REVIEW: The Flash – Season 9, Episode 4 “The Mask of the Red Death Part 1”

“The Mask of the Red Death Part 1” (which would have made a good Indiana Jones movie title) leaves you with a strange feeling. It’s better than the last couple of episodes, and it has some great ideas that are in keeping the series’ central themes, ideas that could be fascinating if fully explored. But it still isn’t very good, with some lazy plotting and truly awful acting, and it points to a supremely disappointing final season for The Flash.

The Red Death, the new speedster villain, beckons Barry into a showdown. A blackout cripples STAR Labs. Joe reveals why he wants to leave Central City so badly. Blaine has a crisis of conscience.

The big reveal from last week’s episode – that the Red Death is Ryan Wilder, the current Batwoman – is the kickoff for “The Mask of the Red Death Part 1,” as she watches Blaine complete her cosmic treadmill. Things seem to be growing frosty between the two, with Blaine showing more resentment than it behooves someone whose every earthly desire is dependent on Ryan. Is this just a character being dumb – which happens a lot nowadays – or is something else going on with Blaine? In a neat bit of editing, this scene is juxtaposed with one between Barry and Iris where, unlike the bad guys, they are in synch, figuring out what they can about the new speedster bedeviling them. Barry believes he’s facing the new avatar for the Negative Speed Force as he recalls Reverse Flash’s demise at the end of last season. This flashback is good in that it establishes the episode’s main theme, but bad in that it reminds us of the Arrowverse’s best villain before throwing us back to the yutz who replaced him.


Let’s start with the good. “The Mask of the Red Death Part 1” has Barry blaming himself for things he couldn’t have stopped, whether it’s lives he couldn’t have saved or tragedies he thinks he’s causing. Thawne was hoisted on his own petard, but Barry regrets not being able to save him, despite everything Thawne did to Barry and countless others. It’s who Barry is; he’s a hero, and he makes no distinction between lives. He’d save a monster like Thawne as readily as he’d save a baby. And that isn’t limited to just saving someone’s life; Barry won’t give up on saving anyone’s soul, either. After the Red Death captures him, Barry is faced with his most recent betrayer, Blaine, who is clearly having doubts about his decision to throw in with Ryan Wilder. But he believes it’s too late for him to do anything about it; he’s hitched his wagon to the bad guys, and this is where he’s stuck now. But Barry insists he can change, that he can still choose to do good and make up for what he’s done; he even calls Blaine a member of Team Flash.

This sets up the contrast between hero and villain because Ryan explains her motivations to Iris in “The Mask of the Red Death Part 1,” even if she bends the truth as much as she needs to get Iris on her side. This isn’t the Ryan of Earth-1; she’s from another world, one where there is no Batman (which isn’t much different than Earth-1 in the Arrowverse, practically speaking), and she’s spent her life fighting villains that keep escaping Arkham Asylum, who kill more and more people while she throws them in the revolving door of Gotham’s nuthouse. So she started stealing their tech until she eventually replicated the Flash’s speed and began pulling a Minority Report and stopping crimes before they started – presumably by going back in time after one had been committed. As she tells it, the Flash of her world was jealous of her speed and assembled a team of Rogues to stop her, sending her to Earth-1. Now, she needs to get back and needs both Barry’s speed and Iris’ ability to be threatened to get there. The shades of season 5 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer are not slight.

The Flash The Mask of the Red Death Part 1

So, we’ve got a hero who believes it’s never too late to save a soul and a villain who has given up trying to reform anyone and doesn’t even give them a chance to commit a crime anymore. There’s a lot of room for some great conflict between Barry and Ryan; this could potentially be the ultimate test of Barry’s values. Imagine an episode where Ryan takes Barry to her world and shows him the utopia she’s created, a world where he can simply rest and never have to worry about some supervillain killing Iris or his friends. (Of course, this episode makes that impossible, but it could’ve been cool.) In “The Mask of the Red Death Part 1,” we see the opposite; with all hope lost, Blaine takes Barry’s words to heart and double-crosses Ryan, destroying the treadmill and scuttling her chances of making it back to the Philip K. Dick universe she created. Barry was right; even someone who’s given up hope for himself can change. And I think doing this with Blaine was a smart idea; he’s so unlikable, so smarmy, so God-I-want-to-break-his-stupid-face-inducing that you believe it’s a struggle for Barry, that trying to save this jerk is a real test of his values. This is all great stuff, and better than The Flash has been so far this season.

What isn’t great is Ryan Wilder. Javicia Leslie is just plain bad in the role. She’s never convincing, no matter what the scene asks of her. She can’t be intimidating, she doesn’t seem desperate when she’s feigning it, she isn’t convincing when she tries to sell Iris her story, and even her righteous indignation comes off as forced and inauthentic. (I do love that Iris doesn’t believe her for a second, though; she’s too smart to be taken in by this loon, and the show is consistent in portraying Iris that way.) Her outburst at the end when she promises to destroy this world in revenge is so laughably awful you’ll wonder how anyone thought making her the final villain was a good idea. They also do that annoying thing with legacy characters where they have them recite some of the real character’s famous lines. Ryan has ones from two of the most beloved portrayals of Batman, Kevin Conroy and Michael Keaton, and they both pissed me off royally. I know most of today’s Hollywood writers love shortcuts when it comes to… pretty much everything, but in this case, getting audiences to like a new character, but here’s twenty bucks’ worth of free advice: this never works. I want to see Barry take Ryan down, but not because she’s a dastardly villain; because she’s annoying.

The Flash The Mask of the Red Death Part 1

And there’s plenty of annoying stuff to go around in “The Mask of the Red Death Part 1.” Again, I get why Blaine has to be so off-putting, but he’s hard to sit through when he’s doing his thing. And while I understand they needed an example of Barry failing to make him relate to Blaine, the one he uses is dumb and not analogous to Blaine’s situation. Barry didn’t get captured because he thought Red Death was the new Negative Speed Force avatar; he got captured because he showed up and walked into a trap, which he would’ve done either way. The destination is admirable, but the way the show gets Blaine there is lazy. Then, there’s Khione, who just gets worse and worse; in a show with superheroes, time travel, and alternate universes, the most unbelievable thing that’s ever happened is that more people aren’t annoyed with this goofy broad. If you’re going to get rid of Caitlin Snow, her replacement had better be an instant classic, and Khione sucks. (Speaking of which, did anyone else catch that Barry calls her “Caitlin”? This had better come up again.) And Chester and Allegra continue to get even worse with every episode. Allegra finally decides she wants to talk to Chester about the relationship they both clearly want but find every excuse to avoid, and he blows her off? Last season, I had gotten to like Chester quite a bit, but they’ve pretty much erased all that goodwill. These two imbeciles deserve to be alone.

I also think Barry is being a little ridiculous in admonishing the Rogues at the end. After the team calls them in to save Barry and Iris, they take off with a depowered Barry and leave Blaine to die at the hands of Ryan’s henchmen, and Barry is outraged that they didn’t try to save him. But their argument is correct: Barry couldn’t fight, and if they stayed to help Blaine, they’d likely all be dead. They didn’t so much abandon Blaine as make a calculated choice. I know this doesn’t gel with Barry’s morality, but sometimes there really is no choice. Of course, they don’t help their case by arguing that Blaine deserves it, but a little pushback from some of the more rational voices on the team would have been appreciated. I will give this scene points for Goldface’s reaction to Khione not liking him; it’s perfect, and he’s dangerously close to becoming my new favorite. (Just kidding, but not really.) Otherwise, Joe and Cecile’s storyline seems kind of rushed and there just to give Joe something to do. It’s disposable, but Jesse L. Martin is effortlessly human and makes it work better than it should. And the setup for next week’s second part is, again, executed poorly by a bad actress. I wish this were the end for Red Death as a villain; The Flash needs to go out on a strong note, and since Thawne isn’t around anymore, they need a replacement that at least feels close to epic. Ryan ain’t it.

The Flash – "The Mask of the Red Death Part 1"

Plot - 7
Acting - 5
Progression - 9
Production Design - 7
Themes - 8



“The Mask of the Red Death Part 1” is better than the previous couple of episodes, but it has some terrible acting, bad plotting, and annoying subplots, and it points to a lackluster final season for The Flash.

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