Monday, December 1, 2014

The Flash Hits Its Stride With “Power Outage!”

The Good: Engaging plots, Cool character work, Good performances, Decent special effects
The Bad: Thematically light
The Basics: Before degenerating into a bloodbath that eliminates some of the most potentially compelling adversaries for The Flash, “Power Outage” builds into a cool story that finds Barry Allen robbed of his powers and his friends held hostage!

In superhero stories, there are some virtually inevitable plotlines or plot devices, arguably the most prevalent is the superhero being robbed of his or her powers. The Flash wastes no time going there and in its seventh episode, “Power Outage,” the result is actually the best episode so far. Entertaining, fast-paced and full of DC Comics Universe allusions to thrill the die-hard geeks, “Power Outage” is a wonderful hour of television. “Power Outage” also manages to utilize a plot device which is typical in super hero stories, but virtually impossible to pull off believably when the superhero has super-speed: the hostage situation wherein the hero’s friends and family are held captive.

“Power Outage” is a direct sequel to “The Flash Is Born” (reviewed here!) and it actually returns Girder from that episode to the plotline, while progressing other elements, like Joe’s sense of fear inspired by his encounter with the Reverse Flash in the prior episode. Realistically shocked by that, Joe is somewhat marginalized in “Power Outage” and the Flash is forced to rely more upon his new, S.T.A.R. Labs, friends than his police comrades and family.

On the night of the particle accelerator disaster, Farooq Gibran and his friends were out across the river, watching the particle accelerator come online. Gibran survived, but was electrocuted and he now has the ability to siphon electricity. Gibran comes to the attention of the Central City Police Department when Barry Allen, Joe West, and Eddie Thwane investigate a severely charred body found in an alley. When Barry encounters Gibran, his energy is siphoned off by the metahuman and Barry struggles with the loss of his super-speed.

Barry’s helplessness could not come at a worse time; the CCPD is preparing a prisoner transfer when Barry loses his powers. As Gibran attacks S.T.A.R. Labs in his search for vengeance against Dr. Wells, causing a city-wide power outage, William Tockman seizes his opportunity, grabs an officer’s gun and shoots two police officers before taking the remaining occupants of the Police Department building hostage. While Iris and Joe fight to keep Eddie alive, after he is shot trying to subdue Tockman, the S.T.A.R. Labs team works to get Barry his powers back. Dr. Wells is especially on-edge as Gibran is in the facility hunting him and he makes a gambit that pits Girder against Gibran and risks the future he seems intent upon creating!

“Power Outage” is arguably the most dense episode of The Flash yet and the packed quality makes every moment of it seem vital. This episode moves forward at a decent clip and while it might not make much of a larger thematic statement, it progresses the plot and characters of The Flash remarkably well. The closest to a statement “Power Outage” makes on more universal themes is “friendship can be a powerful motivator” and given how Barry Allen realized that a few episodes back the fact that the much smarter Dr. Wells realizes it now undermines his otherwise awesome and insightful character.

That said, “Power Outage” is magnificent and it holds together with so much happening largely because of the awesome characters. While Barry Allen is helpless and has to rely almost entirely upon his friends and, in an unexpected twist, his old childhood bully, Tony Woodward, Iris West steps up. Far from being a damsel in distress, in “Power Outage,” Iris West antagonizes Tockman and leaps upon her opportunity to take him down.

While Joe becomes more reserved in “Power Outage,” Dr. Wells reveals himself to a surprising number of people in the episode. In contact with a mysterious new entity, Gideon, Wells is seen out of his wheelchair and he shows his true self to both Woodward and The Mist. Wells is an intriguing time-traveler and in “Power Outage” he continues to illustrate an overt sense of care for Barry Allen while exhibiting sinister tendencies (like trying to understand just how Blackout is able to steal the Flash’s power).

The balance of villains in “Power Outage” is an important component of the episode. Central City’s extraordinary heroes are beset by a metahuman while the mundane allies of Barry Allen are held hostage by an equally-dangerous criminal mastermind. William Tockman is a cool, cruel villain who has only hints of backstory in “Power Outage” (apparently, he was the subject of an episode of Arrow before this) and that he is both able to hold his own against Joe West and Eddie, but has a reasonably flaw (which allows Iris to get the drop on him) makes him seem realistic and compelling. Tockman is a good foil for Farooq Gibran as well. Gibran is broken, but has incredible power while Tockman takes control to hide how broken he is. Gibran is a metahuman who, like Tockman, has an entirely relatable human core and as his feelings of guilt are exposed, his expressions of vengeance make much more sense.

Blackout’s incredible siphoning ability affords Barry Allen the chance to reflect upon just what his powers mean to him. After an early incident when he uses his powers in a ridiculous way to thwart a minor criminal, Barry loses his powers and his dependence upon his friends motivates him to take extreme measures to try to jump-start his super powers. Allen without his powers encourages Wells to push him and the extreme reaction Wells has to Barry not reaching his potential is explained in a compelling way when one of the precepts of The Flash Universe is established: the future is malleable. Wells’ contact with the future is warped by current events and that opens the door to potential storyline which might fundamentally alter and prevent the Crisis which the show seems to be building to since the first episode.

“Power Outage” features decent performances all around. Guest stars Michael Reventar (Gibran) and Robert Knepper (Tockman) blend seamlessly with the main cast. Knepper especially plays off Candice Patton and Jesse L. Martin beautifully. Knepper plays weird, precise and creepy incredibly well. “Power Outage” is also notable in that Grant Gustin (Barry Allen) and Tom Cavanagh (Wells) finally have a chance for some meaty scenes together and their relationship develops as more than just a collection of quips. Gustin and Cavanagh lay down a bedrock for a new relationship for their characters that should credibly lead to Dr. Wells acting as a more active and stable mentor to the energetic young man.

The special effects surrounding Blackout are pretty cool. The special effects end up as the icing on the cake for a wonderful episode that is well worth watching multiple times and is certainly worth returning to!

For other works with Robert Knepper, check out my reviews of:
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1
Heroes - Season Four
Prison Break - Season 1
"Dragons Teeth" - Star Trek: Voyager
“Haven” - Star Trek: The Next Generation

[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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