Welcome to TV Flashback Reviews, a new part of our TV Flashback series, where we’ll be doing more in-depth, episodic looks at shows from the past! With CW’s The Flash now airing, we’ll be looking back at the 1990 iteration of Barry Allen from beginning to end every Flashback Friday.
Episode 19, “Done with Mirrors”
Originally aired: April 27, 1991
Barry “The Flash” Allen confronts two industrial thieves: Stasia Masters, his old high school girlfriend, and her partner, Samuel Scudder, whose secret weapon is an array of micro-projection hologram discs.
I’d hate to think that The Flash hit its stride at just over the midpoint of its run. But since the “The Deadly Nightshade,” it seems as though the show has taken a step back in quality. That’s not to say I haven’t liked any of these episodes, of course; “Twin Streaks” remains a standout among these last four episodes, only marred because it’s sandwiched within a few less than stellar efforts.
To be honest, even calling them “less than stellar” still does them an injustice. The Flash has just been a generally strong show thus far, even its weakest installments retaining a firm grasp on its characters or mythology. “Done with Mirrors” in particular is a solid episode, even if not as engaging or inventive, and both of this week’s installments throw in some sort of element that changed up the formula.
“Done with Mirrors” goes back and forth with lots of double-crossing, with Stasia and Mirror Master exchanging the role of primary villain multiple times. The lack of straightforwardness works for the most part, both on a meta level to induce the disorientation and confusion that Mirror Master provides, and also just to keep this from being a standard theft plot. It does leave the episode feeling a little muddled, admittedly, but that disorientation plays better after the fact. There isn’t much of a mystery here, but there’s enough ambiguity that it’s hard to predict how the plot will unfold.
Stasia is the weak point of the episode, even though she’s a major factor in creating that ambiguity. The issue with Stasia, perhaps, has less to do with her role here and more how she fits into the grand scheme of the show. She’s yet another career-focused woman who loses sight of things like I mentioned last week, though I use the term “career” loosely here. She’s also one that macks on Barry like half the female characters on the show, and she’s another duplicitous femme fatale-like character we’ve seen multiple times. Maybe it’s a product of watching the show in more rapid succession than it was intended, but you can’t help but be a little jaded from those same tropes by now.
Tina gets some great character backstory and development throughout, though. The schism between she and her mother, Jocelyn, doesn’t thematically reflect (ha) the A-plot in the way many better episodes have, but it does smartly bring she and Tina into the climax. Tina gets to be pretty awesome throughout this entire episode, actually, given her ability to wrestle the gun away from Stasia and keep a cool head throughout it all. Carolyn Seymour is an enjoyable presence as Jocelyn, with pompousness that’s appropriately played for both laughs and drama. The only downside about this story is that their reconciliation doesn’t resonate as well as it should; it’s the too-simple “loved one in danger makes you realize you love them” resolution, which is disappointing considering how complex their relationship was built to be. That said, it leads to a funny ending with Barry storming in trying to save their relationship, only for them to have already reconciled without any help from him.
And of course, Mirror Master is certainly a highlight. He gets gradually more fun as the episode goes along, in line with Captain Cold in that he’d surely have excelled in future appearances. Partridge Family alum David Cassidy — whose daughter Katie has gone on to play the proto-Black Canary on Arrow — totally revels in it. Horrific mullet-thing aside, Cassidy doesn’t ham it up, miraculously, likely recognizing that the fun of this character comes more from his gimmick than his personality. He’s not an interesting bad guy by a long shot, but Cassidy is clearly putting in an effort to keep Mirror Master real without going too far in the wrong direction, and it ends up working. He plays down some of the silliness that inevitably comes with the hologram shenanigans, which ups the stakes significantly even when he’s only a threat on the periphery.
Retooling Mirror Master into being strictly-hologram centric is a smart move for this show’s world, especially given that it still hones in on the source character’s ability to confuse and disorient, mirror-dimension traversing powers or not. The hologram effects are rather impressive, with the techno-flashes that occur when they’re created and destroyed. Even the multiple Mirror Masters in the climax aren’t that bad, though it’s hard to believe it would take The Flash so long to just run through each of them until he found the real one. But it gives Tina a way to be a hero in her own right by helping him, and that’s always a plus. And lest we forget, after last week sorta-kinda featured Reverse-Flash, “Done with Mirrors” features an extensive reference to Professor Zoom, here as Barry’s spikey-haired undercover mad scientist alter-ego. So, there’s that.
Episode 20, “Good Night, Central City”
Originally aired: May 4, 1991
Harry Milgrim uses an ultra-frequency transmitter to put everyone asleep so he can loot Central City, but it’s up to “The Flash” to find the device before the entire population dies from a sleep-induced coma.
It’s probably fitting that an episode about sleep is, well…kind of boring. I’m not sure what it is about “Good Night, Central City,” because again, this is a solid episode. It’s easy to follow, the characters make sense, and there are wrenches thrown in that we hadn’t quite seen before. It’s just rather uninteresting.
Perhaps that’s because the stakes aren’t that particularly high, no matter how dramatic they’re made out to be. That may be unfair to say, because literally the entire city could die at the episode’s climax. And that’s a big deal, sure. But the majority of the episode is rather benign; these guys rob banks by putting people to sleep for a few minutes. It provides an interesting challenge to The Flash, but there just isn’t much danger here, regardless of that two hour time limit. Hell, that’s probably less dangerous than an average hold-up, anyway.
Those low stakes are a by-product of an admirable attempt at characterization for Harry Milgrim. Matt Landers is quite captivating in the role, detailing the evolution of a silly, somewhat loveable screw-up into a total sociopath hellbent on getting name recognition. It’s much akin to what we saw in “Watching the Detectives,” but a way better version of it. Landers is capable enough, but it’s the circumstances that hold the story back. Frankly, the sleep device is just way too unthreatening. It’s the most passive form of villainy this show has featured — and sure, that’s part of the point, but it isn’t a very good tool for this particular story. That it only hurts people as a side-effect only serves to make Milgrim look reckless rather than scary when he takes his dive off the deep end. Landers is great in the last scene after a clear psychotic break, where he makes sure to take all the credit, but the lead-up there is unfortunate.
Bill Mumy is mostly wasted as Roger Braintree, which is disappointing because he’s also rather good in the role. Curiously, this is now two episodes in a row that uses high school connections to rope Barry into the plot, a strangely cheap way to involve him that the show hadn’t needed before. But either way, Braintree starts off appearing to be a central character, only to essentially be a disposable device for turning Milgrim to the dark side. It’s disappointing, considering it’s freakin’ Bill Mumy.
The debt subplot and subsequent framing of Barry works well enough, even though we’ve already seen Barry arrested once before. But this is an episode in desperate need of something to heighten the stakes, so it works. “Good Night, Central City” also follows a long line of installments that give Tina significant things to do; even if she doesn’t directly defeat the bad guys, she’s constantly integral to The Flash succeeding. In this case, she’s able to fight off the sleep enough to put on the ear protection and then get them to Barry with detailed instructions to stop the bad guy. It’s astounding that Tina is, frankly, handled better in 1991 than many shows nowadays handle their primary female leads/love interests. She’s a major plus for both of these episodes, and especially this particularly forgettable one. Hopefully there’s much more to love coming up and this is only a brief lull before the end, though. Considering next week will be the last time we get to spend with these characters, let’s go out with a bang, shall we?
Next Week: We sadly conclude our coverage of classic The Flash with the final two episodes, “Alpha” and “The Trial of the Trickster.”
Odds & Ends
- This week’s weird use for superspeed: Heating up tea.
- Murphy’s favorite “special sauce” is literally pure grease. So, there you go.
- Barry claims corn dogs were invented in Central City, not by German immigrants in Texas. But hey, history’s been wrong before.
- All the jokes on art snobs are on point, particularly the “Use juxtupasition and duality in the same sentence” gag.
- But why would Mirror Master just-so-happen to have discs with mimes and cowboys?!
- I’m still not certain how making a bunch of cops out of a hologram could cause a guy to trip and fall out of a closed window.
- I cheered when Earl tackled Stasia out of nowhere. Good dog.
- Barry gets really freaked out by the snake holograms. It’s understandable, but the level of over-the-top is a little weird, considering he knows they’re holograms at that point, and he should have been able to tell they weren’t tangible.
- Dig that the series of sleep-related thefts are dubbed “Slumber Robberies.”
- Braintree’s heated windshield wipers are an extremely good idea.
- The bad guys in “Good Night” assume Barry, not The Flash, “jumped them” by hiding out. And by “jumping them,” they mean him stashing them into various closets and tubes at superspeed. Yeah.
- Man, Central City’s headlines are huge.
- There must be something clearly flawed with Central City’s justice system. Not only did Pike get totally acquitted, but Barry is allowed to literally walk out of his jail cell the second there’s an alternate confession. Like, there’s not even paperwork to do?
- “You did her homework, or you were her homework?”
- “Things really got nuts after that cowboy showed up.”
- “They don’t call me the Mirror Master for nothin’.”
- “You Counted 2300 sheep?”
“Well, actually I counted their legs and divided by four.” – I don’t even understand Murphy and Bellows’s dialogue half the time, but I can’t help but love them.
- “I haven’t slept for three days, why didn’t you let me sleep?!”