Saturday, January 20, 2018

It Came From The Cineplex: Downsizing

Downsizing was written by Jim Taylor and Alexander Payne. It was directed by Alexander Payne.

Taylor and Payne are writing partners and have quite an eclectic resume between them, including ElectionJurassic Park IIIAbout SchmidtSideways and I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry. Payne also wrote The Descendants on his own.

Payne directed The Passion Of MartinCitizen RuthElectionAbout SchmidtSidewaysThe Descendants and Nebraska.

Downsizing is a gigantic (see what I did there) sloppy mess of a film, that feels like the director took several completely unrelated movies and tried his best to merge and compress them into one cohesive whole. Sadly, he failed spectacularly.

The film tells the story of Paul Safranek, a dull and ordinary man who learns to feel for "the little guy" after becoming one of them literally. At least I think that's what the movie's about. In addition to being a commentary on suburbia and class structure, it's also equal parts romantic comedy, social satire, environmental cautionary tale and an end of the world drama. Unfortunately none of these disparate plotlines ever gets the attention they deserve, which makes the film feel scattered and unfocused.

It's too bad Payne couldn't have combined all these elements into a cohesive whole, as there are a lot of interesting and compelling ideas in the movie. If he'd managed to stick the landing, Downsizing could have been one of the best sci-fi films of all time.

The film also has a problem with its main character Paul Safranek, who's played by Matt Damon. He plays Paul as a dull and boring everyman, who's still trying to figure out his place in the world. Unfortunately Damon's a little too dull and boring in the role, as he's outshined by virtually every other actor in the film.

In fact the moment Hong Chay's Ngoc Lan appears onscreen, she completely hijacks the film. She steals every single scene she's in, practically shoving Damon out of his own movie.

The trailers for Downsizing are very misleading, as they promise a wacky comedy like Honey I Shrunk The Kids, but for adults. Heck, the trailer even features a scene of the characters enjoying a giant (to them) bottle of vodka that's not in the final film!

In reality, the movie is not a comedy at all. In fact it's all over the place in terms of story and tone. I'm sure this bait & switch probably pissed off a lot of audiences, and understandably so. But who could blame Paramount for releasing such a trailer? How else would they possibly market a film like this? I saw the thing and even I'm not sure how to describe it or what it was really about.

Like I said, Downsizing is a big clumsy trainwreck of a movie, but oddly enough I can't quite find it in myself to hate it. I'm still thinking about the movie a week or so after I saw it, which is very unusual these days. Most current films start fading from my mind on the way out of the theater. If I'm being honest, I'd much rather watch an interesting flawed film that falls on its face as opposed to yet another remake with a recycled plot.

Apparently I'm not the only one who was confused by Downsizing, as audiences haven't exactly flocked to the film. So far it's a major flop, grossing a paltry $33 million (worldwide!) against its $68 million budget. And this wasn't some indie movie released in a few select screens it opened in 2,668 theaters! Ouch!

Unfortunately, this is Matt Damon's third box office disappointment in a row. 2016's The Great Wall grossed $45 million Stateside against its $150 million budget. Yikes! And 2017's Suburbicon racked up a miniscule $5 million against its $25 million budget! Damon needs a hit soon!


The Plot:
Downsizing feels like three separate movies jammed together, so stick with me here.

We start with the first film, which is sort of an environmental scifi story. In Norway, Dr. Jorgen Asbjornsen discovers a serum that shrinks living tissue. Five years later, his colleague Dr. Andreas Jacobsen tells the world he and his colleague have the solution to Earth's overpopulation problem.

He then brings out a box containing Dr. Asbjornsen, who's now just five inches high. Asbjornsen was the first ever human to be Downsized, and he says the permanent process is the perfect way to minimize man's effect on the planet. He then brings out a group of thirty six other Downsized people, who've formed an experimental treehugger colony somewhere in Norway. Among these people is Little Ronni, the first child of two Downsized parents.

We then meet Paul Safranek (played by barely awake Matt Damon), an occupational therapist who works in a factory in Omaha. He lives at home, where he takes care of his ailing mother. He sees the news reports on Downsizing and is fascinated.

Cut to ten years later. Paul's mother is long dead, and he's now married to Audrey (played briefly by Kristen Wiig). The two of them are living in Paul's childhood home, which they're rapidly outgrowing. Audrey desperately wants a house of her own, but Paul says they just can't afford it on their salaries.

Sometime later they go to Paul's high school reunion. As usually happens at such events, Paul's depressed by the fact that his former classmates are all much more successful than him. He sees an old friend named Dave (played by Jason Sudeikis) who's been Downsized. Dave can't shut up about it, saying it's the best thing he's ever done. He goes on and on about his home in Leisureland, a special community built just for Downsized people.

Paul and Audrey attend a seminar at Leisureland, touting all its benefits. Due to the small size of its inhabitants, the cost of living is ridiculously low inside the community. In fact their paltry savings of $52,000 would translate into $12.5 MILLION in Leisureland (!).

When their mortgage application is denied, the Safraneks decide the time's right for them to Downsize. During their going away party, a man in a bar starts badmouthing Downsized people, saying they hurt the economy and make things tougher for normal sized folk. Gosh, if I didn't know better I'd think this scene was an extremely subtle and hard to spot metaphor for illegal immigrants!

Paul and Audrey fly to Leisureland, where the Downsizing process will take place. Once there, they fill out extensive questionnaires and legal forms, letting them know the process is irreversible and could result in death.

Paul's taken into the men's wing, where his entire body is shaved and any dental fillings are removed (since the Downsizing serum only works on organic tissue). He and several other men are placed on beds in a special chamber and injected with the serum. A few minutes later a squad of nurses enter the room and scoop up the now tiny Paul and the others with spatulas, placing them in miniature hospital beds.

Paul wakes up some time later, unsure if anything's happened or not. A nurse assures him he's been Downsized. He then gets a phone call from Audrey, who tells him she's back at the airport. Halfway through the head-shaving procedure she decided she couldn't leave her friends and family behind, and decided not to go through with it. She apologizes to Paul and hangs up, never to be seen for the rest of the film. So much for their marriage, I guess!

The second film then begins, which is a bizarre romantic comedy/social satire. Paul moves into his new Leisureland mansion by himself. He gets a menial job in a call center for Land's End, and falls into a deep depression. Oddly enough his new Downsized life isn't any different than his previous one
— in fact it's worse.

While watching TV one night, he sees a news report on seventeen Vietnamese activists who were punished by being Downsized against their will. They escaped Vietnam and tried to sneak into America inside a TV box, but only one of them survived
 a woman named Ngoc Lan Tran. The report points out that due to her ordeal, her left leg was amputated below the knee. Don't worry, this seemingly random occurrence will become very important later on.

A year later, Paul finalizes his divorce from Audrey, and starts seeing his neighbor Kristen (played by Kerri Kenney, of Reno: 911 fame). One night Paul invites Kristen to his house for dinner. While making awkward small talk, Kristen mentions the big news story
 a giant methane leak in the Arctic. Paul's not heard anything about it, as he admits he doesn't follow the news much. Don't worry, this awkwardly wedged-in bit of foreshadowing will also become very important later on.

Just then their dinner is interrupted by noise from Paul's upstairs neighbor Dusan Mirkovic (played by Christoph Waltz). He yells upstairs at Dusan, asking him to keep it down. Dusan comes down and invites Paul and Kristen to the shindig. Paul politely declines.

The date doesn't go well, as Kristen's just not that into him. Despondent, Paul goes upstairs and joins Dusan's party. While there he sees Little Ronni, who's now a teenaged celebrity. A young woman offers Paul some kind of drug, which he foolishly takes. He trips out for the rest of the party and eventually passes out.

Paul wakes up the next morning on Dusan's floor. For some reason, Paul awkwardly asks him what he does for a living, and he explains he's a black marketeer
 he buys normal sized goods for cheap, then divvies them into smaller amounts and sells them at a premium to the Downsized. Paul also meets Dusan's friend Joris Konrad (played by Udo Kier), who's some sort of boat captain.

Just then Dusan's Vietnamese cleaning crew arrives. He sees one of the women limping, and realizes she must be Ngoc Lan Tran (played by Hong Chau), the famous Vietnamese activist. Told you that incident would become important later!

He follows Ngoc Lan into the bathroom, where she's going through Dusan's medicine cabinet, looking for expired pills. Paul introduces himself and tells her he used to be an occupational therapist. He says he can tell by looking that her prosthetic leg needs adjusting, and offers to help.

Ngoc Lan insists he come home with her to treat a sick woman. Paul tries to explain he's not a doctor, but can't get through to Ngoc Lan, whose grasp of English is tenuous at best.

He tags along to Ngoc Lan's home, which is just outside the protective wall of Leisureland. She lives in what appears to be an abandoned construction trailer, which has been transformed into slum housing for thousands of poor and disadvantaged Downsized people. Paul's shocked to see this seamy side of his new world.

Ngoc Lan takes leftover food she from her cleaning clients and distributes it to the people in her project. She then takes Paul to her apartment, where she's caring for a Mexican woman named Gladys. She says Gladys is dying, and tells Paul to "fix" her. The only thing he can do is give her Percocet for her pain and turn her over so she doesn't get bedsores.

Paul then tries to fix Ngoc Lan's prosthetic leg, but accidentally breaks it. She angryily berates him for being a "stupid man," and informs him he'll now have to do her work. As she's such a force of nature, Paul has no choice but to comply.

The next day, Paul carries Ngoc Lan to her various client's houses, and cleans them while she sits and supervises (what about his Land's End job?). He's especially humiliated when he has to clean Dusan's house. Paul manages to get a temporary peg leg (!) for Ngoc Lan, but is told it'll take months to get her a new and permanent one.

For the next few weeks Paul continues to help Ngoc Lan clean and distribute food to the poor, as he feels obligated to her. Dusan sees that Paul's trapped, and offers him a way out. He says he and Joris are taking a shipment of black market goods to the original Downsized colony in Norway, and invites him to come along. Paul accepts, eager to get out of Leisureland and away from Ngoc Lan.

The three men sit down to tell Ngoc Lan that Paul's leaving for Dr. Asbjornsen's colony in Norway. She perks up when she hears Asbjornsen's name, saying she'll be happy to join them. When they try to tell her she's not coming with, she relates a tearful story of how Dr. Asbjornsen wrote letters to her after her ordeal, saying he felt terrible that his Downsizing process had been used on her as punishment. She says his kind words to her helped her recover, and she wants to meet him in person to thank him. The three men are touched by her story, and resign themselves to the fact that she's coming along.

The third movie then starts up, which is a grim end of the world tale. Paul and the others sail up a Norwegian river in Joris' boat, towing a barge full of normal-sized vodka bottles. They stop to pick up Dr. Asbjornsen and his wife, and continue up the river.

Onboard the boat, Asbjornsen is delighted to see Ngoc Lan. Paul's awestruck by the man who invented Downsizing, but Asbjornsen says even that can't save the world now, and wanders off in a funk. Mrs. Asbjornsen apologizes, saying her husband's been distant and moody ever since he heard the news. When Paul asks what the hell she's talking about, she says it's the end of the world. Apparently the big methane leak is a bigger deal than first reported, and will wipe out humanity in a matter of months (told you this would become important later too!). It's the end of the line for the human race.

Paul's stunned by the news and turns to Ngoc Lan for comfort. They embrace and eventually have sex. The boat arrives at the colony, as the inhabitants welcome their founder Dr. Asbjornsen will open arms. After a big banquet, Paul learns that Asbjornsen actually planned for this. He and the others have constructed a self-contained, underground habitat inside a mountain. The Downsized colonists can live inside the habitat until the methane crisis is over, preserving the human race, which will take roughly five thousand years.

Paul's excited to know the human race will be preserved (even if it's a Downsized version), and wants to join the colony in the shelter. He asks Ngoc Lan to join him, but is heartbroken when she refuses. She says she can't abandon the people back home who depend on her. He tries to explain that her dependents are all going to die, but she's adamant. 

Paul's even more dumbfounded when Dusan and Joris announce they're going back to Leisureland as well. Dusan says scientists have been predicting the end of the world for centuries, and mankind's still around. He says he's gonna take his chances on the surface.

The colonists watch the sun set for the last time, and begin heading into the vault. Paul says goodbye to Dusan, Joris and Ngoc Lan. She stoically watches as he enters the thick vault door.

Inside the vault, Paul walks through a seemingly endless corridor with the other colonists. He asks how far it is to the habitat, and a colonist says eleven miles (relatively speaking, I guess). As he walks along, he begins having second thoughts. He stops and turns around, just in time to see the heavy vault door slowly closing.

Outside, Ngoc Lan stands staring at the door, refusing to let Dusan and Joris leave until it's completely closed. Suddenly they hear a voice, and Paul squeezes through the door a second before it closes forever, or at least for five thousand years. He embraces Ngoc Lan and tells her he loves her. A firecracker explodes above the vault door, burying it under a tiny bit of dirt, to remind the audience these people are supposed to be five inches tall.

Cut to Leisureland, where Paul helps Ngoc Lan deliver food and supplies to the people of the slums, as the future is left uncertain.


• The most frustrating thing about Downsizing is the way it tosses out concepts and ideas and then immediately ignores them, as if the script has an acute case of ADD.

For example, during Paul and Audrey's going away party, they're confronted by a drunk who's got a grudge against the Downsized. He claims they don't consume enough goods, which is destroying the economy for normal sized people.

That's an interesting concept, and something that would likely happen in the real world if Downsizing was a thing,. Unfortunately the idea's instantly dropped a second after it's mentioned, never to be brought up again.

Heck, even the big world-ending methane leak is pretty much forgotten after it's brought up. Dusan says it's all just scientific fear-mongering, and he, Joris, Paul and Ngoc Lan go back to Leisureland as if nothing's wrong! What the hell? Is the world ending or isn't it?

• You don't have to be a film scholar to recognize that the Downsizing process is a metaphor for "going green." The characters all proudly crow that once they've been Downsized, their environmental footprint is now incredibly tiny (get it?). That's exactly what the treehugger crowd is always going on about how little an impact their lifestyles have on the planet.

Subtlety, thy name is Downsizing!

• Once Paul moves into Leisureland, there's little or nothing in the film to indicate his shrunken state. He doesn't ride in a remote controlled toy car, he doesn't sit on empty thread spools and his yard isn't filled with gigantic blades of grass.

Instead his housing, appliances, food and even his car are all meticulously crafted miniature versions of the real thing. They're perfectly in scale with his new size, and look exactly like their normal counterparts.

I suppose you could explain this away by saying that all the tiny products in his house were made by Downsized workers. But his clothing should be a dead giveaway that he's only five inches tall, since it would be difficult to scale down fabrics. His clothes should look rough and coarse, like they're made out of giant fibers which they would be. Remember, Downsizing doesn't involve a shrink ray it's a process involving a serum given to living beings.

The only time we're reminded that we're actually watching tiny people is when Paul buys a gigantic (to him) rose and puts it on his table.

In fact if you didn't know this was a story about a community of tiny people, you'd think it was just an ordinary movie.This makes me wonder why the filmmakers bothered with the whole shrinking concept in the first place, if they were going to immediately abandon it. I get that they wanted to separate Paul from the real world so they could comment on society, but... why not just have him move to a gated community somewhere? Why make him "invisibly" small?

• If you wanted to get reeeeeally technical, once Paul's Downsized everything should look and feel different to him. He'd probably have a hard time with liquids, as his tiny esophagus might have a hard time gulping down full sized water molecules. 

Eating would be problematic as well, as he'd likely have trouble with the textures of unminiaturized foods. You could chop up a regular steak until it was small enough for him to eat, but you couldn't do anything about its texture, if that makes any sense. Would Paul's tiny teeth be able to chew through a hunk of non-shrunken steak?

And what about nutrition? A tiny, Leisureland-scale steak might only contain one or two calories. How much food energy does Paul's miniaturized body need on a daily basis? Does he still need the standard 2,500 calories, or can he get by on just ten or so?

How does the Downsizing serum work? Does it somehow shrink the subject's mass, so they weigh a pound or two? Or does it just compact a person's body, so they still weigh two hundred pounds at five inches tall? If it's the latter, then that would cause problems with how they walk and move, and how they're affected by gravity.

Unfortunately none of these elements are ever dealt with in the film, as if the director couldn't wait to abandon the Downsizing concept once he'd shown it in use.

• The film devotes a good amount of time to the actual Downsizing process (before it seemingly forgets the characters are all five inches tall). Instead of using a sci-fi shrink ray, subjects are injected with a blue serum that causes their bodies to shrink.

The process is shown in excruciating detail, as any of Paul's teeth that contain fillings are removed before he's shrunk. Once he's been Downsized, they're replaced with tiny dental implants. His entire body is also shaved before the procedure begins.

OK, I get why his fillings need to be removed because they'd be unaffected by the serum. They'd remain normal size as the rest of him shrank, which would cause his head to explode. 

But why'd he have to be shaved? Hair's an organic substance, so why wouldn't it shrink along with the rest of him? It doesn't make any sense. If the serum doesn't work on hair, then why don't all the Downsized people have millions of rope-like strands growing out of their scalps?

• The movie seems very confident in the fact that Paul and Audrey's limited savings would translate into $12.5 million inside Leisureland.

OK, I understand that a downsized person's money would go farther, since they're not using as much stuff. But I have a feeling that situation wouldn't last forever. I think after a while the Downsized economy would even out and things would eventually end up costing what they should.

• After Paul's been Downsized, he comments that he's working as a customer service rep for Land's End, since everyone in the community has to contribute somehow.

Wait a minute... why would you have to work in a place called Leisureland? Isn't it like a retirement community?

• There's some interesting worldbuilding in the film, particularly when Paul follows Ngoc Lan home and sees she lives in a Downsized slum just outside the walls of Leisureland. That's something I wasn't expecting, but it makes perfect sense. There's no such thing as a Utopian society. No matter how perfect a community appears to be, you're always gonna need someone to sweep up the sh*t!

• Paul Giamatti and Reese Witherspoon were originally considered for the roles of Paul and Audrey. Honestly it doesn't really matter who played Audrey, as her character is shoved out of the film as quickly as possible. I think Giamatti might have made a more interesting Paul though. Matt Damon's performance was so bland and uninspired that I'm surprised it stuck to the film!

• Kristen Wiig must have one hell of an agent. She gets third billing, despite the fact that she completely disappears from the film before the end of the third act! Same goes for Jason Sudekis. He gets fifth billing, even though he's in the film for less than five minutes.

• Speaking of Kristen Wiig, this film certainly doesn't do her any favors. Apart from giving her nothing even remotely funny to do, it makes her look like a real bitch. Halfway through the Downsizing procedure she decides she can't go through with it, and leaves her husband without so much as a second thought! Audrey doesn't even have the guts to walk out on him in person, dumping him over the phone instead! What kind of person would do something like that?

• As I said earlier, the film almost grinds to a halt until Hong Chau appears. Her Ngoc Lan character is an absolute delight, and the movie finally comes to life the second she enters the story. In fact once she's introduced, the movie pretty much shifts its focus away from Paul and becomes all about her. Downsizing is all the better for Ngoc Lan's presence, and the movie could have used a LOT more of her!

FYI, the "Ngoc" in Ngoc Lan's name is pronounced sort of like "Now" or "Neow" (depending on the speaker).

Unfortunately, because we live in a out-of-control, politically correct hellscape, not everyone's as big a fan of Ngoc Lan as I am. Variety said Hong Chau's performance "entered problematic territory for many, as some have noted that its broad strokes veer into the realm of stereotype." And over at Screencrush, they called Ngoc Lan an "icky, racist caricature."

Jesus wept. This is why we can't have nice things.

Guess what, SJWs! Some people have accents! It happens when they learn English as a second language. I have at least ten Asian friends and acquaintances who all speak with accents of varying thicknesses. Should they be considered "icky, racist caricatures" as well?

It's interesting to me that some people are singling out the way Ngoc Lan speaks, and no one else. Dusan and his pal Joris both have thick European accents, and no one seems bothered by them. Dr. Asbjornsen barely speaks any English at all, and when he does it's with an almost impenetrable Norwegian accent. Again, nobody's saying boo about him. 

So why are they singling out Ngoc Lan? She's a well-rounded, strong willed character who has real depth. She's been through horrible trials and tribulations, yet she has an iron will and is determined to help those around her who're less fortunate than she is. She's funny at times, but her ethnicity and accent are never played for laughs. Seems to me if you've got a problem with her character, you might want to stop and ask yourself why?

Actress Hong Chau, who plays Ngoc Lan, was born to Vietnamese parents who lived in a refugee camp in Thailand, after fleeing their country in the late 1970s. Chau was born in Thailand in 1979. Some time later she and her parents immigrated to New Orleans, where she grew up.

Chau adamantly defends the accent she uses in Downsizing, as it comes from her family and the various people she grew up with. Speaking about Ngoc Lan, Chau said, “The character isn’t just the accent, it’s also everything that she is saying. I don’t think we’ve ever seen a story with a character with a disability who is resilient, who is so capable, and who has a sense of purpose in life and isn’t really questioning or pitying themselves. She is a person that demands things, but also needs help. She is the most vulnerable person, but she’s also the least afraid.”

Downsizing is a a mess of a film that feels like three of four wildly disparate movies that were crudely mashed together. Unfortunately none of these elements are ever given their proper due, making the film feel disjointed and unfocused. It's also a frustrating movie, as it tosses out tons of interesting ideas and concepts and then instantly abandons them. Main character Paul Safranek is completely upstaged by Vietnamese activist Ngoc Lan, who steals the show from the moment she appears onscreen. Despite these many flaws, it's still worth a look. I'd much rather watch an interesting failure than a dull and predictable studio picture. It probably deserves a C, but I'm bumping it up to a B- based on Hong Chau's performance alone.

Trunk Show!

This week DC unveiled the cover for their upcoming Action Comics #1000, which appears to feature Superman wearing his iconic red trunks once again! HUZZAH!!!

DC eliminated the trunks when they redesigned Superman's costume back in 2011. And as regular readers of my blog know all too well, I've been bitching about the missing trunks ever since.

And with good reason! This wasn't just the typical fanboy whinging, this was a legitimate gripe. Just look at this image from the detestable Man Of Steel. His costume looks incomplete without something to break up all that blue. He ends up looking almost... naked without the trunks! Of course that may just be due to his super-bulge in this shot, but I digress.

Incredibly he even lost his boots for a while, which made the "nude look" even more prominent. Thankfully the powers that be came to their senses and brought the boots back early in 2017. 

After that Superman then started sporting a red belt, which grew a bit thicker with every passing issue. Eventually the belt almost looked like the missing trunks, which just confirmed my notion that there was something missing from the costume.

I've heard all the arguments from readers who hated the trunks, and were happy to see them go. They ALL referred to the trunks as "underwear," and said they made Superman look silly, as if he had his drawers on over his suit.

Wow. Wait to miss the point there, millennials! Superman's suit was based on old-time wrestlers and bodybuilders from the 1920s and 1930s, who often wore leotards or full body suits. Because the jock strap apparently hadn't been invented yet, these performers often wore a pair of trunks over their suits to provide a buffer between their manhood and the audience. Superman was just aping this look. His costume had nothing to do with underwear!

Thankfully the trunks appear to be back in Action Comics' milestone one thousandth issue. I say "appear," because I'm not totally convinced they're back to stay, as I have a sneaking suspicion they're just showing up for his anniversary issue.

Hopefully I'm wrong though, and DC's seen the error of their ways and have restored Superman's costume back to normal. Looks like all my constant and annoying bitching about them finally paid off after all. To all you fans of the trunks, you're welcome!

Thursday, January 18, 2018

The Flash Season 4, Episode 10: The Trial Of The Flash

The Flash is back from its winter break!

I have to say, so far Season 4's been a big improvement over the messy and unruly dumpster fire that was Season 3. Let's hope the writers can keep up the good work, and not screw up the back half of the season.

I'm really enjoying The Thinker as this season's big bad. He's so much more interesting than the endless parade of evil speedsters the show's given us the past three years. The Thinker's plan is pretty damned impressive and clever— he basically killed himself in order to frame Barry for his own murder— a scheme that could only happen on a comic book show!

He's succeeded in destroying Barry in a way no other villain has been able to do, and even though I have no doubt everything will come out in the wash, things are looking pretty bad for the Flash right now. His reputation's been ruined, he's been sentenced to life in prison just days after finally marrying Iris, and to top it all off, he's been locked up in the same prison cell he dad inhabited for decades! Ouch!

This week DeVoe's wife Marlize began showing a slight glimmer of doubt (or was it regret?) regarding his master plan, which could turn out to be a good thing for Barry. I have a feeling she may end up helping Team Flash prove Barry's innocence before the end of the season.

Amazingly Ralph even got a bit of character growth this week, after being relegated to comic relief status the past few months. This episode proved that Ralph actually has some potential, so let's hope the writers figure out what to do with him soon.

I'm puzzled as to why the writers thought this episode needed a supervillain subplot. The scenes with Fallout felt completely superfluous and only served to take the focus off the trial.

My main complaint about this episode is that the trial went by WAY too quickly. I certainly didn't expect a beat-for-beat recreation of The Trial Of The Flash storyline from the comic— which went on for literally TWO YEARS— but would it have hurt them to devote two, maybe three episodes to the trial? It went by so fast it didn't get the gravity and importance it deserves. 


The Plot:
Barry's arrested for the murder of Clifford DeVoe and taken to the CCPD. There he gets his mugshot taken, and is interrogated by Captain Singh.

Later he's placed on house arrest (!), but Cisco hacks his ankle monitor so he can meet with the Gang at STAR Labs. 
Cisco notes that when Barry first came out of the Speed Force in The Flash Reborn, he kept saying "I didn't kill anyone!" They all chalked it up as gibberish or disorientation, but Cisco says it might be a clue. 
The rest of them discuss the case, trying to come up with ways for Barry to avoid prison. He refuses their ideas, insisting on going through the judicial process for plot complication reasons. Joe pulls Ralph aside and says he needs his "sleazy private investigator" help.

In The Thinker's lair, Clifford DeVoe, now in the body of Dominic Lanse, talks with his wife Marlize. She's having trouble adjusting to the fact that the stranger she sees before her is her husband. DeVoe assures her that even though he looks different, he's still her husband on the inside.

Meanwhile, a man opens a savings account at a Central City bank. As he leaves his skin glows green, and everyone in the bank passes out.

Amazingly, Barry's trial then begins! That was fast! Cecile is defending Barry, which seems like a bad idea to me, but whatever. Prosecutor Anton Slater begins the trial by showing the jury the restraining order that DeVoe filed against Barry. He also displays the knife Barry allegedly used to kill DeVoe, which he received as a wedding gift. Cecile groans, as none of this looks good for Barry and his case.

Joe receives a metahuman alert and he, Cisco and Caitlin leave the trial to check out the disturbance. They meet at the bank, where Cisco detects a high concentration of dark matter energy, indicating another bus meta. Captain Singh is there as well, and sheepishly tells Joe he's been called as a witness against Barry. Joe says he understands.

Back at the trial, Slater questions Captain Singh. He tries to paint Barry in a positive light, but Slater destroys his testimony. Meanwhile, Joe and Ralph stake out DeVoe's house, where they see Marlize smooching with Dominic. Ralph takes photos of the two as evidence.

During a break in the trial, Cecile tells Barry that things aren't looking good for him. She says his only hope is to admit in court that he's the Flash. Not sure how that would prove he didn't kill DeVoe, but let's just roll with it. Barry refuses, saying he's innocent and has faith in the justice system or something.

At STAR Labs, Caitlin determines the bank tellers collapsed due to radiation poisoning from a metahuman. Cisco dubs the meta "Fallout," and they begin scanning the city for radiation in order to catch him.

At the trial, Marlize takes the stand and delivers quite a performance, telling the court how Barry terrorized her and her frail, disabled husband. Just then Joe and Ralph enter and hand their photos to Cecile. A smile spreads across her face, as the incriminating photos are just the thing to discredit Marlize.

Cecile passes out the photos to the court and to Marlize, who looks stricken. Cecile asks her to explain why she's in the arms of "another man," just days after her husband was murdered. Marlize composes herself and tells a whopper of a story, saying she met Dominic at an ALS benefit and befriended him. When her ailing husband Clifford could no longer satisfy her "needs," he insisted she find comfort in the arms of Dominic. Amazingly the jury buys this load of snake oil, much to Cecile's chagrin.

Iris follows Marlize out of the courtroom and asks her why they're framing Barry. She says they have a master plan, which they'll reveal during Sweeps Week. Feeling she has no other choice, Iris walks back into court and starts to announce that Barry's the Flash. He realizes what she's doing and zips over to her faster than the human eye can see. Somehow he accelerates her body as well, so they both become invisible. He convinces her that if the world knows he's the Flash, none of his friends or family will ever be safe again. She realizes he's right, and he zips back to his seat.

At STAR Labs, Caitlin detects a radiation spike. Cisco and Harry vibe to the location, but are disappointed when they see it's just a truck hauling nuclear waste. Seconds after they return to the Lab, we see Fallout's the one driving the truck.

Joe and Ralph then pay an unauthorized visit to the DeVoe home. Joe reveals he's planning to plant evidence inside the house to frame Marlize for her husband's murder. Ralph is appalled, which honestly takes some doing. He reminds Joe that he once planted evidence to incriminate a perp, and it ended up destroying his life. He uses his powers to unlock the door, tells Joe to do what he thinks is best and leaves. Joe stares at the open door for a few seconds, then closes it.

Fallout then walks down the street, his skin glowing brighter than ever. He knocks out everyone he passes, and begins wondering what's wrong with him. The more agitated he becomes, the more radiation he puts out.

Back at the courthouse, the two sides rest their cases, in what has to be the shortest murder trial on record. Suddenly Barry gets a call from STAR Labs, and tells the judge he has to leave on an emergency (!!!). The Judge sputters and can't believe Barry's skipping out on his own murder trial, but Cecile says there's no law prohibiting it (um... what about the fact that he's supposed to be on house arrest?). The Judge reluctantly agrees, and Barry rushes out of the courtroom.

Barry changes into the Flash and confronts Fallout. Unfortunately he can't get close enough to the radioactive meta to capture him. Cisco convinces Caitlin to change into Killer Frost in order to help. She unwillingly transforms, and Cisco vibes her to the scene. Killer Frost encases Fallout in ice, but he melts it and breaks out in seconds, knocking her out.

Fallout's radiation begins reaching critical levels, and Cisco says it's only a matter of seconds before he explodes and takes out Central City. Barry begins running circles around Fallout to funnel his radiation into the sky. Cisco then vibes it to Earth-15, which Harry assures him is a dead world (how much do you want to bet this isn't the last we hear of this radiation?). Barry collapses, his entire body covered by radiation burns.

Back at STAR, Caitlin examines Barry and says his speedster metabolism will heal the radiation damage. That was convenient! Meanwhile at the courthouse, the jury finds Barry guilty of first degree murder.

Barry returns to the courtroom for sentencing. He sees The Thinker/Dom duck into an empty courtroom and confronts him, saying he'll prove his innocence one day, and when he does he's coming for him. In the courtroom, the Judge sentences Barry to life in prison.

Barry's then taken to Iron Heights prison and tossed into a cell. He sees a message carved into the wall that reads, "Henry Allen was here." He realizes he's in the same cell his father was, back when he was also wrongly imprisoned for murder.


• Man, this episode sets a new record for "World's Fastest Murder Trial." Barry's arrested, booked, interrogated, arraigned, placed on house arrest, tried, convicted and sentenced, all in the space of what appears to be two or three days.

This is patently ridiculous of course. It takes weeks, if not months, for lawyers to prepare for real murder cases. And the trials themselves often take months as well.

What the hell was the hurry here? It's like the writers set up this trial storyline, then couldn't wait to get rid of it, wrapping it up in just one episode. I didn't want to see the trial dragged out for the rest of the season, but I think it deserved at least two or three episodes, to give it the gravity it deserved.

There is a possible explanation here. Don't Run, the previous episode, aired on December 9, 2017. This week's episode aired on January 16, 2018. If the world of The Flash is moving along at real time, then there was a little over a month for Barry to be arraigned and for the two sides to prepare their cases. That's still lightning fast, but a little better than the day or two that seemingly passed between the two episodes.

• This episode was very loosely based on The Trial Of The Flash, one of the most famous storylines in the history of the comic. The story arc began in 1983 in The Flash #323 and ran for a whopping TWENTY SEVEN issues, ending in issue #350 in 1985! 

There were a few major differences in the comic though. There it wasn't Barry Allen who was on trial, but the Flash himself. He'd been charged with the murder of his arch nemesis Eobard Thawne, aka the Reverse Flash (!).

The TV version does share a couple of similarities with the comic though. In the comic, Cecile Horton is the Flash's defense lawyer. And Anton Slater was the prosecuting attorney in the comic as well, although there he was a much more flamboyant, showboating type. Neither character had ever appeared in the comic before, and were created specifically for the Trial storyline.

• No one expects a TV trial to be one hundred percent accurate, but this episode sets a new bar for unrealistic courtroom antics. In addition to the aforementioned and unbelievable speed at which the trial zooms along, there are several other incidents that are real howlers.

First up: At one point Cecile confronts Marlize with incriminating photos of her and Dom. Cecile then begins badgering Marlize, concocting a wildly imaginative tale. She says, "So it appears to me that perhaps your marriage was not quite as perfect as you've portrayed. Maybe you were ready for a life without your husband. So you ran into the arms of another man, another man you convinced to kill your husband!"

Seriously? I'm on Barry's side, but even I was yelling "OBJECTION!" during that little tirade! You can't accuse a witness of something like that! There's no way in hell Slater would NOT have objected to Cecile's wildly inappropriate questioning, and the Judge would have probably thrown her out of court!

Secondly, while Cecile's wrapping up her defense, Barry gets a "Flash" call from STAR Labs and walks out on his own murder trial! Amazingly the Judge lets him go, since there's apparently no law saying the defendant has to be present during closing arguments.

This is beyond preposterous. Even if there's no law saying a defendant can't leave his own trial (which I doubt), think about how such a thing would play to the jury! They're not gonna look very favorably on a murder suspect who can't be bothered to stick around for his own hearing!

Cecile tries to smooth things over by reminding the Judge that Barry's free on bail. That may be, but isn't he supposed to be on house arrest? That means he's only supposed to be at home or in court— and nowhere else! I guess the Judge forgot about that?

I know what you're thinking. You're saying, "But Bob, this is a show about a guy who can run so fast he goes back in time! Why are you so worked up about courtroom inaccuracies?" And you might have a point there.

On the other hand, the more ridiculous and outlandish a TV show or movie is, the more it needs to be grounded in other areas. Suspension of disbelief is a fragile and tricky thing. So the Flash can run faster than sound? Fine. Not possible, but I'll go ahead and accept it. He can also vibrate his body so fast he can run through brick walls? Eh... that's pushing it, but I'll allow that as well. He's accused of murder and walks out of his own trial, and the Judge lets him? SNAP! My suspension of disbelief was just stretched to its breaking point.

• When I first saw that Cecile was Barry's lawyer, I wondered if such a thing was even legal. After all, she's about to become his foster stepmom or something like that. Wouldn't her representing him be some sort of conflict of interest?

Apparently not. According to the interwebs, there's no law against an attorney defending a family member, and it actually happens quite often. It still feels wrong to me somehow.

• In a related matter, at the beginning of the episode we see Barry's wearing an ankle monitor. Um... is that something that routinely happens? Can MURDER suspects really get released on house arrest? 

Again, I poked around the internet a bit and amazingly it's a thing! It's rare, and it's usually only granted to minors, but adults accused of murder are occasionally granted house arrest too. Maybe in this case Joe pulled a few strings so Barry could spend a few days at home.

• If you're like me, you were probably thinking that even if Barry was found guilty, there's no jail that could possibly hold him. All he'd have to do is phase through the bars, zip away faster than the eye could see and he'd be free!

This obviously occurred to the writers as well, so they had to think of some way to keep him in prison. So what'd they come up with? Welp, they went with the worst and lamest excuse possible— Barry's too noble and principled to escape prison. Sigh...

Yep, that's right! It's the return of Martyr Barry, who I hoped we'd seen the last of in Season 3. The Barry who treats his powers like a burden and grimly does his duty because it's expected of him, not because it's the right thing to do. Feh.

• This week I realized there was something awfully familiar about DeVoe's master plan. In the previous episode, he transferred his mind from his old, frail white body and uploaded it into a young, healthy black one. 

Does that sound familiar? It should— it's the exact same plot as seen in Get Out, one of 2017's better movies! I guess DeVoe must be a big fan of the film!

• I still think Dominic Lanse should have DeVoe's South African accent when he speaks.

Or would he? It's an interesting question. Is an accent a physical or mental phenomenon? Does the accent lie within the tongue or the brain?

PLOT HOLE ALERT! DeVoe's master plan to frame Barry for his own murder was pretty darned clever. That said, there's a fatal error in the scheme that should have caused the entire thing to come crashing down, allowing Barry to go free.

At the end of Don't Run, we see Barry and the entire cast enjoying a nice Xmas get-together at Joe's house. Barry gets a text alert from his apartment's security system, and zips over to check it out. He then discovers DeVoe's dead and discarded body lying on the floor, seconds before the police burst in and arrest him for murder.

It's the perfect setup, except for one little flaw: Barry was nowhere near his apartment when DeVoe was "murdered." Think about it— it likely took quite a while for DeVoe— now in Dom's body— to drag his old, lifeless corpse into Barry's building, disable the alarm, enter his apartment, toss the corpse on the floor, stab it a couple times and set up a grisly crime scene, enable the alarm and then leave. 

ALL that HAD to have been done while Barry was whoopin' it up at Joe's house. He had an ironclad alibi! Every single person at the party could have testified he was right in front of them while the "murder" took place!

The CCPD coroner should have been able to determine DeVoe's time of death, which would have been sometime while Barry was out of his apartment. For some reason (because the plot needs to happen), none of the cast ever thinks to bring this up any of this evidence to the police.

• When Cecile sees that the trial's not going well, she urges Barry to tell the court that he's really the Flash. She says this is the only way they can win. A couple things here.

First of all... is there really anyone who doesn't know he's the Flash by this point? It's probably the worst kept secret in Central City!

Secondly, even if he did admit his secret identity to the court... so what? So he's really the Flash. How would that prove he didn't murder DeVoe? Does the public automatically think a superhero can't be a murderer? Apparently no one in Central City saw Man Of Steel.

Lastly, Barry refuses to reveal his secret because he's afraid if he did, all his enemies would come gunnin' for his loved ones. Um... hasn't that already happened? Several times? Heck, most of last season involved Savitar— a future version of Barry himself— trying to kill Iris. The Reverse Flash was from the future as well, and as such knew all of Barry's secrets. Everyone's still alive after all that. So what's the big deal?

• After Marlize's Oscar-worthy testimony, Iris follows her out of the courtroom and asks her why she's doing this. Marlize says it's all part of her husband's master plan.

Gosh, it's too bad that Iris— who used to be a reporter— didn't think to record this little exchange between the tow of them, to use as evidence in the trial.

• Where the hell is Wally during his foster brother's murder trial? Still trying to "find himself?" Still battling alien starfishes in Blue Valley?

• This episode certainly didn't do Joe any favors. At one point he's fully willing to plant incriminating evidence in DeVoe's house, to incriminate Marlize! Jesus Christ! If not for a timely (and surprising) scolding by Ralph, he'd have gone through with it too!

I get that he's upset and distraught that his foster son's on trial for murder. But there's no way in hell Joe would have ever even conceived of doing something like that. Screw you, writers!

• Unfortunately, Fallout turned out to be one of the series' lamer villains— visually as well as thematically. Seriously, The Flash FX Team, I've seen more convincing effects on Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers!

Fallout's actually from the comics, and first appeared in The Flash: Iron Heights special back in 2001. For once the TV version actually somewhat resembled the source material. Sort of.

• After Fallout's captured, Barry asks what'll happen to him. Cisco says, "He's unstable, but we sent him to Tracy's lab. 
She's gonna analyze his DNA, see if it's the same as the other bus metas and then we'll be able to neutralize him."

To refresh your memory, Tracy is Tracy Brand, who became part of Team Flash in Season 3. She was HR's girlfriend before he sacrificed himself to save Iris from Savitar. She left the team after that incident, but occasionally consults with them (offscreen).

• In this episode, Cisco reviews video of Barry taken right after he exited the Speed Force in The Flash Reborn. At that time, Barry was clearly out of his head as he constantly spewed a string of gibberish. In particular he said, "Your Honor, I'm innocent. I didn't do this. I didn't kill anyone."

Team Flash then realizes maybe he wasn't spouting nonsense after all, and was somehow foreshadowing future events. Cisco says he'll look at everything Barry said after returning from the Speed Force.

Among the things he said in The Flash Reborn:

"Nora shouldn't be here."

"Can you hear the stars singing? Rhyming, chiming, timing every hour, every minute. 
You said the city was safe, that there was no residual danger, but that's not true. 
What really happened that night?"
"Stars melting like ice cream, dream, gleam. 
Nothing seems... Nora shouldn't be here."

"It's a whole new way of looking at physics. It will change the way that we think about everything, from a single atom to an entire galaxy. God! Stars so loud. Loud, cloud, proud."

"Dad and I are both okay. We're gonna be fine. I'm just not sure I'm like you, Oliver."

Not sure if any of that really means anything, but who knows? His "Your Honor, I'm innocent" comment turned out to be relevant, so any of that other stuff could as well, and some of it sounds pretty... ominous. And what's up with the Oliver reference? Is that from the future, or was it a line from one of their previous teamups?

Apparently a lot of fans believe Barry never actually left the Speed Force, and is still trapped inside it. Which means everything that's happened so far in Season 4 has been one big Speed Force hallucination.

I honestly hope that's not true, but I wouldn't put it past the writers at this point.

This Week's Best Lines:
There weren't a lot of them this week, as much of it was just courtroom jargon and theatrics.

Barry: "Okay, guys, but remember, I mean, considering all the evidence they have against me, this trial is not even gonna last very long."
(THAT'S the understatement of the year!)

Barry: "How you doing?"
Iris: "They say the first year of marriage is always the hardest, but I never thought my husband being on trial for murder would be one of the challenges."

Dom: "My hand still feels foreign upon your flesh. And you don't care for it.
Marlize: "No, I do."
Dom: "As I said, I inherited my host's ability to read thoughts. We have never lied to each other before. Let's not begin now."

Cisco: (referring to Fallout) "We need to cool him down. Killer Frost!"
Caitlin: "Great."
Cisco: "Well, go, turn!"
Caitlin: "Well, that's not how it works. I can't just snap my fingers and make her appear. It only happens when I'm scared or angry."
Cisco and Harry: "Oh, good Lord, Caitlin!"
Cisco: "The city's about to explode! Everyone, everything you know and love, the birds, the trees, the fish, the puppies! The puppies are going down because you didn't want to...
Cisco and Harry: " up for work!"
(Caitlin transforms into Killer Frost)
Caitlin: "Thanks."
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