The Flash – Season 2 Episode 1
The Man Who Saved Central City
It’s been a long wait but The Flash has finally returned for its sophomore season. When we last saw Barry Allen he was leaping head first into a singularity that was tearing Central City apart in an attempt to stop it.
My expectation was that the opening minutes of this episode would be all fireworks to resolve the singularity problem in some way but I was very surprised by how it actually started. We see an action sequence where Barry is fighting Captain Cold and Heatwave with Firestorm backing him up before returning to S.T.A.R. Labs to have a cheesy victory moment with his team. It all seems a bit too good to be true which is confirmed by the appearance of both Eddie and Wells. It turns out that this is all in Barry’s had and the reality of the situation is the events surrounding the singularity have fractured Team Flash completely. Six months later and Barry is working alone as Central City’s protector, Cisco has gone to work for the police to help Joe’s Anti-Metahuman task force, Caitlin is working for the rival Mercury labs and Iris is still mourning the loss of Eddie.
Throughout last season every episode began with the monologue “My name is Barry Allen and I am the fastest man alive…”. I can see why as it is optimistic sounding, Barry sounds excited when saying it and it sets the tone for the series overall nicely. This episode has Barry recite the monologue with a much wearier tone indicating that something isn’t right. It turns out that Barry has a Peter Parker level guilt complex over the events of that day and blames himself for all the damage he’s caused. There are a lot of unanswered questions to begin with such as how the singularity was or where Ronnie has gone to but the episode lets us deal with that information as Barry does.
Barry feels so guilty because Ronnie and Stein merged to become Firestorm and ensured that the singularity was closed. The consequence of this is that Ronnie was lost while Stein remained. Barry feels guilty for causing the singularity in the first place since he decided to try and meddle with time travel. He also feels responsible for Eddie and Ronnie’s death since they were connected to that event. It’s a lot of guilt for someone to carry around and it fits with his character that he would blame himself for all of this.
The really interesting thing is that nobody else blames him. Even Caitlin who would be the most likely candidate to hate him for the part he played in Ronnie’s death understands that it wasn’t his fault. Barry’s stubbornness prevents him from seeing that and he forges on as the Flash feeling as if he has to shoulder this alone. His guilt manifests itself in interesting ways such as spending his nights helping to rebuild the city after the devastation. Since he feels responsible for creating the singularity he feels that the destruction caused by it is his fault and therefore he has to be the one to put everything right. Unfortunately that doesn’t extend to repairing his friendships quite yet but as I said, he’s stubborn.
Despite being an unorthodox way to begin the season I found this to be a much better choice. I said in my review of the season 1 finale that I was impressed that the writers had the confidence in the world the have established to do an introspective and character driven finale rather than an action driven one as would be expected and much the same applies here. Much like most of season 1 this show is more about the characters than the events which means that all of the insane comic book stuff is appropriately grounded with things we can all relate to. We all know what it’s like to feel like we’ve made a massive mistake and I imagine most of us can relate to just wanting to be alone to deal with things. Having these at the forefront of a guy that can run at superhuman speeds makes his abilities more acceptable.
Similarly Ronnie’s sacrifice comes with a lot of technobabble and comic book science but that only exists to establish that the characters know what they’re talking about. The real takeaway from the event is that Ronnie sacrificed himself to save the day. This even makes it more palatable that closing the singularity actually saved the entire universe since it was all being chewed up to remove the paradox caused by Eddie’s death and Wells/Thawne’s erasure from existence. Now that the singularity has gone this alternate reality created by Thawne’s interference can continue to exist and play out in unpredictable ways.
Barry’s emotional journey in this episode is really nicely done. It was a great touch to deal with the singularity resolution by way of flashback as it suggests that the event haunts Barry so we experience it from his perspective as he relives it over and over again. I like that he feels worse because the mayor has dedicated a day to honour the Flash after he appeared to save the city which just makes Barry feel like a fraud since he feels that Ronnie should be the one getting the credit. I presume Stein as well but Ronnie’s the one not around to collect it. There’s a great exchange where Joe reminds him that he used to love getting awards when he collected accolades for scientific achievement which causes Barry to flatly say that he deserved those awards. He doesn’t feel like he deserves this one so doesn’t want to appear personally at the celebration.
The catalyst for him repairing the rift with his friends and accepting that he isn’t to blame is his conflict with the villain Atom Smasher (Adam “Edge” Copeland) who shows up at the celebration to kill the Flash. His ability allows him to absorb radiation to make himself grow in size and become stronger. The curious thing about him is that his civilian identity is Albert Rothstein who was also found murdered in this episode. The obvious is ruled out such as a twin brother and apparently he was in Hawaii when the Particle Accelerator exploded so his status as a Metahuman is confusing. How can there be two of him? It’s a question that lingers over the episode and isn’t quite answered yet although I do know the answer. I would have to hand in my nerd credentials if I didn’t point out that in the first season episode “Power Outage” Wells mentions that Al Rothstein is one of the names that he has memorised as having been killed in the Particle Accelerator explosion. Even the best shows can’t avoid a continuity error.
Atom Smasher is a pretty standard villain without much to him but it’s what he represents that makes him more interesting. His role in the episode is to provide a foe strong enough to overwhelm Barry when he is working alone. He needs help to defeat him so has to repair the relationship with the rest of his team. It’s a pretty cheesy message of being stronger together but it comes across as being genuine enough. I do feel that his defeat is something that Barry could have easily figured out on his own even in his distracted state and it doesn’t say much about the intelligence of Atom Smasher to walk into such an obvious trap. He is something of a means to an end as villains go but maybe he’ll be used as a henchman somewhere down the line. His other purpose is to tease the mystery that will no doubt be developed over the course of the season. There’s the matter of two Albert Rothstein’s and the mention of a mysterious string pulling figure named Zoom. Atom Smasher also mentions an offer to be taken home.
It’s after the initial defeat that Barry starts to get his act together. A well timed flashback -no pun intended- shows a similar experience from Barry’s childhood where he was reluctant to accept help after losing his mother and his father being sent to prison. Joe manages to use reason and his own good nature to convince Barry that he can rely on others. A similar thing happens in the present with a slightly different angle taken by Joe. He reminds Barry that everyone was responsible for their own decisions that day which means that Barry wasn’t to blame for any of it. He also tells Barry that repairing the city isn’t as important as keeping the team together because that is the best way to make a difference. It’s always great to watch Joe interact with anyone and the way he calmly gives Barry the kick he needs is great to watch.
The other characters are somewhat in the background in this episode but everyone gets at least a moment to shine. Cisco and Stein get to bond over their fondness of naming Metahumans as well as a further hint at Cisco’s powers, Caitlin gets to emotionally support Barry when he needs it and Iris gets to appeal to Barry as his best friend to try to get him to come to his senses. One thing I found confusing is that Caitlin doesn’t seem to be as distraught as she should be following the loss of her husband but maybe she’s either in denial or expects him to come back like he did last time. It’s also likely that the other characters will have more moments as the season progresses. I do like that Iris is being used a bit better so far. She’s very much a part of the team now and being used for more than irritating relationship drama. It has only been one episode but it suggests that there will be a better use of this character over the second season.
We were given another surprise in the episode with Wells/Thawne’s final message to Barry in the event of his death. It is reinforced that Wells can’t bring himself to hate the young Barry Allen and gives him what it is he wants. Since he’s dead it makes no difference if he is posthumously known as a criminal so he confesses to the murder of Barry’s mother. Wells also does this to prove that even when Barry gets what he wants he will never truly be happy which proves to be effective foreshadowing for what happens.
The confession allows Barry’s father to be released from prison which closes off Barry’s major motivation in the first season. Everything he had done up to this point had the undercurrent of freeing his father so now that it’s done he can move on. I really liked the party scene following Henry’s release as it reinforces the family dynamic set up throughout the first season and easily slots Henry into that family. It is somewhat upset by the fact that he tells Barry that he needs to leave but the scene itself is nicely done if a little overly sentimental.
On Henry’s departure I’m a bit conflicted as it seems a waste to have him released only to immediately leave. I understand the logic from Henry’s perspective as he doesn’t want to stick around to be a distraction to Barry when he has more important things to worry about. He seems very proud of his son’s identity as the Flash and wants him to excel in that area. It’s a very well acted scene that plays out almost like a passing of the torch from one TV Flash to the other. It already seems difficult to find a place for Henry within the show full time so it’s probably for the best that he’s not around. I dare say he will appear every now and again but it is a bit of a tragic outcome for Barry to get him back only to have him leave almost immediately.
With Team Flash all back together the season can really begin. Cisco has updated the suit with a new emblem to match the future version that they have all seen to represent that they shouldn’t be afraid of the future. The costume shade still needs to be lightened but making the suit even more comic accurate is a nice touch. the appearance of Jay Garrick (Teddy Sears) at the end of the episode -though he is seen earlier observing Barry- builds my anticipation for what will come next week. In general this episode feels like a transitional one. The purpose seems to be to tie up many of the loose ends from the first season and set the stage for the second. The final scene with Jay Garrick is when the second season really begins with all the baggage from season 1 put behind them. As a side note I did enjoy the reference to the security issues at S.T.A.R. Labs and how the beefed up security is easily defeated by Garrick.
As always, the special effects in this show are very impressive. The singularity sequence was a particular highlight with movie quality visuals really putting across the enormity of the problem. Atom Smasher looked cool but the growth scenes looked a little rubbery. All in all not too bad for TV but it did stick out. Here’s hoping for more dynamic and impressive visuals over the course of the season. Based on this I think season 2 is going to be really interesting.
My final point is around the Flash signal. It doesn’t really fit the character and Cisco’s reference to seeing it in a comic book was pretty cringeworthy. I hope it doesn’t become a mainstay of the show.