A Television Review by Akash Singh
NOTE: SPOILERS OCCUR!!!!!!!
The Flash opens up to a second season with a solid episode that nevertheless feels significantly disquieted, as if reflective upon the emotional beats that struck its characters down. The dramatic weight of such a choice can often be a boon for a story, especially one that is inherently centered around a ton of metahumans against whom ordinary law enforcement is for all intents and purposes utterly useless. It is a significant bummer then that the emotional beats themselves feel relatively unearned, a flat affair in what ought to have been a turbulent typhoon. The ending of the first season becomes in hindsight even more problematic, despite the general quality of the hour. Ending on a cliffhanger is always a bit tricky. On one hand, if executed well, it can lead to your audience waiting breathlessly until the next installment. But even then the emotional impact becomes dependent on the time in between the installments. If it’s a week between episodes, then the consternation over time isn’t that much of an issue. If it’s a season between the cliffhanger and its resolution, that tends not to work. The best type of cliffhanger is the one that leaves the audience breathless but simultaneously manages to fulfill a season long arc. Jon Snow’s turbulent arc in the fifth season of Game of Thrones is a prime example of that balance being done correctly. Cutting the episode in the middle of a fight and then returning to it several months later is utterly bemusing.
By the time one gets his or her bearings in order to enjoy the episode, there’s a quick flash (no pun intended) of a character about to sacrifice himself. Firestorm flies into the whirlpool of hell that is about to suck in the entirety of Central City and sacrifices himself. It all happens in roughly about three seconds and the rest of the narrative is really, wholeheartedly convinced that that sacrifice means something. If Firestorm had been built as a better character, Robbie Amell’s performance was more up to par, and his sacrifice had closed out the final season, it would have meant a great deal. From his very first appearance, it was obvious what the Firestorm’s mystery was, even though there was a moment here or there where it felt like the show might unravel that in a different direction. It didn’t, but that is fine. I’ll take solid character work over twists and turns any day, but Firestorm didn’t deliver on that front, either. He remained consistently on the periphery, delving in at random moments to seemingly make a much larger impact. He never did. The loss of characters should never be a throwaway moment in a narrative and this episode of The Flash was an exercise in exactly that.
The only believable reaction I garnered wad that of Caitlin, helped in large part to Danielle Panabaker’s performance. From Caitlin’s first mention of her presumed dead husband, that history has been handled for her character well enough to the point where her restrained grief this hour was by far the most affecting emotional wallop the episode delivered. It was sad to see her all alone at Mercury Labs, away from STAR Labs and all of its associated moments of memoriam. When Cisco’s there, full of complete awe and wonder at her assorted gadgets, it’s quite difficult not to get excited either. On another wobbly emotional front, Barry receives a final gift from Dr. Wells, a gift that he understandably has little interest in unpacking, suspecting it to be a macabre trap of some sort. Carrying that perfectly logical sentiment with him, Barry meets Caitlin and the two of them watch the tape, which leads to one of the most vital news of his existence, or at the very least the most joyful one. In his final message to Barry (possibly, anyhow, I’m not ruling anything out), Dr. Wells records his confession to the murder of Barry’s mother. The confession releases Alan out of prison and gives Grant Gustin the most emotionally resonant moment he has. His homecoming party is as warm and fuzzy as it ought to have been at that juncture, but his adamance to leaving was far too sudden.
As noted, this was an episode that suffers from a great deal of emotional vitality that simply doesn’t hit home. The opening fight was an exercise in an exciting sequence that became wholly disappointing amidst the excitement. Part of the reason is the lack of tension due to the cliffhanger split and part of it is because I simply can’t stand Captain Cold or his lackeys anymore. The serious villains come off across simply as idiotic antagonists who are less dangerous than a gnat in a snowstorm, played by actors who have forgotten the art itself. But as disappointing as this core group is, Barry’s friendship with his STAR Labs compadres was one of the absolute best threads of the show’s freshman run and to see them disperse is disquieting. Sooner than later, I’m sure the group will be together but that’s such a foregone conclusion that the dramatic stakes never wholly materialize. Almost as strong as that friendship was Barry’s drive to clear his father’s name and bring him home, so to see them separate again felt like a cheat. Alan’s position is understandable. Having spent so many years in prison, seeing his son grow into a man outside the bars that entrapped him inside must have formed a pain that I simply can’t begin to comprehend. Him not wanting to become an impediment at that juncture in his child’s life is a difficult position, but one I can certainly understand. It just simply didn’t need to happen in about two minutes of screen time. Sometimes, Flash, it’s okay to slow down.
Great/Not So Great Moments Not Mentioned Above:
+Cisco’s embrace of “Atom Smasher.”
+“You’re good. I got you.”
+“We were never truly enemies, Barry.”
+Cisco on the Bat signal: “I don’t know. I think I saw it in a comic book somewhere.”
+The night shots were gorgeous
+“So people can’t just waltz in and out of here.”
+“Take one more step, it’ll be the last step you take. The man asked you a question.”
Episode Title: The Man Who Saved Central City
Story by: Greg Berlanti & Andrew Kreisberg
Teleplay by: Andrew Kreisberg & Gabrielle Stanton
Directed by: Ralph Hemecker
Image Courtesy: Movie TV Stream