‘The Flash’ Review: “Things You Can’t Outrun”
Practice makes perfect. That holds true for superheroes as well as television shows about superheroes. So it makes sense that 'The Flash' is essentially repeating the same steps week after week in order to get the basics down pat before getting into more adventurous stuff down the road. “Things You Can’t Outrun” is by no means a bad episode, but it doesn’t provide a lot in terms of new elements.
Again: That’s fine, for now, especially since the show has to keep reiterating its basic plot points via dialogue so the uninitiated can hop on board. (If you drank every time a character spouted exposition posing as dialogue, this review is probably looking mighty blurry at this point.) We need to hear about Barry’s backstory and his connection to every major character and their connection to the explosion at S.T.A.R. Labs a few times before we can all agreed that everyone’s on board and the narrative train can truly leave the station. Until then, a few cool character beats in the midst (or The Mist) of things is the best we can hope for.
So on that front, the best thing by far tonight was 'The Flash' giving Caitlin and Cisco some much-needed screen time and backstory. Much of this took place inside the remains of the particle accelerator, which now functions as a makeshift gulag for superpowered baddies. As each remaining member of S.T.A.R. Labs comes face-to-face with the accelerator, “Outrun” flashes back to the night of the explosion. It turns out that while the ensuing explosion did a great deal of damage, a far greater toll was avoided thanks to Caitlin’s ostensibly late fiancée Ronnie. I say “ostensibly,” as a few comic book fans astutely predicted that Ronnie’s last name is Raymond, which means he’ll undoubtedly show up in future episodes as one-half of a certain DC Comics’ figure.
But until that actually happens, what we’re left with are two people bonded over Ronnie’s loss. Cisco had to make the hard choice to lock Ronnie inside the accelerator to ensure the blast didn’t infiltrate the building, and Caitlin had to listen to her partner seemingly die in a fiery blast. Neither his tech wizardry nor her love save Ronnie, which means both are forever linked by that moment of loss outside the accelerator’s main hatch. Rather than shrivel up and stay internally focused, both turned to Barry during his coma to produce some good out of so much pain. That makes Harrison Wells’ acts all the viler: What initially seemed like happenstance has turned into a much larger design, one in which the very particle accelerator itself seems like a means to achieve an end Harrison has seen for “centuries,” according to his toast on the night of the explosion. That word seems carefully chosen, which makes everything from the selection of Barry to the refashioning of S.T.A.R. Labs into a prison as small steps towards the finish line of a preordained path.
Fate, in other words, is something Wells feels that Barry cannot outrun. That’s a pretty anvilicious way of putting it, but this is a pretty anvilicious episode in terms of foreshadowing. (Caitlin remembering that Ronnie called the pair “fire and ice” made me groan more than a little.) Linking the central villain to an emotional state of the protagonists is a trick as old as time, so having Barry Allen fight an ephemeral antagonist in the very week he’s struggling with memories of his mother is neither new nor reason for penalizing the episode. And sure, the way “Outrun” fashions Barry’s defeat of The Mist as a live-action boss battle was plenty fun. But it’s also just fine to have Barry cradle the telephone while his father Henry reminds him of the first steps Barry took as a child. There’s just something so winningly vulnerable in the way Grant Gustin uses that telephone as both a shield and a prized childhood blanket while Henry talks to Barry. I understand why 'The Flash' needs to give Barry someone to defeat at this point, but these villains are usually the least memorable thing about the episodes at this point.
What elevates 'The Flash' through its admittedly melodramatic tendencies is that it always errs on the side of uplift over strife, of positivity over nihilism. “Life is sweet and extraordinary,” Barry intones over the last voiceover of the episode. “And the only way I know how to honor my mom’s life is to keep running.” Barry isn’t running away from anything, but rather running towards something. Wells might think that Barry is headed to a single, inevitable point on the horizon. But 'The Flash' understands that choices both big and small conquer any plans life might have in store. As episodes pile up and the need for repetition recedes, I’m very curious how 'The Flash' balances Wells’ vision of the future with actions in the present. And I’m now extremely curious how not only Barry will react upon finding out Wells’ motives, but Caitlin and Cisco as well. Linking those two up more tightly with Barry is a victory for the show, and should serve it well in the future. Even if individual installments don’t thrill, having a base beyond Barry upon which to rely will yield dividends down the road.
A flash of bullets about tonight’s episode…
- “Die in a fire” is pretty much my note for every time Eddie and Iris shared time together. I’d love to think exposing their relationship will improve my mood when these two are onscreen, but I’m not holding my breath.
- “The one near the Big Belly Burger…I eat!” OK, Wells is probably evil, but he’s also amusing.
- Barry’s deduction skills are my favorite part of his character. It’s not that Oliver Queen is stupid by any means, but I love knowing that Barry Allen could outthink him in battle if it came to that. It’s a nice way to delineate the characters and the shows.
- One thing that unites 'Arrow' and 'The Flash': their uses of color. 'Arrow' is a much darker show in tone, but still has rich blues, greens, and ambers that dominate the palette. The particle accelerator probably shouldn’t be as brightly colored as it is, but I much prefer this to the accelerator looking like a set from the Fallout video game series.
- One final link between the shows: Stephen Amell’s brother Robbie plays Ronnie Raymond, and if you think it’s easy typing “Ronnie Raymond” instead of “Robbie Raymond,” you’d be mistaken.