Wednesday, May 20, 2015

So Much Talking Before The Flash Goes "Fast Enough!"

The Good: Pacing, Performances, Plot development, Moments of character
The Bad: A few glaring character/technical moments.
The Basics: In its first season finale, The Flash must decide whether or not to time travel by running "Fast Enough!"

There are few television shows that can handle a season finale that leads, logically, to an entire retooling of the show. The Flash skirts with that with its first season finale, "Fast Enough," but it contains so many elements that seem to ensure that the promise of the first season will not be mortgaged in its second. That said, the strongest aspect of the first season of The Flash has been its serialized plot, which has focused on the initiating incident in Barry Allen's past: a night when his mother was murdered by a mysterious speedster, the Man In Yellow. "Fast Enough" effectively resolves that and while there is always the potential for utter disappointment (the executive producers could pick pretty much any point in the season to go back to and say "from this point on, it was all a Gorilla Grodd hallucination!"), the second season seems to be set-up without a serialized plotline, but with plenty of "metahuman of the week" storylines available to it.

Picking up right after "Rogue Air" (reviewed here!), "Fast Enough" is an episode that has so many potentials that even fans of the comic books are likely to be thrilled. Will Barry end up in the distant future? Will he go back in time and create the Flashpoint universe? And even moments I believed might be spoiled by casting for the next DC Television Universe spin-off - Victor Garber has been cast, but Robbie Amell has not - manage to be surprisingly rendered (Ronnie Raymond surprises the episode).

Barry Allen interrogates Harrison Wells (Eobard Thawne) at S.T.A.R. Labs, where they have managed to imprison him. Getting answers from Thawne, Barry learns that Thawne will return to his time if Barry goes back in time to save his own mother. This puts Barry in an immediate quandary; Dr. Stein proposes that the entire world will change dramatically if the prior fifteen years are altered by saving Nora Allen's life, but Joe counsels him to go back in time and rescue his mom so he grows up with two parents. Even Henry (Barry's father) advises Barry not to go through with the temporal reset, though Iris recommends that he think of himself and his own desires, which leads him back to S.T.A.R. Labs and Dr. Wells.

Dr. Wells tasks the S.T.A.R. Labs team with rebuilding the time sphere he had and Cisco reveals to Thawne that he remembers an alternate timeline. Thawne informs Cisco that Cisco is a metahuman, while Dr. Stein talks to Eddie Thawne about his place in the oncoming attempt to create a wormhole to the future and past. When Dr. Stein realizes that the plan to make the stable wormhole could result in the creation of a singularity (black hole), the team turns to Thawne for answers. Barry will have only a minute and fifty-two seconds in the past to try to save Nora Allen and return to the future before a singularity forms and with that ticking clock, the plans progress to use the S.T.A.R. Labs particle accelerator to send Barry to the past and Thawne to the future.

"Fast Enough" is very cool, though it does not try to finish the first season on a big special effects battle sequence. Instead, the episode is surprisingly cerebral and focuses mostly on Barry Allen and the decision he must make. The episode plays lip service to Dr. Snow (there is a rushed wedding in "Fast Enough" for no particular reason) and Cisco is given one key scene outside the technobabble scenes. But "Fast Enough" is odd for the technical and character elements that do not quite fit and go unchallenged in the episode.

"Fast Enough" has Eobard Thawne playing his endgame to return home using the particle accelerator and The Flash and that whole premise goes unquestioned. Thawne informs Barry how he can go back in time to save Nora Allen, but that works entirely independent of any idea of how to return Eobard to his own time. In other words, once Eobard postulates how Barry can be returned to his past and the critical night, there is no actual incentive to release Eobard from his prison cell. In fact, now that Cisco knows how Thawne is recharging himself and the S.T.A.R. Labs team possesses his tech, there is no incentive to return someone who appears to be a criminal to his own time. Instead, Cisco and Ronnie actually work to make sure Thawne will survive his return trip to his time!

The only possible answer within the episode comes from what is much more likely the result of a deleted scene. Thawne is seen eating a Big Belly Burger in his prison, with no clear way he actually got the meal. That insinuates that the Reverse Flash can simply leave the prison whenever he wants (which makes perfect sense for a Speedster). The bigger question raised by Thawne in "Fast Enough" goes unasked by Barry Allen and that is far more troubling. Thawne tells Barry that in his time (a few hundred years in the future) he and Barry are enemies. Barry never bothers to ask how that is at all possible; Barry doesn't ask "What?! I live hundreds of years?!" [to which Eobard, logically, answers, "No, at some point, you break the time barrier and arrive in the future, where you spend some time influencing things, not the least of which is my life."]

But "Fast Enough" is all hinged on creating an artificial wormhole that seems to benefit Thawne more than it does anything for Barry and on the technical side, the disappointing aspect is that none of the characters question that. Barry and Cisco are both intelligent and imaginative and believe that Barry has experienced time travel before. The last time The Flash time traveled, he did not need any fancy apparatus or calculations; he just ran fast enough around a lake. The Flash is faster now and it stands to reason that someone at S.T.A.R. Labs could do the calculations to figure out the speed Barry Allen would need to go at in order to run back years in time, as opposed to just days. Regardless, none of the smart, imaginative people within the show question that Barry needs any of the elements for time travel Thawne insists, when Barry has already made a temporal leap without any of them.

All this comes out because the technical issues and the nitpick (though some are not really nitpicky at all!) ones are all that is really wrong with "Fast Enough." The episode is otherwise smart, character-focused and well-performed. Grant Gustin, Jesse L. Martin, Carlos Valdes, Rick Cosnett and Tom Cavanagh are each given the chance for big moments of emotional performance for their characters (Candice Patton does fine for her Iris scenes, but they hardly seem as big for her as some of the ones for the guys). Even John Wesley Shipp makes the most of his limited time on screen for a key scene.

What it comes down to in "Fast Enough" is a key decision for a character who is struggling to define himself and that plays out perfectly in the episode. Sure, some fans might be miffed when the episode's two big decisions are made, but they lead to a huge character moment and a huge DC Cinematic Universe moment (even if the latter is predictably resolved). "Fast Enough" is exciting and it continues the trend that The Flash has established; make a killer episode now that pretty much forces the follow-up to be underwhelming. Will season two's premiere surprise us? It's doubtful. The resolution to "Fast Enough" cannot possibly be what it appears (the sheer number of crossovers with Arrow that would leave fans kvetching about continuity issues that resulted make it impossible for The Flash to do a real temporal reset), but it has clear character-motivated actions that make for satisfying television. It's hard to worry about what will come next and not simply enjoy that!

For other big season finales, check out my reviews of:
"Graduation Day" - Buffy The Vampire Slayer
"A Call To Arms" - Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
"The Beginning Of The End" - Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.

[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 episode and season reviews, please visit my Television Review Index Page!

© 2015 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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