[This is a review of The Flash Season 1, Episode 2 – There Will Be SPOILERS!!]
With a pilot episode that proved The Flash is one comic book adaptation that won't be struggling to find its style - or its audience - The CW's DC Comics universe has grown by one series. With Barry Allen's origin story now taken care of, audiences this week got their first glimpse at the storylines and dynamics that will define the series in its early days - and the writers are already doubling down on a handful of themes.
In "Fastest Man Alive", written by executive producers Andrew Kreisberg and Greg Berlanti (Arrow), Barry Allen (Grant Gustin) has begun spending more of his time acting as the 'guardian angel' of Central City with the help of S.T.A.R. Labs tech Cisco Ramon (Carlos Valdes). Not everyone in Barry's circle of friends and family support the crusade, though, as both Caitlin Snow (Danielle Panabaker) and Detective Joe West (Jesse L. Martin) urge Barry to leave that job to the authorities. But when another metahuman surfaces, Barry must decide whether his brush with superhero-ism was the hand of fate... or a mistake.
Since the minds behind the pilot episode (and The Flash series as a whole) already cut their teeth on Arrow, and were clearly planning how best to execute Barry Allen's addition to the network, it's no surprise that the show's debut was more internally consistent than some may have expected. Thankfully, that cohesive tone is carried over entirely to its follow-up episode, beginning Barry's second chapter - and the first chapter of the series proper - brimming with the optimism and excitement that is quickly making him the mirror image of his emerald colleague.
With the show's emphasis on adopted families, the show's most promising element remains the chemistry that begins and ends with Gustin's Barry and Martin's Joe, the police officer who took in the son of a presumed murderer, and raised him as his own. The relationship between the two - particularly Joe's opinion of Barry's father, Henry (John Wesley-Shipp) - was dealt with in a heavy-handed manner in the pilot, so the writers' decision to use a lighter touch this time around was a wise one.
That isn't to say that the disputes between the pair will work for every viewer; Barry's claims that Joe "isn't his real father" tread dangerously close to cliché. If those lines of dialogue do work for audiences, it will largely have Gustin's conviction to thank, reminding both Joe and the viewer that Barry was the only soul who believed his father's innocence. Since the pilot attempted to sweep that resentment between the two under the rug, it's a relief to see that it has received at least some time in the spotlight in "Fastest Man Alive".
But it isn't just an injection of emotion that Joe's presence brings with it (as the show ends with yet another touching scene between father and son), but a chance to develop new dynamics within Barry's 'crime-fighting unit.' Although "Fastest Man Alive" is largely focused on the three father figures now present in Barry's life - Henry, Joe, and Dr. Harrison Wells (Tom Cavanagh) - both Cisco and Caitlin continue to carve out their own roles within the show.
Some viewers may have had their doubts over just how cleanly the duo fit into established stereotypes in their first appearance (and their performances are currently limited to moving Barry's own story forward), but a second engagement shows that each has room to move within their own lane. Cisco's shared interest in 'playing a superhero' adds a new element feeding Barry's lighter side, while Caitlin's emphasis on science hints that she and Barry may share an academic relationship - and the loss of a loved one - that is all their own.
The pleasant surprises also extend to the elements of the series which seemed most ripe for 'CW melodrama.' Barry's unrequited love for Iris (Candice Patton), now dating Detective Eddie Thawne (Rick Cosnett) seemed to have all the makings of a typical love triangle (already seen in Arrow multiple times). But in a move that seems to take direct aim at those assumptions, the second episode features Barry (grudgingly) showing his support for Iris, Eddie continuing to seem like a genuinely good cop, and Barry even realizing that his friendship with Iris is in need of attention.
To a lesser extent, even the villain is given more attention than the pilot's paper-thin antagonist. Danton Black's motivations are still under-served in favor of his metahuman abilities, but the shift towards Smallville's approach of seeing everyday people grapple with newfound power is a step up from a criminal-turned... super-criminal (even if the step is a small one). But given the episode's closing twist once again starring the mysterious Dr. Wells, we have to wonder how long it will be until a metahuman with a grudge seems an afterthought compared to the secrets Barry's new mentor is holding.
The Flash made its top priority clear from the first outing: deliver a heartfelt hero whose troubled past drives him to become a hero, adding new members to his adopted family along the way. The fact that the second episode keeps so close to those same ideals implies the showrunners know exactly what they're after. And just like the episode that preceded it, "Fastest Man Alive" ends on a note so loaded with comic book wish-fulfillment, it outright dares viewers not to tune in next week.
The Flash returns next Tuesday with "Things You Can't Outrun" @8pm on The CW. Check out a preview of next week’s episode below:
Follow me on Twitter @andrew_dyce for updates on The Flash as well as movie, TV, and gaming news.