The Flash -- "The One With The Nineties" -- Image Number: FLA706b_0273r.jpg -- Pictured: Danielle Panabaker as Caitlin Frost -- Photo: Bettina Strauss/The CW -- © 2021 The CW Network, LLC. All rights reserved

The Flash has begun introducing the other Cosmic Forces in earnest, and I’m excited about the potential it has to mix things up for the show. However, the show has a rough track record with taking interesting ideas and doing the least interesting story possible with them. Please don’t disappoint me, Flash. Spoilers follow for The Flash Season 7, Episode 6, “The One With The Nineties.”

“The One With The Nineties”

It’s time-loop time in Central City! As the team continues to track down the other cosmic forces, Cisco and Chester come up with a way to pinpoint where these beings might be. In the process of testing the device, though, they end up… in the 1990s?

The Flash has messed around with time more than just about any other show, sending our hero back, forward, and round-and-round the timestream. One of the most fun things you can potentially do with that idea is a time loop episode. They’re a little trope-y, but Legends of Tomorrow‘s “Here I Go Again” proved that good writers can use a time loop to effectively develop characters despite the constant resets. Palm Springs was also one of my favorite movies 0f 2020, so this might just kind of be my thing.

It’s a good idea, but…

The Flash puts a spin on it though, and asks what a timeloop would look like if it had intention. If you’ve been paying attention, you’ve probably guessed that one of the Cosmic Forces is at play here, and when the Wonder Twins find the user, he turns out to be a guy who peaked in high school and ended up losing his chance at stardom due to an injury. The guy has been re-winding time over and over to try to change his past.

The show only loops time a couple times, but it’s not like any other “time loop” story I can think of. While the boys end up at the beginning of the day, the loop busts their isotope detector device first, and then tries to put Cisco’s brain back in the state it would’ve been at the time–about 8 years old. The writing for this is kind of hammy, but the implications are terrifying. If they don’t work their way out of the loop fast, they’ll end up not only stuck in 1998, but without their memories.

You can’t just loop time and call it a day

Unfortunately, the show doesn’t do nearly enough with this. It establishes the time period exactly the same way Captain Marvel did: with a Blockbuster. Okay, that’s officially completely played out. At the beginning of the episode, a woman watches as a gladiator, a 1940s submarine, and a Tyrannosaurus Rex all appear in downtown Central City.

It sounds like the beginning of a Legends episode, right? And when the wielder starts to get agitated, things start to change, but it’s poorly executed. The main characters end up in period costumes, but their minds don’t change. Caitlin’s TV starts showing old-timey television, but it’s still a flat-panel LCD TV, not an old CRT display. It’s just a mish-mash and it comes across kind of cheap.

The best moment is when Chester tracks down his dad. It works thanks to actor Brandon McKnight delivering well on Chester’s feelings of abandonment, but it’s really only the performances that matter here. This is another well the CW has gone to over and over again. The Flash, Arrow, and Legends of Tomorrow have all had characters travel through time to meet their parents or children. It’s remarkable mostly because McKnight is a relative newcomer to the show, and the guy who plays his dad is just there for this scene. And they both nail it. The scene works, but it’s just lost all novelty.

It happened in the comics

By the end of the episode, Cisco has officially named all of the forces. There’s the Speed Force, of course, which makes Flash fast. There’s the Strength Force, which makes Fuerza strong and durable. This latest force gets the name Still Force, because it slows, stops, and loops time. Okay, that all makes sense. But he names Psyche’s power the Sage Force. The power has only been used for fear. Why is it the Sage Force? Because that’s how it was in the comics. But not through some clever bit of in-show writing.

One of the weirder aspects has been the decision to bring Michelle Harrison, who plays Nora Allen and the embodiment of the Speed Force, on to play that Speed Force character as a flesh-and-blood being. She’s gone from an impartial Cosmic Force to a weepy character who needs to have blankets explained and just wants Barry to love her.

Underwhelming

Oh, and they once again solved the problem with an emotional speech from a Protagonist Who Can Relate. I strongly suspect this is a result of COVID-19 precautions, but even allowing for that it still doesn’t feel great.

Despite the episode introducing what is theoretically one of its big villains for the season, this episode ended up being pretty underwhelming overall, while also feeling like a Monster of the Week episode. The deep dive into Chester’s history was enjoyable, but so much else felt cheap. Last week’s episode was a Monster of the week episode, too, but it went hard on its horror elements, which made for a more interesting time.