The team learns that Wells has been hiding in the Particle Accelerator the entire time, and saves the captive Eddie. Iris discovers the wedding ring and realizes Eddie was going to propse to her, but Eddie instead breaks up, revealing the future West-Allen headline. However, Wells leaves behind a future device that is charging the Accelerator to activate. Realizing that the imprisoned metahumans will die if it’s activated, they make arrangements to move them all the Lian Yu with help from Lyla. Cisco finds a power source in Wells’s wheelchair which he used to absorb power to be faster than Barry, and uses that to build a power dampener to transport the metas. Barry enlists the help of Captain Cold and Golden Glider to man the transport, but they betray the team and release them — making it so the metas owe him a favor (aside from Deadbolt, who he shoots in the face because he owed him money.) Reeling from the loss, Barry finds Wells and confronts him, but with the help of Oliver/Al Sah-Him and Firestorm, the Reverse-Flash is finally defeated.
Much of the success of The Flash stems from its charisma overshadowing potential nitpicks, logical or otherwise. While many live-action superhero fare may struggle to ground or explain the sillier or nonsensical comic book choices, this show goes at them confidence, relying on sheer fun with a dash of self-awareness to cover its bases.
“Rogue Time” fits this concept to a T, because it’s an immensely fun, fanservice-heavy episode, but not one without its narrative, structural, and logistical problems. Much like “Crazy For You,” the individual concepts — a metahuman breakout, a Rogues/Flash team-up, an Arrow/Firestorm/Flash team-up, the climactic Reverse-Flash battle, not to mention all the loose ends of the last two weeks — are each worthy of their own praise, but don’t necessarily jibe well in an episode together or at this particular moment.
Does that matter if we’re all having fun? Probably not, because the promise of The Flash has always been to provide superhero fun first and foremost. And if anything, the biggest problem with “Rogue Air” is that it’s like getting too many Christmas presents — there may be a point of diminishing returns because you’re splitting your attention between so many things, but your “problem” is still too many good things. Yet, while I enjoyed the hour spent with “Rogue Time” quite a lot, it’s worth breaking down why this “more is more” approach doesn’t always work in a narrative sense, if only just to truly appreciate how much the fun of The Flash lets us overlook unless we’re nitpicking.
The deal with the metahumans is the core of the episode, which sees every surviving metahman baddie appear. Kudos to the creators of the show for getting all those guest stars back for this episode. It’s never easy dealing with scheduling — so much so that “scheduling conflicts” is basically the go-to excuse whenever an actor refuses or is not allowed to come back — and juggling so many, especially for rather small appearances, is quite a feat. Getting the Amells and Wentworth Miller back makes sense, considering how entrenched in the DCwU they are. But it’s not always easy, financially or logistically, getting your one-off guest stars back whenever you need them, especially on a CW budget. Whether it’s the foresight to pre-emptively sign the guests on for multiple episodes, substantial money offered, or such a good set environment that people want to come back, the producers of The Flash are really making this world work. The resulting battle is appropriately chaotic, but it’s also pretty rushed, enough that it doesn’t quite live up to the hype considering we all expected this to happen from day one. But it’s a good showcase of how The Flash has grown as a hero; he uses the arm-spinning skill he learned in “The Trap” to fend off Mist, for example, and generally handles everyone at once more capably than when he faced them one at a time.
That said, the actual metahuman team-up isn’t the focus so much as figuring out what to do with them. In a long-awaited discussion, we finally have the characters addressing the gray area they entered when they decided to hold the metahumans captive. Honestly, beyond all the fight sequences, some of the best fanservice and interesting discussion of “Rogue Air” is how it confronts this, with Joe and Barry playing two opposing sides in the situation. The show doesn’t answer the question of who’s right so much as acknowledge that it’s complicated, and both sides have valid arguments. The intentions were always good — they’ve taken fine care of everyone, and this was only supposed to be a temporary situation until they were rehabilitated — but “we were busy” doesn’t fly when it comes to illegally holding people captive, which Joe voices his uncomfortability with. There wasn’t anywhere else for them to go until Cisco had the technology to make a power dampener to transport them to Lian Yu, sure. But at the same time, no one had tried very hard to figure out an alternative all this year. Surely Wells threw up brick walls to keep the metas on reserve, so the team can’t be completely at fault. But their prisoners are still their responsibility, and this episode makes clear that however dangerous they are, the STAR Labs team aren’t willing to cross a line and play executioner, even when they’ve been forced to play judge and jury.
How far they’re willing to go is at the crux of Barry’s dilemma this week, which makes up the heart of an otherwise plot-heavy episode. Captain Cold and newly named Golden Glider are mostly on the side this time around, with some funny moments, but little by way of character development like their previous appearances. That’s fine, because they’re essentially in place to show Barry pushed to his own limits. Grant Gustin aptly plays a darker Barry, but one that’s purposefully unnatural and forced out of desperation. Though it gets buried under the many plot points, “Rogue Air” hinges on Barry’s struggle with being the optimistic good guy among a series of losses and betrayals. Barry has seen Oliver Queen go to absurdly great and manipulative lengths to win his battles, to a point that his “superpower” isn’t his archery prowess, but his ruthless tactical ability. As such, Barry tries to manipulate Captain Cold, firmly stand against the wishes of his teammates, and play with the lesser of two evils. It blows up in his face, ultimately, because he still chooses to see the potential good in Captain Cold, despite all the facts pointing at his betrayal. Cold may have agreed to not murder anyone and hasn’t told people Barry’s identity (even his sister!), but he’s still a crook who lies and robs people. Oliver Queen would have seen the limit of Cold’s honor system — it exists, but it’s short and adjustable — and he would have had countermeasures. Oliver Queen sees the darkness in people, and that helps him assess who can truly be trusted and used.
Barry, conversely, has succeeded a hero because of his ability to provide light and optimism to the world, which Joe has said countless times and reiterated again this week. Eventually, reaffirming how Barry is a “light” will get old, but it’s been an important factor in the first season’s journey. That Barry fails so miserably at being Oliver Queen almost seems like a criticism of what’s happened in the last arc of Arrow‘s third season, in fact, because much of the Al Sah-Him drama has come from Oliver possibly crossing the line when it comes to manipulation and subterfuge. Barry not only shouldn’t resort to the “do whatever it takes” attitude, he honestly can’t, because it goes against everything that’s made him such a good hero in the first place. When he ultimately faces Reverse-Flash, he beats him not because of thorough manipulation or edge-of-morality plans, but a simple team-up with his friends. Oliver and Firestorm pretty much come completely out of nowhere, but it plays like a reward for Barry, who deserves it considering how much things have sucked for him lately.
Of course, continuity is another nitpick here when it comes to Oliver’s appearance. While the timing is much better than the awkward and non-descript timing of Ray and Felicity’s crossover, it still takes some completely unspoken logical leaps to get the thought-to-be brainwashed Al Sah-Him over to Central City without Ra’s knowing or being mad about it (the most common assumption I’ve seen is that it takes place during his search for Nyssa.) It’s not impossible to make this work, and the non-chronological order of the Arrow and The Flash episodes make sense considering we had to learn Oliver was faking his brainwashing first. But it’s definitely awkward, in that it lessens the power of the presumed all-seeing eyes of Ra’s al Ghul that has been the crux of season 3’s direness. Not to mention that Oliver uses nanites courtesy of Ray Palmer — a really cool bit of fanservice that lets the Atom spiritually participate in the team-up, but one that begs even more questions of how, where, and when Oliver got it.
It feels like the writers of The Flash really, really wanted a team-up no matter what, and had to write around Arrow‘s storylines the best they could instead of letting them work organically. Crossovers are easier to do during looser periods of the show, and that looseness is how Buffy and Angel managed to make their similar back-to-back crossovers work. But The Flash and Arrow both thrive on heavy continuity and momentum, so when the story is kicked into high gear like now, it’s unsettling that the narrative brakes be put on to force in some cross-promotion.
But, again, it goes back to the same thing — that team-up, however contrived, is really, really cool. It hits a superhero sweet spot, because there’s always been the question of “Why doesn’t Superman fly into help Batman take out the Joker?” The Flash needs help with his greatest enemy, so his friends fly in and help him. The simplicity of that is obvious, but that doesn’t take away from the giddiness of that fight. I wish the promotional materials had kept this team-up secret — they could have easily only focused on the metahuman brawl and gotten a great promo — because the appearance of Oliver and Firestorm, random as they are, is a very cool moment. There are points in the fight where it’s hard to figure out what’s going on, admittedly, but that’s an inevitable challenge to using characters that hinge on their speed. Having Oliver face-off with Reverse-Flash sans superspeed is a nice touch, but the exhilirating rush with Flash and Reverse-Flash superspeeding their way up a sattelite dish and topping a tower is the standout. The show still has kinks to work out to keep the fighting characters looking like humans instead of cartoon-y CGI, but there’s still a clear attention to the choreography, computer-generated or not, that’s much appreciated.
Sandwiched between all the madness is Eddie, who has been held in the Particle Accelerator the entire time. It’s going to be interesting seeing where Eddie goes next season given his swift downward spiral. Hopefully the show doesn’t take the easy route and immediately make him a villain like we expected at the beginning of the season. Right now, he’s an understandably broken man — being told you amount to nothing and don’t get anything you want is a horrifying notion — but that shouldn’t necessarily (or at least, solely) cause such a decent guy to lose his morals. Breaking up with Iris is a logical decision; Wells merely allowed Eddie to come to terms with the truth. Either way, Rick Cosnett and Candice Patton are both solid in their break-up scene, showcasing the chemistry they both have even if their characters’ relationship was doomed from the start.
Hanging over all of “Rogue Air” is the notion that all of this is part of Wells’s plan somehow. The biggest problem with this episode, and “Grodd Lives” as well, is that once Wells became the full-on bad guy, his screentime suddenly dwindled. It makes sense, in that he’s clearly playing master manipulator. But it’s also contributed to an unfortunate slowing of the pace after “The Trap” amped everything up. “Grodd Lives” worked because everything still felt dire, but even with the ticking Particle Accelerator clock, “Rogue Air” is still nothing more than a distraction from whatever the master plan may be. Perhaps the penultimate episode wasn’t the time to halt the story to address the morality of metahuman captivity and pay off the prison storyline. In its own bubble, though, this is an entertaining wild ride of an episode, even if it’s unnecessarily rushed. And we get a ballsy ending with Reverse-Flash seemingly defeated, an unexpected lead-up to a very, very anticipated finale.
Odds & Ends
- Remember when I said it’d be fun to let Wells have the voiceover? Well, well, well…
- All the Cisco and Lisa crush-banter is a major highlight. Also, definitely laughed at loud when Lisa revealed she has a Class A CDL license.
- History books say Queen lives to be 86 years old, eh? This is a fun tidbit, but considering a big plot point in the Arrow season finale is (SPOILERS) that Oliver planned to die on the plane with Ra’s…shouldn’t that reveal have made Oliver reconsider his plan? Then again, Oliver could be more genre savvy than he looks, and figured that time is fluid and that fact could be overwritten anyway. Still, being told how old you live to be ought to be something that shakes a person to his core.
- Speaking of genre savvy, I love that Cisco not only noticed the pattern of liquid floating whenever Wells was around using his superspeed, but turned it into a way to detect him.
- Because we’re just going headlong with the nitpicks here: there’s a shot after Peekaboo’s initial attack where the team is putting the pieces together, and Cisco’s hair is very messy from the fight. Cut away and back again, and suddenly it’s nicely combed.
- Nice bit of continuity getting the DA from “Who Is Harrison Wells?” even if she didn’t contribute much.
- In retrospect, Doug Jones ended up being rather wasted in his Deadbolt role.
- Not sure why we necessarily needed to repeatedly see Caitlin reacting and whispering “Ronnie!” whenever Firestorm gets hit, at least more than once. Broke the pace of the battle sometimes.
- “Damn, you can’t get that at Radioshack.” – Soon you won’t be able to get anything at Radioshack, if we’re being honest here.