[WARNING: This article contains spoilers for The Flash Season 1, Episode 22.]
With just a single episode left before the first season of The Flash comes to a close, one would be safe to assume that the show's penultimate episode would focus largely on the impending showdown between hero and villain. Yet in this week's episode, the showrunners turned to an unlikely source for their action, capping off the story with a superhero team-up sure to leave fans wanting more.
In "Rogue Air", written by Aaron and Todd Helbing, Barry (Grant Gustin) and the S.T.A.R. Labs team discover that Eobard Thawne's plan to 'return home' means potentially killing every metahuman criminal previously captured. Turning to Captain Cold (Wentworth Miller) for help in saving his fallen foes, Barry's walk on the dark side goes horribly awry, but relies on the help of Oliver Queen (Stephen Amell) and Firestorm (Robbie Amell) to bring down Thawne.
Thawne's Master Plan
Where last week's episode saw Harrison Wells/Eobard Thawne (Tom Cavanagh) removed from the main story as Barry battled Gorilla Grodd, "Rogue Air" sees Thawne once again completely absent from most of the proceedings. It remains an odd challenge self-imposed by the writers - keep the tension mounting, even though the villain is never present. However, instead of relying on brief cutaways to Thawne, his presence is felt in a literal ticking clock: the countdown to the particle accelerator coming back online, kicking off the next stage of his plan.
What that plan is, or whether it can (or should) be stopped is still unclear. However, after "The Trap" got fans excited to see the tables turned on Thawne, only to undercut it entirely, learning more about the real source of the Reverse-Flash's superior speed chips away at his air of invincibility (a welcome change).
The good news is Thawne's absence allows the other storylines to be prioritized properly: the turmoil surrounding Iris' discovery of Barry's secret identity is cast aside entirely, and Eddie's glimpse of the future sees him finally bring the show's central love triangle to a close. It's unclear what motives, if any, Thawne had in breaking Eddie's heart, but the subplot seems to have been resolved as the spotlight shifts to the metahuman matters at hand.
They may have been locked away and neglected for months, but the metahumans imprisoned in the bowels of S.T.A.R. Labs return to cause even more headaches. Surprisingly, the 'monster of the week' for Barry isn't actually fighting any of the Rogues, but tackling the challenge of keeping them and the residents of Central City safe. That's not the kind of excitement comic book fans are used to, but it's an interesting element of the show's larger fiction. It also brings attention to a question that has been more or less built toward over the course of the season: how does the world's first metahuman prison actually come into being?
Unfortunately fans will have to wait to find out, since Captain Cold double-crosses Flash, freeing more potential criminal allies into the world and tricking Barry into wiping his record clean (read: from existence). In all honesty, both Cold's betrayal and the fate of the metahumans is more an easy excuse than a compelling twist; allowing Cold to 'be bad,' and stalling the need for a metahuman prison further.
Yet the sheer novelty of the prisoner-transfer storyline - and getting to see said prisoners try to out-Rogue one another - may make it an easy pill to swallow, but just like Miller's portrayal of Leonard Snart, fans are likely to disagree. The villainous theatrics of the eventual leader of the Rogues continue to stretch the grounded tone of The Flash, but with Miller's role in DC's Legends of Tomorrow confirmed, they're clearly here to stay.
Once the particle accelerator becomes fully operational, Thawne returns to begin the fight he's waited years for. Barry tips the odds in his favor by calling on Oliver Queen and Firestorm for help, but the superhero showdown teased for weeks was surprisingly far off fan expectations. The meaning of Oliver's presence ("trying something new," costume-wise) may only become clear after Arrow's season finale, but the circumstances of Ronnie Raymond's return is downright puzzling.
The skill with which the Firestorm origin was woven into The Flash's larger story may be to blame, since the hero's sudden arrival and just-as-sudden departure seems strange by comparison (even the effects aren't as polished this time around). The fight itself is less than an epic battle - arguably more of a victory for Oliver than Barry - but given the smiles that the crossover/cameo is sure to draw among the die-hard fans, it's hard to complain.
In the interest of staving off cynicism, it's likely best to simply appreciate the presence of not one, but two other DC Comics superheroes in a fight against Reverse-Flash. But this may be a lesson to keep expectations in check going forward (no one wants to make it too hard on the writers and special effects teams).
Be sure to share your own thoughts on the Rogues escape, the ending fight - and the explicit nod to Green Lantern Hal Jordan - in the comments.
The Flash concludes its first season next Tuesday @8pm with "Fast Enough". Check out a preview of the episode below: