Wednesday, October 7, 2015

The Mystery Of The Atom Smasher Sets Up A New Season Of The Flash Well With "The Man Who Saved Central City!"

The Good: Good plot development, Some decent character moments, Neat concept
The Bad: One or two of the performance moments
The Basics: "The Man Who Saved Central City" continues the story of The Flash in a way that leaves the viewer with a lot of hope for the second season.

Every now and then, a television series peaks at a moment where it seems impossible to come back from. With the first season of The Flash (reviewed here!) having, essentially, a full-season arc, it almost seemed like the executive producers were not banking on getting a second season. The first season finale had the potential to do what the second season of Millennium (reviewed here!) did; it had the potential to make it impossible to make a good follow-up season (the third season of Millennium was terrible and had to virtually dissociate itself from the second season's amazing finale). Given the climax of the first season, there was an exceptional burden placed on "The Man Who Saved Central City" when The Flash returned for a second season.

It is impossible to discuss "The Man Who Saved Central City" without discussing exactly where "Fast Enough" (reviewed here!) ended. The first season finale put Barry Allen on the cusp of creating an entire rewrite of the series so far by trying to save his mother from dying. While that specific time travel rewrite did not happen, the paradox caused by the death of Eddie Thawne (which erased his descendant Eobard Thawne from ever existing) caused a singularity to explode over Central City. How Barry Allen would close that singularity to save Central City would still seem to have some ripple effects through the timeline of The Flash and the DC Television Universe. While Barry Allen has a potential immunity to time travel - those who affect universe-altering situations sometimes exist outside the event that changes everything - the potential to alter the DTU that was implied by the singularity in the last moments of "Fast Enough" are potentially catastrophic from a storytelling perspective. After all, the first season of The Flash did a number of crossovers with Arrow and if circumstances are changed in Central City significantly, fans will rightly ask, (for example) "How would Deathbolt have been stopped if Barry Allen's Flash didn't run this fast until this time in the new timeline?" The brilliance of "Fast Enough" is that no matter what changes are forced by "The Man Who Saved Central City," Barry Allen has a comrade who would be able to recall the entire first season in Cisco. Resolving the paradox and collapsing the singularity put an incredible burden on "The Man Who Saved Central City" to both explain what effects that had and clearly define where the series would be going from this point on.

And "The Man Who Saved Central City" opens in such a way that it seems like it will neglect all of the big issues from the creation and closing of the singularity; fortunately, it turns around surprisingly quickly to become a very solid season premiere and a good episode of The Flash!

Opening six months after the collapse of the Singularity with a daydream The Flash is having about taking down Captain Cold and Heat Wave at the same time, Barry Allen has a longing for his friends and family. As it is, though, he spends his days as the Central City Police Department's forensic scientist and his nights rebuilding the businesses in Central City that were destroyed by the Singularity. On the day before Flash Day in Central City, Joe and Barry investigate the death of Al Rothstein, who was strangled . . . but not by Grodd. Cisco is working with Joe as well, as part of the CCPD's Metahuman Task Force. With Caitlin Snow working at Mercury Labs, the former Team Flash that worked at S.T.A.R. Labs and in the CCPD has disbanded.

After Barry restores Jitters, the episode flashes back to the day of the Singularity. On that day, the Flash stabilized the singularity, but when the time came to collapse it and save Central City, it was Firestorm who stepped up to do the heavy lifting. Feeling guilty about Ronnie's death, Barry is not keen on going to the day honoring him. Nevertheless, when the day comes, the Flash makes an appearance at the Flash Day ceremony. His appearance brings out Atom Smasher, a man who looks identical to the dead Al Rothstein. When both Cisco's anti-metahuman "boot" and the Flash fail to stop Atom Smasher, Barry's companions come together to restore the team and save Central City from the latest threat.

"The Man Who Saved Central City" opens at an irritating point, but the pay off is worth it. The sacrifice of Ronnie Raymond makes the discordant tone at the episode's outset make perfect sense and it finally answers the lingering question of just how the hell Victor Garber could be cast for the new spinoff Legends Of Tomorrow, but Robbie Amell (Ronnie Raymond) was not. In fact, the episode is a lot about assumptions and delayed pay offs. The viewer has to assume that the Atom Smasher is able to keep pace with the Flash because the Speed Force is a type of energy that Atom Smasher can absorb and that the metahuman is from an alternate reality that bled through as a result of the singularity.

In fact, with the acknowledgement that Eobard Thawne existed, "The Man Who Saved Central City" becomes fodder for fan theories. While "Fast Enough" explored the idea that by going back in time, Barry Allen would rewrite history, "The Man Who Saved Central City" makes no mention of how The Flash is now at a point where the future is being rewritten. The first time through the timeline, Barry Allen became the Flash (at some point) and Eddie Thawne had children and descendants and in the future, Eobard Thawne was born and became an enemy of The Flash. Eobard came back in time, killed Nora Allen, first season of The Flash and then was erased from existence by the death of Eddie Thawne. Everything that now follows exists in a new tangent universe and Eobard Thawne essentially came from a parallel reality that no longer could generate him (essentially Eobard Thawne came into existence in the universe of The Flash at the moment he appeared in the past as an anomaly!).

Beyond sparking numerous conversations on time travel and parallel realities, what "The Man Who Saved Central City" does very well is flesh out the characters of The Flash. Iris and Dr. Snow are both in mourning and Dr. Stein takes a strong leadership role in the new team. Cisco even has a flash of his newly-realized power (which might prompt the writers to have to explain why his talent was latent for so long . . .), but he remains largely unphased by the six months since Eobard Thawne was blinked out of existence.

Victor Garber and Carlos Valdes have great on-screen chemistry in "The Man Who Saved Central City" as Dr. Stein and Cisco. While Danielle Panabaker isn't given a lot of opportunities to do a lot of complex emoting - Dr. Snow barely reacts to Ronnie's death - the episode's emotional climax gives everyone a lot to do and the cast does it well. Between the opening scene and the final one, "The Man Who Saved Central City" feels very much like an epilogue to the first season.

More than Grant Gustin, the acting powerhouse of "The Man Who Saved Central City" is Jesse L. Martin. Between flashbacks and simple reaction shots that illustrate how Joe is feeling as Barry works to exonerate his father, Martin once again is given the greatest range for the episode. The surprise, however, is how well actor Adam Copeland does. While much of his performance relies on the physical training he had as a professional wrestler, his final scene allows him to convey great emotion while barely moving and he emotes surprisingly well through his eyes.

While the episode's climax might irk some, Henry Allen's resolution is a great character moment too often lacking from super hero works. Henry wants what is best for Barry and he makes a sensible decision that plays remarkably well with a character who would probably not want to stick around a place that treated him so badly.

Ultimately, "The Man Who Saved Central City" does exactly what a good season premiere ought to do. It reminds us why we love the show and it makes us believe that what is yet to come has the potential to be as good as what came before!

For other season premieres where a show had to reinvent itself, check out my reviews of:
"The Way Of The Warrior" - Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
"Laws Of Nature" - Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.
"No Compromises" - Babylon 5


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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