[WARNING: This article contains SPOILERS for The Flash Season 2, Episode 19.]
When a television show is expected to turn out over 20 episodes in a single season, they usually fall into two groups: those telling a story that's spaced out to fill the demand on a week-to-week basis with some kind of parity, and those which... aren't. It's been no secret that The Flash , just like Arrow and Supergirl, has been guilty of some 'filler' episodes, delivering one-off villains or threats to stall the development of massive plots, or delay the impacts of large twists. And this week, fans may wonder if it wouldn't have been wiser to spread the full Hunter Zolomon reveal across two episodes, instead of one.
In "Back to Normal", directed by John F. Showalter and written by Brooke Roberts & Katherine Walczak, Barry (Grant Gustin) is forced to learn what his life is like without his superspeed. There's no worse time for an angry metahuman to emerge seeking revenge upon Harrison Wells' (Tom Cavanagh) head... even though it's not the same Wells who cursed him into his current predicament. Elsewhere, Caitlin (Danielle Panabaker) learns that meeting your doppelganger isn't always the start of a beautiful friendship.
As mentioned above, Barry's time without superspeed is predictably, well, slow. Thankfully, the writers don't make the mistake of once again dropping Barry into self-pity, requiring his friends to lift him back out of it. There is some of that, but not enough to make it a problem - instead, leaving Barry helpless in the background in a number of scenes. It's a refreshing take, but it's tempting to wonder what this episode could have been had Barry's time spent doing old-fashioned forensic investigation - as he puts it, the one way he can still "fight crime" - actually been an exciting, or rewarding adventure.
He still comes through in the end (with the usual help from the S.T.A.R. Labs team), but the tone and attitude of the episode is noticably sullen from beginning to end. Wally's genuine appreciation of Barry's sacrifice is an uplifting note, but it's really Wally's moment - Barry just has to be there. We would like to say that the show proved Barry Allen was just as effective a hero even without his powers, but that's not its intention. While purposeful, the fact that the metahuman monster of the week has nothing more than a powerful punch, yet Barry can't actually outsmart him without superspeed is... a bit of a down note all around.
This Villain Gets Old Fast
Avid readers of DC Comics were likely thrilled to see 'Griffin Grey' (Haig Sutherland) appear in The CW's version, having helped launch Bart Allen's (short-lived) career as The Flash on the comic book page. His powers and story are mostly adapted faithfully, able to exercise superhuman strength, but rapidly aging as a result. His actual powers can't really impress (seeing him bend a metal prop can only be interesting so many times), so it's a good thing that the theme of mortality that defines his character is engaging enough on a merely visual level (aging special effects that more than suffice by the time he's reached his elderly years).
In all honesty, Griffin is the kind of one-note villain that fans were more than used to in The Flash's first season, and even less interesting or unique than those in the first half of this season. And as a result, the opinions will vary on just how effective he is. Some will see the fact that he would be absolutely no match for The Flash these days as added drama, while others will see Barry's de-powered days as an excuse to pump out a substandard villain. Similarly, some will see his anger misplaced in the Harrison Wells of another Earth as added nuance and irony, while others may wish that the distinction actually mattered to the story. So viewers are free to take their pick.
Knee Deep in Snow
If there's one bright spot of the episode, or subplot that should come close to delighting most devoted fans, it's the chance to see Danielle Panabaker not only play double-duty as both Caitlin Snow and Earth-2's Killer Frost, but do so simultaneously. Considering that Caitlin hasn't been given much of a story at all this season (aside from liking Jay Garrick), any chance to see her grab more of the spotlight is welcome. Even if it doesn't actually advance the mystery of the man in the mask, and may just as quickly lead fans to realize that Panabaker is capable of carrying much, much more of the show than she's been allowed to so far.
Aside from the final, inexplicably-post-title-card-stinger showing Harrison Wells and Barry hatching a plan to regain his powers - arguably the only part of "Back to Normal" that actually advances the season's plot - it's Caitlin's portion of the story that adds new wrinkles to the ongoing drama. Not only is Hunter determined to wear Caitlin down into loving him as his prisoner, but has begun to set his sights on other Earths, other speedsters - all around bad news for the Multiverse. If only Barry had his powers back to stop him...
The Flash continues with "Rupture" next Tuesday @8pm on The CW. Watch a preview below: