On the D/L – The Flash
Season 1 Episode 2 – “Fastest Man Alive”
After a strong pilot the real test is whether The Flash can build on what was established in that episode and develop the world it has set up in an interesting way.
In short, it more than succeeds on pretty much every level and manages to be better than Pilot into the bargain. Much of the episode is devoted to Barry Allen figuring out the kind of hero he wants to be as he realises that his desire to do good isn’t enough. There’s also an element of learning how his powers work and testing his limitations which reminds me of the Geoff Johns run that I’ve read. I dare say that the first season will see him exploring his powers and what he can do with them on a regular basis and that’s pretty exciting to me. The science isn’t exactly plausible but it’s good to see Barry fascinated by the science of what’s happening to him.
I will admit a sense of trepidation crept in when Barry was suffering from dizzy spells that he was keeping from everyone around him, it made me think that it was only the second episode and they’re already doing a story where he risks losing his powers for some reason and wants to keep quiet about it to those around him. In a stroke of brilliance it’s written off as a simple case of his metabolism being supercharged which causes him to burn more calories and pass out. It was a nice explanation to a problem that had consequences for the story in that he was unable to stop the “freak of the week” -hello Smallville terminology- earlier in the episode. I like that it wasn’t treated as a big deal and it fits in with Barry being new to his powers and not knowing exactly how to adjust to them right away.
The episode had some fantastic character moments where everyone had ample time to shine. Cisco and Caitlin weren’t half as annoying as they were in the last episode and each had some fantastic individual moments as well as great chemistry in their scenes together. Each have defined characteristics already with Cisco being the maverick who is impressed with everything and really wants to enjoy running backup for The Flash whereas Caitlin initially disapproves of Barry’s heroic tendencies given how new he is to his powers and how dangerous everything he is rushing into is. There’s a well established foundation for that fear with the background of her fiancé being killed in the Particle Accelerator explosion. The development of these two characters is very slight but it is definitely present and I think Barry, Cisco and Caitlin make a good crime fighting trio who interact very naturally, their scenes together are a lot of fun.
Some of the best moments involved Joe as he tries to wrap his head around Barry’s powers and what that means for him. It’s clear that he’s a guy who thought he knew how the world works but the knowledge of a man who can super speed has shaken his knowledge somewhat. I had my doubts about Joe knowing Barry’s secret so soon into the series but it’s being used to great effect. I like that Joe doesn’t think Barry should be rushing into dangerous situations with his new powers because the police are trained for that sort of thing and Barry is “just a kid”. It’s a well worn argument elsewhere but Jesse L. Martin injects it with enough sincerity to make it work. Barry tells him that the police are ill equipped to deal with meta-humans so he has to deal with them. The result of this is the adopted son mandated “you’re not my father speech” which did feel a little forced.
Joe and Barry’s relationship is something that I find very interesting in general. A big central theme of this episode is Joe accepting his -adopted- son’s powers and supporting Barry through all of these changes. Ultimately he respects Barry’s choices given some time to adapt and actively encourages him to do the right thing by the city. Grant Gustin absolutely kills it in these scenes and successfully projects an impression of love and respect for the man who helped raise him. It’s really superb stuff to watch and the two of them are going to make a great team in the following episodes.
Like on Arrow the show seems to be fond of using flashbacks to deal with story elements that existed prior to the show starting. In this episode we see how Barry settles into living with Joe and Iris and underpins the relationship between Barry and Joe by showing us pretty much how it began. The flashbacks were good and added a little bit of depth but I felt that most of this was implicit in the way the present day story was handled so I’m not sure they were completely necessary.
Another fear was put to rest in the use of Iris in this episode. I was concerned that they’d show Barry pining over her privately to some really awful modern pop music but they’re handling this issue in a really adult way. Barry is still committed to being Iris’ friend and supporting her relationship with Eddie Cosnett despite his disapproval. He still makes the effort to spend time with her and be a good friend. There was a good moment where he speeds around the room and confesses his identity and his feelings when he’s moving too fast to be heard and seen, you could see the weight being lifted from him for a moment in that scene and it was funny to boot.
The “freak of the week” comes in the form of Danton Black (Michael Christopher Smith) aka Multiplex, a man who can clone himself a seemingly infinite number of times. He sort of had the same problem as Weather Wizard last week in that he had a lack of development. There was an attempt to inject some pathos with an act three revelation that he was driven to avenge his dead wife but it ultimately felt a little forced and completely out of place in the final battle. Visually his power was very well used and he provided a realistic threat level for The Flash in his second outing.
I continue to be impressed by the ability to realise Barry’s powers on a weekly network TV budget. The scenes of him running around at super speed on the whole look fantastic and there’s no shortage of Flash appearances in the episode with a costume that just looks great on screen, I would maybe like the shade of red to be a little lighter but other than that no issues. Barry’s battle against Multiplex towards the end of the episode was very well put together and made great use of the abilities of the two combatants as well as reminding me a little of The Matrix Reloaded but strangely not in a bad way. Barry’s early defeat has an in story explanation as well considering he is still learning to control his abilities.
Another thing that works really well is the general tone of the show. There’s a wonderful air of optimism about everything and the show is a lot of fun. Moments like Barry using his hand instead of a centrifuge are clever alternative uses of his powers and little things like forgetting his clothes when needing to change or the ridiculous excuses he gives for his disappearances help keep things light. As a result some of the dialogue can be a little corny like “we were all struck by that lightning” but it doesn’t distract too much.
A fantastic episode that manages to improve on the first outing in almost every way. Many of the fears I had about where the series might go were put to rest very quickly in this one. The characters are strong, the writing is fantastic and visually the show is a complete treat. A really strong central relationship between Barry and Joe helps to bring some real emotional investment in these characters. The use of slightly unnecessary flashbacks, some corny dialogue and a villain that could have used a little more development made this episode a bit rockier than it could have been but it didn’t detract from my enjoyment much, if at all.