Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Living Up To Its Potential, “Going Rogue” Starts To Assemble The Flash’s Supervillains!

The Good: Most of the character work is good, Excellent acting, Cool special effects sequences
The Bad: Problematic science, Soap Operatic elements
The Basics: “Going Rogue” begins to assemble familiar and badass villains to plague The Flash while still being hampered by some of the typical CW soap operatic conceits.

I think it is pretty fair to say that anyone who loves the comic book series The Flash, who decided to give the television series a chance has been eagerly waiting for the episode “Going Rogue.” “Going Rogue” had been teased as the episode that would bring Flash villain Captain Cold into the DC television universe. Coming off the lackluster “Things You Can’t Outrun” (reviewed here!), the stakes were raised for “Going Rogue.” For the most part, “Going Rogue” lives up to the hopes fans have for it, though it reveals some of the serious issues with the network upon which The Flash is airing.

The Flash is a show that airs on The CW, a network whose target demographic is young, hip, teenagers who respond to society’s classical conditioning, as opposed to those who might defy it. Unlike HBO, which targets intellectuals or CBS, which classically has an older demographic, the CW, in addition to being the television network for Warner Brothers Studios (which is the studio that DC Entertainment works with) is packed with programs whose strategy is to entertain with stereotypically good-looking characters, while selling beauty products and fast food during the commercial breaks. The point with this semi-rant is this: the bulk of programs on The CW are soap operas for teenagers and as such, they feature characters with contrived, melodramatic character conflicts that are far less age appropriate than they should be. In “Going Rogue,” this is a problem because all that detracts from the main plot are the CW conceits: soap operatic elements that are not realistic for the characters who are supposedly adults and the near-constant reminders that Arrow is also on the CW, for your viewing pleasure.

Yes, as The Flash continues to find its footing, “Going Rogue” brings Felicity Smoak from Arrow to the show. While not entirely inaccessible to those who have not seen the two second-season episodes of Arrow which featured Grant Gustin as Barry Allen, “Going Rogue” acts as a de facto sequel with a character arc that assumes a deeper relationship between Felicity and Barry than the episode contains. The frequent references to Oliver Queen, Starling City, and Arrow might tie together the DC television universe well, but Felicity’s references sound much more like less-than-subtle advertising for Arrow. The thing is, “Going Rogue” could have managed a more clever sense of crossover by actually developing a substantive relationship between Barry and Felicity, but. . . they’re regulars on different shows, so it’s not meant to be (there are no real in-story/in-universe reasons for them not to develop more of a relationship than they do here).

At the flip side is a decent, adult, story which makes “Going Rogue” engaging and compelling. That is the plotline that focuses on Leonard Snart and his rise in Central City to be Captain Cold!

While Barry Allen is working with his S.T.A.R. Labs team to test his newfound speed abilities, Leonard Snart leads a team of robbers who are trying to steal the Kahndaq Dynasty Diamond from the armored car in which it is being transported. Snart uses a liquid nitrogen gun to break into the armored car, but one of his team members panics and shoots one of the guards. That act of violence draws the Flash to the scene of the crime and Barry Allen makes the choice to save the officer instead of capturing Snart and his crew. As Barry entertains the visiting scientist Felicity Smoak, Eddie tries to get Detective West to like him, now that the fact that he is dating West’s daughter has come to light. Leonard Snart upgrades his weapon with the help of a thief from S.T.A.R. Labs and when he tests it, the truth comes out: Cisco created the freeze gun.

With Dr. Wells furious at Cisco, Cisco tries to explain why he created the weapon (to stop Barry Allen if he turned out to be an evil metahuman). As Leonard Snart moves in on the Kahndaq Dynasty Diamond at the Central City Museum, Iris and Eddie go on a double date with Barry and Felicity. But Snart going after the diamond disrupts the date and leaves Barry wounded. By the time Cisco is able to track his weapon and Leonard Snart, Snart has the diamond and Joe’s life is once again in jeopardy!

“Going Rogue” works, when it does, when it focuses on the sensible and the smart. Leonard Snart is an intelligent adversary; he has timed out police responses to local banks and his encounter with the Flash in “Going Rogue” does not break him, it causes him to step up his game. Snart adapts to the Flash and he refuses to be cowed by him or his team. Instead, he holds his own and begins to establish himself as a credible leader of the Central City underworld. Snart is ably played by Wentworth Miller and more than any of the props in the episode, Miller makes Snart rock with his perfect scowl, which is emblematic of the character from the comic book.

The double date scene in “Going Rogue” is fun and it manages to undermine the rest of the episode with its quality. Iris and Eddie have a decent relationship and Barry and Felicity have great chemistry and common interests. But the way the four of them interact in “Going Rogue” is reasonable and adultlike, which makes sense because all of the characters are supposed to be adults.

“Going Rogue” also manages to get away from the ridiculous generic dislike Joe has for Eddie and Iris dating. In prior episodes, Joe West’s dislike of Iris and Eddie dating was a generic dislike that seemed to only be based in an antiquated notion that lacks basic respect for Iris’s age-appropriate ability to choose her own lover. In “Going Rogue,” Joe pushes Eddie away and he explains his anger to Iris. Iris and Eddie dating adds a layer of consideration to Joe’s already complicated life that is irksome for a professional partnership. He does not want to have to balance saving his daughter’s boyfriend’s life over “taking the shot” (metaphorically) against criminals. That is sensible and adult, as opposed to the characterization of his anger in earlier episodes. Sadly, the episode creates a contrived and somewhat obvious event (much like Joe suddenly turning around on Barry’s childhood story the moment he first witnesses the Flash) that turns Joe around on the Eddie/Iris relationship.

Dr. Wells makes no real character sense in “Going Rogue.” Basic temporal mechanics dictates that Dr. Wells ought to be unsurprised by any conflict Barry faces; he knows Barry will live for another thirty years as The Flash. So, his anger at Cisco for creating the cold gun makes no rational sense – he knows Captain Cold will not kill him even before Cold’s career begins! For a man who is trying to keep a secret identity, uncontrolled anger seems like a pretty bad Achilles heel and the fact that his anger makes less sense than Cisco’s very reasonable explanation for creating the gun makes Wells seem even more irrational.

It is that sort of detail that is troubling in “Going Rogue” and the way Barry Allen starts saving people in the episode starts to raise questions about the physics and mechanics of The Flash. Barry Allen’s body was altered by the lightning and the particle acceleration accident, but the show has not yet created a reason for how he can hold onto others while engaging the Speed Force. There is no reason yet that explains how Barry Allen could run a wounded cop to the hospital without the force smashing every bone in his body. But that type of scientific problem flies in the face of more basic physics. Leonard Snart and his crew manage to escape the first time on a long, straight, open road. While they are getting away, Barry runs a wounded man to the (presumably) nearest hospital. Barry Allen’s top speed (so far) has been measured at seven hundred miles per hour. But even if Barry had to run backward to protect the wounded officer from particulate matter in the air hitting him at super-speeds, how the nearest hospital in Central City is so far away that Barry would be unable to deposit the wounded person and then run back to the long, straight, road and see where the villains are going does not make rational sense. In a similar way, “Going Rogue” has a thief who Cisco explains is part of the janitorial staff . . . given that S.T.A.R. Labs is now three people working in one small section of a giant, abandoned building, there is no reason (or revenue stream) for a janitorial staff!

Fortunately, “Going Rogue” addresses the common problem with Rogues in the Flash corner of the DC Universe. Leonard Snart is not a metahuman and his ability to combat the Flash comes from a gadget. The gadget remains in his custody and in this encounter, Allen is not fast or skilled enough to apprehend Snart. But the mechanism by which Snart keeps his weapon and the nature of the weapon are intelligently derived.

What also keeps the episode living up to expectations – whatwith the minutiae bugging the viewer the longer they consider “Going Rogue” – are the performances. Jesse L. Martin, Wentworth Miller and Rick Cosnett bring adult gravitas to their roles and step up the sense of menace and humanity in the episode. Emily Bett Rickards and Grant Gustin have great on-screen chemistry as Felicity and Barry. Carlos Valdes manages to infuse Cisco’s potentially expository position in the episode with enough flair and reason to make Cisco seem like the most rational guy on the team. Cisco is right; all of the other metahumans have been villainous – there was no reasonable expectation that Barry would be a good guy or would remain one as he explored his powers. Developing the cold gun was sensible and Valdes sells the explanation so well that it makes Tom Cavanagh’s reaction as Dr. Wells seem ridiculously irrational and over-the-top.

So, despite the advertising nature of bringing Felicity to the episode, the introduction of Leonard Snart to The Flash is as good as we might have hoped; as the hero is struggling to establish himself, he is making some enemies who endure and who now know of his existence and will adapt to his presence in their city!

For other works with Jesse L. Martin, please check out my reviews of:
Ally McBeal - Season 2
The X-Files - Season 6

[Knowing that single episodes are an inefficient way to get episodes, it's worth looking into The Flash - The Complete First Season on DVD or Blu-Ray, which is also a better economical choice than buying individual episodes. Read my review of the debut season here!


For other television reviews, please visit my Television Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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