Reviewing every episode of The Flash’s freshman season is a unique opportunity. Not only do I get to watch one of my favorite television shows and write about it, then call it “work”, but it forces me to remain completely objective about the quality of the series rather than just getting lazy and taking the ride. For the most part, this objectivity leads me to find flaws in episodes that others may not notice or that they may just accept without a second thought. For episodes that have several flaws, this objectivity can make my viewing experience less than completely enjoyable (I generally watch an episode twice – once as a critic, once as a fan), but for episodes like last night’s episode, The Flash is Born, watching the episode through the eyes of a critic really drives home the fact that The Flash is really one of the best shows on television right now and one of the best superhero series’ that we have ever been offered. Warning – spoilers ahead.
The Flash is Born is one of the most successful episodes of the season so far, if not THE most successful episode. We start off with the usual voice over but with a bit of a twist: this time, it’s Iris that is telling the story, insisting that the audience has to believe in the impossible in order to fully grasp the story she is about to tell. Believing in the impossible has been a running theme (see what I did there?) throughout the series since the opening moments of the pilot and, like the relationship between Iris and Barry, the showrunners have pretty much been hitting us over the head with it since the beginning. The main difference with that mantra in this episode is that the rest of the episode really required that suspension of disbelief in order to completely enjoy the episode. Why? Simply because this was the first episode that seems as if it could have been completely lifted from the pages of the comic book series.
Every episode so far has called in aspects of the comic books and have run with them, but each episode has still seemed like a CW television series. The Flash is Born, however, provided everything that fans love about the comics: humor, suspense, an unlikely (impossible?) bad guy, and some super fun action scenes. For instance, the villain at the center of the episode, Girder (whom, I believe, is the first villain that the writers expected the fans to know, rather than having Cisco name him), is a man whose origins were pulled directly from his comic book counterpart. After a fight at a factory where he worked was broken up, a fight that he no doubt started, Tony Woodward falls into a vat of molten metal and becomes a “man of steel”, though not the Man of Steel most of us have come to love. The episode did provide a bit of a new background on the character but only to provide a connection between the character and Barry Allen. Woodward was a bully that preyed on Barry in elementary school which also brought home the fact that the explosion that caused the creation of the metahumans doesn’t just give people new abilities – it accentuates traits that the metahumans in question already possessed. Woodward was a bully, so Girder was the ultimate bully and almost impossible to stop. Almost. In yet another comic book moment in the episode, Cisco calculates that if The Flash were to punch Girder at just the right angle while running about 837 MPH from a distance of 5.3 miles, Flash could deliver a sonic boom punch that would take Girder out. I gotta tell you, seeing that punch play out on screen was just delightful.
Another aspect of the story that had been wearing a bit thin was the mystery surrounding Harrison Wells. We all know he isn’t who he claims to be; we all have theories as to his true secret identity; we all know that he’s a bad guy; and we all know that he knows much more about the future than he is willing to share. While the episode did touch on the subjects yet again, the episode actually took the audience a step towards solving that mystery. Since the first episode, it has been almost infuriating that a detective as smart as Joe West and the geniuses that make up The Flash and his team have not suspected that Wells knows more than he is willing to admit. The series has given us a few hints that perhaps Cisco knows a bit more about Wells than the rest but other than that, nada. In last night’s episode, Joe finally took a step back to truly think about the death of Barry’s mother and once he did, he saw that the most logical suspect in the case is Wells, who came to town about the same time as Barry’s mom was killed. Joe West is no idiot and he is not represented as one in the series. That being said, last night we finally saw the type of detective he can actually be. He is smart, slick, and sly, and the scene in which he begins to question Wells was played out perfectly. Sure, Wells winds up figuring out what West is up to but, hey, Wells is a certified genius and it would have been ridiculous to play the scene out as if he had no idea that he was being interrogated.
During that interrogation, Wells winds up rolling away and throws West a name to research, which will give Joe a better understanding of what Wells was up to around the time of the Allen murder. West does research the name and finds out some heartbreaking facts about Wells past, so it almost seems that West may be giving up on Wells until Reverse Flash shows up to steal the case files from him, leaving a note threatening his daughter if he doesn’t let the dead rest. Now, I am NO detective but if I were West, I’d be pretty curious about why this thief showed up right after confronted the main suspect in the case, and I truly hope that the writers behind the series don’t draw it out or make it seem that West is too slow to connect the dots. It would be a disservice to the character and to the audience, and both deserve better than that.
As I mentioned earlier, another aspect of the show that was getting old was the Barry/Iris relationship. It is a point that I have mentioned in almost every review I’ve written for the series and it appears that the writers finally gave in and read what I had to write. At least, that’s what I would like to believe. This episode didn’t focus on Barry’s affection for Iris as a woman but as a friend that he has known all of his life and has always cared for. One of the best scenes in the episode was a flashback scene that showed West training a young Barry how to box. Unfortunately, little Barry can’t separate emotion from the fight (a point that would come up again in the present in his fight against Girder), so West decides to have him fight Iris.
Barry: “You want me to hit a girl?”
Iris: “He wants you to try.”
OH, SNAP! If you didn’t see it yet, you can probably guess who wins that one. This scene worked on a couple of different levels. It showed the father/son relationship between West and Barry; it showed the friendship between Iris and Barry; and it showed that Iris can take care of herself. Much like the point of separating emotion from the fight proves to be a point that comes back later in the episode, each aspect of that flashback winds up coming back to remind us that at the end of the day, these are people who have loved each other for years, and bonds like that can be tested but rarely broken.
The humor in the episode was refreshing as the series seemed to have fewer laughs lately and it was wonderful to see the growing comradery between Barry and his team. We all know that there may be some heartbreak coming in the form of Killer Frost and Firestorm, so it is very important that the audience see exactly what’s at stake once Caitlin takes on her new persona. While I am a bit excited to see just how Killer Frost will translate on screen, I can openly admit that I have loved the Caitlin Snow side of the character and hope she sticks around for a while.
The Flash is Born represents just how awesome a show The Flash truly is. We have seen shows like this in the past that have a stellar first season, followed by some mediocrity (Heroes, I’m looking at you), before the series’ ultimate demise. With the right amount of attention and if they stay the course, The Flash may wind up being one of the strongest superhero shows of the last 20 years. Here’s hoping. Here’s a quick peek at next week’s episode, Power Outage.
Are you still loving the series? Which villains are you hoping will make an appearance?