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‘The Flash’ Episode Two Delivers Smarter Writing
October 16, 2014 By Trevor Richardson
The newest episode of The Flash was so much better than the pilot. Beginning with a tongue in cheek, “I suppose this is where I do the whole intro thingy, but you already know all that,” a polite jab at some of the unnecessary voice over of the series premiere and its predecessor, Arrow, we launch right into a fire and some “off the books” heroism with Cisco at the helm. With the arrival of Caitlin, the other scientist on Team Flash, we get immediate comic relief from Cisco trying to hide what he is up to with Barry. In fact, the humor in episode two bodes well for the show, as many superhero TV shows (and movies, for that matter) in the past have gotten bogged down in the emotion, analysis, and discussion of brooding characters, forgetting the greatest asset of comics: fun.
The quippy nature of Barry in this episode makes him even more lovable than last week. Detective Joe West, after remarking, “I’m starting to think ‘I’m Sorry Joe’ is my real name, as much as I’m hearing it lately,” says he used to think the fastest man alive ran a mile in a minute and a half, then he learns Barry can run it in four. Barry, of course, blurts out “three actually…not relevant…” It gets a laugh and further enhances the youth of the character, as well as his inexperience. There are some who might say that inexperience would detract from the hero, but these characteristics have long endeared us to young heroes, ranging from Oliver Queen’s “Arrow,” Smallville’s would-be Superman, and on up to the early days of Spider-Man where inexperience and day-to-day problems distinguished the character from the herd. In short, these early episodes promise to be a lot of fun and a great chance to not only play around with the dynamics between all of the members of Barry’s posse, but also to make up for the fact that he has so many people in on his secret after the pilot. Sure, four people are in on it, five if you count Barry himself, but that doesn’t mean they know what to do with the knowledge or that they won’t stumble along the way. In short, some of the concerns raised by the premiere are already being smoothed out through some much needed awkwardness and laughs.
Another welcome surprise is the presence of flashbacks to Barry’s childhood. Another concern from the pilot, for this writer anyway, was the rushed treatment of the death of Barry’s mother, including what he witnessed, how he was transported some distance away in a blink, and what happened to the father, before and after his arrest. Again, the show that gave us this spinoff, Arrow, relies heavily on flashbacks to the character’s past, so I probably should have seen this coming, and what it promises for the show in terms of clarity and character development is encouraging.
I also have to admit to feeling an odd sense of pride toward Grant Gustin in a moment many might have overlooked. Iris asks Barry how fast he can get home and there was a moment that another actor might have tried to make into something, a pun or joke, perhaps, but he just casually, even awkwardly grunts, “Pretty fast.” The minimalistic delivery somehow called more attention to it for me and it gets an effortless laugh which is always preferable to one you gain by trying too hard.
Another cool idea was Barry’s ability to move and talk so fast he almost stops time. As Iris interrogates Barry about what is going on with him, he manages to run around her and bare his soul in the split-second it takes her to pour sugar into her coffee. For a nineties kid, it called to mind Zack’s “Time Out” from “Saved by the Bell,” but was a unique way to get some of that old school literary soliloquizing on the screen. What Barry says to Iris here, had it been a comic book, would have likely appeared in one of those little yellow boxes we all know so well, instead it was shouted in the vacuum of moving faster than the speed of sound. This was pretty brilliant.
These little moments may not seem like such a big deal in the grand scheme of an episode following a killer thief that can multiply himself, but consider that in any episode you get maybe two or three action sequences. The rest of the time we are just hanging out with normal people, and if they aren’t funny, thought provoking, or somehow compelling then the show drags — even a show about superpowers. That’s why the likability of everyone involved is so key, moreover, we’re hardwired to like people more if they make us laugh and the same goes for a TV show. This episode of The Flash has a lot of laughs.
It isn’t all speeding colors and giggles, however, some of the classic moments every hero must encounter that were absent in the pilot come to bear in “Fastest Man Alive.” The Flash doubts himself enough to hang up the suit. In the pilot, everything came together so neatly, the call to action, the burden of being responsible for the innocent, all of it was thrown at Barry and accepted so readily, it almost felt too easy. After suffering a pretty savage beating from what Cisco dubbed “Captain Clone,” Barry says he isn’t a warrior, thus reinforcing an old joke that used to get tossed at The Flash during my own heated, geek-out debates, “super speed is really only good for running away.” This conflict of character is not a mere “hero trope,” it reinforces that the guy behind the mask is worthy of it. Anyone that jumped into crime fighting without some kind of question or pause is someone that is in it for the wrong reasons. For this reason, you can’t be a true superhero until you decide to hang it up. Barry does that here and it is only at the encouragement of his closest friends that he realizes it is his responsibility to save people, whether he likes it or not.
There are also several building mysteries in this new series and a lot of head nods toward comics lore if you know what you’re looking for. The mention of “Ronnie,” Caitlin’s fiancee that was supposedly killed by the dark matter explosion, may very likely be Ronnie Raymond, aka Firestorm, who merged with Martin Stein in an accident. Combining the origin of Firestorm with the events of the Hadron Collider incident at STAR Labs seems like the sort of clever reworking of source material this show portends. Also, did anyone else get a “cosmic treadmill” vibe from Cisco’s suped up treadmill at the laboratory? The potential for this being an early model of what eventually makes time travel possible seems not only cool and creative, but also very likely if we are to believe that Wells is from the future.
Take all of this and put it up against the backdrop of a deranged multiplying super villain seeking revenge for the loss of his research and the death of a friend, the insane action of The Flash fighting an entire army of clones, and the murderous twist at the end of the episode as Wells kills to protect the “man in the red mask” from outside influence, and you get a much stronger follow up to the series premiere. For this writer, the verdict is a sweeping success.