[This is a review of The Flash Season 1, Episode 5 – There Will Be SPOILERS!!]
The task of positioning The Flash on its own two feet alongside Arrow in The CW's shared universe is now well and truly completed, with an audience established, a core structure in place, and even one of Barry Allen's most iconic rivals introduced (and removed) to be used at a later date. But as momentum builds towards the two hour Flash/Arrow crossover event, this week's episode sets in stone the basic formula fans can expect moving forward.
In "Plastique", written by Brooke Eikmeier with Aaron and Todd Helbing (Spartacus: War of the Damned), a mysterious explosion brings Barry Allen (Grant Gustin) - in uniform as Central City's mysterious 'streak' - face to face with his best friend Iris (Cadice Patton), and a sudden influx of armed forces under the leadership of General Eiling (Clancy Brown). When the explosion is revealed to be the work of another metahuman, Barry and his backup at S.T.A.R. Labs have their confidence called into question.
Where the previous run of episodes were each saddled with their own unique job, be it introducing Ronnie Raymond a.k.a. Firestorm, or hosting Arrow's Felicity Smoak in her guest spot on the spinoff series, "Plastique" has no such obvious hook. So if viewers were wondering how The Flash would function week to week without a crossover or famous DC Comics character, this week's episode is a strong indicator.
The comparisons between The Flash's early run and Smallville's 'monster of the week' formula have been warranted, and Bette Sans Souci (Kelly Frye) a.k.a. Plastique is no exception, as the latest metahuman to arrive in Central City in need of revenge and/or guidance. Though attempts are made to make Bette a more relatable character, her use as a means to an end is still apparent.
Bette's origins are a bit of a mystery, and her presence in Central City - as well as her work as an explosives expert granting her explosive powers - is too much of a coincidence to apparently even attempt to explain in depth. And just weeks after Detective Joe West (Jesse L. Martin) joked that a prison would be needed if Barry's team didn't intend to put every metahuman they met in a body bag, Bette also meets a tragic (and tidy) end by the episode's closing.
To put it simply, the arrival of Bette provides an opportunity for the writers to advance secondary plot threads, while still providing a means for Barry to discover new ways to use his speed (this week, learning to run up buildings and across water!). The arrival of General Eiling gives a face to the shadowy government threats required in every DC property, while also allowing Dr. Harrison Wells (Tom Cavanagh) to show even more of his murderous true colors.
At the same time, Bette's unfortunate end reminds Barry that Joe's previous warning - that nobody (not even a superhero) can save everyone - applies to other metahumans as well.
The story line most advanced by "Plastique" is undoubtedly the relationship between Barry and Iris, both in and out of his superhero persona. When Iris' journalistic instincts draw her towards danger in hopes of spotting Central City's masked guardian, it falls to Barry to stifle her enthusiasm, in the name of keeping his own secret as well as protecting her (at Joe's direct instruction).
Unfortunately, the resulting rift seems like one of necessity for upcoming stories more than a natural progression of their relationship to this point. Barry's motivations for distancing himself seem unclear; while that might be a sign that his feelings for Iris have clouded his judgement, viewers may have problems connecting the dots.
Luckily, the show's innate charm is alive and well in some genuinely surprising places. First, Barry's inability to drink his cares away is played for not one, but two gags; and finally, a recreation of Superman: The Movie's iconic rooftop meeting between Clark and Lois (substituting Barry and Iris). Barry shows he's on his way to following Oliver Queen's path to full-fledged vigilante by disguising his voice - but when his ability to do so leaves Joe in stitches, we're reminded that The Flash is a world where life can breed laughter just as often as angst.
As always, that lightness conceals a far more sinister current beneath. Whether that manifests in Gorilla Grodd's arrival, or the loss of his best friend/lifelong love, Barry clearly has some darker days ahead.
The Flash returns next Tuesday with "The Flash is Born" @8pm on The CW. Check out a preview of next week’s episode below:
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