TV Review: The Flash – Running to Stand Still (2×09)

the flash christmas special dc running to stand still the cw grant gustin lightning

Holidays can be a time for gentle reflection on the year past. Our ups and downs, our triumphs, our heartaches. But don’t forget, it can also be a time for disemboweling our enemies.

‘Tis the season, now, for the winter finale of The Flash. If you take a moment to think back to last year, with The Man in the Yellow Suit, we had some pretty seismic revelations and plot developments: Barry confronted the Reverse Flash for the first time, and we learned that Dr. Wells was in fact the man who killed Barry’s mother. The Flash was in a fundamentally different place when we returned in January.

Running to Stand Still opens in such a way that would make us think we’re in for something similar to the previous year; Zoom is seen chasing Harry through STAR Labs, with a cliffhanger before cutting to the title card. It’s a clever bit of misdirect, actually – this sequence harkens back to previous episode Enter Zoom, which opened with an in media res style flashforward. We’re lead to expect something similar here, with a speedster showdown much like last Christmas, but it’s a deliberate ruse; the Zoom plot takes something of a back seat from here, relegated to the episode’s closing scenes – it’s indicative of what’s to come, but not a concern for the present.

Right now, it’s about the Rogues – specifically the Weather Wizard, Captain Cold, and the Trickster, as played by Liam McIntyre, Wentworth Miller, and Mark Hamill. (You may have heard of Hamill; he was in a small, indie movie that came out recently, which you can read my review of here.) The plot deliberately offers something smaller scale, and more intimate, than the spectacle of last Christmas – and that works particularly well here. You don’t always need to see the man who murdered Barry’s mother for a good story – Mark Hamill chewing the scenery is often just as effective.

Weather Wizard and Trickster are, I think, uniquely suited to the Christmas special, in a way most of the Rogues aren’t, necessarily – Weather Wizard’s powers immediately present you with the possibility of a “white Christmas”, and the Trickster allows a level of seasonal whimsy you wouldn’t get elsewhere. After all, which of the other Rogues would dress up as Santa, and hide bombs in Christmas presents? Not Leonard Snart, that’s for sure; for his short appearances, Snart was a welcome source of humour, puncturing the atmosphere with more than a few sarcastic comments and eye rolls. That’s one of the great things about keeping a recurring cast of villains – The Flash has been able to develop Weather Wizard, Trickster, and Captain Cold across the past few seasons, and the show really benefits from having a group of villains that we, the audience, have come to know.

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Of course, the emotional stakes this year were significant nonetheless – we got further traction on the Wally West plot arc which was introduced a few weeks ago. Iris finally decides here that she can’t keep this secret anymore, and ultimately tells her dad the truth – the fact that he has a son he didn’t know about.

Candice Patton and Grant Gustin both do great work with their scenes here; Iris confiding in Barry, Barry being supportive, and so on and so forth. It’s nice to see the two of them being able to interact with one another free of the love triangle from last season; Iris, as a character, has really come into her own over the course of this season, which has been great to see. I’m looking forward to seeing her develop further when we return to the show in January.

Real plaudits, however, deserve to go to Jesse L Martin, who gave a really astounding performance as Joe finds out he has a son. It’s a really nuanced, emotive performance – his initial reaction conveys a lot, even where the dialogue is more closed off, and he develops it further as Joe opens up to Barry later in the episode. Andrew Kreisberg did a great job writing this episode, giving Jesse L Martin (who’s one of the best actors on the program) a lot of interesting material to work with; there’s real depth to his performance, giving us a very successful installment in this storyline.

A moment I particularly liked, actually, came towards the end, where Joe gave Barry his watch – something he’d previously discussed with Iris – and said he’d “always planned to give this watch to my son”. It was a really nice, poignant exchange, with a great performance from both the actors: it reinforces the bond between Joe and Barry, and the fact that, even though Joe now knows he has a biological son, it doesn’t diminish his relationship with Barry. That was something I really liked, in any case.

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Another impressive emotional sequence – immediately following the watch exchange, actually – was Barry talking to E2 Harrison Wells, to forgive the Harrison Wells who killed his mother. It builds on a more subtle arc they’ve been developing throughout the past few weeks; the idea that Barry might, in fact, be dealing with depression, and his fears that he wouldn’t ever be happy. But here Barry lets go – he’s not going to carry the weight of his mother’s death anymore.

It’s a really significant character moment, which was paralleled in a very clever way through the character of Patty, who was shown to be dealing with similar problems; she felt responsible for the death of her father at the hands of Weather Wizard, and was dealing with similar depression type feelings. It’s really impressive to me that The Flash, primarily an action-adventure programme, is putting so much thought and care into more subtle character development moments like this, because it is really, genuinely very effective.

The sad thing is, though, that it just makes the aspects that don’t work stand out more. They finally brought Jay and Caitlin together as a couple in this episode, with kisses under the mistletoe and a few jokes about different traditions on Earth 1 and Earth 2. A few good jokes came from Cisco mocking the pair of them and puncturing the romantic atmosphere, but the fact remains – this relationship has been quite poorly handled, and you get the impression that they were only brought together because the writers didn’t know what to do with Caitlin as a character. It’s a bit of a shame, but hopefully they’ll be able to make something of it soon.

In any case, though, this was a really excellent episode – one of the strongest of the season so far. Even though it didn’t have a dramatic showdown between Barry and the series villain, akin to last year, we got something with just as much significance, just as much depth of emotion, and we have just as much to look forward to next season.

9/10

This review was recently published on the Yahoo TV website.

Related:

The Flash reviews

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TV Review: The Flash – Legends of Today (2×08)

The Flash Arrow Crossover Logo legends of tomorrow legends of today legends of yesterday review

When did our lives suddenly become an ‘Indiana Jones’ movie?

This week, we’ve got the now traditional annual crossover event between The Flash and its parent show Arrow. (They even have special logos! How nice.) This time around, though, unlike last year, it’s a two-part story – rather than the largely self-contained episodes we got last season, this time, you need to watch both episodes to get a satisfactory, complete story.

Of course, what’s also new is the fact that these two crossover episodes are also acting as set-up for the upcoming spin-off program, Legends of Tomorrow – which you can probably tell from the titles! That means, then, that we’re here introduced to two new characters who are going to have pivotal roles in Legends of Tomorrow, and get the superhero origin for a third: Vandal Savage, the main villain in the new program, as well as Hawkman and Hawkgirl, two iconic DC heroes.

Hawkgirl, of course, is someone we’ve already been introduced to – Kendra Saunders, played by Ciara Renee, who we’ve seen enter into a relationship with Cisco over the past few episodes. She’s very much filling the role of a fish out of water here, given the pretty seismic revelations about her life that are going on; not only is Kendra a metahuman, but she’s also a 4000-year-old reincarnated Egyptian warrior princess. It’s definitely the sort of knowledge that’s going to make you question a few things, and Ciara Renee does a great job of portraying a subtle, understated reaction to this change.

It helps, though, that we already sort of know the character, having seen her relationship with Cisco develop over the past few weeks – and, of course, the fact that Ciaran Renee gives a fairly charming performance anyway. Falk Hentschel as Hawkman, or Carter Hall, doesn’t really fare quite so well; he’s in the position where he already knows about his past lives, and in his attempts to explain it to Kendra, comes across as a rather condescending and obnoxious character. The character is borderline insufferable, and I really hope that changes when he returns on Legends of Tomorrow in January.

Most successful of all the new character introductions, though, is Vandal Savage. Casper Crump does a great job of portraying this villain as someone who’s genuinely powerful; he’s got a very commanding, very threatening screen presence. He’s an impressive villain, who you can believe would be a significant enough threat to warrant a spin-off program dedicated to him; none of our heroes this week, from Arrow or The Flash are able to properly beat him. They can barely hold him at bay; the episode ends with him achieving his aim, and both parties simply leaving. Barry might have rationalised it as a tie, but it’s undeniable – Vandal Savage is the winner at the end of this episode, and it really sets him up as a properly intimidating villain.

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Naturally, though, we still have our main cast – of both shows, that is.

This episode starts with Barry pushing himself, trying to get faster, and reflecting on his battle with Zoom once more. It’s nice to see a callback to this confrontation, and delve into how it’s beginning to haunt Barry; it shows a certain vulnerability to him, and emphasises the fact despite his superpowers, Barry is still impacted by what goes on around him. It’s something that’s returned to later on in this episode, with Barry admitting to Oliver that, despite everything, he’s “never felt so powerless”. I do really appreciate the fact that, even though this is primarily an action adventure show with a focus on superheroics, The Flash isn’t letting character moments take a backseat, and they’re still making sure to keep including them in the narrative.

Similarly, we had a lot going on for Cisco this week, in terms of his relationship with Kendra – which is obviously now in a very different place, after the revelations as to her true identity. Carlos Valdes does another great job here, really proving quite how talented he is, and demonstrating that there’s a lot of depth to Cisco as a character – he’s not just a comedic side character who gives the occasional technobabble explanation. There’s an interesting examination here of how Cisco has been dealing with his own powers as a Metahuman, which does in fact have some nice emotional weight to it – like I’ve already said, I’m glad that these characters are being developed throughout each episode.

In terms of the Arrow crew, the most significant appearances were reserved for Felicity and Oliver, as you’d likely expect – although Thea certainly got some good lines it too. I’m a little behind on Arrow (by which I mean, I’ve not yet caught up past the end of season 2 yet) but it’s nice to see these characters interact with the ones from The Flash. It does help to remind us of the fact that there is a shared universe here – I’m consistently impressed at what the CW has managed to achieve over the past few years with these characters and this world.

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Admittedly, though, not everything about this episode is perfect. It’s more than a little overstuffed – with quite so many things going on, it’s difficult to really let any of them breathe. Appearances from John Barrowman as Malcolm Merlyn aren’t really as effective as they should be; they happen so quickly and with little explanation that it means Merlin is reduced to simple exposition dumps at times when the script needs to move along somehow. Neither Thea nor Diggle (nor Iris, come to think of it) had a huge amount to do in these episodes, because they were simply crowded out by everything else that was going on.

Similarly, the subplot with Harrison Wells, Caitlin and Jay didn’t really work either. It very much felt like something that was shoehorned into the plot for the sole and only purpose of ensuring that there was something that wasn’t crossing over this week. It would have been better, I think, had this simply been excised to allow the main plot more room to breathe, and just dedicate more time to developing different aspects of the plot. Whilst I can understand the need to set up Velocity 6, given that it’ll likely be important in future episodes, I’m not really seeing any reason why it had to be this week – there’s nothing here that’s going to follow over immediately, so why not just save it for an upcoming ‘freak-of-the-week’ episode that has fewer responsibilities?

Ultimately, it’s this feeling of being overstuffed that hampers the episode, and holds it back from being quite as good as it should have been. It is a shame, because I’d been looking forward to it for quite a while. Regardless, though, this was a thoroughly entertaining episode of The Flash, and I’m really looking forward to the conclusion of this story on Arrow.

8/10

This review was recently posted on the Yahoo UK website.

Related:

The Flash reviews

Supergirl reviews

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