I knew that I probably wasn’t going to love “The Flash is Born” the second the episode started with Barry’s “friendly neighborhood Spider-Man” voice-over being taken over by Iris. It let you know immediately that this was going to be an Iris-centric episode, the second one in a row in fact, and as I explained in last week’s review Iris is the weak link of The Flash to this point. Her angst-filled relationship with Barry is the element of the show that most feels as if it is just there because it has to be. While the show’s attempt to position her as the curious outsider forever flirting with uncovering the superhero’s secret identity is straight up comic book 101, the way they’ve gone about it has felt more manufactured than organic. For example, Barry’s break-up scene with her at the end of “Plastique” didn’t really seem natural, despite admirable acting from both Grant Gustin and Candice Patton, and it seemed to lose track of exactly why Iris was so obsessed with “The Streak.”
As such, I have to give “The Flash Is Born” credit for instantly re-visiting the Iris/”Streak” dynamic. Beyond opening with Iris expressing her gratitude to “Streak” through her blog, she got another flirty rooftop meeting with him, addressing exactly why she is doing this if it’s no longer really about helping her newly disbelieving buddy Barry. Even as I criticized “Plastique” last week for presenting a rationalize for Iris’ obsession only to knock it down by the end of the episode it did occur to me that maybe Iris is so obsessed simply because, um, a man who can run faster than the speed of sound is zooming around the city and saving people. That’s freakin’ amazing, yet no one around here really wants to talk about it! If I was in the same position that’s all I would want to talk about, and that’s the basic explanation they give here, throwing in some flowery language about the “Streak” being a reminder of miracles in an age that has lost hope in such things.
Blah, blah, blah. She’s Lois Lane in the age of the blogger, he’s a somewhat less impressive Superman. We get it. It’s not exactly the most compelling or original dynamic, much in the same way that Laurel’s relationship with The Hood in the first season of Arrow was just a rip-off of Rachel Dawes and Batman in Batman Begins. However, the comic book superhero is meant to be an inspirational figure delivering hope to the masses, and this often means someone has to be the character saddled with telling the hero, “Hey, you realize you’re awesome and give all of us hope to better than we are, right?” Right now, that’s Iris. This is a stage in Iris’ story on this show we simply have to get through because they clearly seem very intent on taking this through very standard comic book territory. That’s not an inherently bad thing; it just means you’re telling a story that’s been told many, many, many times before in film and on TV. So, you better do something fresh with it, and while The Flash offered a clever take on the love-interest-has-first-conversation-with-the-hero scene last week “The Flash Is Born” didn’t offer up anything nearly as intriguing.
The Bad Guy Wanted His Own Personal Blogger? | “Plastique” made such a big deal about Iris putting herself in danger because of that dang blog that you might as well make her the damsel in distress the very next episode. So, it came as no real surprise to see one of The Flash’s enemies track her down a mere week after she first started putting her real name on the blog. What makes it unfortunate is that this villain turned out to be Tony “Girder” Woodward (Greg Finley), basically a Colossus rip-off (as far as his appearance and powers are concerned) created by Geoff Johns in the comics in 2001.
The idea of a villain being extreme strength versus Barry’s extreme speed is smart in that it serves to remind us that Barry is not Superman. He can run and heal fast, but he’s not super strong. So, he has to be the shiftier, smarter, faster combatant when going up against someone bigger than him. That whole dynamic gives us fun scenes of Barry breaking his hand, and Caitlin and Cisco looking at computer animated projections of what would happen to Barry if he hit the bad guy at just the right speed and angle. Apparently, if he did it just wrong he’d disintegrate, at least so the computer screen indicated. I loved that particular moment, and the inter-team conflict of Cisco and Harrison arguing for Barry to go all sonic boom and Caitlin being more of a voice of reason.However, making that villain a one-note bully from Barry’s childhood who has grown up to become, um, a one-note bully seemed just too convenient and obvious. It didn’t help that their final fight went down in the same exact middle school hallway in which Woodward used to terrorize poor, crappy-at-boxing Barry. Subtlety is not something The Flash normally bothers with, but they could have used a little more of that here. It doesn’t even really make much sense why Woodward would take Iris to that school. Ultimately, you could argue it was refreshing that Woodward didn’t threaten and eventually abduct Iris as a way of getting to “The Streak,” but instead because he simply wanted her to write about how awesome he was. She was the damsel in distress, but not because she was being used as bait or anything. To be fair, that is definitely different than what I expected. However, it kind of made Woodward come off as a complete idiot, somebody not worth giving even a second thought to even though the memory of him has clearly haunted Barry into adulthood. The idea of the villain was not bad nor was the notion of Barry being forced to learn how to actually fight, but when it is carried along by a dumb guy and culminates with a super punch that though cool actually only temporarily drops the guy to the ground instead of dropping him for the count … it could have been better. Kudos to Iris for delivering the knock-out punch, though.
Joe West is One Sly Detective | Harrison Wells is super smart. He’d have to be; he created the particle accelerator, and has some sort of time travel ability only we know about. However, not even he realized that an invitation for a friendly cup of coffee with Joe West was, in fact, a set-up for an interrogation. That’s because West, so perfectly played by Jesse Martin, is one smooth son of a bitch. Anytime Martin and Tom Cavanagh share the screen it seems like The Flash’s value jumps up significantly, and while I was less enchanted with this episode’s business with Barry’s old bully I adored everything between West and Wells. They are Barry’s competing father figures, and have budded heads over that in the past. Here, it was West finally getting to be the first one of the show’s main characters to suspect that something isn’t quite right about Wells. Through his seamless interrogation, we ultimately got our first real significant chunk of Wells’ background, and while you can read through every line of dialogue about Wells deceased wife for hints or comic book call-outs the most important thing is the emotion communicated in the scene. Cavanagh played it perfectly, pausing just slightly too long at certain moments to indicate not just the emotional pain but also the fact that Wells doesn’t appear to have completely moved on. For his part, Martin made for an effective listener, clearly sympathizing with a fellow man’s pain and possibly relating to it as well because unless I missed it at some point do we actually know what became of Iris’ clearly missing mother?
The larger concern, of course, is who was it that threatened Det. West at the end, and, by extension, who really killed Barry’s mom? It seems so completely obvious that Harrison Wells would be the one to warn West away that it simply can’t really be him, right? There has to be some big twist coming. Plus, because we now know [SPOILER WARNING] that time travel will definitely be included in this show it felt like Det. West and Harrison Wells’ conversations about the murder of Barry’s mother was missing one obvious variable: Whoever did it must have traveled back in time [END SPOILER WARNING].
Eddie Shot a Man In The Face & Somehow Still Lost the Fight | When I referred to Iris West as this show’s weak link last week I did so knowing that review after review I’ve read has pointed to Rick Cosnett’s Eddie Thawne as being a total non-entity on the show to this point. I don’t see that as him being a weak link, though, because he hasn’t even been significant enough to warrant such criticism. He’s kind of just been around, an impossibly handsome, but frustratingly nice guy who sure seemed to smile a lot and speak in banal niceties. I actually kind of liked him while clearly waiting to see how they’d work him in more with the rest of the show. Finally piquing his interest in the unexplained and building up a camaraderie with Barry in “The Flash Is Born” was a great start. If The Flash absolutely insists on there being a Barry/Flash-Iris-Eddie love triangle, which it clearly does, it’s so much easier to take when Eddie is actually a pretty great guy if you ignore the part about him dating his partner’s daughter.
THE BOTTOM LINE
I didn’t love “The Flash Is Born,” but you can’t be too down on an episode in which Cisco rejoices over Barry performing a supersonic punch, Caitlin re-set Barry’s arm while giving him some sass for his behavior with Iris, and Joe tricks Harrison into an interrogation like the badass he clearly is. Plus, we should rejoice that they’ve dropped Barry’s odd break from Iris after just one episode. Ultimately, “The Flash Is Born” was one of those TV episodes whose A plot was kind of a dud, but managed to be enjoyable thanks to the B and C plots.
1. If this show had killed off Det. West in that final scene this would have maybe been the last episode of The Flash I ever watched.
2. At some point soon they are going to have to explain the practicalities of their super villain prison because right now I’m assuming Girder is simply going to starve to death down there.
3. Favorite line: “[It’s] the average number of bugs Barry swallows while running.” — Cisco, revealing the answer to one of his calculations to which Harrison Wells perfectly deadpans how much he’s looking forward to seeing Cisco accept the Nobel Peace Prize.
4. It doesn’t really seem like Barry is truly trying that hard as The Flash to convince Iris to stop what she’s doing, but when you say, “Hey, stop doing that!” and they say, “Umm, no. I’m going to keep doing it,” what more is there to say.
5. Caitlin re-setting Barry’s arm while expressing her disapproval of the way he’s been appearing as “The Flash” to Iris felt like a Pepper Potts-Tony Stark Iron Man kind of scene, specifically the one time Tony needed Pepper to replace the fancy battery in his chest.
6. After every single flashback in this episode I wanted someone to ask Barry, “Whoa, where did you go? You’ve just been standing there, staring off into the distance for 10 minutes?” It seemed like he missed an entire meeting at work while experiencing one of his flashbacks.
7. Didn’t it kind of seem like Det. West was a bit overly in the dark on what was going on with his daughter at any point during this episode?
8. And for those of you wondering what the exact cause of death was for Barry’s mom it turns out it was a single stab wound.
9. That was totally Firestorm Iris was talking about at the end, right?
ScreenCrush – “The Flash may be born, but that was a difficult final stage of labor. I’m extremely curious what this show looks like without a Metahuman Of The Week attached for Barry to overcome. What’s it like for those in the show to live amongst people with these abilities? Does this make them feel hopeful/powerless/obsolete/excited? How is “humanity” defined within Central City post-S.T.A.R. Labs explosion? Exploring that will more valuable than any obscure villain the writers of this show can pluck from the comics, and will help the show sustain itself over the long haul.”
TV.com – “After getting all stressed out last week about the dangers that Iris could experience because of her blog about the Streak the Flash, the show made those dangers a reality as she was kidnapped by the Freak of the Week in “The Flash Is Born.” Thankfully, the results weren’t horribly traumatic or awful, and Iris did get to punch the sleeze who grabbed her, delivering the knockout blow herself. That was pretty much worth the hour, and perhaps even more so than the really cool-looking supersonic punch.”
I’m done with my ramble. Your turn.