[WARNING: This article contains spoilers for The Flash Season 2 Premiere.]
Networks have been marching out their newest shows and returning favorites since the end of summer, but for DC Comics fans, it's the return of The Flash that has truly kicked off a new season of primetime television. After hitting the ground sprinting in its debut season, the final weeks built to a conlcusion filled with twists and turns that proved the showrunners weren't scared of playing some of their biggest cards early (implying even bigger plans were on the way.
In the show's season 2 premiere, "The Man Who Saved Central City," written by Greg Berlanti, Andrew Kreisberg and Gabrielle Stanton, Barry has handled the the deadly fallout of the previous finale much worse than fans and his family would have hoped. But he won't be able to mount his crusade alone, as a new threat emerges to not just provide a structure for the show's sophomore season, but take the series into the strange world of DC's Multiverse.
What We Missed
The episode may kick off with an idyllic montage of supportive friends, a happily married couple, and the routine dismantling of Central City's Rogues, but the illusion is dropped almost immediately. The audience is brought up to speed on the events which followed the season 1 premiere through flashback, as a Speed Force singularity threatened to suck the entire city up into its unknown depths.
Barry stabilized the threat, but it was Ronnie Raymond (Robbie Amell) and Martin Stein (Victor Garber) who managed to stop it completely, with the former lost and presumed dead as a result. We're not convinced that Ronnie or Amell's time with the show has truly ended, but his disappearance was enough to fracture the already bruised team. Add the death of Eddie Thawne, and the wealth of hurt feelings and guilt make it easy to see why season 2 begins with the former members of 'Team Flash' taking time to lick their wounds in isolation.
That may not last beyond the first episode, but changing the status quo is something TV fans should appreciate, even if the previous track was a well-established and entertaining one.
As Central City praises Barry as the man who saved every citizen from harm, and wishes to honor him with the keys to the city, Barry is, predictably, not comfortable in the spotlight. Always one to take the guilt and responsibility on his shoulders alone, the death of Eddie and Ronnie have driven him from his former teammates and even his adopted father, Joe (Jesse L. Martin).
It may not be the most shocking or original means of conflict, since the first season forced Barry to realize he can't be a hero all by himself, and that his friends have every right to sacrifice their lives for the same cause... and he now has to realize the same thing over again. Still, the writers do an adequate job of justifying and driving home the grief by, as is now routine, giving each cast member a chance to show the heart of their character.
Unfortunately, the most intriguing moment of the episode was cut short: Barry, not believing himself worthy of Central City's admiration, still showed up to take it, before a new villain burst in. In the crowded genre of superhero TV, seeing Barry struggle in both sides of his life, but play the heroic guardian angel Central City needs him to be is yet another story that only The Flash seems poised to tell. Fingers crossed.
Soldiers of Zoom
It wouldn't be a season premiere without a tease of the new 'big bad'... and it wouldn't be The Flash without a monster of the week who, while entertaining in action, takes a back seat to the larger emotional arcs and action delivered elsewhere. Still, Adam Copeland is up to task as 'Atom-Smasher' - even if the character's implications for the season's story, and the hints and clues dropped are going to attract more attention.
A radioactive strongman who smashes things and eats toxic waste is a stern reminder that The CW is still dealing squarely in the realm of comic book writing, but fans and casual viewers have shown they're willing to suspend plenty of disbelief, if it pushes forward the larger themes at play. In this case, opening the door to parallel worlds - and teasing the related metahuman abilities that one member of 'Team Flash' is still discovering.
We can't discuss the premiere without closing one dangling plot thread: the wrongful imprisonment of Henry Allen (John Wesley Shipp). As proof that Harrison Wells wasn't all bad, he determined that if his plan for returning home should fail, then Henry Allen wouldn't spend the rest of his life in prison. And with a video confession, Barry's father goes free - the overall goal Barry has devoted his adult life to achieving.
Unfortunately, the subplot, and the staggering speed with which it is completed and dismissed entirely, is among the only dull notes of the episode. For starters, the actual reason for Eobard Thawne being fine with Henry Allen spending decades in prison, but not if he himself died, makes no sense and is not adequately explained. But really, who cares? Henry Allen's freedom is worth a wave of the writer's hand!
Until he decides to leave town immediately. We're not saying that the move couldn't have made sense in some form; Henry hasn't been able to help Barry for most of his life at this point, and audiences could have believed that Barry truly would have dropped his superhero mission to build a new life with his father - something Henry could never allow. But the vague explanation, and the fact that Henry wouldn't even stay until his own party was over smacks of the writers needing him out of the picture, and coming up with no better reason than the one viewers got.
In the end, The Flash returned with little rust to be shaken off, moving its cast members into new positions and potentially different roles to play in the coming season. And with a new villain teased, and his motivations and methods already revealed, the months waiting for the new season to begin are already a distant memory.
The Flash returns next Tuesday @8pm with "Flash of Two Worlds". Check out a preview of the episode below: