Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Packing In Plot, Not Progressing, When The Flash Goes "Running To Stand Still!"

The Good: Patty Spivot and Joe West's characters, Good pacing, Decent-enough performances
The Bad: Plot-heavy, Does not progress the story in a compelling way, Moments of Joe West's character.
The Basics: The midseason finale of The Flash goes dark, but unremarkable, with "Running To Stand Still."

The last major midseason finale of the shows I watch and review is upon us with The Flash! The Flash had big shoes to fill when it came to its second season midseason finale, as last year's episode was a tremendously revealing episode that left fans theorizing and debating for the months the show was on hiatus. "The Man In The Yellow Suit" (reviewed here!) was a big, important, episode in The Flash and when the producers approached the second season's midseason finale, "Running To Stand Still," it is like they just gave up and decided not to try to compete with their own work.

"Running To Stand Still" is almost entirely divorced from "Legends Of Today" (reviewed here!), the prior episode. Instead, it acts more like a sequel to last year's episode "Tricksters" (reviewed here!), which was one of the few truly disappointing first season episodes of The Flash. The episode also plays off of "Out Of Time"(reviewed here!), so those who are looking to get the most out of the episode should definitely watch that episode. Perhaps the best commentary on "Running To Stand Still" came from my wife when we finished our first viewing of the episode. As she noted, we could have not watched the episode and not, truly, missed anything - save the proper on-screen entrance of Wally West (who appeared briefly in a prior episode, albeit unnamed in the episode and has only been vaguely teased as part of the Iris storyline since). My wife is right; the episode is packed with stuff happening, but none of it leads to any consequences, progress or truly important revelations that actually alter the flow of the season or progress anything.

In fact, outside the addition of Wally West for the briefest of scenes, The Flash's Christmas episode "Running To Stand Still" is packed with anticlimaxes. The writers and producers of The Flash periodically forget that they are writing for a smart and scientifically literate audience and "Running To Stand Still" is a prime example of that. The form of "Running To Stand Still" completely undermines its mood and intensity; the audience is smart enough to recall the confrontation that opens the episode and wait for the payoff to it. The result of the opening scene is very weakly played out in "Running To Stand Still" and leads to arguably the most anticlimactic final scene of the series.

Opening with Harrison Wells running for his life from Zoom, Zoom captures Wells and the Earth-2 scientist begs for the life of his daughter. After Iris has a conversation with her father that leaves her distressed, she goes to Barry and confesses her knowledge of her brother, Wally West, which she has kept from both Barry and Joe. When Mark Mardon breaks into Iron Heights to break out Leonard Snart and James Jesse, Joe is instantly concerned. His new partner and Barry's new girlfriend, Patty Spivot, lost her father to Mardon and Joe is worried she might come unhinged with revenge with Mardon loose. While Mardon and Jesse plan to kill The Flash, Snart visits Barry to warn him of his impending doom.

When the Trickster baits The Flash, Patty and The Flash end up at an abandoned toy factory where the Trickster lays a trap to try to kill The Flash. When The Flash rescues Patty, she opens up to him about her Father's death. The next day, the Trickster dresses up as Santa and gives out giftwrapped bombs. That night, the Weather Wizard lures The Flash out and he menaces The Flash with the threat that The Trickster has distributed one hundred bombs. So, while the S.T.A.R. Labs team tries to track down the bombs and disarm Central City, The Flash is beaten up by Mardon to buy time . . . and Patty is given her big chance for revenge!

"Running To Stand Still" features some issues that might be paid off in the future, but are distressing for their failure to be addressed within the episode. Cisco notes that there is no activity on the metahuman front, which begs the question of how Zoom got into S.T.A.R. Labs undetected. It is well within Wells's abilities to erase security footage after the fact, but it seems a ridiculous conceit that Cisco, Snow and Allen would give him access or not have some sort of security system that would alert them when an incursion occurs (i.e. they should have been alerted to Zoom in S.T.A.R. Labs when he ran in, before Wells could delete footage of him coming in). Wells is vulnerable to metahumans and speedsters, so it makes no sense he would do a blanket disabling of the S.T.A.R. Labs security system. And, come to think of it, for a bunch of smart people who don't trust Wells, wouldn't the first thing smart people would do when a guy who thinks like the guy who designed the facility arrived is completely recode the security system to lock out the guy one doesn't trust? Having Snow, for example, make new security passwords and access codes would lock out Wells in a way that would actually make S.T.A.R. Labs secure . . . which would be the smart approach from intelligent people who don't trust the guy.

On the character front, Joe West is at some of the episode's best and worst moments. Finding out about Wally West, Joe instantly regrets not stepping up as a father. He mourns the lack of connection he had with his son, which is understandable, and the internal conflict leads him to once again make explicit that Barry is his son. But in the big scene where West moralizes about his decision to treat his wife as dead to protect Iris, the dialogue fails to recognize that Joe West is entitled to some of his own emotional health. West tries to justify his decisions about keeping his addict wife out of Iris's life as a factor of caring for Iris and he begrudgingly admits that his actions were not entirely for her. But Barry fails to note that she was an untrustworthy addict and that Joe is not responsible for his wife's lies. More than that, it is a function of being a good parent for Joe to protect Iris and his own emotional health by ridding the family of an erratic influence like his wife. That Joe can be so emotionally-realized in some ways and so emotionally ignorant in others is problematic; "Running To Stand Still" lamely places the emotional health of an unknown child above an adult's emotional health, which only continues one of the most irksome fallacies about adults and their responsibilities to their children (i.e. that parents must sublimate all of their own needs to those of their children when they have them).

The other significant character arc in "Running To Stand Still" belongs to Patty Spivot. Spivot has to figure out if vengeance is worth what it will cost her. It's a good, if predictable, character arc and what truly saves it is the performance by Shantel VanSanten. VanSanten is given the most range to play in "Running To Stand Still" and she absolutely rises to the occasion. Opening the episode with playing cute and playing off her amazing on-screen chemistry with co-star Grant Gustin, VanSanten slowly treads into darker territory as Patty becomes more obsessed with getting revenge on Mark Mardon. VanSanten sells Patty's confession scene to The Flash, which could easily have degenerated into melodrama.

Guest stars Mark Hamill (Trickster), Wentworth Miller (Snart) and Liam McIntyre (Mardon) effortlessly return to their roles, though outside Miller, they are mostly monolithic characters with straightforward performances. Hamill plays Trickster as unhinged and - fortunately - in "Running To Stand Still" he is not saddled with nearly as many ridiculous one-liners as in his first appearance on The Flash. McIntyre plays Mardon as a very basic villain without any real flair or depth.

The Flash is, sadly, featuring more and more embedded product placement. While I am eager for an action figure from The Flash from DC Direct this year, it's pretty classless to show off the product in the episode. For sure; the idea that The Flash is merchandised and becomes a local celebrity is part of the source material, but the way it is dropped into "Running To Stand Still" feels much more exploitative than clever.

The special effects in "Running To Stand Still" are generally good. The Flash running on the helicopter blades is especially cool, even if the effect of Mardon flying is not incredible.

Ultimately, "Running To Stand Still" is a dreadfully anticlimactic episode that sets up no new substantive conflicts. It does not draw the viewers back to The Flash, making it an especially ineffective midseason finale, as well as a pretty unremarkable episode of The Flash.

For other works with Mark Hamill, check out my reviews of:
I Know That Voice
Jay And Silent Bob Strike Back
The Little Mermaid
The Star Wars Trilogy


For other television season and episode reviews, please visit my Television Review Index Page for an organized listing!

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

No comments:

Post a Comment