Thursday, June 14, 2007

Live Action: "Ghost in the Machine"

“Ghost in the Machine” (December 13, 1990)

Writers: Howard Chaykin & John Francis Moore
Director: Bruce Bilson
Editor: Greg Wong

Synopsis: After twenty-five years in cryogenic sleep, the technological supervillain known as the Ghost has awakened to embrace a modernized world that he has long waited to dominate--a world dominated by the television! With this threat reborn, the man who once roamed Central City’s streets as the masked vigilante Nightshade emerges from retirement to challenge his arch-nemesis once again. Fortunately, the Central City of 1990 has its own masked protector: the Flash. Together, the two costumed crimefighters must locate the Ghost before he can use combined telecommunication systems to conquer the city.

Commentary: “Ghost in the Machine” is exciting and, at times, outright inspired. Indeed, it has been nearly twenty years since the episode first aired and still I find that this story is impossible to forget. It seems that every superhero series must tackle this standard plot--a story in which the central superhero teams-up with the hero of a previous generation to topple a common enemy. For The Flash, the resulting episode is so entertaining it prompts you to wonder why the series has squandered so much time toying with the stuff of clichéd police drama. “Ghost in the Machine” feels like The Flash’s first foray into true superhero adventure. It’s a playful romp that evokes countless comic book classics. Anthony Starke is brilliant as the Ghost. Based on sheer entertainment value, he is easily the show’s most successful villain to date. The Ghost acts as an anachronism, a human time capsule embodying all of the dreams, expectations, and limitations of his bygone era. His role as the story’s antagonist allows this episode to broach a variety of themes relating to history, technology, progress, and aging. It’s both entertaining and thought provoking to watch the Ghost interact with his friends and enemies, all aged more than two decades since he last saw them. That the obsessive Ghost carries out his crimes using the medium of television adds a layer of simulacra and simulation to the shenanigans that is both fascinating and funny. Jason Bernard also does a fine job as Dr. Desmond Powell, the retired superhero known to the Central City of the 1950’s as the Nightshade. “Ghost in the Machine” opens in black-and-white with a retro action sequence that captivates immediately. The action-lite climax is a bit of a letdown--this despite a clever scene in which the Ghost tortures the Flash in the virtual reality world of the airwaves--but it’s followed by a stirring moment shared between Nightshade and the Flash. Powell’s character successfully draws out previously unexplored characteristics in our hero. It’s easy to see why Nightshade was called back for another appearance later in the season. The episode also finishes with a tantalizing twist that slyly plays with audience expectations based on the show’s format and formula. “Ghost in the Machine” is a thoroughly entertaining installment that finally delivers all of the superhero style, adventure, and playfulness that we’ve long been expecting from this television series.

High-Speed Highlight: The Ghost squares off against his aged arch-nemesis, the Nightshade, sending his henchmen to seek out the scarlet speedster. Aiming to eliminate his mortal foe once and for all, the Ghost fires a gun at the trench-coated hero. In the next instant the disguise of the Nightshade’s costume collapses, however, and the high-tech rogue finds the Flash at his side!

Quotable: “Now we live in a future I predicted! The only reason we failed in the 50’s was the technology wasn’t up to my dreams. But failure now is impossible. I’m going to put a stranglehold on this city. The tools are here… At last technology has caught up with me!” --The Ghost revels in the technological advancements of the late twentieth century

5 comments:

Kelson said...

This was one of my favorite episodes of the series. It's not perfect -- the showdown in VR came off a bit too hokey -- but it's got that great mix of realism, sci-fi, and super-heroics. Bringing the Nightshade in also gave it the sense of legacy that has been an integral part of the comic book since the beginning of Wally's run.

Dixon said...

You've seen the review, so you know that I agree with you completely, Kelson. This is a wonderful episode, certainly one of the best of the series.

steve said...

If you find a copy of the Flash comic book special from '91, they had an interview with Shipp, and he said that this was his favourite episode.

Dixon said...

Thanks, Steve. I've got a copy of The Flash TV special around here somewhere. I suppose it's time to take another look at the essays and interviews contained there in.

Anonymous said...

The Nightshade was an analog/tribute to the Wesley Dodds JSA Sandman. Instead of a gasmask and sleeping gas gun, he has a balaclava/goggles and a Continental MK2 car instead of a 38 Plymouth that Sandman had.