This review contains spoilers.
2.1 The Man Who Saved Central City
This year, The Flash is in the unenviable position of trying to capitalise on a first season that not only rose to the top of an increasingly dense pile of superhero television, but also surpassed its parent show over the course of 23 episodes. It was one of the undisputable winners of the 2014-15 season, and expectations are incredibly high.
Can it maintain the quality or, better still, build on it to become something not just fun, diverting and occasionally emotional but also something more? There’s always been potential for that, for it to be as much fun for a wide audience as it is for the hard-core comic book and television fans.
We start where we left off, with the fun, campy gosh-darn-heroes series we all fell for, but this time we can’t take any of it at face value. The opening sequence in which Barry, Cisco, Caitlin and the rest of the STAR Labs extended family celebrate another impressive victory is revealed as a sham as soon as Eddie and Wells turn up – Barry is alone, six months have passed and nothing is how we remember it.
The whole episode is a departure from what we probably expected coming into this second season, playing on our collective affection for the group dynamic, sometimes stronger even than our affection for our titular hero. We quickly set about putting the band back together, and by the end of the hour, they’re back in a place we recognise, but the time spent with the team fractured and spread out across Central City is an interesting way to begin.
In a lot of ways, Barry has taken on Oliver’s role at the beginning of his respective sophomore season – he’s cut off from everyone he cares about, avoiding the grief of those closest to him and suffering something akin to survivor’s guilt. It’s a little jarring, seeing The Flash become Arrow (and, presumably, vice versa if what we’ve been told all summer is true) for a time but, as we know, Barry’s a very different character and this is a very different series.
As said, it’s been six months since the finale, and we’re treated only to a couple of glimpses of what actually went down that day. What we think is guilt over Eddie’s sacrifice is also remorse for Ronnie. What actually happened to Ronnie, however, is probably the episode’s biggest flaw.
I’m not the biggest fan of the character, but he does matter to Caitlin, and to see him not really given a proper death scene is baffling. I can only guess that he’s going to make a triumphant return at some point, because we’re not given a visual to confirm his demise or even a cause of death (no body, no proof), but then again he’s already done that.
His departure from the franchise was even signposted by his absence from the upcoming Legends Of Tomorrow spin-off, so the sequence and all of its fallout ended up falling completely flat.
While Barry’s off being a vigilante brooder, what’s everyone else doing? Well, Cisco is officially working at the police department with Joe – a smart move given how well they worked together last year – and Caitlin has taken a job at Mercury Labs. Iris is still the most unlikely journalist ever, and Central City has been left in bad shape after the destruction caused by the singularity.
Viewed as the hero who saved the day, Barry is given the key to the city (the Flash Day rally itself is incredibly meta, with citizens donning familiar Flash t-shirts). The trouble is, Barry doesn’t believe he deserves any of the glory, and it takes some coaxing from Joe, Iris and Caitlin (as well as a weekly metahuman to battle) before we get out first Grant Gustin Cry Face™ of the new season.
But it’s not the last, because Wells/Thawne left one last gift for Barry in the event of his death. Not only does he now own STAR Labs, but he’s also handed a USB drive featuring a video of Wells confessing to the murder of Nora Allen. This of course frees Henry from prison – a gift from one father to another.
What happened next will divide fans, as Henry announces he doesn’t actually plan to stick around Central City even now that he’s free. One angle on it is that John Wesley Shipp isn’t a series regular and so can’t be expected to show up for anything more substantial than some quick sermons through prison glass. Another, is that Henry isn’t the greatest guy in the world after all, a disappointment for Barry after 14 years of trying to get his father back in his life.
Personally, I’d rather go with the latter, mainly because I’ve never been into thinking a show’s move is badly plotted before that’s really confirmed. It’s a strange moment, but it’s played well by both actors. It also underlines the message of last season – Joe and Iris are Barry’s family as much as Henry and Nora ever were, and what he wants isn’t necessarily what he needs.
“You’ll never be truly happy, Barry Allen. Trust me, I know you” – these are the words spoken by Thawne is his video to Barry, and these are the words that may determine whether season two of The Flash is as good as the first. With all the speedsters (all of them, basically) promised to us, we cannot lose sight of Barry’s journey. This was a criticism I often had for the first season, too, but there’s a definite danger of things becoming way too overcrowded.
It’s a show about fun and heroics and writers basically throwing stuff at the wall with joyful abandon, but it’s also about fathers and sons and about Barry wrestling with becoming a hero in the spotlight. Even with Jay and Bart and Zoom etc., if the show manages to keep those things, I think we’ll be just fine.
Read Caroline’s review of the season one finale, Fast Enough, here.
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