It may still a bit early to be saying this, but I’m going to stand by the declaration I made last week – yes, it’s not as ambitious as Gotham, but so far, The Flash is shaping up to be the better of the two new DC offerings for television.
This week proved that to me with another case where the story is a familiar one, but the execution more than makes up for it.
Fresh off of establishing Barry Allen’s new identity in the show’s pilot, Fastest Man Alive picks up a short time later. By now he’s become a bit more comfortable in his role (relayed care of another opening narration voiceover) and is actively embracing the hero role. Of course, this is being done largely in secret with the assistance of Cisco (Carlos Valdes, showing potential to be one of the most entertaining players in this series.) When the two are found out, it leads to a good exchange over just how responsible (or irresponsible) it is for Barry to be out and about randomly saving people.
Which, of course, leads to the big theme for this week – Barry questioning just how cut out he is for the hero game. After last week’s fairly open and shut villain, this week presents a bit more of a challenge – trying to stop a would be assassin with the ability to make multiple copies of himself (after some scrapped names, Cisco finally settles on calling him Multiplex). The surprising part of this is that usually the ‘cocky’ phase of the hero tends to last a bit longer than this. Barry gets his first actual defeat relatively early (both for the episode and the long term story) and then spends time re-evaluating whether or not he’s actually fit for the job.
Again, this is a pretty classic theme for costumed heroes, but there’s a reason for that – it’s a relatable arc as the whole ‘great power’ idea goes. What The Flash may lack in risk-taking at the moment, it makes up for in execution. Probably the best strength the show has going for it in that regard is in terms of just how seriously it takes its source material.
As comic adaptations go, it hits the sweet spot: they’re taking the source material seriously enough to want to do well by it (elements like Barry’s father’s storyline and the mystery regarding Wells are handled straight-faced), but they’re also not taking it too seriously and forgetting to just have fun with this in the process (Barry’s interactions with the STAR Labs team and banter between Cisco and Snow with each providing a break from heavy material).
As far as the casting goes, this week is another solid hit. New additions include veteran actor William Sadler, who is a good fit for Simon Stagg, an industrialist who is far from a saint but still finds himself defended by Barry. As his would-be killer Danton Black, Michael Smith is an improvement over last week’s antagonist. He’s still somewhat flat, but at least we get a bit more of a sense of who he is and why he wants Stagg dead, even if it’s a case of ‘tell, don’t show’ exposition to get there.
Meanwhile, all the returning cast are hitting their notes well, to the point where even though Valdes and Danielle Panabaker are kind of the odd ones out in this series as the research end, I don’t actually mind because they’re playing their parts well. Meanwhile, Tom Cavanaugh’s double persona continues to be one of the show’s two big mysteries right now. It’s really on him to keep that ball in the air, and he’s done well on that front so far.
There’s really only two things I could say didn’t sit as well with me on this week’s episode overall, but they are fairly minor. Again, for as much as I’m liking the chemistry between Grant Gustin and Candice Patton, the writers are still making her a well-worn archetype here. I can give it some leeway here since it’s early, but I would like to see her get some more to work with in the future.
Even more annoying since the archetype in question has been so thoroughly dissected, discussed, and mocked that seeing it played straightfaced just seems off now. I like the fact they actually don’t mind having her booksmart as Hell, but the fact the show then makes her utterly oblivious about how Barry feels just makes those moments of ‘will they won’t they?’ annoying in their familiarity.
Based off what I’ve seen in terms of other responses, I’m not alone on this either – a LOT of people aren’t really biting at the ‘genius who doesn’t realize it’s Clark Kent with glasses’ trick. The other thing in this case is the anticlimactic ending of this episode. I realize the Flash isn’t a knockdown, drag-out brawler by design, and in the first fight, the show did a good job of highlighting this aspect.
Unfortunately, the nature of this week’s enemy meant when it came to the actual faceoff, it was more of a ‘one hit and we’re done’ moment. They make a decent attempt to build up the suspense by having Barry try and figure out where to land that hit, but the fact is, it still just sort of fixes itself pretty quickly under the circumstances. I feel a little bad for calling this out, since the show is making a good effort to try and show some creativity with the fights here, but this one just didn’t work as well.
Despite the flaws, I’m still really enjoying this show. It’s not exactly mold-breaking, but it’s getting started now, and it’s doing a great job of finding its voice. The fact the CW is actually doing well with comic book shows is still somewhat alien to me, but I’m still impressed enough to keep coming back to this one. It’s handling the two main tasks of keeping entertaining on a week to week basis while also setting up a compelling longer storyline in the background.
There’s still one show left for DC to role out this season, Constantine comes out later this month, but I have to say – so far this is poised to take the best newcomer pick at this rate. Sometimes, there’s something to be said for starting simple.
That said, we’ll see where things go with this next week with the episode Things You Can’t Outrun.
-Continues with the good energy and performances from the show’s pilot
-This week’s antagonist an improvement over last week
-Despite some good chemistry, Candice Patton’s Iris is still stuck in a characterization rut
-After a good introduction, Danton Black/Multiplex’s glass jaw somewhat anticlimactic