[This is a review of The Flash Season 1, Episode 3 – There Will Be SPOILERS!!]
Just two episodes into its first season, The Flash has done an admirable job of establishing a tone, a core mythology, and a week-to-week structure for bringing in one metahuman villain after another. But with the series in need of a long term arc - and setting up the arrival of another DC Comics hero in the future - the show's third episode has more than a few duties to tackle.
In "Things You Can't Outrun", written by Alison Schapker (Almost Human, Fringe) and Grainne Godfree (The Tomorrow People), Barry Allen (Grant Gustin) joins forces with Detective Joe West (Jesse L. Martin) to reopen the investigation into his mother's murder at the hands of a presumed metahuman. Meanwhile, a need to contain Barry's defeated foes - including a new Mist-y killer - takes Caitlin Snow (Danielle Panabaker) and Cisco Ramon (Carlos Valdes) back to the night of the S.T.A.R. Labs disaster, and the death of Caitlin's fiancé Ronnie (Robbie Amell).
In the previous two episodes, the relationship between Joe and Barry has helped the series find its heart, with the adoptive father and son both having their worlds transformed by Barry's powers. That dynamic is kept up in episode 3, with its central theme delivered directly by Joe: that no uniform - whether that of a cop or superhero - can grant a person the power to keep every person they care about safe.
That's a theme that's been played out in the comics for years, hinging on the irony that all the speed in the world can't help Barry undo the losses in his past. Besides being a somewhat uncommon sentiment for the power fantasies that superhero tales tend to be, it's also a message that is designed to hit home with Barry's surrounding cast, who have also come to define themselves through loss.
If the episode belongs to anyone besides Barry, it is undoubtedly Caitlin Snow. The pilot episode served to establish Snow as the intellectual, emotionally distant member of the ensemble, with her cooler exterior credited to the loss of her fiancé Ronnie. While the flashback sequence helps explain her wounded nature (Ronnie sacrificed himself just minutes after discussing their honeymoon), Caitlin claims he knew her as no one else could; making his death tragic in a second sense.
With the rest of the episode's plot and villain taking precedence, the insight into the pair's relationship is ultimately a case of telling, as opposed to showing. And since fans already know Ronnie's 'death' is a means to set up his return (not as the man he was, but the tortured Firestorm), it's hard to view the event as the tragedy the writers likely hoped to convey. Try as they might, Panabaker and Valdes had an uphill battle selling the tragedy any further given the time allotted.
Fortunately, Amell delivers a likeable and charming enough performance in his scenes, and his return to The CW will give some viewers yet another reason to tune in. But the sequence functions better as a means of establishing common ground between Barry and Caitlin than it does to sell Caitlin and Ronnie (a story line better suited to being explored upon his return).
Yet even with the emotional core of the series, just as many viewers will be eager to see how Barry's superpowers lend themselves to spectacle on a weekly basis. And by now, it seems safe to expect a few instances of inconsistent logic, made up for with a handful of genuinely clever super-speed tricks. Seeing Barry get punched or stare slack-jawed will continue to (rightfully) annoy nitpickers, but speeding up his perception to track a fleeing suspect or blurring his face to conceal his identity will likely balance the scales.
Hopefully future episodes will find such a balance between the action and the drama itself. The episode's climactic battle is underwhelming, to say the least, but concludes with another heartfelt exchange between Barry and his father (John Wesley-Shipp). Given the show's target audience, a sentimental (and well-delivered) message may be desired over a satisfying fight, but the writers have shown they can tackle both in the previous episodes.
That means finding a better balance - or simply skipping a 'monster of the week' entirely - is the only real challenge they now face.
The Flash returns next Tuesday with "Going Rogue" @8pm on The CW. Check out a preview of next week’s episode below:
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