Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Flash Stumbles Through “Things You Can’t Outrun”

The Good: Decent blend of a- and b-plots
The Bad: So many problems with details, Bland acting, Forced romantic subplot
The Basics: The Flash has its first real dud with “Things You Can’t Outrun” when the terrible acting combines with the least well-executed villain yet.

At the climax of the second episode of The Flash, “Fastest Man Alive” (reviewed here!), the scientists at S.T.A.R. labs mention that “the mist is moving in” and when I heard that, my first thought was “that would be a pretty cool Rogue!” Unfortunately, “Things You Can’t Outrun” does not pick up immediately following that thread. As a result, the character work that left Barry Allen in an emotionally tenuous place (albeit moving in the right direction) at the end of the prior episode is missing from “Things You Can’t Outrun.”

Instead, “Things You Can’t Outrun” blends the story of finding the next metahuman who is active in Central City with scenes from the accident that created the metahuman problem in the city. This leads to a very CW-obvious cast member being added to the mix in the form of Robbie Amell (because, obviously, a nerdy scientist who spends most of her time in the lab is going to be dating a guy who looks like he leapt off the cover of Playgirl!). Amell plays Ronnie Raymond, the fiancé of Dr. Caitlin Snow and even those who have not seen the pilot episode with its painfully obvious exposition that was used to define Dr. Snow will catch context clues early in the episode that make it clear that the episode is moving toward illustrating how he died. The burden of “Things You Can’t Outrun” is to make the episode that combines the two plotlines sensible.

At a meeting of underworld bosses in a sealed restaurant, the organized criminals are suddenly killed by a green mist that seems to come out of nowhere. Joe’s determination to go through the evidence against Henry Allen with Barry is interrupted by the two being tasked with investigating the crime scene. When Barry notes that the trajectory of shots in the room indicate that they might be looking for a metahuman who can control gasses, Barry and Joe ditch Eddie and head to S.T.A.R. Labs. Pitching the idea that a metahuman may be involved puts everyone on edge, especially as Iron Heights is not equipped to hold metahumans and Cisco implies that the only place at S.T.A.R. Labs that could contain the villains Barry apprehends is in the areas sealed off since the particle accelerator accident. Seeing that going to those areas makes Dr. Snow uncomfortable, Barry reaches out to her and suggests she help him with a different angle of the case.

As Sisco and Harrison Wells enter the particle accelerator to ready some containment tubes as storage cells for metahumans, Barry and Dr. Snow investigate the forensic evidence from the toxic gas murder. Barry theorizes that the metahuman they are searching for might have the ability to transform into a gas. Ascertaining the pattern of victims killed, Barry and the S.T.A.R. Labs crew figure out who is responsible for the killings and who his next target is! As Kyle Nimbus closes in on Iron Heights where Joe is visiting Henry Allen, Barry races to save his guardian’s life from The Mist!

“Things You Can’t Outrun” features the first problematically soap operatic scenes between Iris West and Eddie Thawne. Up until now, their relationship has been a very minor background plotline that has served mostly to insure that Barry Allen did not hook up with Iris West immediately. In other words, the purpose of the West/Thawne relationship served the immediate effect of making sure that viewers who had extensive knowledge of The Flash had a firm example of how the show would be different from the long-running comic book series (whatwith Barry and Iris spending most of their lives in the world of The Flash married). The “ticking time bomb relationship truth” card is an overplayed one and it seems utterly unnecessary in The Flash. Nevertheless, in “Things You Can’t Outrun” Eddie and Iris – two consenting adults – continue to hide their relationship from Eddie’s partner, Iris’s father Joe. This plays as all the more ridiculous when one considers that Iris lives at home with her father and is at an appropriate age to be asserting her independence, moving out and making the decision to live on her own or with a boyfriend. Is the CW being run by the Christian Coallition?! The sheer number of blandly goodlooking people in heterosexual relationships with no overt sexuality being expressed makes one think so. At least the plotline is resolved with Joe West being revealed to be smart and professional in a way his job necessitates.

In addition to completely failing to follow-up with the murder of Simon Staggs in “Fastest Man Alive,” “Things You Can’t Outrun” features a disturbing collection of problems with the details. Dr. Snow mentions that her fiancé was a structural engineer on the particle accelerator who was not supposed to be at S.T.A.R. Labs the night of the accident. That is a pretty ridiculous premise; why wouldn’t one of the key structural engineers be present when the building actually experiences the stresses for which it was built?! Barry Allen thinks quickly and inhales a decent chunk of The Mist, for which Dr. Snow uses a pulmonary needle to extract the gas. If the gas was inhaled (which it was) it would already be in his blood and could be extracted from any blood vessel; if it was in his lungs, his attempt to get the sample would have been in vain when he started breathing heavily from running; if he had been smart enough to swallow the gas instead of inhale it, they would have had to extract the sample through a gastric puncture. Regardless of the permutations, given how Kyle Nimbus had already killed multiple people by converting into poison gas, it seemed like he would have the control to kill Barry faster or get out of Barry’s body before he could be captured.

More than any of the prior episodes so far, “Things You Can’t Outrun” suffers from poor performances. Anthony Carrigan plays Kyle Nimbus as a generic villain who is supposed to be set on revenge, but Carrigan plays the part with minimal anger and no joy, which are characteristic for people getting vengeance. Carrigan’s physical acting as he gets the wind knocked out of him is convincing enough, but it is not enough to overshadow the wooden acting from Grant Gustin, Danielle Panabaker, and Robbie Amell. Amell and Panabaker have no real on-screen chemistry. Gustin is wooden for many of his lines as both Barry Allen and the Flash. It does not help that he is given a number of clichés to deliver in the episode that come out with a flat affect.

Even worse is Danielle Panabaker. Panabaker’s Dr. Snow could have an impressive episode with “Things You Can’t Outrun.” Unfortunately, amid scenes where she is supposed to be in love with Robbie Amell’s Ronnie Raymond, Panabaker and Amell fail to credibly emote a connection between them. Panabaker’s version of unsettled shock is widening her eyes and appearing slackjawed. Her lines define her emotional condition without her presentation fleshing the lines out. Particularly unsettling is the lack of emotion to match her character’s reasonable concern at working over imprisoned metahumans. Regardless, for a woman who fairly recently was in love and lost that love in a terrible accident, Panabaker does not realistically emote a character who is grieving (which her lines dictate) or is reasonably unsettled where she is working (which would make rational and emotional sense) or a woman who is at peace with the heroic sacrifice her loved one made (which would not be entirely unreasonable given how short their relationship was and that more than nine months have passed since his death). The cumulative effect of this is that the episode’s potentially strongest emotional moments are robbed of impact.

To its credit, despite the Iris/Eddie romance subplot, “Things You Can’t Outrun” manages to make the flashback plotline vital to the a-plot. In the television version of The Flash metahumans will be housed at S.T.A.R. Labs and “Things You Can’t Outrun” creates the mechanism for that. Unfortunately, the villain is simplistic and the plot formulaic, which makes the episode a dud, though it is not unwatchable.

For other works with Danielle Panabaker, be sure to check out my reviews of:
”City Of Heroes” - The Flash
Piranha 3DD
Friday The 13th

[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 and movie reviews, please visit my Movie Review Index Page for an organized listing!

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