You remember that scene two-thirds of the way through Spider-Man 2 when an ultra-stressed out Peter Parker looks out a window and wonders aloud, “Am I not supposed to have what I want, what I need? [Pause] What am I supposed to do?” His best friend hates him. The love of his life is engaged to another man. And he’s lost his powers. He has no one to guide him, no one to share his burden with. The film’s story is based on the famous “Spider-Man No More” arc, but at that point it’s more like “Peter Park, WTF Do I Do Now?”
Then that blonde neighbor girl Ursula with the obvious crush on him randomly drops by to quite innocently offer a piece of chocolate cake and a glass of milk.
There’s his answer. No, he shouldn’t forget about Mary Jane and give Ursula a shot nor should he gorge himself on cake and milk. His first step forward is to simply stop worrying about which foot to put forward. Stop being so dang hard on yourself, and treat yourself to some cake. Remember to be Peter Parker first, and life will show you the way back toward being Spider-Man.
I kept thinking about that scene throughout The Flash‘s “The Runaway Dinosaur,” an episode which marked Kevin Smith’s directorial debut on the show. I wasn’t even sure why, exactly. The situations aren’t exactly the same, even though Barry Allen’s powers are similarly hanging in the balance. In “Dinosaur,” Barry is stuck in the Speed Force, visualized as a population-less version of Central City where the Force speaks to Barry through the borrowed mouths of family members, appearing to him as Joe, then Iris, then Henry and finally Nora. Barry is desperate to return home to save his city from Zoom, but the Speed Force wants him to stop running. In fact, he is repeatedly told by the Speed Force throughout the episode to sit down, and each time he only complies after initially protesting.
Maybe that’s it. Maybe that’s why I flashed (see what I did there?) to Spider-Man 2. Out of all the superhero movies I’ve ever seen, that individual moment of Peter Parker pausing to sit down and do something as mundane as eating a piece of cake has always stood out as being especially out of the ordinary. These movies, like so many other blockbusters, regardless of genre, are all about exposition followed by ceaseless forward momentum. What was it that emboldened Sam Raimi and his screenwriters (Alfred Gough, Miles Millar, Michael Chabon and Alvin Sargent) to decide their central character’s existential crisis would only begin to be solved the moment he stopped metaphorically running and quite literally sat down to take part in one of the creature comforts of life?
I suppose I could now ask the same thing of “Runaway Dinosaur”‘s writer Zack Stentz and director Kevin Smith. Why now? What’s the point in having Barry revisit his dead mama drama right now? Fake-Harrison Wells warned in his taped video confession in the season premiere that Barry would never truly be happy. Obtaining the things he thought he wanted, like freeing his dad from prison or pursuing a romance (with now long-since-forgotten Patty Spivot), wouldn’t fill the hole in his life created by his mother’s death. The fastest man alive can’t outrun his own trauma, and all that.
The central idea of “The Runaway Dinosaur” is the debatable contention that he has indeed been running from his pain this whole time. Smith told Variety, “Heart of the show, soul of the show, meat of the show is about a boy who lost his mom; he’s doing all this because that happened.” However, has Barry ever truly accepted the fact that his mother is gone? We learn in “Runaway Dinosaur” that he’d never visited her grave, no matter how many times Joe tried to get him to go.
But do you actually buy that? Would Barry Allen have actually put off going to her grave for this long? Did he rush so instantly into obsessively trying to prove his father’s innocence that he never truly accepted the loss of his mother? And if he is still so heartbroken over declining to save her last season why is this the first time we’ve really talked about it 21 episodes later?
I get a little verklempt every time I think about the moment of Barry saying goodbye to his mother as she died, but, frankly, I still don’t fully understand what happened there. Barry was full-on going to save her, but The Flash from the future gave him the little head motion indicating “No, don’t do that” so he hesitated and let history play out as before. However, why was the future Flash so adamant about letting her die?
Maybe that’s because after “Runaway Dinosaur,” Barry is finally ready to let her go, and the future Barry from that moment in the season finale had long since reached that point. In “Dinosaur,” the Speed Force did rightly point that Nora wouldn’t have wanted her so to die for her (saving her would have fundamentally altered history to such a degree that the Barry we knew would have probably ceased to exist).
However, even as I was second-guessing the season-long plotting which brought us to this moment and nitpicking the logic of it all I was being sucked in emotionally. Smith told Variety, “As we were making it, I was like, ‘you understand right now, we’re slicing open the chest of the viewer, pulling their heart out and dining on it? We’re eating their hearts, because you know they’re gonna be bawling in this moment.’ It was great, it was what we all swung for.”
Well, consider it a homerun. When Barry’s mother started reading that children’s book about a young dinosaur always trying too hard to run away from its true identity despite continued reassurances that its mother would always be there to provide love and support….
This freakin’ show. Smith says he learned there is a mandate that every episode must have heart, humor and spectacle, not always in equal amount, but for it to be an episode of The Flash all three must be present. There wasn’t much spectacle in “Runaway Dinosaur.” When Barry and Iris connected in the Speed Force and locked hands, I was actively aware of how funny it probably looked on set since it would just have been Grant Gustin and Candice Patton standing awkwardly in front of a green screen, with maybe a wind machine on them. The humor was in abundance from Cisco, as always, but a couple of jokes came off as odd, like Joe’s nonverbal reaction to Iris volunteering to be bait.
What this episode most excelled at was the heart. There are probably only so many times they can play Barry’s “dead mom” card for drama before its loses its effectiveness; that moment is still in the future, though.
1. For the Record: I still hate the entire idea of the Speed Force. The way it was done here was certainly compelling, but a superhero story about a guy who has an accident and becomes superfast is clean, efficient and easy to understand. A story about a guy who has an accident but only truly gains powers because some universal energy chooses him or allows him access, and now he feels an unexplainable connection to others imbued with this force is recklessly mixing genres, turning The Flash‘s speedsters into something like Jedis (I guess that makes Zoom a Sith Lord). It’s not necessarily that this explanation doesn’t work; it’s that it seems unnecessary.
2. Nitpick: The particle accelerator re-animated Girder? Sure. Why not. That gave Cisco a bunch of great lines about zombies. However, if Girder was primordially seeking out Iris the whole time why didn’t he just go after her in the morgue at the very beginning?
3. Wow: Totally thought Barry and Iris were going to kiss after his speech at his mother’s grave. Instead, a hug and kiss on the cheek.
4. How’d He Do?: Kevin Smith will direct at least one season 3 episode, and he wants to write/direct for Arrow as well, if possible. But how did he do here? His handling of the speed force stuff was excellent, but it felt like a couple of transitional moments throughout the episode were a tad awkard, such as Iris’ exchange with Joe before leaving the house to lure away Girder. The Jason Mewes cameo was predictably extraneous, but amusing nonetheless. A relatively solid debut for Smith, with room for improvement.
5. What About Jesse and Wally?: With the way Barry revived Jesse as well as the way time seemed to slow down when Joe dropped his coffee mug in front of Wally, does this mean Jesse is a speedster or at least tapped into the speed force and everyone knows it, and that Wally might have something going on as well but he’s keeping it to himself for now?