[This is a review of The Flash Season 1, Episode 9 – There Will Be SPOILERS!!]
No matter how confident the creators of the The Flash may have been in the show's potential to find an audience, few ever expected the series to prove so successful so fast - having already succeeded Arrow as many DC fans' favorite TV show. In the wake of the recent Flash/Arrow CW crossover (an event proving that both shows have more than found their footing), it's the task of the show's mid-season finale to remind viewers why they're in it for the long haul. And the writers called on the hero's most famous foe to do it.
In "The Man in the Yellow Suit", written by Todd and Aaron Helbing, Barry Allen (Grant Gustin) is finally able to confront the man responsible for his mother's murder, but soon learns that his enemy's powers far exceed his own. As the villain's arrival puts the lives of Joe West (Jesse L. Martin) and Eddie Thawne (Rick Cosnett) in danger, Cisco (Carlos Valdes) and Caitlin (Danielle Panabaker) search for a new - and troubled - metahuman: her preseumed-dead fiance, Ronnie Raymond (Robbie Amell).
Comic book fans are still likely to be pinching themselves, having to wait less than a dozen episodes to see The Flash's arch-nemesis - known as the Reverse-Flash - make his debut in the series. However, the showrunners made clear their intention to pull no punches and keep no aces up their sleeves in the series' premiere, showing 'the man in the lightning' to be the real villain of Barry Allen's tale, sending his life into a painful spiral.
Keeping that level of supernatural menace intact when Barry is forced to face his tormentor would seem impossible, but the culmination of the Reverse-Flash threat is handled shockingly well. The decision to portray him as faceless, nameless, and cruelly determined results in not just another metahuman killer, but a force of nature; one functioning well beyond the realm of what Barry and his allies are equipped to handle.
The reveal of the Reverse-Flash (though his true identity remains a secret, even if the episode's closing moments make an obvious, and unsurprising suggestion) proves the writers are doubling down on the time travel and pre-destination alluded to in the show's premiere. Even with that mythology to bite off, it's the human side of Barry Allen's character that takes most of the spotlight.
The finale's action sequences satisfy for both the choreography and the villain's significance to Barry's past, but the combat can't hold a candle to the emotional heart of the episode: the half of the story sure to remind viewers of the reasons they invested in the series to begin with.
Emotional pay-offs occur with surprising frequency, as Barry is urged by his father to finally accept and make peace with his mother's death; confesses his true feelings for Iris, who thankfully says nothing (it's Barry's moment, not hers); and finally hear firsthand from Joe that while Central City may need its crime-fighting blur, a seasoned detective needs his adopted son even more.
Yet even as Barry decides to start living his life for himself, Dr. Wells (Tom Cavanagh), Caitlin and Cisco take on new baggage of their own, discovering that Ronnie Raymond is alive, superpowered, and unrecognizable as the man he once was. Ronnie's re-emergence may feel somewhat tacked-on or convenient for the mid-season finale, but his perfectly-timed defense of Barry - and his fiery exit - are sure to convince viewers he's a welcome addition, whether they know the name 'Firestorm' or not.
Some may have hoped for more answers to be delivered along with the Reverse-Flash - his identity, his motivations, or his ongoing plan, for instance - but with Barry's origin story now largely told, the first season's second half is on strong footing. Barry now has a powerful motivator to push his limits farther than ever, and defy his enemy's claim that he is "destined to lose." On top of that, the S.T.A.R. Labs team now has a story line potentially every bit as powerful, and all their own.
Not every episode of The Flash to this point has felt like a step forward, but with this finale, the writers managed two impressive tasks: give viewers much, much more comic book lore than they expect this early, while making it clear that this show is still building towards something more substantial than everyday superheroics. And without a traditional 'cliffhanger' leaving fans to wonder "what just happened?", the mid-season finale simply leaves them curious to see what happens next.
But again, it's Barry's (and Gustin's) genuine investment in nearly everyone around him that continues to urge viewers to care every bit as much, even if it's only for Barry's sake. Take it or leave it: that sentimentality remains The Flash's trademark - no matter how impressive the special effects may be.
The Flash returns Tuesday, January 20 with "Revenge of the Rogues" @8pm on The CW. Check out a preview of the episode below:
Follow me on Twitter @andrew_dyce for updates on The Flash as well as movie, TV, and gaming news.