This The Flash review contains spoilers.
The Flash Season 6 Episode 2
It sure looks like that shift in tone I noted from last week’s season premiere might be here to stay. This can only be a good thing. After over 100 episodes (and hundreds more when you factor in all of its Arrowverse brethren) it’s time for The Flash to shake things up. OK, maybe not as severely as “killing off your lead character on the Dec. 10 episode of the show” shaking things up levels, but then again…why the hell not, right?
I am, of course, joking. Nobody wants to see Barry die permanently. Grant Gustin is too good, especially when the writing cooperates, and that’s exactly what has been happening in the first two episodes of this season. Every member of Team Flash is behaving in all of the ways we expect them to, which is good. But they’re doing it in some unexpected ways which is allowing them to be the best versions of their characters, which is even better.
It’s tough to top the image of Flash launching himself into a black hole while a triumphant Queen tune plays, but Barry coming to terms with his imminent mortality is a clever way to offset that. For a moment, I worried that there would be too many echoes of the “ticking clock” of season three with Iris’ “death” (and I say this is a staunch season three defender). But instead, that knowledge makes these scenes even stronger, particularly when it’s Iris trying to remind Barry that changing the future (and occasionally the past) is what they do around STAR Labs. This is more terrific work from Candice Patton, her second standout scene in as many weeks, and honestly, some of the best work she’s done face to face with Grant in years.
Barry had long accepted his fate…more or less. It was always that slim hope that the fact that he was gone without a trace for so long in the future would mean he could reappear at some point. Barry takes an almost philosophical view of his fate here. “Maybe this is the reason I was given powers.” This is a character less concerned with his own mortality as it relates to his own existence and more with the lives he won’t be able to save if he dies…or the countless lives that will be lost if he doesn’t. It’s great stuff, and I wonder how the writers are going to manage to maintain this tension over the next two months until Crisis on Infinite Earths kicks off in earnest in December.
Regardless, the Monitor’s downer of a speech last week sure didn’t help his state of mind, and Barry’s jaunt to Earth-3 to get a “second opinion” from none other than Dr. Jay Garrick (the always welcome and legendary John Wesley Shipp) would seem to put the nail in that coffin. But then, I have to ask myself. The Monitor says “the Flash must die,” but he doesn’t say WHICH Flash. It could be A Flash. It could be Mr. Shipp’s Barry Allen of Earth-90. It could be Mr. Shipp’s Jay Garrick (in which case, I will riot). OR…it could be our Barry. But even if it is, don’t despair, because there’s a handy backdoor in the original comics for Barry to die and for the show to continue on with him appearing in every episode.
The echoes of the show’s past continue with the introduction of Dr. Joan Williams played by none other than Nora Allen herself, Michelle Harrison. I somehow had managed to remain unspoiled about this, so when Jay started to talk about his wife, my first thought was “oh, cool, we’ll finally meet the Arrowverse Joan Williams!” rather than the obvious “of course she’ll be Barry’s mom.” It’s the kind of symmetry that might feel like going to the well one too many times if not handled properly, but here, particularly in Grant’s understated reactions, it felt exactly right. I said this last week, too, but there’s a new weight and maturity to nearly everyone on Team Flash, but nowhere is it more apparent than with Grant Gustin.
But that doesn’t mean he still doesn’t need a little help from his friends and family. You might think that after five plus seasons Joe West would be out of fatherly wisdom to dole out, but you would be wrong. Joe gets his best moment in possibly years, and I think once and for all it’s time to enshrine Joe West in the superhero dad/father figure hall of fame alongside Jonathan Kent and Ben Parker. Last week it was his “this is my city, too” and this week it’s his speech about resilience. “Resilience” is a concept that any long distance runner should be intimately familiar with. Runners finish the damn race, and Barry sees a potential (if unhappy) finish line in sight.
This episode also continues the precedent set by last week’s episode, where the “villain of the week” is less a villain and more of a case or a problem to solve. This is a smart move, and I really hope it continues for the next few weeks. Trying to set up a weekly credible threat while the fate of the entire multiverse hangs in the balance and Bloodwork is lurking in the wings would feel like a fool’s errand. That being said, I couldn’t get particularly invested in Allegra Garcia or Esperanza/Ultraviolet’s story. I know we’ll be seeing more of Allegra as part of the Central City Citizen, but this all felt a little too tidy for me. Hopefully this will all improve in coming weeks.
Meanwhile, Bloodwork continues to evolve (or devolve) in the background, and I’m already starting to have concerns. I like that we’re getting an extended on screen origin story for one of the season’s big bads. It’s a fun touch, and it should automatically short-circuit some of the issues we had with Thinker and Cicada. The problem is…why should we care? When we met Dr. Rosso last week, he was pretty quickly established as, well, a dick. Was hearing him call his dead mom a “coward” supposed to generate sympathy from the audience? Is…is this Bizarro World? Watching him go down this dark path after one episode is pretty meaningless when we never had time to really develop any sympathy for him. I’m sure there’s more to this, but right now, I’m kind of wondering what the point is of drawing out this origin if he didn’t have all that far to fall in the first place.
I’m still not sure what to make of the “Killer Frost gets a life” story. It’s safe to say that these were among the weakest moments of the episode, but they also didn’t have my climbing the walls like some of the Caitlin/Killer dichotomy stuff did last season. Aren’t we getting enough of the “oddball character learns about basic human stuff in adorable ways” over on Supergirl with Brainiac 5? And…isn’t it also occasionally kinda grating and not super amusing over there either sometimes? Despite my misgivings, this too feels like a huge improvement over last year’s shortcomings, and this is still a reasonable course correction. I just hope this doesn’t devolve into a formulaic “and here’s what Killer Frost learned about herself this week” each episode.
“A Flash of the Lightning” is a relatively quiet and introspective episode after the bombast (and perfect Queen needledrop) of “Into the Void.” But all of the encouraging signs from last week are still present and accounted for here, with some genuine character moments that would hit just as hard were they to arrive midseason. The Flash as a show has a lot of weight to carry in the leadup to Crisis, and so far, it’s doing it with style.
– Barry’s visions thanks to the “neural hyper-collider” wired to Jay’s helmet were pretty spectacular stuff, and right in keeping with Crisis on Infinite Earths imagery from the comics. Even the white wall of antimatter we get a glimpse of before he tumbles out of the Speed Force felt on point.
– I love the idea (and the visual that came with it) of the wound that won’t heal on Barry. It’s a subtle way of raising the stakes while also nodding again to the Crisis on Infinite Earths comic.
– Cecile becoming a defense attorney for metahumans feels like a nod to how she was first introduced in the comics: as Barry’s defense for his murder trial. I’ll set aside the fact that I still roll my eyes a little when metas on this show are basically treated like mutants in the X-Men universe (and for real, HOW MANY metas are still running around Central City at this point?) because I’m back to loving how Cecile is being portrayed on this show and I don’t want to jinx it.
– Allegra Garcia is a somewhat obscure Titans character who was co-created by none other than new Flash showrunner Eric Wallace (alongside Fabrizio Fiorentino and Cliff Richards). In the comics, she didn’t have a semi-identical cousin named Esperanza, but her mother was named Esperanza!
– Joan Williams is one of the oldest characters in the DC pantheon! She first appeared alongside Jay Garrick in the pages of Flash Comics #1 in 1940!
– Barry looks pretty good in Jay’s helmet, doesn’t he?
– Cisco’s crack about “what did you do with your Tuesday?” is the first nod we’ve had in a while to the idea that the action on this show usually seems to take place on Tuesdays…when it airs.
– I can’t remember if I ever noticed that the CCPD badges read “Truth, Liberty, Justice.” In other words, “Truth, Justice, and the American Way.” Incidentally, Joe’s badge number if 5936, and I’m having trouble coming up with any DC Comics significance there, but if you add those numbers up you get “23.” If there are any Robert Anton Wilson readers in the house, just leave a fnord in the comments.
– Ralph’s “I smell a mystery” line delivery is so frakkin’ perfect, and doesn’t even feel a little bit like a forced catchphrase. I’m kind of amazed.
– I’m sure this show has never really been particularly consistent about what Barry’s actual top speed is, but this episode seems to establish it as 1/80th the speed of light.