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It’s a privilege to take up the mantle of The Flash Reviewer while Meredith’s away on Earth-2 this week, and it couldn’t have come at a better time. “Fast Lane” pressed pause on all the Multiverse antics in favour of an intensely character-focused story about fathers and daughters and sons (oh my!), and all it cost them was a less than satisfactory villain-of-the-week who didn’t end up getting much screen time anyway. The show clearly knows its weaknesses, but it also keeps findings new strengths, week after week, and boy does it know how to use them.
As unfortunate as Patty’s departure was, not to mention bizarre and underwhelming, it allowed us to focus on the show’s group dynamics this week. Two in particular: Team Flash, and Team West. Two families, one united by blood and one by circumstance, with fathers and sons at various points of disconnect. The West household is trying to make up for lost time, and after the death of Francine, Wally’s been spending more evenings at the house, but he also hasn’t given up his dangerous habit of street racing. As delightful as the Wests are when they’re together, Wally’s connection to them rests on a knife’s edge. Thus far, his signature catchphrase has been “I gotta go” and his father wants to earn his trust in order to make sure he doesn’t end up leaving permanently. Joe’s trying to play the cool dad so he doesn’t scare Wally away, but Iris’ concern for her little brother makes her go full Iris, as she flexes her reporter muscles to the fullest and then some. She compiles folder upon folder of fatal street racing accidents to show Joe, trying to get him to talk some sense into Wally, and she even goes as far as threatening the guy running the racing racket with an exposé.
While she’s been known to enter the lion’s den from time to time, blackmail isn’t the kind of thing you’d ordinarily expect from Iris West, but it isn’t beyond her when it comes to family. On the STAR Labs side of things, Earth-2 Harrison Wells is in firm denial that his Earth is secondary, but more importantly, he’s wrestling with his secret allegiance to Zoom, one that he hopes will lead to the safe return of his daughter Jesse. While Barry and Cisco are busy being themselves, naming villainous meta-humans and accidentally creating Superhero Tinder, Harry’s working on a device that’ll steal The Flash’s speed (force?) directly from his suit. It’s dumb comicbook pseudo-science that turns the speed force into something you can harness via Wi-Fi, but it allows Harry to betray The Flash from the shadows, isolated from the rest of the team while they’re busy saving the day.
With Barry’s father out of the picture and with Joe busy trying to connect with his biological son, he approaches Wells 2.0 like he’s the original Wells (minus the whole evil-time-traveling-murderer thing), a brilliant mentor and father figure who sees potential in him. Wells, on the other hand, isn’t so keen on forming a bond with someone he knows he’s going to have to betray. He even lets Barry in on his moral position, without being specific of course, but Barry being Barry ensures him that choosing between one or the other – his daughter and his new family – isn’t the kind of binary choice it’s going to come down to. Barry catches up on his Earth-2 science and helps his new mentor close the various Multiverse breaches across the city, and Harry even seems to be having a bit of fun for once. Unfortunately the festivities are cut short by an emergency call, because thanks to a whole bunch of silly coincidences involving an equally silly lava monster, Wally’s about to be run off the road during one of his races, with Iris and Joe in attendance.
I guess this means we have to talk about Tar-Pit, the low point of the episode and probably the only villain that’s been completely uninteresting. While season 1’s Bug-Eyed Bandit was ridiculous to the nth degree, she fit perfectly in to what the show was doing at the time, i.e. introducing Team Arrow to the whacky goings on of Central City (she was also a dark foil to Felicity, who got the kind of shout out she deserves from Team Flash this week!), but this was a completely different kind of episode. What little we got to see of Tar-Pit's back story only served to set up his eventual appearance at the race, and unlike a lot of this season’s bad guys, he wasn’t narratively or thematically connected to any of our main characters. While a Turtle-like introduction might’ve suited him better, that is to say almost no introduction at all, falling back on season 1’s formula of a particle-accelerator metahuman needing to be tracked down allows Barry and the likes to get back into that season one mindset of normality, where Wells is a good guy trying to help them and not at all trying to make The Flash faster for his own personal gain. Of course, that’s part of what adds to the sting for Barry when that turns out to be exactly the case.
Wells’ secret speed-sucker device has been sapping Barry of his powers bit by bit, resulting in him not being able to get everyone out of harm’s way during Wally’s crash, and the victim isn’t just anyone. Iris ends up in the hospital and Wells ends up admitting his betrayal, placing him squarely at the receiving end of Barry’s anger and Joe’s right hook. Damn, Joe! Wells ends up in the pipeline like his predecessor, while Barry and co. go off to use one of Tar-Pit’s targets as bait, a scene that lasts all of a minute and a half. I’m not complaining though, because we get right back to the dilemma of what to do with Harry. His own suggestion is to send him back to Earth-2 and close all the portals so that Zoom can stop tormenting them. Getting his daughter back is his problem, and he clearly doesn’t want to hurt these good people in the process.
Barry has every reason to want to nip this incarnation of the Wells problem in the bud, and be done with both him and Zoom forever in the process, but in what we’ll probably look back on as an important moment, he finally takes charge as the leader of the team. He empathizes with Wells’ situation and his actions, and he knows helping him is the right thing to do, but he isn’t dictatorial about it. He makes his case and lets the team decide together, before going and informing Harry that he’s going to accompany him to Earth-2, because they’re a team no matter what – though when he says team, what he really means is family.
That’s some classic comicbook Flash stuff.
Speaking of which, while this version of Wally West isn’t the Flash fanboy from back in the day, it’s also a huge relief that he isn’t the polar opposite from the New 52, a Flash-hating hoodlum. For all we know, we may still see him become a fan of The Flash, because he’s sure as hell a fan of speed. It sounds cliché on paper, making a future speedster a guy who’s wanted to go faster all his life – though I suppose no more cliché than a guy who’s always late! – but it goes beyond that. Since Flashpoint in 2011, Barry’s origin has involved the murder of his mother, and it was the driving force behind so much of what he did in season one. Not as some sort of dark anchor, but as something propelling him forward, making him want to be better than the man who took her from him. Wally’s late mother is his driving force too. As a child who grew up with little by way of toys or entertainment, his mother making the world whiz past him by taking him on drives was a formative part of his youth. He took up racing to pay for her hospital bills, but he continues to do it even after it’s necessary, because it makes him feel connected to her.
I don’t know when or how Wally will get his powers, but it’s good to know that his need for speed is grounded in the kind of emotional simplicity that makes a hero on a show like this. He wants to go faster because it reminds him of who he is and where he comes from. That’s the kind of stuff that keeps me coming back to this show, but the promise of visiting Earth-2 next week doesn’t hurt either!
Since Meredith does a coolest moments section, I will too:
- Harry saying he has a headache while holding his shoulder (maybe shoulders are called heads on his Earth?)
- "Oh Fortuna" playing whenever Cisco gets a hit on his metahuman app
- Zoom getting hooked on speed
- Barry’s mid-air rescue of Wally from his overturned red and yellow car
- Not a moment from the episode, but definitely one of the coolest things this week: The Flash is finally crossing over with Supergirl!
- Iris waking up in the hospital to find out Wally hasn’t left her side.