Wednesday, January 20, 2016

I Return And So Does The Flash With "Potential Energy!"

The Good: Moments of character and performance, Decent special effects
The Bad: Generic plot/villain, Dubious science
The Basics: One of the less impressive Flash villains makes his debut in "Potential Energy" which treads close to a soap opera for The Flash.

It has been a slow year so far for my review blog, largely because I just got into video games and there have been a number of big celebrity deaths that have shocked my family. But, The Flash has broken away from a mid-season hiatus to start airing new episodes and that makes it worth returning to reviews! The new episode if "Potential Energy" and it is a, pun intended, slow return to The Flash.

"Potential Energy" picks up a short time after "Running To Stand Still" (reviewed here!) and it is an odd blend of consequences and character-building. Barry Allen and Patty Spivot's relationship has clearly progressed, while Joe and Wally are only just starting to truly get to know one another. Yet, Earth-2's Harrison Wells has not made any sort of move on Barry Allen to advance Zoom's agenda, so the show feels like it is working itself out of its own dead end. Fortunately, "Potential Energy" illustrates that the recent in-episode merchandising push was just part of the attempt by Warner Brothers to give its licensees a pre-Holiday advertising boost. The Flash returns to quality storytelling, as opposed to not-so-subtle product placement.

And that's a good thing, considering that the Villain Of The Week for "Potential Energy" is The Turtle. The Turtle is one of the obscure villains from The Flash comic books that was part of the early books, but most of the newer iterations of the character have not even tried to include. Writer Bryan Q. Miller gets real credit for trying with "Potential Energy."

Opening with Barry Allen having a nightmare about Zoom abducting Patty while he is on a date with her, Barry becomes preoccupied with the idea of telling Patty the truth about his alter ego. Joe tries to bond with Wally, who is not impressed by the detective father he never knew, when Patty arrives to talk to Iris. Patty is concerned that Barry is waking up from nightmares and being emotionally withholding. As Wells becomes more frustrated with scientific dead ends that lead him to be unable to stop Zoom, Cisco proposes using a metahuman he has been hunting for quite some time: The Turtle. When The Flash encounters The Turtle, a metahuman who has the ability to slow down everything in his environment by converting mechanical (kinetic) energy into potential energy, he is unable to stop the thief from stealing a recovered ring from the Central City Police Department.

Regrouping at S.T.A.R. Labs, Cisco believes he has found the Turtle's next target and the team heads to an art event at the Central City Art Museum. There, The Turtle interrupts Barry's date with Patty and steals a painting, while attempting to kill Patty. This informs The Turtle of Patty's importance to Barry and he lays a trap to get Patty out of the way. Joe confronts Wally, who is drag racing in Central City in order to win cars to pay for his mother's medical bills. When Patty is abducted by The Turtle, The Flash must rescue her and Barry risks exposing his identity to her.

"Potential Energy" finds a surprisingly compelling blend of character development and emotional realism in an otherwise potentially absurd and basic plot. Barry Allen's dream is a perfect embodiment of his character's realistic insecurity both in his relationship and in his conflict with Zoom. Similarly, Patty and Iris bonding over Barry is realistic, even if it is not particularly compelling television. The more "Potential Energy" progresses, the more there is the feeling that the episode is a "necessary evil" episode; it has a clear end goal, but it's trying to flesh out a mediocre idea and/or lackluster conflicts.

For those reasons, it is easy for the almost melodramatic conflict between Joe and Wally West to overshadow much of the episode and for an almost entirely inconguent scene between Cisco and Harrison Wells to steal the episode. Wells telling the story of how Zoom got his name is cinematically dull, but it is the most captivating scene in "Potential Energy." The character element and the performances by Tom Cavanagh and Carlos Valdes make the short scene feel so much more important than the charming, whispered scenes between Barry Allen (Grant Gustin) and Patty Spivot (Shantel VanSanten).

The deepness of the character conflicts between the established cast of characters is offset by the utterly generic character of The Turtle. The Turtle has had more than a year of stealing things from Central City with greater effectiveness than Leonard Snart and after his first encounter with The Flash, where he bests the super hero (!), he becomes obsessed with ridding Central City of The Flash. Between that and Cisco declaring The Turtle his White Whale and then immediately finding him, there is a prominent sense of narrative convenience in "Potential Energy."

And, seriously, why does anyone who has a peephole on their door ever open the door without checking it first?! Especially law enforcement officers . . .

"Potential Energy" is an odd blend of decent performances and character moments in an otherwise mundane episode of The Flash, which makes for an ultimately average hour of television.

For other works with Aaron Douglas, check out my reviews of:
The Chronicles Of Riddick
X-2: X-Men United


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

© 2016 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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