Synopsis of 3×13 and 3×14: When Earth-2 Welles goes missing, Barry and company head to Gorilla City to rescue him from a scheming Grodd. As the team returns home, Grodd follows with help from Gypsy and prepares to wage war on Central City.
Still, budget is always a consideration when you look at these shows and it’s never been a bigger consideration than in the “Gorilla City” two-parter on The Flash. These two episodes see the team head to Africa to a city run by telepathic, super-powered cannibal gorillas, only to return home to see an invasion from the same force. It’s an ambitious plot, one that would normally be relegated to the comic book page, where budget isn’t an issue so much as what the artist is willing to draw.
Here though, and particularly in the second part of the pair of episodes, that budget is constantly being grappled with. There’s a lot of digital cameral work in these episodes that is used to obscure just how many of the monkeys are on screen at any one time and even more to keep their difficult to render fur off screen. We never see more than two of the creatures fighting at once and that’s very purposeful, even when it undercuts the idea of a group of dangerous, animals barely held together under the authority of Grodd and Salivar.
It’s hard not to take blatant length-padding like the extended nuclear weapon storyline in these episodes as just an transparent attempt to extend the storyline while keeping the gorillas away from the action and that’s far from the only example, although it’s one of the most obvious.
Still, “Gorilla City” paints a compelling portrait of the show The Flash could be, filled with the more fantastical characters and concepts of the speedster’s world. It’s nice to see a show where a threat like a telepathic, genocidal gorilla is treated seriously within the fiction and embraced in all its lunacy, warts and all. I’ve been pretty vocal about my dislike of the recurring plots of evil speedsters but these episodes visualize the challenge of super-heroics on a budget. If two apes fighting is enough of a stretch, getting all of the Rogues together for a season is undoubtedly going to stretch budgets pretty thin.
Still, there’s no excuse for some of the sketch characterization on display here. From the first notes of the first episode, Barry’s relationship with Grodd feels just a little off. Yeah, Grodd has been a persistent, dangerous adversary, one the team has never been able to take on like the rest of their enemies, but the approach isn’t different than the rest of those foes.
In “Part 2,” Barry mentions how the team keeps going after Grodd the same way, while the gorilla keeps changing up his plans, which really speaks more of how braindead an awful lot of this show’s villains are more than anything else. It’s all in service of setting up Barry’s questions of whether or not he can or should kill Grodd, which is a question the show has gone to time and time again about a host of other villains and it has never really fit Barry as a character. I get that these shows often have to be at least a little repetitive but I just don’t buy Barry even having to ask himself this question.
It’s really another example of how sloppy the back half of this season’s meta-story has been. Trying to prevent Iris’ death is a relatable, interesting story about the lengths an individual will go to to protect the one that they love, but the mechanics of it are just so complex and oblique that Barry’s motivations fall apart in the face of even the lightest scrutiny.
Is he angry because he’s not able to stop Grodd’s attack, which is a precursor to Iris’ death in the future? Is he worried about just minimizing casualties from an attack? Does what happen in this episode even constitute an attack? A smarter show would use all that fuzziness as a commentary on how flexible our conceptions of the past are, how we change the details of what’s happened to us to suit the needs of today at the expense of those of tomorrow, but The Flash is trying to have it both ways, using the visions of the future as a concrete challenge to be broken as well as a less firm suggestion of what one possible event could be.
The longer the third season goes on, the more apparent the glimpse of Iris’ future has been a disastrous threat to build a season around, especially with how many of the characters’ motivations and actions hang on this nebulous threat they may or may not be capable of averting. Still the “Gorilla City” two-parter is about as entertaining as a pair of episodes of The Flash can be, even when the seams are showing from start to end.