The fall finale of The Flash is a touching and ass-kicking Christmas episode that finally digs deep into the show’s primary myth arc.
God damn I love The Flash. At this point I can’t imagine how this show could possibly let me down: even if it turns in a bad episode (only the pilot barely comes close to that), it’s doing so much right that I’m in deadly danger of giving it a pass because of how much I love everything else.
Fortunately, I don’t have to worry about that just yet, because the latest episode – “The Man in The Yellow Suit” – was, yet again, fantastic. First and foremost, it was a great holiday episode, grounded around themes of family, friendship and reconnecting with loved ones, where interpersonal conflicts were resolved with bittersweet maturity. But just as important, it also managed in the space of 45 minutes to deliver some truly fun action, introduce (officially) another classic superhero into the Arrowverse, and give viewers a few major myth arc reveals to keep them ravenous during the show’s winter break.
Anyway, The Flash. I waited until last week’s crossovers between it and Arrow to begin reviewing the show, and as a result I’m betting there’s a lot of catching up I could help you out with. So, before we jump into last night’s episode, let’s get up to speed with the show overall. Be warned, there will be spoilers discussed with reckless abandon from this point forward.
For a longer breakdown, see my review of The Flash pilot.
14 years ago, 11 year old Barry Allen witnesses the murder of his mother at the hands of a mysterious man dressed in yellow, who is surrounded by strange red and yellow lightning. The police don’t believe Barry’s account of the crime, and Barry’s father is arrested, convicted, and sentenced to life in prison for it instead. Flash forward to present day. Barry is now a forensic scientist working for the Central City Police. Meanwhile, scientific research company S.T.A.R. Labs has built an advanced particle accelerator, the debut of which becomes a major media event. Unfortunately, upon being activated, the accelerator malfunctions, spewing dark matter into the sky above Central City, which causes a freak lightning storm that strikes hundreds of people all over the city. Barry is among the storm’s victims, and spends 9 months in a coma. When he wakes up, he discovers he has the superpower set familiar to fans of the comic, but he’s not the only one. The storm’s other victims have also been gifted with powers, and most of these people – dubbed “Metahumans” by S.T.A.R. Labs – are content to use their new abilities for nefarious purposes.
Barry Allen (Grant Gustin): See above. Think Christopher Reeve as Superman combined with Peter Parker, Barry is gradually learning to control and enhance his new powers. Already instilled with a do-gooder complex thanks to his father’s imprisonment and to his being raised by Detective West, Barry teams up with what’s left of the disgraced S.T.A.R. Labs team and assumes the identity of The Flash in order to stop Metahumans criminality. At first considered an urban legend, “The Flash” is gradually becoming known as a hero to the people of Central City. Ultimately, Barry intends to prove the existence of the man in yellow, and his father’s innocence.
Detective Joe West (Jesse L. Martin): Created specifically for the show, Joe is Barry’s surrogate father and the first person outside of S.T.A.R. Labs to learn about Barry’s powers. A dedicated police officer and a devoted father both to Barry and to his daughter, Iris, he’s always concerned for Barry’s safety and sanity. He also quickly becomes Barry’s staunchest ally as the magnitude of the threat posed by criminal metahumans becomes clear. His only condition is that Barry keep his double life a secret from Iris, in order to protect her.
Iris West (Candice Patton): Joe’s Daughter, a senior year college journalism student, she’s the first person to openly discuss The Flash as a real person on a blog she creates to talk about the strange events happening in Central City since the particle accelerator accident. She and Barry are best friends, which is complicated by the fact that Barry has been secretly in love with her since childhood.
Eddie Thawne (Rick Cosnett): Joe’s partner on the force, he’s also dating Iris. He eventually becomes convinced that The Flash might be a public menace and organizes a task force designed to bring him in. He shares a name with the comic book secret identity of Reverse Flash, The Flash’s deadliest arch enemy. However, so far there is no indication that he and this show’s version of Reverse Flash (obviously the culprit behind Barry’s mom’s murder) are the same person.
Dr. Harrison Wells (Tom Cavanagh): Also created specifically for the show, Wells is the founder and financier behind S.T.A.R. Labs. He saw his reputation and business (but not his fortune) destroyed along with the malfunctioning particle accelerator, and now leads the science arm of Team Flash, having turned the disused particle accelerator facility into an ad hoc prison for the metahumans The Flash manages to subdue. But, as revealed in the pilot, he’s pursuing a secret agenda related to The Flash that appears to be connected to events 10 years in the future. Whether he is ultimately good or evil is still very much up in the air. Du-du-duuuuuuuu.
Dr. Caitlin Snow (Danielle Panabaker): S.T.A.R. Labs’ bioengineering expert, she’s in charge of researching and understanding Barry’s powers. Her fiancee, fellow S.T.A.R. Labs scientist Ronnie Raymond, was apparently killed in the particle accelerator accident. Considering Ronnie Raymond is one of the alter egos of Firestorm, and Caitlin Snow is one of the alter egos of Firestorm enemy Killer Frost in the comics, things may not be what they seem with her. They’re certainly not with him, as it was revealed last week that:
- I’m genuinely curious about the way the show is treating Reverse Flash. It’s unclear precisely what’s happening, but somehow Dr. Wells is in league with him – and probably is him. Is this a time travel duplicate situation? That would make sense, as we’ve already seen how Wells has a newspaper from 10 years in the future that suggests the Flash has disappeared after some kind of cosmic event. Is Wells attempting to stop that future, or bring it to fruition?
- Speaking of Reverse Flash, for now anyway we can definitely rule out Eddie Thawn as the man under (one of) the suit(s). Especially after this episode’s crisis seems to have changed Eddie’s mind about The Flash. He was truly terrified by the display of Reverse Flash’s power, and shocked, frankly, to still be alive. He’s also witnessed incontrovertible proof that there are terrifying, superpowered people running around. He agrees with Joe that the general existence of metahumans is something that might be best kept secret for now, but more importantly, when he asks if Joe knows who The Flash is, Joe tells him “I do… he’s the guy that just saved both our lives.” As Joe walks away, Eddie tears up and it’s clear he’s feeling terrible about his initial assessment of the Central City Speedster. How much longer before he figures out Barry is The Flash remains unclear, but I suspect he’ll soon become at least an adjunct member of Team Flash by the time the series returns in January.
- This show has demonstrated remarkable special effects considering how relatively low its budget has to be, and “The Man in the Yellow Suit” is no exception. Firestorm’s brief appearances were effective, and the two battles between Flash and Reverse Flash were thrilling. Better, the last-minute appearance by Firestorm was almost epic, signaling the appearance of (at last) a metahuman ally for Barry, and this show’s full commitment to exploring the ramifications of having superpowered people suddenly become a real thing. I can’t wait to see where this theme is taken when the show resumes.
- I love how conflicts between characters are never dragged out for false drama. These friends and colleagues don’t needlessly hide things from one another, they call one another out for their errors, and more importantly, they listen to one another and make a genuine effort to respond to the concerns of their loved ones. It’s so refreshing, given that so much genre tv thrives on soap opera dynamics to mask a slow-moving plot, and it’s one more reason this show is such a joy to watch.
- Adding to the above, the chemistry between Jesse L. Martin and Grant Gustin has emerged as the thing that most effectively grounds this show. Their dynamic, caring, sarcastic, filled with mutual respect, familial loyalty and an unwillingness to let the other hide behind bullshit is fantastic and gives their surrogate father/son relationship real depth.
- Honestly, the team in charge of Warner Bros. superhero films ought to resign and allow at least some members of the team(s) that developed Arrow and The Flash for The CW to take over. They’re doing everything right and better, they’re clearly not somewhat embarrassed by comic books as source material.
- Last thing: I’m used to shows slogging through a traditional 24 episode season dragging, painfully, through boring plots-of-the-week and only occasionally touching on the implied myth-building. But The Flash is getting to some serious shit in only the 9th episode. Further, previous episodes, villain-of-the-week they may have been, have been so rooted in character building – effective character building, I should say – that they’ve made this week’s episode feel like the fulfillment of the myth arc instead of the return to it. It’s something Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. failed utterly to do in its first season, and once again, is why this show is special.
Bottom Line: Like I said on page one, at this point The Flash doesn’t appear capable of letting me down. It’s definitely the best superhero show on TV, among the greatest comic book adaptations of all time, and damn fun television to boot.
Recommendation: Binge the entire season and then watch this episode twice.[rating=4.5]