I should start off with some traditional intro re-describing the most recent episode (or batch of episodes) before segueing into my discussion of “Power Outage.” I’m not going to do that. I have some housekeeping to get out of the way first.
Liking, Not Hating Iris West |When Iris West first met The Flash on that rooftop in “Plastique” I thought it was a clever spin on an old formula, giving us the standard comic book moment of the female reporter/love interest meeting the hero for the first time but having the hero constantly zoom around to keep the girl from seeing his face. I said as much in my review. There were others, though, who thought the situation was piping hot, ripe with sexual tension. To see why, you need only re-watch the final moment when The Flash sneaks up behind Iris, and she turns around, catching him totally off guard, briefly positioning the two almost close enough to kiss. However, I think the fact that I didn’t really connect with it on that level partially speaks to why I’ve described Iris as the show’s weak link, an argument which led one reader of the site to declare that my latest episode review was the most biased review from a Caitlin fan and Iris hater she’d ever read. I don’t hate Iris West, and I think Candice Patton is rather likable in the role. I’m simply not overly crazy about how the writers have been using her. If I’m honest, though, some of my displeasure with Iris’ ongoing flirtations with The Flash is because I’ve already seen this kind of thing too many times before, as recently as Man of Steel and the first season of Arrow. So, there is a part of this where I’m strictly reacting against a long-established storytelling convention, and, to be fair, The Flash is a thus far very traditional comic book show.
There is more it than just that, though. As TV.com put it:
The whole ‘woman falls in love with superhero she’s reporting on/blogging about’ is pretty passé, and how Barry is going about this by flirting with her as the Flash since he can’t do it as Barry Allen…well, it’s not creepy-creepy, but it’s certainly a little manipulative in that it can feel like he’s trying to encourage her to fall for the Flash so he can be with her at least in some fashion. It’s just another instance of how I am not crazy about how the show is writing and using Iris.
The show has actually called Barry out on this potentially creepy behavior, with Caitlin pointing it out in “The Flash Is Born.” It was played for comedy in “Power Outage,” Iris clearly flustered and forgetting to get her coffee after Barry appeared to her as The Flash and pledged she was someone worth being on time for. That particular dynamic is probably a bit tricky to get a hold on because what’s creepy to one person might seem romantic to another, and the show seems aware of that yet ultimately undeterred.
I’ve personally been more distracted by everything surrounding Iris’ blog, which is being used to foreground the standard “Hero needs to keep his identity secret from his loved ones” convention. It feels too manufactured, with Barry nonsensically having a break-up scene with Iris over it, a break-up which thankfully lasted all of one episode. It feels like the kind of thing which could be solved via a solid, tough love chat from Iris’ dad, and Barry and Joe’s decision to mostly pretend that The Flash doesn’t even exist clearly emboldens Iris more. Given the set of circumstances, I don’t really blame Iris for doubling down on her beliefs; I blame the show’s writers for forcing her into that role. I look forward to the inevitable point in the show when Iris knows Barry’s secret.
As for “Power Outage,” it was basically two bottle episodes running parallel to each other, leading some to regard this as an episode born out of budgetary needs or maybe it simply became budget-conscious because they spent all their money on the special effects. There was the Clock King (Robert Knepper) taking hostages, Joe and Iris included, at the police station while Team Flash fought to survive a truly unwanted house guest, Farooq (Michael Reventar), the two parallel events being linked by Farooq’s city wide blackout. Let’s start with the ladder:
Long Night at STAR Labs | There was much here which felt familiar. We’ve seen Harrison Wells essentially weaponize meta-humans before in the interest of protecting Barry above all else. We’ve seen the team come under threat at STAR Labs, in the past it was thanks to Mean Clancy Brown. We’ve seen Caitlin be the “But you could die!” voice of caution, as recently as last episode when she was the one arguing against Barry trying to create a sonic boom to defeat the bad guy. We’ve also seen Caitlin’s “But you could die!” objections be explicitly linked to her lingering grief over the death of her fiancé, Ronnie Raymond (Robbie Amell). We’ve also heard Barry openly re-evaluate Oliver’s opinion from the pilot about how the bolt of lightning chose him because he was destined for greater things.
However, while we’ve seen Harrison do anything it takes to protect Barry because The Flash is too important to the future the other members of Team Flash have not. Barry’s been allowed to stay the hero who seriously thought he could get through to the bad guy with empathy, an admirable and optimistic quality that still would have likely resulted in their deaths this episode if Harrison hadn’t thrown Tony “Girder” Woodward out there as a decoy without a second’s hesitation. By none-too-subtly putting literal blood on Barry’s hands (although it was kind of hard to see any of it), they took a necessary turn toward placing Barry’s optimism in opposition to Harrison’s more pragmatic nature. They even weighed the moral deck more against Harrison since Tony, last week’s dimwitted, one-note villain, actually went out like a hero, using his last breath to warn Barry and Caitlin to run.
I am reminded of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer season 5 finale when that show’s mentor figure, Giles, took the life of a man Buffy had spared, arguing that as the hero figure Buffy was obligated to show mercy whereas Giles had the benefit of exhibiting ruthless logic. Of course, this situation is different since beyond being the guy who can do the things the hero can’t it’s entirely possible (although so remarkably obvious that it has to be a mis-direction, right?) Harrison will eventually emerge as the true villain of the story. The fact that Harrison’s hazier moral standing is now somewhat known to Barry is an important moment, and it thematically sets the stage for the Flash/Arrow cross-over considering how much Barry’s “Aw, shucks” super hero gig will surely clash with Arrow’s consistent “I have to actively fight myself not to kill anyone” drama.
The actual scenario which brought all of this about was also a fun excuse for a claustrophobic, horror movie-esque episode with a superpowered baddie slowly forcing our heroes into small rooms and closets. Maybe it’s odd that Farooq is the first meta-human to figure everything out and come directly to STAR Labs for Harrison Wells’ head, and when he was in “I…MUST…FEED” mode there wasn’t much to him. However, the scene when Barry appeared to briefly get through to Farooq offered enough shading to at least make him vaguely interesting, with the story he told of his friends being electrocuted by him while they were simply trying to give him CPR conjuring particularly dramatic imagery. I am not familiar with this character from the comics, and as far as his powers were concerned I mostly came to think of him as Electro 2.0 even though I know that’s not a perfect comparison. However, I enjoyed the drama he helped create within Team Flash, with Caitlin’s familiar “But it might kill you!” cries feeling far more immediate considering that this time she, too, was under immediate threat. Her declaration about not wanting to lose yet another person she cares about in STAR Labs was another nice moment, although Barry’s whole “Believe in me” response seemed slightly odd, positioning Caitlin as the one to choose this time if Barry Allen deserves his powers. The more logical route to take would have simply been for Barry to convince Caitlin that it was absolutely necessary that he take the risk in the attempt to regain his powers because otherwise they were all pretty screwed.
As for Barry briefly losing his powers and then getting them back but not having the confidence to use them, I’m mostly giving it a pass. I’ve never liked that Spider-Man 2, in adapting the “Spider-Man No More” storyline from the comics, actually offers no hard explanation for why Peter Parker suddenly loses his powers. The original script had a physical explanation for it involving Peter being gradually de-powered via a serum administered covertly by Doc Ock, but they dropped that in favor of his power crisis being a reflection of his emotional turmoil and thus a mental problem, not physical. However, that doesn’t stop me from regarding Spider-Man 2 as my favorite Spider-Man movie because the emotions in play still work for me. Similarly, Barry getting the “Yips” mostly worked for me because I believed that Barry, as set-up in Harrison’s opening voice-over, had become so reliant on his powers that briefly losing them would leave him temporarily shaken enough to lose his confidence. That being said, this does some like a potentially major storyline to have introduced and resolved in the body of a single episode.
Dude Just Clearly Loves Clocks | I’ve only ever watched The Clock King’s Arrow episode one time, but did Robert Knepper play it just as big there as he did here? That’s not to say that he was glaringly over the top. It’s more that I didn’t remember him having such an oddly disjointed speech pattern, and those tiny glasses looked completely new.
Those are all things I can wonder about, though, because I have at least seen his prior episode. If you haven’t, what would you make of this random guy with goofy glasses whose every other sentence features some reference to time or clocks? “Power Outage” doesn’t do a whole lot to fill you in on his backstory, but I’d guess that he’d at least leave a lasting impression because he was just so bizarre. Similar to Farooq, I cared less about him than the main characters he encountered (Joe, Iris, and Eddie), and there was a moment where I pondered the possibility that the show was seriously going to kill off Eddie. Granted, it was a remarkably brief moment, not one I took too seriously, but they did keep Eddie bleeding out on that ground long enough to make the Clock King seem like a legitimate threat.
Did They Gel? | The question is whether or not these two storylines actually worked well together, or if the episode would have been better served focusing on one or the other. After all, taking away Barry’s powers, causing a city-wide breakout, unleashing not one, but two meta-humans at STAR Labs, AND putting Iris in a hostage situation is a lot to put on Barry’s plate at one time. It’s The Dark Knight-like, e.g., Which person does Batman rush to save, would-be girlfriend Rachel Dawes or necessary ally Harvey Dent? If you’re the fastest man alive like The Flash you obviously save both. So, I enjoyed that the episode was constructed to make us expect The Flash to pull everything off, defeat the bad guy at STAR and rush over to the police department and save Iris at just the last second, probably with Team Flash offering directions through his earpiece. When that didn’t happen, and Iris had to save herself instead of waiting for the hero show up I was pleasantly surprised, although Barry’s appearance to her as The Flash at the end somewhat undercut that.
THE BOTTOM LINE
It was two bottle-episodes running parallel to each other, and my attention was drawn more to STAR Labs than the police precinct. The Clock King, the first villain to cross over from Arrow to The Flash, was an entertaining presence, but a somewhat wasted one. However, I liked the idea of Joe, Iris, and Eddie managing to work their way out of a jam without The Flash, and on the STAR Labs side this might have been Harrison Wells’ most intriguing presence to this point. Things got a little Arrow-y this week, thematically setting up the much-hyped Arrow-Flash crossover.
1. I like that the voice-overs are no longer exclusive to Barry, and that Harrison got to book-end the episode with ominous scenes offering more clues for the internet to obsess over. He really does have all the makings of a classic comic book villain, although I refuse to believe he’ll be one because it’s just too obvious. That dead wife of his is clearly going to come back into play at some point, right?
2. Right before Cisco exclaimed that Barry had the “yips” I thought he was instead going to say, “Oh, this is just like Spider-Man 2,” which then led me to wonder, “Wait, do the Spider-Man films even exist in their universe?”
3. Who knew that Joe West was so well-versed in his historical and literary quotes?
4. I honestly kind of forgot Eddie was still in that hospital room when Barry used his ability in front of Joe near the end. So, I laughed fairly hard when the camera panned back to a dazed Eddie asking, “Did you guys just see that?” Painkiller-high Eddie is fun Eddie.
5. I almost felt bad for the guy who tried to mug Barry. He really, really, really picked the wrong guy, and Barry’s delight over that was hilarious.
6. Why was The Clock King in Central City? There was something about that city’s DA screwing him over, but why would they even be involved since his crimes were against Starling City?
ScreenCrush – “All the pieces were there for not just one, but two perfectly solid and fiscally responsible episodes of television. Instead, the show felt rushed together with a few half-formed ideas that could have used a few extra drafts and a heavy dose of narrative streamlining.
TV.com – “The Flash has differentiated itself from its parent show by being brighter and lighter in terms of tone, aesthetics, and characters’ attitudes toward the world and their crime-fighting, but “Power Outage” was its darkest episode to date, and not just because Farooq caused a city-wide blackout. Make no mistake, though: The Flash‘s darker lighting this week matched its darker tone, giving it an Arrow-esque quality, complete with the latter’s concern over lines that cannot be crossed.”
CHASING LIGHTNING – JOE WEST
I’m done with my ramble. Your turn.