Barry (Grant Gustin) escorts Iris (Candice Patton) to a university gathering honoring scientist Simon Stagg (William Sadler). When six gunmen storm the event, Barry changes into The Flash and tries to stop them. While he does save a man’s life, he passes out before he can capture the robbers, which frustrates him. Dr. Wells (Tom Cavanagh), Caitlin (Danielle Panabaker) and Cisco (Carlos Valdes) determine that it’s because of his new metabolism, and Cisco creates new protein bars for him. Meanwhile, Joe (Jesse Martin) comes down hard on Barry for taking the law into his own hands and risking his life. Barry realizes that it wasn’t six gunmen but a metahuman named Danton Black (Michael Christopher Smith), who can make multiples of himself. After Barry fails at his first attempt to capture Black, Dr. Wells convinces Joe that Barry is not going to stop trying to be a hero, and if he doesn’t have confidence that he can do it, he will fail. Joe shows his support, and Barry is able to defeat Black. Meanwhile, Iris becomes even more intrigued by the “red streak,” and investigating him reinvigorates her interest in journalism. Dr. Wells eventually murders Stagg, claiming to protect the man who will become The Flash.
The second episode of The Flash is more-or-less what’s to be expected from a typical second episode of a series. After the pilot crammed in all the introductions and set-up for the status quo, “Fastest Man Alive” is a clearer picture of what the show will look like week-to-week. Like many second episodes of shows, that means it’s not particularly above average; much time has to be spent reaffirming the relationships and re-establishing what the pilot did, but without going so far as to completely rehash it. It’s a fine line to walk for a genre show with villains-of-the-week, particularly. For example, we’ve consistently said over at GreenArrowTV that Arrow‘s second episode is perhaps its worst compared with the rest of the show, squarely for those same reasons. “Fastest Man Alive” is average in that regard, but it excels thanks to two factors: delving into the relationship between Barry and Joe, and throwing out an ambitious first post-pilot villain.
The relationship between Barry and Joe was the biggest surprise in the pilot, especially that Joe found out Barry’s secret right at the start of the show. But even still, it’s a bit un-CW-like to pin the first major character exploration on anyone but the, erm, “young” characters. With a show that established its love triangle and quirky young scientists right at the start, it’s surprising to see the parental relationship the first to be so heavily toyed with, a welcome departure from expectations already. This works best because Jesse L. Martin is constantly swimming in emotion, taking what’s written as rather generic cop/dad material and lifting it into something completely different. Martin gets to be on the edge of tears a lot this week, both in the past and the present, but he’s very good at selling that emotion without negating the toughness of his cop persona.
Joe’s arc over “Fastest Man Alive” is nothing terribly innovative—it’s as much a “father watching and accepting his son come of age” as anything—but it lets this episode be as much Joe’s story as it is Barry’s. That doesn’t mean it takes away from Barry, and in fact delving into their complex relationship further supports Barry’s yearning to take action that much more. But it’s a clever decision to have the flashbacks belong to both Joe and Barry, depending on how you look at it. It’s the story of a lost boy accepting his new father figure; and it’s the story of one father passing the torch to another, the latter accepting the responsibilities that come with it. Both are rather powerful and unique to The Flash, crafting an important throughline for this episode to succeed. Its satisfying conclusion is the best scene in the episode, with quite a tearjerker of a speech delivered with genuine pathos by Grant Gustin, and the expected warm reaction from the watery-eyed Martin. The Flash doesn’t have much by way of the hardcore drama that made Arrow successful yet, but it’s filling the void with well-handled emotional climaxes, something Arrow wasn’t able to do at this point in its infancy.
The villain, Danton Black/Captain Clone/Multiplex, is a ballsy enemy to throw in so early. Multiplex is hardly even a C-list villain, but his power-set is such that it could easily go horribly wrong effects-wise, especially given the effects team is still nailing down Flash himself. Instead, we get a climax with an entire army made up of dozens (hundreds?) of clones on a stampede, and damn if it isn’t a stunning display of TV special effects. What could have been a disaster of Matrix Reloaded proportions is circumvented with imaginative and downright balls-to-the-wall sequences. There’s a point when Flash punches Multiplex in the face, the momentum of which causes three more clones to burst out of his back. That sounds utterly ridiculous, but there’s a childlike glee in seeing something so wild rendered on screen as well as it is. There are certainly points during Flash’s big battle where the characters have that CGI-model sheen, but it’s not distracting with so much happening. Michael Christopher Smith does some decent work making Black somewhat sympathetic, even in light of a cheesy villain monologue that feels rather out of place. For a show with so many detectives and scientists, it would have made more sense to have the characters draw the conclusion about Black’s motives on their own, rather than have Black clunkily deliver them. That said, Smith isn’t the least bit stiff otherwise, and handles the action bits well.
As for the supporting players, we’re still going to need some time to draw out everyone else. At S.T.A.R. Labs, Caitlin and Cisco are still not much more than their archetypes as “neurotic worrier” and “geeky genius,” respectively, though Danielle Panabaker and Carlos Valdes do what they can with the material. Neither particularly succeed nor fail, they’re just mostly there to deliver exposition and the occasional one-liner until the show decides to put them in the limelight. Tom Cavanagh, on the other hand, is given ample material as Dr. Wells. Cavanagh is a bit of a casting coup, it’s turned out, as few could churn out his equal parts “warm fatherly genius” and “creepy diabolical zealot” and make sense. There’s an alienness he gives to Wells, which works for either perspective; he’s a eccentric scientist who’s been severely damaged by his experiences, and he’s also a giant enigma at the center of an overarching mystery we don’t even understand yet.
Iris seems more and more like The Flash‘s anti-Laurel, a way to circumvent the problems Arrow had with its primary romantic lead early on by making many of the opposite choices. Like Barry, Iris is the youthiest of the CW youthfuls you could expect, so far defined by spunk with a dash of loveable ditziness. This has worked so far because Candice Patton is very fun in the role, and has managed to teeter on the edge of annoying without crossing that line. It’s going to take a bit of work to make her seem like a viable romantic option for Barry, since they really do play as siblings a little too well. It’s also going to be hard to keep her out of the inner circle for too long with her father in the know. Luckily, she’s already getting her own Lois Lane-esque sideplot with her newfound interest in the mysterious red blur, which should keep her occupied whilst also having her marginally involved in the main story. Conversely, Rick Cosnett as Eddie Thawne has the slightest, teensiest bit more charisma, but he’s still pretty much a blank slate and romantic antagonist at this stage.
Its other components are hit-or-miss, mostly, as the show is definitely working out the kinks here. It’s often trying too hard to capture a Joss Whedon-y style of meta humor for the genre, as evidenced by the strange fake-out with Black’s clone at S.T.A.R. Labs. It’s not a bad fake-out, but it’s really weird, not the sort of humor that fits with the rest of the episode, which conversely plays tropes like the aforementioned villain monologue far too straight. A mixture of both is preferred, though admittedly this show has the capability to play up the humor far more than Arrow can. Likewise, the different uses of superspeed are fun, as there’s a fitting unpolished, experimental feel to it all, but some things (Barry shaking the vial to get faster lab results) work better than others (his cheesy superspeed rant to Iris.) But the creativity is certainly embraced one way or another.
We all got pretty jaded over Smallville comparisons when Arrow debuted, especially given how little that show ended up resembling its CW predecessor. But, while it may be beating a dead horse, The Flash circles back a bit and does, actually, feel loads more like Smallville this week. It’s still a vastly different show, obviously, but the supercollider-freak-of-the-week formula of The Flash definitely feels more akin to early Smallville than early Arrow. The optimistic, color-saturated tone is also very close to what Smallville was in its first couple of seasons, yet mixed with some of the more overt superheroics of its latter three seasons. However, The Flash has a bigger universe from the get-go, a different beast with far more potential for all of this to coalesce or explode into something bigger.
“Fastest Man Alive” succeeds because all these elements still tie in as a cohesive whole as Barry’s story. This episode is ultimately about Barry’s confidence in himself, which is only boosted by the people around him forming his supporting structure. It’s an easy story, even a bit childish, but The Flash seems to be embracing that childlike wonder of superheroes. Barry himself even states in his end monologue about every child wanting to be a superhero, and the love of his own powers. And like Barry having both Henry and Joe as fathers, The Flash will take a village—Joe and everyone at S.T.A.R. Labs—to grow as a hero. That “we all got struck by that lightning” line is incredibly cheesy, but it kind of works as a character beat from Barry, someone with a childlike optimism trying to inspire the rest of the world. It’s a refreshing take on a superhero show nowadays, and thus far has allowed The Flash to further differentiate itself from its parent show, while still retaining the momentum and pace of the CW/DC universe.
Odds & Ends
- Barry’s cheeky opening dialogue about not needing an intro would work better if there…wasn’t actually an intro preceding it.
- Other than giving us a reason to use a flashback pun every week, giving the The Flash a flashback storyline doesn’t feel perfectly in sync with the show. It makes sense on Arrow, and it works this week since it mostly provides backstory for Joe, but it might be a little much if this becomes a weekly thing. That said, occasional flashbacks expounding on characters backstories (which, again, this basically was for Joe) sound just fine.
- William Sadler is pretty awesome, but he’s in a rather thankless role as Simon Stagg. Oh well.
- How in the world are they going to dispose of the dead army of Multiplex clones? It doesn’t look like they all dissolve or anything. It’s a freaky image to see them all lying there.
- Stagg Industries was mentioned off-hand a couple of times in Arrow‘s first season, so we’re starting to see the shows’ synergy in subtle ways.
- I know that [Spoiler] Robbie Amell is going to be playing Ronnie Raymond in flashbacks, but the pregnant pause when Dr. Wells says, “He is…missed” means he’s definitely alive, right?
- “You’re all wearing your finest jewelry, almost if you knew we were coming to rob you!”
- “You’re not bulletproof. Wait…are you?”
- “I believed the fastest man alive could run a mile in four minutes, not four seconds.”
“I can do it in three! …Not relevant.”