Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Colossus Steps In For Girder When “The Flash Is Born!”

The Good: Decent character work, Good performances, Decent subplot work.
The Bad: Main plot is formulaic, Character design for Girder is underwhelming
The Basics: “The Flash Is Born” introduces the villain Girder, explores the relationship between Barry and the Wests and has Joe and Iris West getting closer to danger.

As a fan of The Flash graphic novels, there are several villains from the series that I have been eagerly anticipating on the new television program The Flash. While many people were super-excited about the introduction of Leonard Snart in “Going Rogue” (reviewed here!) and anticipation continues to grow with the imminent reveal of the identity of the Reverse Flash, I was actually pretty psyched when casting was announced for the villain Girder. Girder is one of the Flash adversaries that Geoff Johns wrote with extraordinary depth and made into an intriguing antagonist. In “The Flash Is Born,” viewers are treated to the arrival of the television version of Girder . . .

. . . and it’s a huge letdown for fans waiting to see an awesome CG iteration of the rusty giant from the comic books. That said, “The Flash Is Born” is a largely satisfying hour of television, though not as much for the a-plot as the numerous serialized subplots that move forward in the episode. “The Flash Is Born” picks up after “Plastique” (reviewed here!) and, as the title suggests, finally gives the show’s hero is true name! By the time “The Flash Is Born” is over, “The Streak” is replaced by “The Flash” and it’s about time!

Opening with The Flash encountering Iris West and advising her to stop blogging about him, Barry Allen runs off to a crime scene to save his day job friends. A car thief nearly runs over a child and drives through a police blockade and Barry Allen confronts a metahuman who can turn his skin into steel. Wounded more than ever before, Barry turns to his friends for help while Joe West continues his investigation into the murder of Barry’s mother. At the police briefing, Barry learns the perpetrator is his former school bully and Eddie Thwane starts asking questions about Tony Woodward and how it appeared that his skin deflected his bullets when Thwane shot him repeatedly. After a brutal training round at S.T.A.R. Labs, Barry and Eddie team up to visit Keystone and they discover that Tony supposedly died the same night Barry received his super powers.

As Joe West interrogates Dr. Wells, Tony comes looking for Iris in order to try to find The Streak. Menaced by Woodward, Iris tries to get the Streak to avoid Tony. Not heeding her advice, Barry hunts down Woodward in his Keystone lair. After getting defeated again, Barry learns that he would have to hit Woodward at more than Mach 1 in order to stop Woodward. After bonding with Thawne, Barry has to rush to Iris’s rescue when Woodward captures her and takes her to their old middle school.

“The Flash Is Born” is the first episode to truly focus on Iris West and the character balance in the episode between Barry Allen, Iris West and Joe West almost makes it possible to overlook the somewhat bland science and social message in the episode. The PSA about bullying is a bit heavyhanded for adult fans of The Flash, though it is worthwhile. Iris has been, up until now, building toward a pretty obvious plot point; since Iris began blogging about The Streak, the response by those closest to her has been that writing like she knows who the Streak is will put her in danger. With the volume of metahumans coming out of the woodwork all of a sudden, Barry and Joe have been advising Iris to stop because one of them will undoubtedly come looking for Iris to try to get to The Streak. “The Flash Is Born” is the episode where that actually happens.

Far more subtle in the episode than the inevitable plot and character point whereby Iris West is captured by a metahuman and held hostage until she can be rescued by the Flash is the way that Iris is beginning to put distance between herself and Eddie. For the first time, Iris prioritizes chatting with The Streak over taking Eddie’s calls and Barry witnesses Iris lying to Eddie. The inevitable demise of the Eddie/Iris relationship is well underway in “The Flash Is Born” and it provides the groundwork for Thawne to evolve organically into the Reverse Flash. In fact, the scenes that feature Thawne in “The Flash Is Born” finally start giving him enough depth to be a credible foil to Barry Allen. In this episode, we learn some of Thawne’s backstory, which has similarities to Barry’s, and Eddie reveals a frustrated, violent side to himself.

Just as with some of the prior episodes, “The Flash Is Born” has some underwhelming science to it. After discussing hitting a man at Mach 1, Dr. Snow overstates that Barry would have to break the sound barrier; a ridiculous dumbing down for exposition that makes no practical sense as “Mach” is the descriptive unit of velocity after breaking the speed of sound! In a similar fashion, Joe’s investigation into the murder of Barry’s mother both finally makes sense and illustrates a distinctive lack of imagination. In the category of “Dr. Wells must be the Reverse Flash,” the fact that the brilliant scientist does not postulate to Joe that time-travel might be involved in the death of Barry’s mother seems to illustrate that Dr. Wells is protecting his own interests. What is nice about “The Flash Is Born” in context of the first season is that Joe West finally has a compelling reason to be investigating the death of Barry’s mother. After the first episode, Joe suddenly blandly went over to the side of Barry Allen in believing that young Barry Allen might have seen something the night his mother died. In “The Flash Is Born,” Joe finally actually sees Barry moving like red lightning and that makes for a far more compelling reason for him to trust the child Barry’s version of events.

Far less impressive than any of the plot points is the appearance of Girder. Tony Woodward’s transformation into Girder is done on a television budget and it feels cheap. Sadly, Girder is basically a pewter version of Colossus from the X-Men movie franchise (X-2 where Colossus made his debut is reviewed here!). The special effects for Girder are entirely underwhelming and not at all like the character as he existed in the book.

Fortunately, the volume of work in b-plots in “The Flash Is Born” is enough to sustain the episode and make it worth watching and worth returning to.

For Flash graphic novels, please be sure to visit my reviews of:
The Flash Archives, Volume 1
The Flash Vs. The Rogues
The Trial Of The Flash
Born To Run
The Return Of Barry Allen
Terminal Velocity
Dead Heat
Race Against Time
Emergency Stop
The Human Race
Blood Will Run
The Secret Of Barry Allen
Rogue War
Full Throttle
Lightning In A Bottle
Flash: Rebirth
The Dastardly Death Of The Rogues
The Road To Flashpoint
Move Along
The Life Story Of The Flash

[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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