‘Flash’ Review: “The Flash is Born”
It’s never good to try to predict things when it comes to serialized television shows. And it’s an especially bad idea when those predictions involve something as slippery as time travel. But that’s where we are a scant six episodes into ‘The Flash,’ as tonight’s epilogue all but confirms what most of us have been thinking all along. This show is many things, but “subtle” isn’t exactly one of those.
Let’s forgo the future (or it is the past?) for now and focus on the present. “The Flash Is Born” puts aside the horrid nickname “The Streak” once and for all and gets us to the heroic name we know from the comics. This is the opposite of what happened back on ‘Smallville,’ and while that show was something akin to a ten-season origin story, here we have a show that wants to hit the ground running (see what I did there) far faster than its predecessors in the nickname realm. Hell, even The Green Arrow isn’t called that yet over on ‘Arrow.’
Naming conventions aside, there’s something fun about the show not stringing out a dozen iterations of failed nicknames just so it can have a big moment in the season finale. We all know what name will stick, not just because of the title of the show but also the first teaser we got back in the pilot involving a futuristic newspaper headline. So why not just get to the chase? I like that Barry gets to name himself, and that it played into Iris’ blog employing dialogue used by Barry in the pilot episode. It’s a bit cheesy, but also simultaneously reinforces one of the show’s central conceits and displays just how much these two think alike based on their shared childhoods.
Speaking of those childhoods, this week’s villain (a Colossus-esque baddie named Girder) was probably the weakest of the lot thus far. Past adversaries have been either compelling (Captain Cold) or sympathetic (Plastique). But Girder (née Tony Woodward) was just a Bullying Bully Who Bullies. It’s a single, sour note for the Metahuman Of The Week, and also brings Barry down as well. I can understand the show wanting to give Barry as much human weakness as possible in order to show him overcoming those limitations. And it’s understandable that Barry still needs to learn to check his emotions at the door before running towards danger. But there’s plenty of motivation in simply saving Iris without having the emotionally cripple Barry by reintroducing a bully from his past. Having the climatic fight between the two literally take place at the scene of those initial fights was far too anvilicious for a show that already underlines most of its beats. Yes, the super sonic punch was faaaaaantastic (I want a GIF of Cisco’s reaction ASAP), but was also better than the rest of this plot combined.
If the primary storyline was a dud, there were at least two solid developments this week. The first involved every scene involving Jesse Martin and Tom Cavanagh, as the two veteran actors got plenty of time alone to play mental cat-and-mouse with each other concerning the true killer of Barry’s mother. The second, surprisingly, involved Eddie Thawne, who seemed like a regular person instead of Officer Jerkwad for the first time all series. Most of that past characterization lay at the feet of the writers, and some more lay on Eddie’s function within the show. (He was, for all intents and purposes, “Not Barry” as opposed to a man who could define himself.) But Rick Cosnett, with his first substantial material so far, did some fine work this week opposite Grant Gustin. If the show’s compelled to keep feeding us a star-crossed relationship between Barry and Iris, it’s simply much more interesting if Eddie’s actually a nice guy and we see what Iris sees in him. Shifting Eddie into a sympathetic figure will make his newfound investigation into the unexplainable more compelling, and will make any turn towards evil he may eventually make that much more dramatic if and when it comes.
I say “if and when” since the show is pretty much going all-in on some sort of time-travel plotline involving the particle accelerator and a figure in the comics known as either “Professor Zoom” or ”Reverse-Flash”. (I hope to God the show goes with the former, because while it’s not exactly cool, it’s not nearly as lazy as the latter.) The look and feel of the costume (as seen in the closing moments in Joe’s house tonight) certainly looks like it’s Professor Zoom, and given the Joe/Harrison scenes tonight, Harrison seems to be a likely candidate for the man behind the yellow mask. The story involving his deceased wife’s car crash seems too important to not pay off later. However, the name “Eddie Thawne” is based on “Eobard Thawne” in the comics, which is the name of the Professor Zoom on the page. So it’s equally as likely that Eddie is Reverse-Flash, or WILL be in the future before zooming back to the past, and oh look, I’m bleeding from my nose…
This is why time travel is such a slippery slope. Its theoretical nature means you can bend any theory to your will, but squaring the circle that is time travel narrative is essentially impossible. The show is leaning SO HARD on Harrison being evil that it can’t simply be that simple. And even though there’s nothing in the text of ‘The Flash’ through six episodes to suggest Eddie will turn into the Big Bad, there’s enough in the texts of DC Comics to at least the show knew what it was doing when it named this character. Should the show exist on its own merits regardless of comic origin? You bet! But ‘The Flash’ is a show that loves to reward comic book fans both casual (check out those “man of steel” references) to hardcore (all those mentions of Keystone City), so it’s not entirely unfair to be speculating, especially when these episode-ending teasers essentially demand such speculation.
As I’ve mentioned in past reviews, speculation like this is fine when the episode is over. But tonight, for the first time, I found myself drifting into future possibilities rather than present events mid-episode. The Flash may be born, but that was a difficult final stage of labor. I’m extremely curious what this show looks like without a Metahuman Of The Week attached for Barry to overcome. What’s it like for those in the show to live amongst people with these abilities? Does this make them feel hopeful/powerless/obsolete/excited? How is “humanity” defined within Central City post-S.T.A.R. Labs explosion? Exploring that will more valuable than any obscure villain the writers of this show can pluck from the comics, and will help the show sustain itself over the long haul. Professor Zoom might be great when he finally arrives, but it will be mighty slow going if the show is only concerned about getting the reveal right.