Wednesday 26 April 2017

Comics to Screen: The Flash 3-17 - "Duet"

It's time for Supergirl and The Flash to return after their Easter break, and to get us in the mood, we've re-watched the last Flash episode but one, the musical crossover "Duet." This may well become one of our feel-good TV choices for years to come.

There have been musical episodes on fantasy TV series for years, from the sublime (Buffy's legendary "Once More With Feeling") to the less memorable (Lexx's operatic episode, "Brigadoom"). "Duet" is not the best bit of musical television I've ever seen, nor even the best Flash/Supergirl crossover, but it is great fun and utterly adorable. With both series being led by former Glee stars, a musical episode was a bit of a no-brainer, and, excessive use of autotune aside, the singing cast all acquit themselves well. Any member of the cast who's ever sang for their supper performs here. John Barrowman must have been kicking the door down once he heard what they were up to.

Melissa Benoist is the highlight of the episode. She always seems perfectly at home on The Flash, and Kara's relationship with her super-friend Barry has settled into wonderful camaraderie by now. Benoist has the most beautiful voice, and looks stunning in the period costumes she wears in the false reality (it's not clear if it's some other dimension, a shared delusion, or something between the two). Grant Gustin is pretty good too, but he never impressed me as much as Benoist. It is his show, though, so he gets the last number.

The best elements of the story are the unexpected. Victor Garber and Jesse Martin playing Iris/Milly's two dads ("D'you got a problem with that?"). Jeremy Jordan as the Manhattan hustler Grady. That gorgeous group rendition of "Put a Little Love in Your Heart" (just possibly a Scrooged reference, or am I making links where none exist?) It's a pity Carlos Valdes doesn't get to play every instrument on the soundtrack, and damn, we needed a singing HR, but the ensemble is still fabulous. And Barrowman... well, he's still Barrowman.

Where the episode is lacking something is in its villain. True, the Music Meister here isn't exactly a villain per se, more of a cheeky trickster with a strange way of helping people solve their problems. Still, he's underwhelming. Having Garber's old love interest Darren Criss take the role must be a treat for the Glee fans, but I'm not one of them, and while he's likeable enough, there's no edge to him whatsoever. He's also not really the Music Meister; the world he creates for Barry and Kara comes from their fantasies because they love musicals, and by his own words, "could have been a war movie or a space opera." There's nothing intrinsically musical about him.

The episode does make up a vital part of the stars' ongoing plots. Both Kara and Barry are facing serious love issues, and although they're there for each other, it's interesting to note that the reason Iris left Barry is essentially the reason Kara left Mon-El. Both men were dishonest for what they thought were good reasons, and both women eventually come round to accept and forgive this. It's also canny marketing by the CW - followers of Supergirl will have to start watching The Flash to follow the main character's plotline.

"Duet" isn't a classic, then, but a very enjoyable way to spend a forty-five minutes, with some dreadful yet loveable songs and villains in spat, and what's not to love about that?


The Music Meister is one of the most recent additions to the DC Rogue's Gallery, having been created for the fantastic animated series Batman: The Brave and the Bold. Appearing in the episode "Mayhem of the Music Meister!" in 2009, voiced by the incomparable Neil Patrick Harris, the Meister quickly became a fan favourite and was rapidly absorbed into the comics, although he's made only occasional appearances.

"Mayhem" is a far better musical episode than "Duet," and the Music Meister as he appear there is both more fun and more powerful. Possessed of the ability to control the minds of others with his song, he can overpower almost any hero or villain and bend them to his will. He also has the ability to instantly transform his costume into one that's appropriate for his latest musical genre. And if there's one thing "Duet" is missing, it's a singing, dancing Gorilla Grodd.

Although the Meister is a newer character, he probably has his roots in the Fiddler, an enemy of the first Flash who first appeared in All-Flash #32 in 1948. Unlike the Music Meister, the Fiddler hypnotised people with his furious fiddling (stop it). He could also use sound to shatter glass and create force fields, and had various trick violins to boot. The Fiddler was adapted into the Music Master for the Justice League animated series in 2002, perhaps inspiring the name of the later Music Meister.

The Music Meister that appears in The Flash is, as noted above, barely a similar character. His powers aren't music-based, but appear to be telepathic in nature. He also snatches the powers of those he leaves in a comatose state. It's all because he wants to help Kara and Barry get their true loves back, and soon he's off to "help" someone else (it would be great if he turned up in some completely unrelated series somewhere down the line). Since this Meister says that no one here would understand where he comes from, and considering that his powers seem to be reality-altering in some way, it's tempting to think that he originates in the fifth dimension, like Mr. Mxyzptlk.

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