This season of the Flash seems to be hitting more emotional notes than going for the fun adventure the show started out as. I didn’t care for the two part “Family Matters” story line with all its strained analogies, and then “Goodbye Vibrations” saw my favorite character leave the series. Now in “Masquerade,” we see the dark past of a secondary character and get a new version of a character with some important ties to the Flash in the comics. We also get to see someone I’ve missed make a return, and Chester settling into his new job.
Things start off at the West home, where Joe is using his recent unemployment to dig into the background of Kristen Kramer, the vehemently anti-meta special representative of the governor. We hear yet another example of how the writers have no idea how police departments work, and then Cecile provides a file with some insight to Kramer’s past. When Joe rushes off to look into this (and miss most of the rest of the episode) we see her expression change, as if we didn’t already know something was off with her. This is followed by what appears to be the real Cecile trapped in some strange and unpleasant looking place.
In the wake of Cisco’s departure (which I still really don’t like), Chester is settling into the workshop and making it his own. Caitlin is impressed with his work, although Chester’s showing off doesn’t go smoothly. He goes to the STAR-cives to get something, and runs into Barry and Iris doing things that would get them fired if STAR had an HR department. Then again, Barry owns the place, so maybe not. This awkwardness mercifully ends when Barry goes to Cecile’s office to help with a case. The solution is ridiculously easy, but we see what’s really going on soon enough, and Barry ends up joining Cecile in a white room (but no black curtains).
At STAR, an unconscious Barry is brought in for treatment and Caitlin will once again spend the rest of the episode in the medbay looking worried. The others try and work out what’s going on and get led in a very specific direction by a bad guy. All this leads to Cisco’s villain book, and we get the Arrowverse version of the Psycho-Pirate. The Pirate had a long and odd history in the comics, but became a lot more interesting after the original Crisis on Infinite Earths. He was one of the beings the Anti-Monitor took prisoner to make his grand plans work, and after the Crisis, Pirate was one of the few that remembered the original world/timeline. Another of the Anti-Monitor’s prisoners was the Barry Allen Flash, who died in that series. In this world, the original comic book Pirate, Roger Hayden, was in Gotham during the Elseworlds event, and we hear a bit about him and the Medusa Mask (never named in the episode) that gives him his powers. Again, the team is really obviously steered where the villain wants them to go.
Barry and Cecile try and figure out where they are and what’s going on, but don’t get far. Cecile is clearly freaked out, but Barry gently insists on them doing the right thing, even after finding out that his powers don’t work here. While they explore and Barry draws on some ideas from past adventures, Chester reflects that what comes next isn’t his specialty, but that Cisco left an emergency number. This leads to the return of Sue Dearbon, who I was really enjoying. The character’s future was in jeopardy when the actor portraying her love interest got fired over some really bad Tweets, but now they seem to have decided to let her come back on her own. Sue walks them through her area of expertise, and there’s some banter that leads Chester to wonder if he’s as on top of things as he thinks he is.
This all leads to some Entrapment-style hijinks where Sue shows off her odd dodge-laser dancing skill, which I guess is part of the same discipline as dance fighting? The plan proceeds, despite some in-character klutziness. Barry and Cecile keep exploring, and find some odd phenomenon and an unexpected opponent, while Cecile slips up and reveals something she meant to hide. Their clash with the newest bad guy gives Caitlin more reasons to frown concernedly.
The team puts their heads together and start to work out what they’re actually up against, and it’s not good news. The bad guy is revealed, and stops hiding, taking action against Sue before escaping. Regrouping, the team comes up with a new plan, while two of them bicker and someone who already feels bad starts feeling worse. Cecile finally breaks down and tells Barry where they are and what it means to her. Because every single person on every show absolutely has to have a Tragic Backstory ™. Barry listens supportively and gives a heartfelt pep-talk. Something of what he says gets through, and their circumstances change for the better.
Chester is upset he’s not doing as good a job as his idol, Cisco, tended to do, and Iris finds him to do her best to reassure him. She points out how he’s rushing things, and he does seem to listen. As the conversation plays out, Chester gets an idea what the bad guy is up to, and manages to confirm it.
Things cut rapidly back and forth between Chester and Iris confronting their bad guy (because every reporter is certified on laser rifles, right?) and Barry and Cecile go up against theirs. Barry does something heroically (and tactically) stupid to up the stakes until Cecile manages to have her shinning moment.
Coming together at the end, Team Flash talks about what happened and what’s next. Caitlin, relieved of frowning duty now that her patient has recovered, has gone to ARGUS to help build a special containment unit for this week’s dangerous artefact, which doesn’t seem at all where the physician/biologist’s strengths lie. The others plan for a celebration, Sue says she’ll be sticking around for a while, Chester brings up something to Barry and Iris, and Cecile thanks Barry before heading home.
While the others party, Cecile has a long and overdue talk with Joe, who is back from looking up records. How he has access to special records since he doesn’t have his badge anymore, I’m not sure. Joe is supportive of Cecile and slips in a message about the importance of mental health, especially in some communities that have issues with facing it, and then shares his discoveries about Kramer’s past. No doubt this will be some kind of running subplot.
What I liked: I’m thrilled to see Sue return. While I felt bad for him, I’m glad Chester isn’t just a “plug and play” component and interchangeable replacement for Cisco. It should be hard stepping into the shoes of a genius who had deep ties to the rest of the team. I also liked that Chester brought up that he never intended to replace Cisco, just work with him.
What I didn’t: While they opened the show with an explanation of Joe and Cecile’s rarely-seen baby for once, I do wonder how Iris keeps her paper going when she’s never there. I mentioned the issue with Joe getting special records with no real basis for doing so. Caitlin seems to be designated worrier now. I miss Frost.
This season has been uneven at best. I’ll give this one a low 3 out of 5. I miss the energy and fun the show had when it started.