"Dead or Alive" - The Flash S03E11 Review

I haven't been subtle about my criticism of all three years of The Flash in its treatment of women characters, and the inability of the writers to give Iris West a compelling reason to exist beyond "be Barry Allen's Deanna Troy." Last week, in my review of season 3's post-holiday return, I wrote at length about how there was an opportunity with this "Savitar is going to kill Iris in 4 months and we have to stop it" storyline to finally get Iris the character development she desperately needs. "Dead or Alive" focused primarily on Iris with her sidekick Wally, with a dash of development for Cisco and HR Wells. 

So did they successfully add depth to Iris?

Read on to find out. As always, there are spoilers beyond the fold. 

Let's start with the minor plots and go up from there.

This was the first time Julian was fully part of Team Flash after he was allowed in last week, and let me tell you, I absolutely adore him. He's a Grade-A asshole and if this show were about doctors, he'd have the bedside manner of Gregory House. 

See, Julian is actually trying to be a contributing member of Team Flash, and Caitlin tries hard to coach him in this episode on being a more uplifting and positive influence, rather than the debbie-downer "there's a high probability you're going to die" type; hilarity ensues. When the team is trying to get Cisco up to snuff with his powers, there are some genuinely funny moments where Julian is about to say something horrible, but Caitlin gives him the look and he immediately tries--and fails--to be uplifting. I'm kind of really loving the dynamic of having this bitter, sarcastic, and pessimistic character around. Kudos to Tom Felton for really adding something new and fresh to the team. And it appears that, for the moment, Julian has taken the place of previous Wells as the guy who comes up with solutions, since HR is not exactly the solutions guy in the place now. 

My one and only problem with this is that in this episode, at least, Julian being the genius observer who figures out Cisco's problem means that Caitlin got sidelined. We don't want to go back to that nonsense again. My hope is that Julian and Caitlin, as the resident smart people, don't outshine one another. And that they don't end up together. Not that I don't ship them; I kind of do. 


Okay, so aside from the Iris stuff, we had the "freak of the week" story, and for the first time like, ever, they actually made us care about that freak. A bounty hunter from Earth-19 tracking down HR to bring him back for justice, since on that Earth, it's against the law to do interdimensional traveling. The punishment for doing so is death. Also, it turns out that HR is an idiot, because he's apparently been transmitting his adventures with Team Flash (with HR as the main hero, of course!) to the multiverse, so it was pretty easy for the bounty hunter to track him down. 

Team Flash isn't about to let him go... wait, why aren't they letting him go?
Said bounty hunter is Gypsy (eeeesssshhh, can we freaking NOT??). She's a character from the DC comics who traditionally cosplays as a stereotypical gypsy (and I say cosplay because she's not Romani). Thankfully she didn't show up in this episode in ragged colorful skirts and bells around her waist. I really wish they had just called her by her goddamn name, Cindy Reynolds, instead of by her codename.

Anyway, Gypsy is kind of a badass chick in a black suit that can vibe ten times better than Cisco can. She's never failed to bring in a bounty, and she has no intention of doing so now. She gives HR an hour to get his affairs in order, during which Cisco and Barry discover from HR that a) he will be sentenced to death, and b) that the only way to stop this is for HR to demand a trial by combat.

So of course what does the team do? Well Barry intends to offer to fight for HR, but Cisco is the one who jumps in to do so instead, in part because he spends the bulk of this episode attracted to Gypsy the whole time. He doesn't realize until after he initiates the trial by combat, that it's to the death. There's no going back though, so the only solution is for Team Flash to train him in a 24 hour period, to become as good at vibing as Gypsy is.

Hah. Some really great character moments here (this is where that Julian scene I mentioned above happens, where he tries to be uplifting and fails horribly). 

I admit, I was vaguely annoyed at Cisco's blatant flirtation when Gypsy made it pretty clear she had no time for his nonsense. Had the episode gone on any longer, it would have become disgusting. That said, if Gypsy actually showed interest... I would totally ship this. Although as Caitlin points out, why does he seem to always be attracted to the femme fatales like Golden Glider and Gypsy?

For reals, Cisco?
Anyway, Julian analyzes videos of Gypsy and figures out a weakness Cisco can exploit, giving him the means to defeat her. The fight scene was super well done, with them vibing all over the multiverse, including a brief fight scene in Cat Grant's old office in the Supergirl universe, although it was James Olsen's assistant who ends up witnessing it, and not any of the main characters. Still, it was a very cute nod to the shared CWverse. 

Ultimately, Julian's trick gives Cisco the win, and Gypsy is ready to accept her death, but Cisco says that's not how Earth-1 works, so she's free to go, as long as she leaves HR alone. Gypsy says that HR can stay, but that she is going to tell her superiors she killed him, which means he can never go back home to Earth-19. She leaves Earth-1 with a smugglers' fortune in coffee beans (there's an explanation as to why she and HR are obsessed with coffee), but not before teasing Cisco with an almost kiss. 

I very much want to see Gypsy come back to the show someday, she's freaking awesome. 


Yes, let's get to the meat of the matter. It's only fair that after I've spent years criticizing The Flash writers for failing to do a goddamn thing with Iris, that I admit that this episode was awesome for her. 

As I noted last week, the fact that Iris knows that she is likely to die horribly in 4 months has changed her (thank the Maker the writers followed through). In this episode, we all suddenly remember that she is actually a journalist with a day job, and she is hot on the trail for a big story of a new arms dealer in town. Barry and Joe want her to lay off because of course they do, it's okay for men to be heroic in life-and-death situations, and Barry tries to get Iris to promise she won't pursue this, but she does anyway. And she enlists the aid of her brother Wally, because Iris is not a stupid woman and she knows she probably can't solo an arms dealer. Wally is reluctant, but she reminds him that Barry said that in Flashpoint, Wally and Iris were a kickass hero team, and they should do that here too. 

I love it. I don't mind that Iris is enlisting Wally's help, I actually think that's super smart. I always hated how Lois Lane thought she was so badass that she could go into dangerous situations by herself to pursue a story, and instead always had to be rescued by Superman. Iris knows her limits, but she'll be damned if she's going to let a story opportunity pass her by, so she takes Wally along. 

Joe and Barry freak the hell out, of course, despite their success, but when Barry asks Iris why she went against his wishes, she replies that if she's going to possibly die in 4 months, she wants to do so knowing that she made a mark on the world. It's important to her that she pursue her journalist career to the fullest extent. Barry stammers that he isn't going to let her die, and she just smiles a little, knowingly. 

This is a woman at peace with her short future, and with the full intention of living it up to the max. And she isn't going to let her overprotective boyfriend or father stop her. I actually really admire her attitude. Iris West is a goddamn badass (and so is Candice Patton), and she's going to show it. 

This episode was leaps and bounds on her character development, and I hope we see plenty more of Iris being a badass reporter, and teaming up with Wally to boot, because I also adore him. And it's great to see a superhero show giving two black characters the chance to really, truly shine. 

If I have any complaint about this episode at all, beyond Cisco's constant flirting, it was that the secret of Iris' impending death is still kept from Joe West. He isn't stupid and he knows his children, and he knows something is up and they are hiding something. I am waiting for the inevitable explosion and fallout from their secret. 

10 points to Gryffindor for the hilarious scene of Iris distracting Joe in his office in what he thought was her telling him that she was pregnant (while Wally steals information from his file on the arms dealer). The acting in that scene was top notch. 

On a final note, the episode ends with Barry telling Wally a thing: Barry and Julian have done the math, and it's impossible for Barry to get fast enough in 4 months to save Iris in that pivotal moment, based on his rate of development. But Wally is progressing faster and faster with every training session, and Barry tells him that it's Wally that must save Iris. 

"Dead or Alive" is easily the best episode in season 3 so far, and one of the best episodes this show has ever done. 

The Flash airs on Tuesdays at 8/7c on the CW.