Can I get away with simply writing, “It was a second episode of a TV show” for my review of The Flash’s “Fastest Man Alive”? Probably not or else my review would already be over, but it is a thought which occurred to me multiple times while watching “Fastest Man Alive” last night. Second episodes of TV shows can often times feel like re-pilots which hammer home the show’s basic premise and character conflicts just in case anyone missed the actual pilot when all of those things were first established. This means that as a viewer you have to suffer through some fairly bad exposition, and fight through the “you already have me, show; you don’t need to keep selling me on this” frustrations.
And The Flash has most definitely already hooked many a viewer, scoring the CW’s second best series premiere in overnight ratings and single best premiere when factoring in 3 days of DVR viewing. It’s not especially hard to see why – that pilot was remarkably charming, so much so that when a less enthusiastic friend of mine tried to throw some negativity my way with her, “That pilot’s not perfect” critique I was having none of it. I knew everything she said was true, but I didn’t care. I simply liked the show’s general tone and Grant Gustin’s performance too much to seriously give into nitpicking, not after just one episode.
But, bam, I was hit across the face with a barrage of cringe-inducing moments all before the actual title screen flashed in “Fastest Man Alive.” First, there was Dr. Caitlin Snow summing up Barry’s back story for us while calling out lab tech Cisco Ramon on an obvious lie, “Barry Allen, struck by lightning, in a coma for 9 months, woke up capable of running faster than the speed of sound – ring a bell?” Then there was the show trying just a little too hard to beat home how socially awkward Barry is by having him unintentionally insinuate his boss could be a suspect at a crime scene based on his shoe size. Then Det. West had to take his turn in the “Who knows what about Barry?” carousel, having a conversation at the police precinct establishing that up until a week ago he thought the fasted man alive could run a mile in 4 minutes, not 4 seconds. To be fair, Barry’s response about being able to run it in 3 seconds instead of 4 was genuinely funny. Also funny, but probably unintentionally so, was Iris West seriously telling Barry, with no trace of sarcasm, “I feel like we haven’t spent any quality time together since you woke up from the coma.” On paper, it may not sound too egregious, but the manner in which Candice Patton delivered it was far, far too cherry. That is a line which should be delivered with Felicity Smoak-like comedic pauses. Patton also had to work her way through another bit of re-piloting when her relationship with her father’s police partner was re-established, Barry granting the pair permission to kiss around him since he already knows their secret.
It might seem like I’m engaging in nitpicking for nitpicking’s sake here. However, it’s not really any one of the above things that annoyed me, though – it was all of them happening before the end of the episode’s first act that made it at least irritating.
Things didn’t necessarily improve beyond those first 12 minutes, though. This is an episode in which the writers seriously had Barry Allen telling Det. West “You’re not my father!” not once but twice, first in the form of a flashback involving young Barry wanting to see his dad in prison and again after the first commercial break when adult Barry is explaining why Det. West can’t tell him to stop being The Flash. The first time around was just awful as the young actor they have playing Barry is, well, not particularly adept at expressing emotional dialogue while the second time around was slightly better as Jesse L. Martin completely committed to the moment, his non-verbal “How could you say that to me?” reaction being fairly effective.
On the other side of that first commercial break was also when the show had to pause to briefly remind us that Caitlin Snow’s fiancé died the same night that Barry was struck by lightning. Plus, they had Cisco refer to a souped-up treadmill as having been “Cisco’d,” and we weren’t supposed to find that annoying (or maybe at least find it slightly endearing). They also dipped into Spider-Man 2 territory by having Barry tell Iris his secret without actually telling her. Sam Raimi had Peter Parker tell Mary Jane everything through the phone even though he knew she was no longer on the other end, and Flash had Barry do it with Iris while using his super-speed so that it appeared as if everything around him was going in slow-motion, giving him time to spill his guts to her in the time it took her to simply pour sugar into a cup of coffee.
It just…just didn’t quite work for me. However, I am again blinded by the show’s overall charming veneer and central performance from Grant Gustin. Plus, you can forgive the show feeling its way through its characters and presumably working toward more naturalistic dialogue when the action scenes are so fun. The basic plot of “Fastest Man Alive” is fairly straight-forward: a dude who, thanks to the accident which also gave Barry super speed, can multiply himself is pulling some heists and targeting the seemingly ground-breaking scientist who stole his research. Barry wants to stop him, but he first must learn to communicate with his team who can help solve things like his super-speed causing his body to go through glucose too fast. Barry briefly doubts himself, but with the rah-rah backing of his two non-incarcerated father figures, Det. West and Dr. Wells, he’s able to ultimately neutralize the bad guy.
I didn’t like some of the episode’s window dressing, but that is a perfectly workable plot, an unsexy but necessary step in helping Det. West go from “I know you’re super fast; don’t tell Iris” in the pilot to “I know you can fight crime in ways cops can’t; go get ‘em, Flash.” Plus, the villain they chose provided for the great visual of Barry fighting a practical army of men in the final battle. Beyond that, he gifted them some clever staging during the inevitable villain’s back story-spewing portion of the scene, with the storytelling jump from man to man so that it wasn’t simply Barry and a single guy exchanging standard, “You don’t have to do this!”/”I’m doing it for my wife!” good guy/sympathetic bad guy stuff.
Everyone who writes about Flash is going to engage in speed-based puns, right? It’s just too tempting not to. So, I could imagine a review closing with something like, “After zooming out of the gates with an absolutely charming first hour, Flash’s second lap is a bit more of a jog, slowing down at times to make sure we noticed all the important stuff established in the pilot. The result is a mildly enjoyable table-setter which leaves us hungry to see it get back up to a full sprint again.” So, yeah, I’ll go with that.
1. Every time Jesse L. Martin was seen wearing that jazzy, green hat in the flashbacks I thought, “Oh, yeah, you are the guy from the original cast of Rent” I’m not entirely sure why.
2. What’s the over-under on how long before they completely drop Barry’s opening voice-overs? Arrow dropped its opening voice-overs from Oliver once he had Diggle as a partner. Will The Flash go a similar route, or is Barry’s very “Just your friendly, neighborhood Flash” voice-overs a permanent fixture of the show?
3. After Arrow’s “flashbacks for at least the first 5 seasons” model, we have to ask: Is The Flash going to have flashbacks to Barry and Iris’ childhood in every episode? I seriously hope not.
4. Can we ponder for a second what that buying experience at the clothing store next to the crime scene must have been like for Barry at the start of the episode? That is, of course, unless he stole those clothes. Otherwise, he would have walked straight into a store in his full Flash costume in broad daylight. Side note: Does he even have room to carry a wallet in his Flash suit?
5. Oliver is not really Green Arrow yet, and the true Black Canary is only just now about to learn how to fight on Arrow. That’s after 2 full seasons. Barry Allen is pretty much The Flash by the opening of the second episode. That is, of course, kind of the point of the episode, with those around him urging restraint, but, still, it’s a tad jarring.
6. When Iris claims to hate journalism in “Fastest Man Alive” you’re supposed to react the same way you did when Smallville had its early version of Lois Lane (Erica Durance) start out uninterested in journalism – Hey, I know she actually ends up a journalist in the comics! Or, in Iris’ case, a TV reporter. Of course, Black Canary in the comics sells flowers for a living; Arrow made her a lawyer. So, who knows what The Flash will do with Iris.
7. Barry used his own hand as a centrifuge. That was cute. Insert dirty joke now, if you must.
8. So, I guess we now know that Harrison Wells can stand up out of his wheelchair anywhere he wants, not just in that fancy, secret room we saw at the end of the pilot. Also, seeing the guy from Ed stab someone in the chest? Takes some time to adjust to.