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The Flash 2.1 Review – ‘The Man Who Saved Central City’

October 7, 2015 | Posted by Jeremy Thomas
8
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The Flash 2.1 Review – ‘The Man Who Saved Central City’  

[Warning: spoilers abound for those who have not seen Tuesday’s season premiere of The Flash.]

When it debuted on The CW last season to near-record ratings (for The CW, anyway), The Flash immediately separated itself from the pack with one single word: fun. While there are no shortage of superhero-based television shows on TV these days between Arrow, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Heroes Reborn, Agent Carter and so on, no show has quite captured that essence of sheer fun that some of the best superhero comic books have entailed until Barry Allen raced his way into our hearts and minds. It provided an interesting contrast with its sister show Arrow as well. While Stephen Amell’s vigilante hero preferred to languish in the shadows like a Christopher Nolan film, Grant Gustin had no problem jetting his way through traffic in the middle of the day to stop a metahuman from threatening the city.

To be fair, there’s nothing wrong with how Arrow handles things. It’s basically the CW getting its own Batman, since DC won’t let them use that character. But not every show should be like that and the dichotomy has proven to strengthen both shows, both when they cross over and on their own. That difference stands out quite strongly in the season two premiere of The Flash, primarily in how the show deals with a large dollop of the kind of trauma that has been regularly visited on their counterparts in Starling (now Star) City.

There’s a distinct reversal of fortunes in the way that Oliver and Barry are treated by their respective cities. Whereas the Arrow is largely reviled by the city he’s sworn to protect, Central City looks at the Flash as a hero. They even plan a whole day of celebration around him, and give him the traditional “key to the city” reward. But the irony here is that while Oliver believed in his mission and the good he was doing, Barry doesn’t consider himself a hero. The reason, as we find out, is that Barry doesn’t feel he saved the city. Instead it was Ronnie in his Firestorm aspect, merged with Dr. Stein, who provided the final key needed to stop the singularity from destroying everything. And the fact that Barry created the wormhole in his ill-fated attempt to save his mother means that he’s dealing with a lot of guilt. This means that the S.T.A.R. Labs team has separated, with Caitlin off to rival Mercury Labs and Cisco working with Joe on the CCPD’s Anti-Metahuman Task Force. Meanwhile Barry does everything he can on his own, fighting solo.

This is exactly the kind of plot development you would expect from a show like this, of course. Scattering the main cast to the winds after a climactic season-ending experience is pretty par for the course. But Greg Berlanti and Andrew Kreisberg don’t let that linger on, because that isn’t the kind of show that The Flash is. We don’t need the extra doom and gloom bringing things down for too long, and the way “The Man Who Saved Central City” handles this shows a deftness in writing that many other shows would stumble over. They need time to give Ronnie’s “death” (because let’s face it, if there’s no body then we can’t avoid putting an asterisk on the word) weight and meaning. But this is also a team, and the way that the team rallies around Barry when he really needs it allows the show to breathe again and remember what it’s all about.

The inspiration for that breath is provided by Iris, but it’s provided by Joe of course. While all the other characters contribute their fair parts, the fatherly relationship between Barry and Joe has always been the emotional core of this series. The conversation between the two after Barry gets his ass handed to him by Atom Smasher — more on him in a minute — provides the turning point for this episode. In a flashback Joe tells the younger Barry that he understands why he’s angry over his mother’s death. “The tougher thing to do is let yourself feel,” he says. “You can be sad. You don’t have to be strong all the time. That’s why I’m here.”

And that’s the ultimate message of this first episode. Barry spent much of the first season trying to isolate his superheroics from those he cared about: Joe, Iris, Henry, even Caitlin and Cisco when he could. This episode is about realizing that he has to rely on them. He doesn’t have Harrison to guide them anymore and he needs to be the one to lead the way. But he can’t do that without having them there to actually be guided. This Barry is more grown up and so is the show; it’s time to learn the lessons of Superheroism 101 and progress to the intermediate classes.

Of course, that also involves taking on bigger, badder threats which brings us to Atom Smasher. Starting off as a case involving a strangled nuclear plant worker named Al Rothstein, the situation gets much bigger (pun intended) when Al’s double shows up with the ability to use radioactive energy in order to grow and gain superhuman strength. In truth, it’s not the most impossible task the team has ever faced. Once Caitlin and Cisco figure out that they need to flood him with more radioactive energy than he can take, it’s a pretty quick one-and-done. But the true threat isn’t Atom Smasher himself, but rather what he represents. It’s never stated outright, but it is strongly implied that he is the alternate version of Barry’s Rothstein and that he was trying to kill Barry for Zoom in order to get back to his own reality. This is solidified when Jay Garrick shows up, evading S.T.A.R. Labs’ brand new security to tell Barry that his world is in danger. The alternate dimensions aspect promises to be a fun new journey for this season, and I’m excited to see where it goes.

And, of course, there’s Harrison Wells. Harrison may be dead, but he hasn’t stopped being Barry’s nemesis. In the video he created before his death, Harrison says that he and Barry were never truly enemies. That’s not really true, but it plays into Reverse Flash’s motivations nicely and the way Tom Cavanagh plays that scene is fantastic. He confesses to the murder of Nora Allen, noting that even though it’s exactly what Barry wants it won’t matter, because Barry will never be truly happy. Harrison is saying here, quick simply, “I know you better than you know yourself and even though I’m dead, I’ve won.” The implication is that Barry’s worst enemy is himself, which again isn’t a new concept for superheroes but works here.

And Harrison’s not wrong, either. While Henry is freed at last, he leaves Central City so that Barry can be the person he was meant to be. I’m not going to lie; this is a bit contrived. After spending the entire episode hammering home the point that people need each other, they have Henry head off because he thinks Barry is better off without him. But this is one of those humps that the show had to get over. Leaving Henry in jail would have kept that plot thread dangling along without resolution. And yet if he stayed, Barry’s growth is stunted and he ends up being a man with two father figures to run to. They had to handle this and it was done as best they could. I didn’t love his departure because it really made no sense, as within the show Barry can of course be who he is if Henry’s around. But it wrapped up that crucial season one arc and cleared the way for the season to come, which by all indications here should be just as much fun as the first.

Some Final Thoughts:

• Another moment that didn’t come across well was Barry dropping the flash drive with Harrison’s video on it. Why exactly did he bring it with him to Mercury Labs, and who drops a flash drive while digging out a handkerchief? And who just carries handkerchiefs these days anyway?

• Barry’s been fixing Central City businesses with all of his free time. Wonder how many construction union guys are out of a job because of him.

• Dr. Stein comes up with the supervillain name this time around, thus solidifying his place on Team Flash. At least until he goes off to Legends of Tomorrow.

• Cisco comes up with a Flash Light, which he saw in a comic book somewhere. Wink wink, nudge nudge.

• Listen, I like “Renegades” as much as the next guy, but can we please stop using that song for everything ever?

• Didn’t love the effects work on Atom Smasher growing, but that’s a nitpick. Solid work by Adam “Edge” Copeland in that role, as a side note.

8
The final score: review Very Good
The 411
The Flash kicks season two off on a strong note, wrapping up the lingering arcs of the first season and laying the ground work for the alternate dimension story which promises to be fun. While there are a few plot contrivances to get us to that point, most everything works and sets things up for what could be a great second season.
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