Team Flash’s feud with Orlin Dwyer was about to end. No more half-measures and anti-climactic fights that end with Dwyer slinking away to lick his wounds.
Bringing Thawne back into the mix has been perhaps the smartest move the writers have made this season. It’s just a shame he’s played such a small role these past few months. Hopefully one outcome of this week will be that Thawne finally steps onto the main stage again.
The buildup to the final battle resonated most strongly when it came to Nora and Sherloque’s connection to Team Flash. Both characters were forced to come to terms with this impending farewell. As much as Sherloque has proven to be the most obnoxious and superficial incarnation of Harrison Wells, he had some pretty great moments this week. Tom Cavanagh managed to bring a wistful sadness to the role that shone through even beneath that atrocious French accent.
This also played well in terms of the always rocky Nora/Iris relationship. Nora herself doesn’t truly appreciate what this goodbye is going to mean. As far as she’s concerned, she’ll simply hop back to the future and find her mother waiting for her. But from Iris’ perspective, it’s going to be decades before she gets to be with this version of her daughter again. That’s a tragedy worth digging into. If anything, I wish the writers focused more on that element and less on the Joe/Cecile subplot. But on the other hand, the failure to stop Cicada means there’s still opportunity to explore Nora and iris’ complicated relationship. And that relationship will sure only grow more complicated once Nora’s true motives finally come out into the open.
As for the Joe/Cecile storyline, it was fine, but Cecile’s goofy mind-reading power is a one-note joke this series has beaten into the ground by now. I’m more just happy to see Jesse L. Martin given plenty of time in the spotlight after being away from the series for so long. There’s just something about The Flash that clicks that much more when Joe is there to dispense fatherly wisdom and good around with his kids.
The climax is where this episode began to lose its momentum. Barry’s method of “defeating” Dwyer worked well enough, at least. It’s one more reminder that his compassion and willingness to risk his own life are at least as crucial as his speed powers. The Barry/Dwyer scenes suffered mainly from Chris Klein’s tendency to over-deliver his lines. And that’s not even necessarily Klein’s fault. His performance is perfectly fine in the flashbacks, when he’s allowed to play Dwyer as an ordinary guy and not a scene-chewing villain. But in the present, Dwyer’s slow, melodramatic cadence tends to come across as more silly than threatening.
The ultimate resolution of this final showdown between team Flash and Cicada is where things began to fall apart. A big part of the problem is that the series did so much to telegraph this twist already. It was obvious The Flash was setting up Dwyer’s niece to take his place as Cicada. So there was a definite sense of “That’s it?!?” surrounding he final few minutes.
That switch-up could eventually reinvigorate Season 5, but there’s little evidence of that so far. The writers haven’t done enough to establish one Cicada as a threat on the level of Reverse-Flash or Savitar. How is a second one going to be any different? And again, why did we have to wait until the final two months of the season to get to this point? I’d like to believe this shake-up can salvage the remainder of the season in the same way Ricardo Diaz pulled Arrow out of its rut last year. We’ll see.