A review of tonight's “The Flash” – which the CW just gave a full-season order to – coming up just as soon as my chest feels like that one time I had a cigarette…
If the goal of last week's episode was to emphasize the fun and empowering parts of being the Flash (or being on his support team), “Things You Can't Outrun” leaned on the heavier end of the show's emotional spectrum, dealing with the helplessness Barry feels about his father, the grief Caitlin and (to a lesser extent) Cisco feel about Ronnie, and the overall burden of having responsibility for who lives and who dies in a city rapidly filling with super criminals.
With these first three episodes as an admittedly small sample, I would say the strengths of “The Flash” trend more towards the fun than the angst – that's what “Arrow” is for – but I also recognize the danger of making the show feel lightweight rather than light. Plus, the show has a bunch of good dramatic actors to work with, and the fact that there are clear stakes in turn makes the lighter and/or triumphant moments have more impact. It's a balance that Berlanti and company will have to carefully maintain going forward, but it's worked for the most part so far.
After talking about the apparent death of Caitlin's fiance Ronnie – played by Stephen Amell's cousin (and Berlanti show alum) Robbie Amell – “Things You Can't Outrun” now dramatizes it, and shows that Caitlin isn't the only one scarred from the event. We'll see if Cisco is a character (and if Carlos Valdes is an actor) capable of being more than comic relief, but this was a promising start to that, while also establishing Ronnie(*) in some swift, clear strokes.
(*) This show and “Arrow” (and, to a degree, “Gotham”) invite discussion of the source material in the way that something like “Walking Dead” doesn't, especially because the creative team has made clear they aren't married to that source material. It's safe to assume that Ronnie has something in common with his comic book namesake – and ditto Caitlin, given the joke about how she and Ronnie are like fire and ice – but I don't know that it's a lock that Cisco will develop superpowers, for instance. I'm not going to make compare/contrast the primary angle if and when I review this show, but I also don't think cross-media discussion should be verboten the way it is with the “Game of Thrones” spoiler minefield.
The Mist is another DC catalog villain whose powers are easy to depict on a TV show budget – between him and Weather Wizard, the VFX team has already mastered the art of digital smoke enveloping Barry – and helped set up the idea of building a prison (see below) while also letting Barry do his superhero thing in front of his dad. (Even if he did the Superman trick of vibrating his face so Henry couldn't recognize him.) The bigger part of that story was the reconciliation between Barry's surrogate father and his actual one, which was a nice piece of business between Jesse Martin and John Wesley Shipp, and I'll admit to being worried for a moment that the show might actually kill off Joe, simply because Barry has an abundance of authority figures at the moment.
I don't know if it's going to be practical for me to review the show every week (the CW made the first three episodes available early), and there's also a level of consistency so far that may give me less material to work with than something like “Gotham” (which is still figuring itself out, but in ways I find interesting to write about). But episodes 2 and 3 very much confirmed the promise of that pilot.
Some other thoughts:
* Easter Eggs: Barry jokes that it's not like he wants a museum in his name, when it's a long-standing piece of Flash lore that Central City builds a Flash Museum. Also, the movie theater Barry and Iris are leaving is also showing “Blue Devil II” and “The Rita Farr Story,” the latter a reference to the size-changing Elastigirl from the Doom Patrol, and Harrison gives Barry shopping mall directions using Big Belly Burger, a fictional fast food chain from the DC Universe.
* The episode also pivots away from the idea that each Freak of the Week will simply die in action, as Harrison and the science twins begin turning the particle accelerator into a meta-human prison. I don't know if the show will ever get into the logistics of this – how they are feeding and bathing the prisoners, how they're affording it, whether the ACLU will stumble onto the place's existence, etc. – but it's a start.
* Harrison Wells hint this week: in the flashback, he says he's waited for this day for centuries, which could suggest he's immortal, or a time traveler, or perhaps both.
* The shot of Harrison wheeling into the accelerator chamber looked, intentionally nor not, very much like Professor X wheeling into the Cerebro chamber.
* Shows like this tend to get addicted to secrets for their own sake, and I groaned at several of the Iris/Eddie scenes early on. Fortunately, Joe told them that he had figured it out by the end of the episode, which leaves the larger matter of Iris being out of the Flash loop to be potentially dragged out for a season or two. (My hope is that these guys learned their lesson from Laurel on “Arrow” and make Iris part of the gang quickly.)
* No little boy Barry flashbacks this week: progress!
What did everybody else think?
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org