You just can’t resist doing it, right? When your superhero show is all about a man who can run really, really fast every impulse you have is to eventually go with, “But what could ole Barry never outrun, no matter how hard he tried? His emotions!” You extend that basic idea out to several of the supporting characters (poor Caitlin, Iris couldn’t keep her relationship a secret forever, etc.), maybe, kind of rip-off a scene from this summer’s Godzilla, throw in a Smallville-esque monster-of-the-week that won’t look too bad, make sure your episode title (“Things You Can’t Outrun”) seriously hammers home the themes you’re playing with, and bada-bing, bada-boom, you’ve got your third episode. Writing for a superhero TV show is clearly just that easy.
So, we’re good here, right? I’ve pretty much covered “Things You Can’t Outrun.” Can we just start into our fan fiction for Caitlin Snow and Barry Allen’s slow-burn romance and inevitable hook-up? Here’s mine, straight off the top of my head:
And like that, Barry and Caitlin were suddenly alone in the lab, Cisco having departed to build some kind of database of potential “Awesome!” nicknames for meta-humans, Dr. Wells oddly off down that hallway he loves so much. There had always been, let’s call it “a spark” between Barry and Caitlin. There’s no denying that. He had been there for her, helping her to grieve her fiancé, and she had been exactly the strict, but well-meaning mother figure he had been missing in his life since, well, that whole “Mysterious blur killed my mom” thing. He was the first person to make her laugh since Ronnie died, and she was the first girl he could geek out about science with, not counting Felicity Smoak since she’s now entangled in a weird 50 Shades of Grey relationship with a random billionaire. On her end, Caitlin could only lie to herself for so long. The scientist in her marveled at the human specimen Barry Allen had become after his accident and what it could mean for science and the nature of humanity, but the woman in her wanted nothing more than to see just how rock-hard those abs had become. She wondered if he’d noticed how often she “accidentally” brushed up against him in the lab. Oh, Barry had noticed, but was he really ready to move on from his lifelong obsession with Iris? And was Caitlin ready to move on from mourning her dead fiancé?
All of this was weighing down on them as they awkwardly stared at each other, the hairs on the back of their necks standing up in excitement of what might happen. Caitlin, in an opening move that sounded so much better in her head, cut the silence by asking, in a very Masters of Sex researcher voice, if Barry had engaged in any sexual activity since the accident. After all, the one area where being “the fastest man alive” offers no benefit is the bedroom. Barry sheepishly smiled before taking a page from his frenemy Oliver Queen and turning his back to Caitlin to deliver a sad monologue about how his mother was never there to help him understand girls because, pausing to fight back tears and for the sad music playing in his head to swell up, she died when he was just a boy. “A boy, Caitlin! It’s not fair!” And, with that, the mood was ruined and the moment passed.
I tease because I care, and also because my default setting is sarcasm. However, I also tease because I simply do not particularly want to tear into The Flash for going the Smallville route with another freak-of-the-week who’s more special effect than character, or for again giving us some cheesy dialogue or for the potentially diminished returns of ending each episode with a Harrison Wells teaser. I don’t want to give into my impulse to nitpick the way the themes of this episode were hammered home, or the complete lack of subtlety with Caitlin’s flashback to the last time she saw her fiancé Ronnie (an effective Robbie Amell, R.I.P. Tomorrow People) alive being followed by practically the same situation playing out in the present with Barry, his parting dialogue being pretty much word-for-word identical to Ronnie’s, “Caitlin, I have to go.”
I don’t want to do any of that because, dangit, I just really like this show, viewing it as a charming, heart-on-its-sleeve palette cleanser to big brother Arrow. The pilot was the origin story, the second episode was the “Am I qualified to be a superhero?” crisis, and the third episode was the “Learning the limits of my powers” moment. It cuts Barry up inside that he couldn’t save that poor judge in “Things You Can’t Outrun,” who we know to be a self-proclaimed great mother via her quick, pre-death cell phone chat, because his superhero gig is really just him forever trying to make up for being unable to save his mother when he was a kid. However, he has to learn that he can’t save everyone just as he has to establish a consistent moral code, resisting the impulse to simply free his dad from prison because he can.
This is standard superhero stuff. Heck, I just recently saw The Flash/Batman arguing with Superman/Wonder Woman about learning to accept that not all crimes can be prevented, lives saved in a New 52 issue of The Justice League, i.e., an actual comic book. The way it has gone down on The Flash has had its corny moments, what with Barry going the “You’re not my father!” route to Det. West last week, but the emotions have been genuine. This week, you could maybe roll your eyes that Barry’s mom apparently used to say that he’d walk whenever he had somewhere to go, and that once he did finally take his first step it quickly turned into a run back into his mother’s open arms. However, there is something so winningly vulnerably about the way Grant Gustin played that moment, barely fighting back tears. If you’re anything like me, you just wanted to give him a hug, maybe chastise his father, “Why do you keep telling him that story? Can’t you see that it’s killing him! Also, just between us, you totally know that Barry’s The Flash, don’t you?”
Of course, I’ve been won over by Grant Gustin for some time now, but before “Things You Can’t Outrun” I wasn’t quite sure about the rest of Flash’s cast. Through the first two episodes the best chemistry and most effective relationship came from Barry and surrogate daddy Det. West whereas Cisco was pure comic relief, Caitlin was just kind of around, Dr. Wells was ever-so off-kilter, fun in a “The guy from Ed just killed a defenseless man!” kind of way, and Iris was in a rather sketchy relationship. “Things You Can’t Outrun” was clearly Caitlin’s time to shine, but it also granted Cisco his first opportunity to display that he actually had a serious side to him. He was appropriately distraught to see Ronnie die in the flashback and was clearly struggling to deal with it (or he’s hiding a secret) in the present. As I joked about earlier, there is at least a very interesting friendship developing between Barry and Caitlin, their respectively tragic origin stories giving them common ground. However, the refreshing part of her emotional trauma showcased here is that it all ended with a good cry and a trip out for some ice cream with Cisco. That’s just so uplifting (and so not what would happen on Arrow), as was Iris fully committing to her relationship with Det. Thawne, re-iterating her affection for him in the face of her disapproving, but ultimately “I want you to be happy” father. There is still an ick-factor, and I think I’m still adjusting to how Candice Patton seems to play Iris as only existing in various stages of happiness (then again, if Iris is newly in love that’s pretty much how she’d behave).
THE BOTTOM LINE
The villain wasn’t dramatically compelling, the final fight scene was a bit odd, and there was a fair bit of corniness in-between, but, dangit, The Flash remains an imminently likable show, branching out in its third outing to begin developing any of the characters not named Barry Allen or Det. West. A show in just its third episode can be forgiven for Smallville-esque villains when the characters are interesting and the emotions compelling, uplifting even.
Felicity Smoak crosses over from Arrow in the next episode, but unlike many spin-offs which need such a boost early on I don’t think The Flash actually needs Felicity right now. Still, I’m totally looking forward to it.
1. Lots and lots and lots of comic book easter eggs this week, some of them groan inducing, e.g., Caitlin “Killer Frost” Snow claiming her fiancé Ronnie “Firestorm” Raymond used to say they “went together like fire and ice,” Barry joking that he doesn’t want a museum built in his honor, etc. If the easter eggs work, you simply nod (“Oh, I get that reference”) and move on, and if you’re not in the know you have no idea you’re actually missing part of a joke. For me, that describes most of the easter eggs on The Flash to this point.
2. Caitlin claims the last thing her fiancé ever said to her was, “I have to go.” Then, like just a couple of minutes later we see in the flashback that technically his last words to her were, “Caitlin, whatever happens…” Granted, that was over the phone and not face-to-face…
3. West has known for a while now that his partner and daughter were dating because, um, he’s a detective. It’s his damn job! I’m reminded of how in Arrow’s earliest episodes Det. Lance was also a fairly awesome at his job, quickly putting it together that Oliver Queen was so obviously the vigilante.
4. “So, we’re just supposed to get used to working above a make-shift prison housing evil people with superpowers!” Caitlin Snow, saying exactly, in fact dang near word-for-word what I was thinking.
5. One of those questions you’re probably not supposed to ask: Will Team Flash hand out 3 meals a day to the meta-humans it stores in its prison? Or any meals whatsoever? Maybe some of them will have mutations which will leave them capable of surviving without food or water (I guess), but … Screw it. I’m going to stop pulling on that thread.
6. When are we going to see an end-of-episode stinger than doesn’t involve Harrison Wells? Not criticizing. I’m just genuinely curious.
7. Good God, Barry’s lab is ginormous, isn’t it? It’s a far cry from the tiny work station Hydra gave Agent Simmons this season on Agents of Shield. Also, this is the first time we’ve seen Caitlin in his lab, right?
8. I got a brief, “Am I watching Gotham by mistake?” flash when the scene with the mobsters showed up early on in this episode.
9. At the end, what was Cisco going to say about the night that Ronnie died before Caitlin cut him off?
10. Is Iris using Tumblr for her “Red Streak” blog?
AVClub – They gave it a B-, concluding, “The theme of the week—it’s right there in the title—is hammered home so often, the episode almost resembles an Afterschool Special. The show can do better than this, as it’s already shown us, and I expect it will. To stick with the Freak of the Week formula for too long would be a misstep, no matter how fleet of foot The Flash has proven to be.”
ScreenCrush – “What elevates ‘The Flash’ through its admittedly melodramatic tendencies is that it always errs on the side of uplift over strife, of positivity over nihilism.”
Well, that’s enough of my random thoughts. What did you think of the episode?