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.

the flash review mark hamill trickster santa christmas running to stand still season 2 rogues dc arrowverse

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.

the flash review joe west running to stand still wally west dc arrowverse crying upset jesse l martin hd

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.

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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.

arrow the flash legends of tomorrow legends of today crossover review caspar crump vandal savage aaron helbing todd helbing

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.

the flash review barry allen grant gustin cisco ramon carlos valdes legends of tomorrow

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.

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TV Review: The Flash – Gorilla Warfare (2×07)

The Flash Logo review analysis retrospective barry allen grant gustin greg berlanti andrew kreisberg cw

Sometimes you just have to slow down to get back to where you want to be.

One of the things which is, in many ways, the most fun about The Flash is how totally and unashamedly it’s willing to lean into the more ridiculous comic book-y aspects of the premise. I mean, just a few weeks ago, they used King Shark totally and completely seriously, just for a throwaway scene. Like I said at the time, you’ve got to admire the panache of The Flash.

It’s even more apparent, though, in the Grodd episodes. Because on this program we are actually getting a massive great big telepathic Gorilla as the main foe for the episode. How ridiculously wonderful is that? And this isn’t even the first, or the last, time that we’re getting Grodd as the bad guy; he was in the first series last year, and by the looks of the end of this episode, we’ll probably be seeing Grodd again – in a full on Gorilla city episode, no less!

The production team do a really wonderful job of realising this character, actually; the CGI work is genuinely pretty impressive, managing to give this Gorilla some genuine weight and screen presence, and the fact that the reactions from all the regular cast are played entirely straight really helps to make Grodd a threatening, imposing adversary.

the flash gorilla grodd gorilla warfare review dermott downs

Another impressive aspect, I thought, was the way they reversed the usual status quo of the episodes; with Barry recovering from Zoom’s attack last week, he was stuck wheelchair bound within STAR Labs, while Cisco, Caitlin and Wells all ended up out in the field, doing the work that Barry normally does. It was an interesting set of parallels, which added a nice new aspect to the episode; the whole thing ended up feeling a little more distinct from the normal set of episodes, which is always a nice thing to see. There was a great, bitter irony to the fact that Barry ended up stuck in Wells’ wheelchair, whilst Wells was out and about in a Flash suit.

It’s worth commenting on Barry’s recovery arc, actually, because I think it was actually really well handled; Grant Gustin is a fantastic actor, who I really haven’t been singling out enough in these reviews, and Aaron and Todd Helbing (the writers) did a pretty impressive job with the actual course of the recovery, and developing the fact that this was, for Barry, much more of a mental block than a physical one. It was a rather effective way to show the repercussions of Zoom’s attacks, and I’m really hoping that we see this aspect developed further when Zoom eventually does reappear.

the flash season 2 gorilla warfare review cisco reverse flash harrison harry wells carlos valdes tom cavanagh

The performances were strong all round, really; Tom Cavanagh and Carlos Valdes remain excellent together, for one thing. It’s actually fascinating to see the slow evolution of their relationship – Cisco is starting to become a little more accepting of the E-2 Harrison Wells, and it’s interesting to see the changes in their interactions to reflect that.

John Wesley Shipp also deserves some plaudits, actually, for another great performance as Henry Allen. It is a little bit of a shame that he couldn’t just be a series regular, because he’s such a wonderful character, and a genuinely decent individual; he’s the only one of them who, despite everything, unconditionally accepted the new Wells. The handshake between the pair of them was a really nice moment.

In the end, then, this was another really entertaining episode. I enjoyed it quite a lot, and I’m looking forward to the next one – crossover episode! Fantastic. Seems like it’ll be really awesome!

8/10

This review was recently posted on the Yahoo UK website.

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TV Review: The Flash – Enter Zoom (2×06)

The Flash Logo review analysis retrospective barry allen grant gustin greg berlanti andrew kreisberg cw

Goodbye, Flash. You, too, weren’t fast enough.

-orks, of course, because we’ve already seen this moment from the other perspective. What was earlier a clever in media res style opening is now viewed in an entirely different light; what was serious becomes farcical, contributing to the jovial, lighthearted tone that had been present throughout the whole episode. Naturally, though, it’s all set up for the final twist, the entry that punctures the episode itse-

40ish minutes earlier

So, the sixth episode of The Flash, with a fairly ominous sounding title. Enter Zoom. Zoom, of course, is our big bad for this season. I admit, I’ve had my doubts about Zoom. It seemed to me to be a little reductive to simply have another speedster bad guy after the wonderful Harrison Wells; like, say, continually pitting Oliver Queen against a series of increasingly more accurate archers. I didn’t really feel like any speedster villain could match the emotional stakes of Barry vs the Reverse Flash, so I wasn’t sure if there was any point, really. Much better to just further the development of the Rogues, say, or introduce another new villain. (Aliens seemed like a cool idea, actually.)

Regardless, though, this episode was a good one. The character arcs of all involved are furthered along, but particularly those of Barry and Harrison Wells.

Barry’s dedication to stopping Zoom was well realised, and he was given an interesting motivation to do so as well; his fear that the other Wells, Eobard Thawne, was right about him when he said he’d never be happy. The suggestion is, I suppose, that Barry is depressed in some regards, and he’s leaning into his secret life as the Flash to try and cope with it. It’s a compelling idea they’ve put forward, there, albeit one I’m not expecting them to delve into particularly deeply. Still, as subtext, it’s a nice concept, and Grant Gustin did a great job of portraying it – as an actor, I don’t think I give him enough credit for the work he does in portraying Barry Allen, because he really is fantastic at it.

Wells’ storyline revealed more about his past on Earth-2, as well as some interesting information about his daughter – when her name was revealed, I was pretty surprised, lemme tell you. It’s a great motivation to give him, which makes this Wells both distinct from and similar to his predecessor in several ways; the old Wells, after all, did come to care about Barry as though he were his own child. I’m really looking forward to seeing more of Jesse… quickly.

the flash enter zoom review joe west barry allen jesse l martin grant gustin hd westallen

The main plot of this particular episode is also actually genuinely very funny in many respects. After Dr Light from Earth-2 escapes (the one that we met in last week’s episode), Barry and the STAR Labs team end up recruiting Linda Park from ‘our’ Earth, who dated Barry last year, to pretend to be Dr Light in the hopes of fooling Zoom.

It is, as you can imagine, the sort of set up that’s ripe to develop humour with. And that’s exactly that the show does – they take the concept and they run with it (haha). You get lots of great jokes; Cisco’s cardboard cut-outs of each character are a particular delight, and it feeds into a great comic sequence where Linda is learning how to use her powers. It’s an effective bit of levity, and it’s something they do a really good job of maintaining all the way throughout the episode. It carries forward to a similarly effective reframing of the opening of the episode; the circumstances of the first fight between Dr Light and the Flash are now explained, and it’s revealed to have been Linda all along.

It works, of course, because we’ve already seen this moment from the other perspective. What was earlier a clever in media res style opening is now viewed in an entirely different light; what was serious becomes farcical, contributing to the jovial, lighthearted tone that had been present throughout the whole episode. Naturally, though, it’s all set up for the final twist, the entry that punctures the episode itself.

Enter Zoom.

the flash series 2 enter zoom hunter zolomon jay garrick teddy sears eddie thawne fight hd image

Zoom was a genuinely threatening villain. He had a real screen presence, which I don’t think any of the CW DC villains have had before; Reverse Flash, Malcolm Merlyn and Slade Wilson never had this weight attached to them. He has a power over the narrative itself; Zoom distorts the episode, pushing it off course, and changing the very genre and tone of the story. The sheer brutality of the character is juxtaposed with the lighthearted humour that’s prevailed throughout, and the whole episode shifts, the moment Zoom arrives.

Zoom wins, at the end of this episode. He fights Barry, and he beats Barry. Wipes the floor with him. But that’s not all Zoom does; he destroys the Flash, going to great lengths to humiliate him, and end the image of the hero. This is something that not even the Reverse-Flash did; Zoom has one singular goal, and in his pursuit of it, he’s brutal and sadistic and effortlessly cruel, as though in the end, it’s all just inconsequential to him.

That’s truly, really effective. Zoom is shown to be effective; in just ten minutes of this episode, he’s almost completely destroyed our hero with brutal efficiency – not just in terms of his life, but his legacy as well. The ability to not just run faster than Barry, but to control Barry’s own TV show, completely changing the tone and the feel of the episode… it marks Zoom out as a truly threatening adversary.

I was wrong, you see. Zoom is not just a cheap imitation of the Reverse Flash.

Zoom is on a whole other level.

9/10

This review was recently posted on the Yahoo UK website.

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TV Review: The Flash – The Darkness and The Light (2×05)

The Flash Logo review analysis retrospective barry allen grant gustin greg berlanti andrew kreisberg cw

I’ve already had my worst nightmare. His name was Reverse-Flash, and I spent a long time being afraid of him. I’m not gonna be afraid anymore.

One of my favourite aspects of the series last year was the character of Harrison Wells, as portrayed by Tom Cavanagh. I’ve written about it at length in the past, but suffice to say, I’m a huge fan, and I’m really glad to see Tom Cavanagh back in the series in a more substantial role. (Technically, there hasn’t actually been a single episode of series 2 without him.)

Now, the Earth 2 Harrison Wells is a very different character to the one we got to know last year; he’s much more abrasive and acerbic, for one thing, and he crucially isn’t actually the Reverse Flash. (Presumably.) Still, though, every interaction that the regular cast has with him is informed by the events of the last series, and it creates a very interesting new position for the character to occupy.

What’s most interesting, I think, was the new Wells’ relationship with Cisco. Amongst the other characters, it was essentially as you’d expect; Cisco’s response to the E-2 Wells, however, was explored in more depth, and afforded a bit more nuance. Carlos Valdes and Tom Cavanagh are both excellent actors; Cisco actively resents and resists against Wells’ presence, creating a palpable sense of animosity between the two men. One scene that stood out in particular to me was when Wells revealed to the group that Cisco was, in fact, a metahuman; it was a very clever way of structuring the reveal, taking the choice away from Cisco, and emphasising once again how dismissive and callous this iteration of Wells is. Good choice on the behalf of the writers here; I was similarly impressed by the parallels drawn between Wells killing Cisco last year and revealing his powers this year, with the actual physical actions being a mirror of one another.

(Similarly interesting is the fact that this Wells has a daughter, actually; that’s something I’m expecting to become very important in the coming weeks, and I think gives some rather heavy hints as to a potential identity for Zoom…)

the flash review the darkness and the light season 1 star labs tom cavanagh carlos valdes harry wells cisco vibe

Another character from last year who returned as a parallel universe counterpart was Linda Park, showing up as the villain of this story, Dr Light. It was an interesting concept to include – particularly given the reappearance of our Linda Park in this episode – but I do feel that perhaps the potential was entirely filled, and certain possibilities not explored. The appearance of your doppelgänger in such a way is going to throw up a lot of questions, but very few of the characters seemed particularly interested in asking them – surely Cisco would be inclined to enquire as to the existence of alternate versions of himself? It did feel a little like this was an important beat they’d missed, but for all I know, it’s something they’re planning on delving into in the future. So, minor niggle, but not the end of the world.

Certainly, the metahuman plot in this episode was an entertaining one – the idea of weaponised light was an impressive one, especially given that the ability to see is something that is pretty important to Barry when he’s running at such high speeds. Tying this into the speed mirage ability that the Reverse Flash had last year was pretty clever too – it worked well to add just a little bit more tension and intrigue to the character of Wells, as well as simply being a clever resolution to the episode in its own right.

It was also nice to see Linda back, in both capacities; including her as a supporting character for Iris at the Central City Picture News is a really nice touch, and hopefully it’ll lead to further development for both characters. Linda will presumably have something of an increased role over the course of the series, given the importance of the character in the source material, and it’s a smart move on the behalf of the program to begin to further develop her character now.

the flash review iris west candice patton central city news journalist editor

Speaking of Barry’s girlfriends, actually, it’s worth bringing up Patty Spivot, who remains utterly charming. She has a lot of chemistry with Barry, and the literal blind date the pair of them went on was wonderfully written (despite a few misgivings about the use of blindness as a device here, but admittedly I’m willing to let it slide). I’m really looking forward to seeing their relationship develop.

There was also progress with the Caitlin/Jay relationship, which I remain unsure about. They’re both two interesting characters that I enjoy seeing on screen together… but I do feel like there were more interesting choices that could have been made with regards to their characters, rather than simply putting them straight into a romantic relationship. Or, frankly, rather than putting them in a relationship so soon – there are another 18 or so episodes left of the series, and it does feel like this has a limited shelf life to it.

(Cisco and Kendra Saunders was quite fun to see as well, actually, because Cisco is eternally hilarious. I wonder how that’ll play out – especially given the identity of Kendra Saunders…)

So! The Darkness and The Light. An enjoyable episode, not without its flaws, but with an abundance of strengths to it as well. It’s most notable, I think, for re-introducing Harrison Wells, and indeed Tom Cavanagh, who has always been one of the strongest performers on The Flash.

8/10

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TV Review: The Flash – The Fury of Firestorm (2×04)

The Flash Logo review analysis retrospective barry allen grant gustin greg berlanti andrew kreisberg cw

Sometimes great possibilities are right in front of us and we don’t see them because we choose not to. I think that we need to be open to exploring something new.

They managed to pull off the same cliffhanger twice in the past two weeks, which I was quite impressed by. Both of the last two episodes ended with Professor Stein in some sort of medical distress; it was a clever device which has set up a rather tense emergency at the beginning of this particular episode.

Now, admittedly, going into this episode, I already knew a fair bit about what was going to happen, because I’ve been following the news about Legends of Tomorrow with a fair bit of excitement. It had always been obvious, I think, that even though Ronnie was no longer part of the show, there would be a Firestorm of some sort of another. And going by the casting announcements, I already knew we’d be seeing Franz Drameh as the new Firestorm, as opposed to… Demore Barnes, who played Henry Hewitt.

But, to be honest, I don’t feel like that was a problem; certainly, I don’t think I’ve missed out any important aspects of the episode, and I’ve more or less derived the same level of enjoyment from it that I would either way – which was, to be clear, a fair bit. It was a good episode!

I’ve always enjoyed the Firestorm central episodes, actually, because Victor Garber as Professor Stein is one of my favourite supporting characters, hands down. He’s an excellent actor, giving a brilliant performance; I enjoy seeing his character a hell of a lot. There’s always some great humour from him and his interactions with the other regular cast, but a fair bit of pathos too; despite the fact I knew Stein wasn’t going to die, there was some genuine emotion surrounding his circumstances in this episode.

Franz Drameh as the new Firestorm was also impressive, but I’m not sure if this was the best possible debut he could have had. I think that in part it’s because his origin was held back by a few clichés – specifically the lost football scholarship aspect, which felt overly familiar. But, on the flip side, they did a pretty good job of setting up some interesting character elements as best they could within the constraints of a 45 minute episode; I’m hoping that his reluctance to be a hero is expanded on somewhat in Legends of Tomorrow, because it seems like an angle that has a lot of potential to it.

the flash review the fury of firestorm martin stein jax jefferson star labs victor garber franz drameh legends of tomorrow

More interesting to me, admittedly, was the further development of the plotline featuring Iris’ mother – and the first reference to her brother, the as of yet unnamed Wally West. As I’ve said in my previous reviews, I’m really enjoying the weightier plotlines given to Iris this year, and I very much appreciate the continuation of them here.

It’s been really well handled, I think, and a lot of that comes down to the acting skills of Candice Patton, Jesse L Martin and Vanessa Williams, who plays Francine West. It’s a very interesting dynamic they’ve set up; Francine is clearly a struggling woman, even broken, and Iris is consistently very forceful in her dealings with her mother, because of the betrayal she feels. They’ve managed to give the characters entirely believable motivations, and their actions clearly stem from said motivations; the use of the MacGregors disease (which is from Batman and Robin, according to the internet) added a great layer of pathos to the whole thing.

It was also interesting to see another nod to Joe West’s lying in this episode, when he chooses to hide the sighting of Professor Wells at Mercury Labs from Barry. As a character flaw, it’s quite impressive, and it definitely has legs (haha) for them to run with it (hahaha) – it’s a subtle little thing, but it certainly has potential, and I’m glad that they’re turning it an actual facet of his character.

(Though, having said that, I sometimes worry if the character moments they throw in can be too subtle? It seemed clear to me that part of the reason why Caitlin has been placing so much emphasis on Professor Stein’s health in previous weeks, and her borderline desperation to save him this week, is because she sees him as her last link to Ronnie – and, similarly, the educated scientist Henry Hewitt reminded her of Ronnie far more than mechanic Jay Jackson. It was clearly there in subtext, but I wonder if perhaps that aspect would have been stronger had it been made more overt?)

the flash review KING SHARK patty spivot the flash vs king shark grant gustin earth 2 cgi

The rest of the episode was similarly entertaining too, of course. I love the fact that they used a character like King Shark – who’s properly expensive for them to render in CGI – as little more than a throwaway joke. That’s genuinely hilarious, in more ways than one, and I really admire the panache of The Flash.

Shantel VanSanten remains completely charming; Patty Spivot is a wonderful character, really brightening up the show every time she makes an appearance. Genuinely love the character, she’s wonderful. (Which is making me think she’s going to end up dead by the end of the series, which would be a huge shame. Hopefully we can avoid that particular route.)

And, of course, the cliffhanger ending is worthy of comment – Harrison Wells is back.

Brilliant. I love Wells. I’m so looking forward to seeing where this goes.

8/10

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TV Review: The Flash – Family of Rogues (2×03)

The Flash Logo review analysis retrospective barry allen grant gustin greg berlanti andrew kreisberg cw

You don’t have to admit it to me, but there’s a part of you that knows you don’t have to let your past define you. A part of you that really wants to be more than just a criminal.

With this episode, we see the return of Leonard and Lisa Snart – AKA Captain Cold and Golden Glider – who were amongst the best recurring characters on the show throughout the first season. It was great to see them back, and particularly in a story that added a great deal of depth to their characters.

Family of Rogues explores a bit of the backstory to the Snarts, introducing their father Lewis (Michael Ironside). The elder Snart is a well realised character, portrayed in such a way to deliberately and diametrically juxtapose him against the Snarts we’re already familiar with – though Leonard and Lisa have always been shown to be criminals, they’ve also always been fan favourite characters, and in certain ways quite likeable. There’s none of that here for Lewis, who’s clearly a violent and abusive person – possibly the most violent we’ve ever seen on The Flash, in terms of the type of punishments he deals out. He is, as Lisa put it, a “bad guy”.

The story of the abuse was handled quite sensitively, I think, and therefore quite effectively. Peyton List (Lisa Snart) carried a lot of that story really well – dialogue like “He always said he was teaching me a lesson. I must have been a slow learner, because the lessons never stopped” was very poignant, and the delivery of it was part of what made it so effective. Similarly, Wentworth Miller (Leonard Snart) and Michael Ironside also gave great performances, portraying the tension between father and son really well.

the flash family of rogues review captain cold barry allen leonard snart wentworth miller michael ironside

And of course, the Rogues’ interactions with the regular cast were as fun as ever. Cisco’s almost-romance with Lisa is rather entertaining, and quite sweet in many ways; they have an interesting relationship, one which is always nice to see more of. Similarly, Barry and Leonard Snart always have great interactions; I think Barry pretending to be ‘Sam’ will go down as one of the best comedic moments of the series, but the more serious moments, showing the grudging respect between Barry and Lewis, are quite compelling.

The Snarts weren’t the only family getting attention this week, though, with the return of Iris’ mother being an important plotline in this episode too. This was similarly well handled – like I’ve said before, it’s very clear that the writing team have listened to the criticisms made of last year’s series, and they’re actively trying to fix them.

We’re getting to see more of Iris’ relationship with Joe, seeing her act in a more independent fashion (how brilliant was the cold open in this episode? So brilliant) and now, when confronted with another lie, Iris is allowed to take responsibility and make her own decisions. It’s really well realised, and it’s great that Candice Patton has got this chance to show off her acting abilities.

the flash family of rogues review jesse l martin candice patton west joe west iris west francine west wally west

It’s also important, actually, that this was emphasised as a complicated situation; whilst Joe’s lies are never condoned, they’re not exactly outright condemned either. It was something that I quite liked, actually; Jesse L Martin gives an excellent performance here. I was particularly impressed by the story of Iris calling 911 as a child – it was quite poignant, and worked really well within the larger context of the episode.

Family of Rogues, then. This is certainly the strongest episode of The Flash’s second series (should that be season, since it’s an American show?), with two very strong plot threads running throughout. The contrast between the different families, and the use of family as a thematic thread throughout, gave the episode a very strong basis for some genuinely compelling character interactions, alongside great scenes and excellent dialogue.

9/10

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TV Review: The Flash – Flash of Two Worlds (2×02)

The Flash Logo review analysis retrospective barry allen grant gustin greg berlanti andrew kreisberg cw

You defeated him because you trusted in people, because you believed in them.

Once again, we return to The Flash. It’s nice to be getting back into the swing of things again; having this show as a weekly occurrence, something to look forward to, feels very good.

We picked up from the end of the last episode, opening with Jay Garrick – the Flash of the other world – explaining his origin to the team, and introducing what’s going to be the overarching story for this season; the Multiverse. Teddy Sears has joined a fairly long (and growing!) list of excellent casting choices from the CW, bringing Jay Garrick to life with an impressive performance. I was similarly impressed by Shantel VanSanten as Patty Spivot, actually – she had a great rapport with Grant Gustin, and I’m actually quite interested to see where their relationship goes.

‘Twas also another great week for the cast we’ve come to know and love, of course. It seems worth singling out Iris in particular; whilst I never really held the same level of animosity towards Iris last year as other fans did, I think it’s fair to say she was at times under utilised, and poorly treated by the narrative. (Indeed, more scenes and deeper characterisation for Iris were amongst the things I called for prior to the beginning of the series.) It’s great to see the character being given more to do now, though, and living up to her potential; not just the love interest kept in the dark, but Barry’s closest friend, helping him when he needs it. It’s a much more effective use of the character, and I’m glad to see this change.

image

Wasn’t this such a fantastic shot, by the way? I really appreciated that. That sort of thing is the kind of reference I appreciate; I’d never advocate sticking slavishly to the comics, because that’s limiting, but it is always nice to see little things like this.

The visuals were fairly impressive throughout, I’d say; I liked the flashback (haha) sequences to Earth-2, which had a nice, distinct looking visual design – I hope that’s explored further when we inevitably return there. Similarly, I quite liked the design of Sand Demon, which I thought was rather effective.

But that does bring me onto one of my two main concerns with regards to this episode – the fact that, for the second week running, the villain was killed at the end. And, actually, in a fairly brutal fashion too – this week, Sand Demon was turned to glass and smashed into tiny pieces, and last week, they irradiated Atom Smasher until his body was riddled with cancers.

It was more than a little uncomfortable, to be honest. I hope this is picked up on at some point, within the narrative, because to leave it unaddressed would be a failing on the part of the show. The Flash has always aimed to portray more traditional heroics, with an eye towards a certain level of moral integrity; it’s concerned with questions of Doing Good and Being Good, rather than anti heroism and morally grey areas. Frankly, even Arrow, as early as it’s first season, never quite let killing the bad guys go unexamined. I’d expect The Flash to do the same.

the flash review flash of two worlds jay garrick teddy sears caitlin snow danielle panabaker
Basically about as much subtlety as a glow in the dark rhinestone studded hammer. That plays electronic dance music. Loudly.

The only other thing that bothered me, really, was the way that the relationship between Jay and Caitlin was handled. Now, it seems to me to be fairly obvious that they’re trying to set up a romance there, but it felt quite poorly handled; they seemed to sacrifice any semblance of subtlety or characterisation for a few cheap jokes about how well built Teddy Sears is. (And, frankly, the best of those jokes came from Cisco anyway!) I realise it’s a bit of a difficult situation that the show is in – obviously, they don’t want to retread the “Ronnie is gone” plot arc from last year, for fear of feeling repetitive, but it does seem like a bit of glaring omission if they do leave it out. I’m not entirely convinced there’s any need to start a relationship between Jay and Caitlin anyway, mind. Likely there are other, more interesting routes to go down.

So, in essence: Another fun episode, replete with plenty of entertaining moments, but on the whole, not quite as strong as the debut episode. Nonetheless, I’m still looking forward to the next episode (why wouldn’t I be?), and I’m particularly interested in the subplot with Iris’ mother.

7/10

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TV Review: The Flash – The Man Who Saved Central City (2×01)

The Flash Logo review analysis retrospective barry allen grant gustin greg berlanti andrew kreisberg cw

My name is Barry Allen, and I am the fastest man alive. It’s been six months since the Singularity. I’m on my own now. Decided it’s better that way. Keeps the people I care about safe.

The Flash is back! I have been looking forward to this ever since the season finale, which was possibly one of the best episodes of TV I watched during that year. Certainly, it was the best piece of superhero related TV that I watched that year, easily trumping both Gotham and Agents of SHIELD, and subjectively more enjoyable than most of Daredevil in terms of my own personal tastes. I’ve had October 6th marked on my calendar since May. (And I’ve had the 13th October marked on my calendar since I realised that the 6th was only the US airdate.)

Essentially, then, expectations were high for this episode. Last year’s Fast Enough ended on one of those cliffhangers – you know the sort where it’s really aggravating, because you’re really into the plot, and it’s got you on the edge of your seat, and then it’s got you standing shouting at the TV screen, but you know you can’t begrudge the show that, because it’s been so brilliant, it’s really earned that cliffhanger? (No one knows what I mean? Really? Oh, well, that’s the type of cliffhanger that it was, anyway.)

Rather cleverly, I think, they chose to subvert expectations and not pick up immediately from after the cliffhanger – they shifted a little bit, moved the setting around, and we picked up 6 months later, with a well executed dream sequence. It’s not the sort of thing I’m typically very fond of, but I think it worked rather well here – the direction was quite well done, and subtly pointed to the fact that it was a dream sequence, before the appearance of Eddie and Wells really confirmed that. The slow pan around the room, and then zooming out, served to emphasis how alone Barry had made himself, and quite how empty the cortex is without the rest of the STAR Labs team joining Barry. Again, that’s down to the direction – it worked very well.

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Now, admittedly, what I am not so certain of is quite how well they used this concept. I’m in two minds about it all, really – on the one hand, I’m glad that the production team have their own view of the Flash as being a relatively bright and optimistic hero, and I doubt that dwelling on Barry isolating himself would really have worked here.

But, equally, since they brought it up, I want them to have explored it, you know? We have a missing six months, which genuinely sound to have been quite interesting – I want to know about the immediate aftermath of the singularity. How did Cisco begin to work with Joe? What’s been happening to Caitlin? How did Iris cope with the death of Eddie? How did Dr. Stein and Caitlin cope, in their own different ways, with the death of Ronnie? The consequences and repercussions of the finale all seem to have been paid lip service, but essentially skipped over for a reset of the status quo.

It bothers me a little, because I feel like we maybe lost out a little bit; would it have worked better as a three episode arc, at the start of the series? An episode focused on Barry, an episode largely focused on Cisco and Joe, with episode three being where they get the band back together? It’s hard to say. That might certainly have been more effective in telling the story of those repercussions, but that doesn’t seem to be the story they’re interested in telling – the production team wants to get onto the story of the Multiverse, with Zoom and Jay Garrick.

And, you know, it is hard to begrudge them that, because I am really very excited for that story…

the flash the man who saved central city review flash day mayor keystone grant gustin gabrielle stanton ralph hemecker

Another thing that I quite liked was the concept of Flash day. It’s an interesting idea that really seems to have legs (haha), and I hope they really run with it (hahaha). It’s setting up the fact that the Flash, unlike Arrow, is a much more of a public figure – the city knows about him, and they like him, too. It’s something that I think they can do quite a lot with, so I’m looking forward to seeing where that goes.

As ever, it was nice to see all the different characters returning – Barry, Caitlin, Cisco, Iris, Joe, and Dr Stein. Lots of fun moments from the all; Cisco remains as funny as ever, and it was great to see some scenes between Joe and Iris, which was one of the things I’d been hoping to see from this series. (The full list is linked to at the bottom of the page.)

Of course, one of the most important moments of the episode was the release of Henry Allen from prison, as a result of Harrison Wells’ confession video. That was a genuinely fantastic moment, which really added to the complex nature of the relationship between Barry and Wells. (There’s a link to an analysis of that at the bottom of the page.) I’m really looking forward to seeing Tom Cavanagh return at various points throughout this series.

Henry Allen’s release and return home was rather well handled, I felt; Grant Gustin and John Wesley Shipp conveyed the emotion of it well, and it was nice to see everyone together at the welcome home party, happy and laughing. I’m not so sure about their reason to remove Henry, admittedly – I realise that they couldn’t keep JWS as a season regular, but perhaps it’d have been easier if he’d simply said that he’d rather live away from Central City, but he wants Barry to visit him as often as possible? It felt that the reason they gave was a little weak and contrived.

Still, though. This was a fun episode, and whilst it wasn’t quite at the same heights as the best of last series, it was a strong opener, that managed to balance most of its responsibilities reasonably well. Very much looking forward to next week’s episode! 7/10

(I actually found a set of deleted scenes online, which you can see here, here, and here. I think the episode would have improved a fair bit if they’d been kept it, so it’s a shame they were lost!)

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