The Flash goes up against Farooq/Blackout a metahuman who can harness electricity. During their battle, Farooq zaps The Flash and siphons all his electricity, leaving Barry without his speed. Dr. Wells sees that the headline on his future newspaper has changed, now with no mention of The Flash or Barry Allen. Caitlin and Cisco work to reverse the effects on Barry, but their efforts are disrupted when Farooq comes banging on S.T.A.R. Labs doors in search of Wells, who he blames for his accident. Without Barry’s powers to protect them, the group must figure out a way to save themselves from the metahuman. They realize that Barry’s cells are still built to harness the power, he just needs a huge jolt to the system to jumpstart them. During the crisis, Wells unleashes Girder from the prison on Blackout, and Girder is killed. Across town, William Tockman/Clock King manages a coup inside the Central City police department and takes several people hostage, including Joe and Iris. Eddie is shot, but is able to signal Iris to the gun in his ankle holster, which allowes her to take down Tockman herself. At STAR Labs, Caitlin and Cisco harness a ton of electricity with the treadmill, and use it to electrocute Barry again. His powers aren’t back at first, until they realize it’s psychological. When Wells is in danger of being killed by Farooq, Barry’s powers return–even better, in fact, because he’s able to kick it up a notch. When Farooq tries to steal his powers again, it’s too much for him, and he “chokes” on them, killing him. Afterwards, Wells sees that the newspaper is back to normal, and takes a sample of the dead Farooq’s blood to determine how he was able to steal Flash’s powers.
A major accomplishment of the Arrow/The Flash universe thus far is that they’ve been able to delve into common or even tired concepts, play them straight, yet keep them from actually seeming tired. Something like a hero losing his/her powers is rarely more than a plot device, but enough background and additional pieces can play in that make the story feel fresh, or if not, at least important and entertaining.
A comparative example to the situation in “Power Outage” that comes to mind is Peter Parker’s loss of powers in Spider-Man 2, which amounted topsychological issues like Barry’s final hurdle in this episode. The thing about Spider-Man 2 is that Peter losing his own powers because he’s psyching himself out sticks out like a sore thumb in the context of the movie, a plot point that, honestly, a lot of people just didn’t totally grasp on first viewing. I’m speaking as someone who considers Spider-Man 2 my favorite superhero movie of all time, too; the subplot does make sense in a poetic kind of way, and fits in thematically when you think about it afterwards, but seems a little offbeat within the context of the movie. The Flash, alternatively, has an extended amount of time to build on the concept, setting up as the entire premise of a story rather than just a minor beat of a larger one. The electric vampire that initates the concept, Farooq/Blackout, is the most sympathetic metahuman yet, and it’s sad that he didn’t survive the affair because Michael Reventar is very engaging in the tragic role. But either way, this isn’t just one villain taking away The Flash’s powers temporarily; as a serialized show, there are numerous previously set-up elements to build a bunch of bigger roadblocks, and create a huge crisis for Barry to face while this premise is unfolding.
The other difference between Barry and Peter is the effect losing powers has on them. Peter — and frankly, nearly every other superhero ever — has a weight lifted when the power is taken away, and can immediately settle back into life afterwards. The lesson these heroes often learn is that the higher calling of heroics is more important than their everyday life and happiness, and they have the responsibility to return to the fold. By contrast, Barry…doesn’t have much weight on his shoulders. The guy has baggage, sure, but none of it has to do with his persona as The Flash. The worst part of it is keeping the secret from Iris, and even that is something he mostly understands and is only imposed on him from Joe. As made clear in the pilot and every episode after, Barry loves being a superhero. It’s the best thing about his life, the thing that gives it meaning, and he’s driven to do it. Losing his powers leaves Barry devastated, both humorously and tragically, and he’s just as driven to get them back.
That makes it a bit harder to believe when his last hurdle is that it’s all in his head. Cisco explains the capability for him to psychologically suppress his powers much overtly than Spider-Man 2 did, but it’s still a tough sell. In Barry’s case, Cisco compares him to athletes who mess up a swing or throw and then can’t seem to get back into the groove of it. They don’t lose their talent, but they get so psyched out from embarrassment and frustration that they just can’t do it. That doesn’t really make sense for Barry though; it’s not like he was embarrassed in front of an entire audience, and two life or death crises are hardly the same as a baseball game. Maybe that’s being too hard on the analogy, but it seems like a manufactured way to amp up drama for the last bit, considering the crux of Barry’s character is his drive and desire to be The Flash.
That said, it still yields a valuable lesson–but for Dr. Wells, not Barry. Wells finally grasps the obvious conclusion: that Barry’s need for companionship is exactly what gives Barry his power, and his jumpstarted heroism this week has kicked them up a notch. This is the most Wells-heavy episode we’ve gotten, the only thing we could call Wells-centric right now, and it works much better than the end tags have up until this point. There still isn’t much light shed here, but it’s more clues for the rest of the cast that Wells isn’t quite the man they think he is. Wells is able to rationalize his way out of anything right now, but like his outburst in “Going Rogue” or his actions in “Plastique,” these are things that may come back to bite him when his charade comes crashing down. In this case, he practically sends last week’s villain Tony/Girder to his death, and the show manages to garner some sympathy even from that flat of a villain. Throwing Tony into the mix shows how much world-building this show has done in a very short amount of time, which in turns allows for even more potentially complex machinations from Wells.
Tom Cavanaugh nails the role and it’s constant fluctuations, particularly because he’s able to meld the facade and the sinister into one singular state. Wells physically shifts when he gets out of his wheelchair and takes off his glasses, of course, but he doesn’t turn into a moustache-twirling villain when no one’s around. He still retains his inquisitiveness and determination in his “secret” scenes, but he’s also always a little bit off and cold around everyone else, too. Even when he says his awkward future-perfect style anvils, he comes off as more eccentric and having shades of evil, and that means the lines between his secret and facade are very thin. In fact, the wheelchair itself could very well be the only facade at all, and the only secret is his intentions.
A big takeaway from everything with Wells is the revelation that the future is not immutable, and in fact is in flux all the time. That’s probably what we all expected, but it’s confirmed now, and explains why Wells would take so many moments to look at that one newspaper headline. He’s not just a weirdo who likes looking at a newspaper at dramatic moments, he’s actually checking to make sure it hasn’t changed. That makes things more interesting on his front, especially given we don’t know if the existence of the impending Crisis would be a good or bad thing for the characters. Whatever it is (sure, it’s a reference to the comics, but we don’t know what form it may be, if it ever occurs) Wells is adamant about making sure it happens.
The other plotline is the hostage situation, featuring Arrow‘s Clock King. The subplot doesn’t really go anywhere other than increasing the tension, of course, but we’ve already seen that The Flash isn’t a show that needs to tie everything together thematically. Robert Knepper is as good as he was in his Arrow appearance, if a bit more unhinged thanks to the death of his sister (if the “one vegetarian takeout meal” along the list of his demands is any evidence.) The clockwork glasses are a nice touch, as is the uncomfortably creepy way he writes the time on Eddie’s head in his own blood. Tockman provides a way for the rest of the cast to have something to do, in a way that provides significantly more immediacy to Barry regaining his powers. The entire hostage situation is well-handled–even if it is a little hard to buy that a single gunman could hold an entire police station hostage just because the lights flickered. That said, it allows for Iris to essentially save the day on her own (even if with a little help from Eddie) when that whole police station couldn’t, which is awesome.
“Power Outage” is a wild ride, a major step up in The Flash‘s storytelling. Losing powers is an easy way to amp up drama and stakes, but it’s also rife with opportunities for character work. This episode does both, and does them quite well. It’s also one that, technically, has the treadmill save the day, which is more than Arrow‘s salmon ladder has done. So points to The Flash.
Odds & Ends
- So, here’s a whole big list of the names Harrison Wells dropped. There’s a lot of comic book references in those few seconds.
- The cop at the beginning’s reaction to being sped into a back alley where an unarmed man in his underwear stands is to put his hands on his hips like he caught the guy red-handed. It doesn’t make sense, but it’s hilarious.
- Love the running gag of Joe tossing over breakable things to test Barry’s speed. It’s a total dick move (“Aww, Barry loved that mug!”), but it’s adorable.
- Cisco says, “You guys wanna see my signature move?” before Barry speeds right in and cuts him off. What exactly is he referring to?
- When did Tockman get the opportunity to put on a bulletproof vest without anyone knowing?
- Big pet peeve: unnecessary flashbacks to things that happened a few minutes ago. I could handle a quick flashback to Eddie whispering when Iris pulled out the gun–“ankle holster” would have been a hard dot to connect without the flash–but why did it replay so much of that scene? All we needed to see was the “ankle holster” whisper, we didn’t need to see more than that.
- Jesse L. Martin’s reaction when Joe thinks Iris has been shot is brutal.
- So, Wells takes Farooq’s blood to see how he was able to steal The Flash’s powers. My best guess is that it isn’t because he wants to take away his power again (which would be silly,) but that he wants to literally steal them and find a way to give them to himself or another person. That other person, of course, could be the time travelling Zoom. Or it could be way more complicated than that. Who knows?
- Aww, Eddie on pain meds is adorable.
- “I got mad skills.”
“Please don’t ever say that again.”
- “If there was an Olympics for bad luck, you didn’t just medal, pal, you Michael Phelps-ed.”
- “This software can do just about anything…now that Felicity reprogrammed it.”
- “He runs slow even for a normal person.”