On the D/L – The Flash
Season 1 Episode 1 – “Pilot”
Arrow’s universe branches out to Central City to follow Barry Allen’s exploits as the scarlet speedster himself in The Flash. They hype for this show has been huge ever since Barry turned up in two episodes of Arrow in season 2 probably making it one of (if not) the most anticipated new TV show of the year.
As all good pilots do this episode gives the audience an introduction to Barry Allen, his powers and the world he inhabits. The episode opens with a flashback to Barry as a child witnessing the murder of his mother under mysterious circumstances. It would appear that something moving very fast is attacking his mother for reasons that are as yet unclear. Adding to the mystery is that this blur moves Barry somewhere far enough away that he’s not in immediate danger. By the time Barry gets back his mother has been killed and his father is being arrested for murdering her. Barry’s father (played by 90s TV Flash John Wesley Shipp) insists he didn’t do it and we as the audience know that he didn’t so here we have our mystery to chew on for at least the first season and it seems like an interesting one.
In the present day Barry works as a Crime Scene Investigator for the Central City police and we quickly get a decent summary of his character. When we first see him he’s running late, a bit of a clutz and proves himself to be a genius when he can assess the crime scene -Sherlock style- to discover the make and model of the getaway car so quickly. This scene doesn’t give us anything we didn’t learn back over on Arrow but assumptions can’t be made about everyone having seen those episodes so it’s good that we are properly introduced to Barry here. Grant Gustin is instantly likeable in the role and has a kind of awkward charm that makes him quite captivating to watch. Detective Joe West (Jesse L. Martin) clearly has something of a parental relationship with Barry that comes across in the protective tone he has when speaking to him as well as the fact that he covers for Barry’s lateness.
After this point we meet Iris West (Candice Patton) and learn more about Barry’s childhood. Turns out that Iris’ father raised Barry after his mother was killed and his father was imprisoned which means that Iris is Barry’s closest friend who considers him like a brother to her. This scene is good because Gustin and Patton have such natural chemistry together and it’s good to see the glee -pun absolutely intended- in Barry’s enthusiastic description of the S.T.A.R Labs particle accelerator and what this means for scientific discovery. This is a character that’s nerdy about science and is no stranger to getting carried away when talking about it.
As you might expect from a CW show, Barry feels differently about Iris than he feels about her. When they go to see the particle accelerator, Barry tries to tell her how he feels but Iris takes this as something different and assumes that he means that he would like to openly discuss his romantic issues with her which she absolutely agrees to. It feels a little tacked on but it seems to be the contractually obligated unrequited love story that every one of these shows need to have. It depends how they handle it in future of course but for now I’m less than enthusiastic.
Unfortunately for Barry he doesn’t get to see the machine be switched on as he goes after a mugger who steals Iris’ laptop and ends up being beaten for his trouble. Luckily the criminal is caught by Eddie Thawne (Rick Cosnett) and all seems well until Barry goes back to his wall of weird (Smallville reference) and is struck by lightning rendering him in a coma for 9 months. This is no ordinary lightning as it was created by the particle accelerator exploding and gives Barry Allen super powers.
He wakes up S.T.A.R Labs and is greeted by the sight of Cisco Ramo (Carlos Valdes) and Dr. Caitlin Snow (Danielle Panabaker) who are both scientifically fascinated by his accident. It would seem that the lightning strike caused his body to be in a constant state of regeneration punctuated best by Barry’s observation that lightning gave him abs. His awakening allows him to meet one of his personal heroes Dr. Harrison Wells (Tom Cavanagh) who is now in a wheelchair following the explosion and has found his company to be in major disrepute. He explains to Barry what happened in the last 9 months and the reason he was drawn to Barry’s case. Turns out that his heart kept stopping according to the instruments but what was actually happening was that it was beating too quickly for the EKG monitor to register it.
The rest of the episode involves Barry discovering and testing his powers, trying to slot back into his old life and trying to figure out his place in the world following this dramatic change. His journey to using his powers for good isn’t a long one since the episode continually reminds us that Barry is fundamentally a good person who really wants to help people. The major blocker to him doing that is that Harrison Wells tells him that it’s a really bad idea but it’s clear he’s doing that for selfish reasons. Barry finds the confidence boost he needs following a conversation with Stephen Amell’s Oliver Queen who tells him that he doesn’t need to be a vigilante but can be a symbol for hope instead. Fairly hokey dialogue but it gets the point across well. Barry has been thinking this himself and needed validation so that he could move on.
To be a hero, Barry needs a support network which comes in the form of Cisco and Caitlin who don’t really get an awful lot to do in the episode and at first glance seem a bit like the American Fitz and Simmons (from Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D). Caitlin is the only one of them who gets given any kind of emotional beats as she tells Barry what she has lots. Cisco just seems to crack wise and talk about how cool he finds everything to be.
Harrison Wells so far seems to be a wonderfully complex character. Clearly he feels responsible for lots of bad things and tries to actively discourage Barry from being heroic for his own reasons. It’s obvious that he’s hiding a lot more than he says and we do get a glimpse of that at the end of the episode but there’s definitely more he’s not being truthful about. I’m interested to see more about this character over the coming episodes.
The villain of the piece is Clyde Mardon (Chad Rook) aka Weather Wizard, a meta-human who can -you guessed it- control the weather and conjures up a sizable tornado in the climax of the episode. As a villain he’s not all that well developed with some fairly standard maniacal villain dialogue but he’s a good power level for The Flash to take on in his inaugural appearance. His powers are fully realised and look great when he uses them.
In general the visual effects in this episode are fantastic with lots of slow motion and primary coloured blurs. Barry’s speed is put onscreen very well and the particle accelerator explosion looks incredible. It remains to be seen how well these undoubtedly expensive effects will stack up on a weekly TV budget but for now they look great. I like the costume design as well, it looks practical yet accurate to the comics. The shade of red might be a little too dark but hopefully improvements will be made as time goes on.
DC Comics guru Geoff Johns helped pen the script for this episode and it really shows. The Flash is the character that gets him the most praise in comics so it’s no surprise that he handles this material expertly. Tonally this show sets itself nicely apart from Arrow by being more light hearted and upbeat. If Arrow is more based on Nolan’s Batman films then this show owes itself more to the Raimi Spider-Man films by embracing a more sci fi oriented world full of wacky super-powered beings and focusing on an unprepared young guy given powers and having to figure out what to do with them. The word “responsibility” is thrown around more than once, the difference being that Barry didn’t have be punished by his own selfishness to make him want to do good.
Just a little side note, in the opening flashback it seems that two blurs can be seen. One of them is red and the other is yellow, as a fan I’d like to throw my theory in the ring here. I think that at some later point Barry will discover that he can use his powers to travel through time -like in the comics- so decides to try and save his mother but can’t. It would explain why the young Barry is whisked away to safety -though it is the yellow blur that moves him- and would account for the different coloured blurs. If that turns out to be true then I called it here.
There’s a lot to like in this show. Grant Gustin is an excellent choice to play the lead in this series bringing an instant likeability to the character. His supporting cast are so far a mixed bag but there’s nobody I didn’t like among the characters, at least not yet. I really like the up-beat sci fi like tone that the series seems to be going with and there’s plenty of interesting background stuff to whittle away hours of thought. So far I’m not enthusiastic about the inevitable will they/won’t they parlay between Barry and Iris but that’s only based on the limited exploration of it here. I hope it doesn’t become the center of the seasons plot thread. The villain could have been better developed but I respect the decision to keep the first episode fully focused on Barry.
I’ve said a lot in this review but I guess the bottom line is, if you like Arrow then this show is probably something you will also enjoy. The tone is different enough to gain its own identity but the writing is solid and the characters are good. Tonally it reminded me a little of latter day Smallville around season 8 and 9 when the show was creatively strongest as far as I’m concerned. It was a very solid pilot and should continue to be a fun show.