"The Flash" 1.2 - Fastest Man Alive (7 out of 10) - Written by Greg Berlanti, Andrew Kreisberg, and Geoff Johns; Starring Grant Gustin, Candice Patton, Rick Cosnett, Danielle Panabaker, Carlos Valdes, Tom Kavanaugh, and Jesse L. Martin. Guest starring Michael Christopher Smith.
Last week "The Flash" pilot really hit it out of the park. I liked the way Barry Allen's origin story as the Flash was truncated, just giving us the high points of what makes him a hero. Tragic death of his mom, quest for justice, lightning and chemicals and supercollider. That's the Flash. See? I shortened it even more. When a superhero's origin is condensed like that, it means the next few episodes will have the hero still figuring out how to do his thing. That was the focus of 'Fastest Man Alive.'
A disposable villain...to tell everyone else's stories
Central City is under siege by a criminal gang. They're sticking to standard comic book fare, like bank robberies and jewel heists, but they've killed, and will probably kill again. They cross paths with Police Crime Scene Investigator Barry Allen, who's out of his Flash suit and into civilian clothes for much of this episode. It's Barry who figures out that this gang of villains is all really one villain, Danton Black. He's known as Multiplex in the comic books, a D-List character who may not even be one of Flash's bad guys--he's certainly not one of the dozen or so that the speedster is best known for. Multiplex can generate duplicates of himself by...well, by thinking really hard and pushing. His gangs typically had about six duplicates, but by the end of this particular episode, he's creating dozens of clones. It's an interesting concept, but it's not used very well, and where Black's motivation isn't revealed until the final act, he was really just a disposable villain--a Freak of the Week that served his purpose--to tell everyone else's stories.
The villain is secondary to the real story of this episode, and that's the relationship between Barry Allen and Joe West. Joe is the police detective who took Barry under his roof when Nora Allen was killed fifteen years earlier. Barry's own father is in prison for the murder of Nora (which he didn't commit), and Joe has become a father figure to Barry. It's a relationship that both feel, but both are also uncomfortable with. Now that Joe knows about Barry's superpowers, it's added a layer of conflict. Should Barry Allen stick to his CSI job with Central City PD? Should he keep doing the Flash thing and become a superhero who rounds up villainous metahumans? Or should be become a more widespread hero--a superpowered firefighter and policeman who not only stops supervillains, but also saves people from car wrecks and floods and kittens from trees? Barry's leaning toward that one--but it's bringing him into conflict with Joe, and with Barry's allies at S.T.A.R. Labs.
Besides battling Multiplex, besides confronting his daddy issues with Detective West, Barry's got another problem. Every time he uses his powers, he ends up fainting. The S.T.A.R. Labs team gets to work on it, and the culprit becomes clear. It's not surprising to those of us who have seen the Flash in action before, whether in comic books or animation, but I like how it was handled here. Barry's longing for Iris (Joe West's daughter, making it an almost-sibling relationship between Barry and Iris, which is coming across as kind of weird) is also heightened in this episode. I'm almost relieved to see Eddie Thawne dating her, just because it makes an awkward kiss between Barry and Iris less likely.
an almost-sibling relationship between Barry and Iris...kind of weird
There's a new character thrown into the mix in Central City in this episode who could end up being a major player. Simon Stagg is a corporate tycoon, invested in research and development. He's a character from the comic books, most famous to me as being the Lex Luthor-ey prick who ends up turning nice guy Rex Mason into the freakishly mutated Metamorpho. Will that storyline play out at some point on "The Flash"? Time will tell. For now, he's got money, he's got power, he's got a previous relationship with Dr. Harrison Wells. Both Stagg and Wells have secrets they're keeping from Barry, from the public and from each other.
Within two episodes, creators Greg Berlanti and Geoff Johns have done an impressive amount of world-building in Central City, without feeling like they're just giving dozens of script pages over to exposition. Grant Gustin's Barry Allen is in the majority of the scenes, but whether as Barry or as Flash, I'm really liking the guy. He comes across as conflicted but heroic, nerdy enough to be hapless, but a nice enough guy that we want to see him succeed. I like the direction "The Flash" is running, and watching it take off has been more entertaining than I expected.