Wednesday, April 27, 2016

50/50 - "Back To Normal" Is Somewhat Average The Flash!

The Good: Good performances, Most of the character development
The Bad: Stunningly dull plot, Erratic special effects
The Basics: "Back To Normal" finds The Flash wrestling with his powerlessness while a metahuman terrorizes Dr. Wells.

As The Flash finds its footing as a larger body of television work, it is interesting to see what elements recur. In the second season, the multiverse theory is being pretty adequately explored with multiple trips from Earth-1 (our Earth) to Earth-2 (the Earth from which Zoom originated, which currently has fills a niche like the Mirror Universe in Star Trek). The other elements that are carrying over from the first season to imply seasonal visitions are Eobard Thawne and the episode where The Flash loses his powers. In the first season, the powerless episode was "Power Outage" (reviewed here!); this season, it is "Back To Normal."

"Back To Normal" continues the story from "Versus Zoom" (reviewed here!) and is impossible to discuss without some references to the climactic actions of that episode. Having sacrificed his powers to save Wally West, Barry Allen is powerless in "Back To Normal" and he and the S.T.A.R. Labs team are reeling from Zoom abducting Dr. Snow.

Opening with Barry Allen experiencing a normal day, without speed, Allen tries to adapt to no longer having speed as The Flash. Harry gets upset with Allen and his team about Zoom having Allen's powers and the presence of a breach that now allows Zoom to move between universes and he opts to leave the team to go find his daughter. With the S.T.A.R. Labs team essentially disbanded, Joe and Iris try to cheer Barry up. Meanwhile, on Earth-2, Dr. Snow talks tough to Hunter Zolomon, but he removes her shackles before he goes out to terrorize his Earth. Wells manages to find his daughter, but she is in no mood to have him back in her life, so she pushes him away.

When Wells leaves Jessie's apartment, he encounters a metahuman who abducts him. Cisco almost instantly finds out, as the S.T.A.R. Labs van that Wells was driving has crash assistance that alerts Ramon's console. While Dr. Snow faces off with Killer Frost in Zoom's prison compound, Wells meets his abductor. Wells is being held captive by Griffin Grey, a metahuman with exceptional strength. Unfortunately, each time Grey uses his powers, he ages. While the S.T.A.R. Labs team tries to figure out how to save Wells while Allen is powerless, Dr. Snow and her counterpart attempt to break out of Zoom's lair.

To emphasize Allen's lack of speeds, Barry goes through a normal day where he is forced to do things like ride the bus. The emphasis is somewhat ridiculous; why wouldn't Joe give him a ride to work?! Similarly, the presence of Killer Frost on Earth-2 is marginally explained, but it is somewhat hard to buy that Zoom would not just have killed her when she helped break Jessie out. After all, Killer Frost barely looks like the Dr. Snow he is enamored with and she is completely hung up on the guy that Zoom killed.

One of the real positive notes for "Back To Normal" is that Zoom is finally given credible, sinister motives going forward. Zoom is a multiversal predator and his journey in "Back To Normal" is to accept that as his role. Eobard Thawne just wanted to go home; Zoom needed to be "cured" to save his life and now that he has, he evolves into accepting that he wants to bring more Earths to their knees. This is credible for his character and sets up a conflict between Zoom and The Flash which might force Barry Allen to kill Zoom. After all, trapping Zoom anywhere will leave that place at Zoom's mercy; stopping a person with the goal of conquering everything is only possible by utterly destroying them.

As well, it is refreshing to see realistic character boundaries in place. For sure, it is utterly predictable that Killer Frost would betray Dr. Snow, but it is cool to see Cisco unable to help evaluate the genetics of Griffin Grey. Ramon is not a medical doctor; that's Snow's niche. Unfortunately, the opposite is not true - on Earth-2, Dr. Snow exhibits a knowledge of physics that a medical doctor would not likely have when she rigs an electrical current to weaken carbide.

Throughout "Back To Normal," there is a subplot involving Wally West. West wants to thank The Flash for his rescue and he implores Joe to help him get in touch with the superhero. The character development for Wally West is well-developed and it plays nicely against Wells and Jesse resolving their differences. The plotlines in "Back To Normal" might be stiflingly average (and predictably lacking closure in the serialized Zoom plotline), but the character arcs in them are very good. Wally West and Jesse Wells help illustrate incredible character for young characters and that is refreshing to see on television.

Despite the character inconsistency of Zoom not just killing Killer Frost in a prior episode off-screen, it is easy to see why the writers and executive producers wanted to bring Killer Frost back. Danielle Panabaker is amazing as Killer Frost and when she plays off herself as Snow and Killer Frost squaring off, the conversation is surreal and the performances are absolutely brilliant. Panabaker exhibits incredible range in "Back To Normal" and her minimal screentime helps to transform an otherwise average episode.

Ultimately, though, "Back To Normal" is pretty average television, though it is not bad.


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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