Comic books are the main source material for what seems like an overabundance of today’s film and television properties: The Avengers, X-Men, Guardians of the Galaxy, Arrow, Iron Man, Man of Steel…
Each of these properties has years of backstory and onboard villains of infamy to go up against our heroes. The reveal of these villains is often teased in trailers for the films or at the end of the film to pique interest for the sequel. Television shows might make a big event of a big villain or tease the villain’s coming over numerous episodes. Often the gambits work if, and only if, you are an established fan of the comics these properties are based on and recognize the villain.
But there is one show that is doing it absolutely right: The Flash. I am continually surprising Michael at my enthusiasm for the Grodd references and now appearances. But that enthusiasm is all due to the show’s handling of The Flash’s infamous super-intelligent and telepathic gorilla nemesis.
I’ve never read The Flash comic books–all of my Flash related knowledge comes largely from the animated Justice League, which had a stupendous Wally West rather than the CW The Flash’s Barry Allen. But Justice League did a fine job of establishing Gorilla Grodd as West’s big nemesis.
One of the benefits Justice League had was all its heroes were well-established in their storylines, well-practiced with their powers, and well-teamed. The Flash is starting at an entirely different place, namely the origination of Flash and his villains, since most are created by the accident with the particle reactor. Flash has to find his feet, you know, and figure out how to be the hero he is destined to become.
One would think that Grodd, the hyper-intelligent, telepathic, gorilla would be a bit too out there for a relatively realistic and live-action show. This isn’t a cartoon, after all. But The Flash apparently knows exactly what line to walk between comic-insanity and live-action realism, because everything they’ve done to wheel out Grodd has been perfect.
First, we got the teaser easter egg in the pilot. A broken cage and its label of GRODD.
Then we got a little backstory of Grodd in episode 5, finding out that Harrison Wells and General Eiling (played by icon Clancy Brown) had been developing Grodd together but that Wells had different plans for the gorilla than Eiling did. We see Grodd pre-powers.
The beauty of this scene is that it develops the ambiguity of Well’s intentions–is he a good guy or a bad guy? Is he at least better than Eiling?
Then in episode 12, we got Grodd stalking and then attacking two maintenance workers sent to check out an issue reported in the sewer system.
Grodd is kept mostly in shadows, maximizing his mystique. What’s he doing down there? What is his mental state? We learn that Grodd is living in the sewers, which is reasonable since he’s a gorilla in the city. Where else would he go? But he’s also monster-in-the-dark scary. We mostly get the camera going from being on the men to being the viewpoint of Grodd chasing them. We get only the barest glimpse of Grodd, but we do get his name written over and over on the walls, suggesting his growing sentience.
Then with last week’s episode, we got to see Wells controlling, or at least, collaborating with Grodd. When Eiling poses too much of a threat to Barry Allen, Wells decides to nab Eiling dressed as Reverse Flash and take him to Grodd. Wells reveals himself to be a metahuman to Eiling. Grodd gets inside Eiling’s head, still from the shadows, and then drags him to an uncertain death. When Eiling cries out, “Dear God!” Grodd replies, “Not God–Grodd.”
Brilliantly, this development with Grodd highlights a number of things:
- Reverse Flash’s motivations to protect his own using methods of questionable ethics. I continue to wrestle with whether Wells is a good guy or bad. This doesn’t exactly clear things up, but it does play beautifully into the mystery.
- Grodd has his telepathic powers!
- Grodd has his delightfully over-the-top hubris in that “God-Grodd” line.
I out-and-out giggled with glee during this last scene. The outlandishness of Grodd and the fun the show is clearly having with him is in line with The Flash‘s overall tone. I love The Flash because it can be both serious and funny without having to make wild tone swings episode to episode–the two just co-exist well.
Sadly, I will have to wait until mid-March for the next installment of The Flash.