Barry and the team at S.T.A.R. Labs work to capture Kyle Nimbus, a.k.a. The Mist, a dangerous new metahuman who can turn into poison gas and is going after the people who charged him with the death sentence. Upon realizing they’d need a prison to house the metahumans that are not killed in battle, they realize they could use the particle accelerator as a makeshift prison for people with powers. They revisit the painful night the particle accelerator exploded and killed Caitlin‘s fiancé, Ronnie; an engineer who helped build the machine, Ronnie singlehandedly recalibrated the blast so that it would go up instead of out, saving everyone at S.T.A.R. Labs, but died in the process. Meanwhile, Joe decides to finally visit Henry in jail after all these years, but things take a dangerous turn when Nimbus shows up looking to punish Joe for arresting him years ago. Barry is able to save Joe with an antidote, and eventually stops Nimbus by tiring him out, as he could only stay in his gas form for limited times. Meanwhile, Iris and Eddie reveal their relationship to Joe. Caitlin faces the particle accelerator again, and realizes it only reinforces her love for Ronnie as a hero rather than causing her more trauma, allowing her to be more open and happy again. In flashback, we learn that Dr. Wells had a video feed of Barry getting hit by the lightning the night the particle accelerator exploded.
Barry’s end monologue in “Things You Can’t Outrun” is a good example of what worked and what didn’t quite work in this episode: “No one can outrun pain”/”Life is tragic”/”Life is also precious.” This is an episode about facing tragedy head-on, powering through it and embracing the life one has now. But it’s also an episode that is fiercely, almost obsessively on-the-nose about all of its themes. The Flash has been delightfully lighter and slightly cheesier than Arrow thus far, but “Things You Can’t Outrun” goes a rather overboard with those elements to a detrimental extent.
From a general structural standpoint, this episode is decent. It’s a freak-of-the-week formula with an okay villain, though one with less imagination than his predecessor. Anthony Carrigan works well in the role as Kyle Nimbus/The Mist, mostly due to his slightly alien delivery that makes Nimbus a clear sociopath. But like Weather Wizard in the pilot, he isn’t given much to do other than formulaic villain things. Much like Arrow, though the episode explores every detail of this formula, with this week addressing the incarceration of the metahumans. There’s no Arkham or Belle Reve yet, so the scientists have to improvise and, as Caitlin says, get used to having a bunch of superpowered criminals living underneath them. Not only does this provide a ton of story possibilities, but making the particle accelerator the new prison weaves in nicely with the main character arcs of the episode. The guilt and grief of the S.T.A.R. Lab scientists are at the center here, particularly with Caitlin in the flashbacks. We aren’t seeing a long form story about Barry’s childhood in the flashbacks, it seems; instead, the they are more akin to Lost or Once Upon a Time, drawing a major moment in a character’s life and using it as a backdrop to display the themes of the episode and infer the character’s actions.
The flashbacks outline a sweet relationship between Caitlin and Ronnie Raymond, and Danielle Panabaker and Robbie Amell have nice chemistry in the short period they’re onscreen together. Panabaker is much better than what we’ve seen thus far, easily attributed to Caitlin being allowed to lighten up in the past and present. Amell is also the quintessential hero; he’s nothing wildly original in how he plays the future Firestorm, but he’s charming and likeable, which is all he needs to be at this stage. The flashback is essentially showcasing why Ronnie’s loss is such a big deal to Caitlin and Cisco. Obviously there’s the fact that he died, but that he died so selflessly and as such a hero is inevitably going to lead to guilt from the people who were ostensibly responsible for the faulty experiment. That angle is nicely detailed, as is the eventual resolution between Caitlin and Cisco in the accelerator. As much as the episode presses the “things you can’t outrun” and “facing the pain” stuff, the heart of Caitlin’s arc comes from the empathy in her friendships with Barry and Cisco, as these people share their pain and support one another. Everyone on the side of good who face their pain do so with the help of someone else—Caitlin with Barry, Barry with Joe, even Eddie and Iris together. Kyle Nimbus faces the “pain” of people who tried to kill him alone, and ends up failing. It’s nothing wildly complex, but it fits with this show’s insistence on how much these people need each other.
But, man, there are a lot of references, anvils, and foreshadowing. Now, some of these aren’t bad on their own; even something as groanworthy as calling future Firestorm and Killer Frost “like fire and ice” is layered over genuine character information. That’s actually a clever way to insert the references, by weaving them in the dialogue as ciphers for necessary exposition. So far, The Flash has done well with them, the cheesiest references usually played to be funny by the enthusiastic Cisco. This episode just has…a lot of them, packed on top of the obvious foreshadowing of Ronnie’s imminent return, packed on top of Dr. Wells’ “I feel like I’ve waited for this day for centuries,” on top of Barry practically spelling out what the episode is about every other line. The winks become overwhelming at a certain point, and the show ends up feeling less like an actual world full of actual characters and more like a TV show with writers that hope we’ll be in on the joke.
That’s especially frustrating considering there are some emotional beats that ought to resonate. Caitlin’s story works surprisingly well, and garners genuine growth for the character. Cisco finally gets a bit of pathos, though his guilt is quickly and quietly brushed off at the end. Joe’s visit to Henry Allen in the prison is also quite affecting, helped that Jesse L. Martin and John Wesley Shipp both convey a rich history behind their characters that lends credibility to why Joe’s belief in Henry is so important. Even the Iris/Eddie stuff, trite as it is, gets necessary progression by outing the secret to Joe. One thing about these early episodes is that everyone keeps ending in a good place, with everyone in the main cast still liking each other at the end of the day. Even with the Wells stingers, which are admittedly getting grating already, there’s always something optimistic at the end. It’s nice to hang out with the characters and see them grow and learn together, even when there isn’t much beyond the episodic plot carrying them.
But that’s why we don’t need Barry stating what’s important or what we should have learned right there at the end. Or, worse, have him randomly bring up his guilt about his father in the middle of an episode, to remind us that, yes, there is a serialized plot going on in the background, even if they haven’t gotten anywhere with it yet. Both of those incessant needs to remind us that the show knows what it’s doing comes off as neurotic and unsure of itself, which this show really doesn’t need to be at this point. Barry’s monologues are nowhere near the disasters Arrow‘s early voiceovers were, mostly thanks to Grant Gustin’s delivery, and in fact his opening monologues are usually quite fun. But the hand-holding nature of this week’s is a big misstep, and it’s only worse by the constant restating of it throughout the rest of the episode, too. “Things You Can’t Outrun” is run-of-the-mill, but could easily sustain itself as a step towards learning more about these characters and their relationships. We don’t need all of it so blatantly spelled out.
Odds & Ends
- So…why didn’t anyone think to use a gas mask…?
- Caitlin references binge-watching Orange is the New Black, so major points to her.
- The particle accelerator set is very well-designed. Sure, it looks a little too CGI-y, but its colossal size is such a striking difference from the rest of the show, and that shiny unrendered look actually makes it look a bit more futuristic.
- Big Belly Burger! It’s been a while since you were seen or mentioned on Arrow, hasn’t it?
- Grant Gustin is…not very good at playing angry intimidating Flash, after the woman is murdered in the mall.
- Ingenious use of the speed powers by having Barry blur his face from his father.
- So, is anybody going to feed or keep guard of the prisoners under S.T.A.R. Labs if it’s really just the three of them? Lots to be explored there.
- I know I just railed against too many winky references, but I did quite like the subtlety of “It’s not like I want a museum in my name.”
- “This small needle, you probably won’t even feel it.”
“You’re definitely going to feel it.”
- “My chest feels like that one time I had a cigarette.”