Iris finally knows that Barry is The Flash. It’s a plot development that’s been a long time coming, particularly because it actually happened once already before getting wiped out by Barry’s jump through time, and while “Grodd Lives” still has some hiccups, it’s an enjoyable episode if only for promising an Iris who has more to do on the show.
Iris has been almost perpetually sidelined this season, either shunted off to the side for her protection or ushered into her own plot lines that have mostly amounted to nothing of consequence. The reason why has been her inability to figure out who The Flash was under that mask. That’s why it’s a relief when she finally makes the jump this week and just confronts Barry about his secret. It doesn’t come a moment too soon either as the episode starts out with Iris coyly attempting to drag Barry’s secret out of him with some horrible passive aggressive tactics.
It seems like The Flash is once more saddling Iris with a boring, go nowhere, plot as she tries to draw Barry’s identity out without directly confronting him. Her opening montage alludes to as much when it digs into her conflicted feelings about either challenging Barry over his lies or letting the information lie for the time being. Shortly thereafter though, Iris simply walks into S.T.A.R. Labs and times things perfectly to see an unmasked Barry. It’s a bit tough to swallow on a plot level, it seems unlikely that Barry, Caitlin, and Cisco would have all remained unaware of Iris showing up to the lab, but it’s an easy frustration to skip over because it means the show is finally bringing Iris onboard with the rest of the characters.
Letting Iris in on the secret is a sound decision, and also a necessary one, if only because Iris deserves better. She says as much during the episode. Frustrated with Joe and Barry’s attempts to keep her safe, Iris berates them, saying that their actions could just have easily made her unsafe. By keeping her in the dark she’s been playing at a disadvantage, hurting both herself and the rest of the team as she’s bumbled into bad situations and been unable to help when she would have otherwise been able to lend a hand. It’s the kind of speech that was deeply necessary, both in terms of rehabilitating Iris’ character and in terms of putting the lie to these kinds of stories.
Time and time again in superhero tales characters are kept in the dark and the heroes justify their actions as needing to keep the characters safe. But, due to the fact that these are characters in a story, they can’t remain safe, which means the stories need to find ways to put them in danger or involve them in plots. That means that no matter what the heroes do or how successfully they mask their true identities their actions will be fruitless. It’s noble to want to protect those you love, but in a story it comes off as patronizing after a certain point, if you’re only trying to keep someone safe but they keep winding up in danger then you have to eventually reevaluate your course of action.
The episode tries to capitalize on this fact as the climax features Iris, now enmeshed with Cisco and Caitlin at the lab, talking Barry through Grodd’s mind control and helping him to fight back against the gigantic, imposing gorilla. It’s the right decision structurally, but it still doesn’t quite play. Even though Iris is now in a much stronger position it still doesn’t change the fact that the romance between her and Barry has never clicked. Grant Gustin and Candace Patton just don’t spark together so hinging an episode on the strength of their connection is almost inevitably going to be a bit deflating. And while that deflates the climax somewhat, it at least bodes well for Iris’ future with the series. She and Barry might never be a couple that sets the world on fire, but at least her character is going to be directly involved with all the others while they take on the evil metahumans of the world.
The evil metahuman, or perhaps metaape in this case, is something this episode gets right though. The Flash has been teasing Gorilla Grodd almost all season long and his appearance is an impressive affair, if only because the show manages to make a fully CGI creation work on its budget. Grodd’s not an easy presence to get right. A psychic gorilla is a tough sell, even on a show with powered humans popping up every week, but “Grodd Lives” does the character a good amount of justice. He’s big, and only getting bigger based on the episode, and more than a little intimidating as he easily takes control of both General Eiling and Joe West during the hour.
In fact, seeing Joe utterly terrified during this episode is maybe one of the most chilling things The Flash has ever managed. Jesse L. Martin’s usually a calm, centering premise on the series, but here his performance is keyed to a whole different register. Joe’s scared out of his mind and completely out of his depth; reduced to little more than a hostage for Grodd to manipulate and terrorize. Seeing the generally stoic Joe that frightened lends Grodd an instant sense of menace and Martin’s performance is effective in selling Joe’s fear and establishing Grodd as a real threat.
“Grodd Lives” doesn’t do much in terms of pushing forward the season’s end game, there are just hints of Thawne’s greater plan around the edges of Grodd’s appearance; even as Grodd himself is a distraction sent by Thawne to slow down Barry and the rest of the crew. This episode seems to primarily be one that’s serving to bide time before the finale. Despite that, there are still more than enough strong elements and smart decisions to make “Grodd Lives” feel important. Allowing Iris to discover Barry’s secret and proving that a giant CGI gorilla can be a formidable, believable opponent, are both non-trivial things and that keeps everything on track. This isn’t the big, explosive conclusion of the season, but it’s a strong episode that feels like more than the writers vamping for time before we arrive at the finale, which is no small feat in and of itself.