It appears that eating all that cheese last week may be hazardous to the Flash's health. Because this week the metahuman/supervillain/freak Barry must battle can turn himself into a cloud of poison gas — but the real danger may be some seriously substandard scriptwiring.
If I may continue discussing The Flash TV series in running metaphors — and I hope I may because it's the only things that bring a sliver of joy to my shriveled black heart — then "Thing You Can't Outrun" is a major stumble. Where the last episode was cheesy, last night's episode was clunky, but there's absolutely no reason to get worried quite yet.
However, the writing in this episode made the other two sound like Shakespeare. It begins with another hokey Barry narration, and Barry taking a quick break when Iris' back is turned to catch an armed criminal in a getaway car, putting him handcuffed in the chasing cops' backseat. Meanwhile, a crime family starts praising the bulletproof windows they put in their restaurant to protect their big crime family meeting; alas, they may keep bullets out, but they keep evil bald men who turn into green CG poison gas in, and that's who attends the dinner.
It doesn't occur to Barry and the STAR Labs team (who I will now refer to as SuperSTARS, at least until the end of this recap) that the metahuman might be made of gas, as opposed to just controlling gas until Barry confronts the killer at the mall after he attacks a judge in an elevator. The Flash and the killer fight, but suffice it to say Barry has no idea how to battle a guy who can turn completely intangible, or one that can enter his lungs — Barry is forced to run back to the Lab, choking to death, and alive only thanks to his incredible regeneration powers. It's for the best, though, since Caitlyn can do a biopsy and get a sample of the gas to study, although Barry can't use anesthetic because his body processes it to fast. Admittedly, I thought all this was reasonably well done.
Interspersed through the first portion of The Flash's "Freak of the Week" formula is a series of flashbacks to the day of the particle accelerator accident. We get to meet Caitlyn's fiancé Ronnie Raymond (played by Stephen Amell's cousin Robbie) who's the structural engineer; when the accelerator goes haywire, he runs into the… thing… to do a thing. Basically, he supposedly makes the accelerator explode up instead of out — which saves a lot of people, although still managed to give a ton of people around the city superpowers — but also means he dies in the explosion. Cisco takes a brief moment from smiling vacantly to remember how he's the one who locked Ronnie in the… thing, but under Ronnie's own orders. Eventually, Caitlyn has another flashback where she gets the requisite tear-filled final talk with Ronnie over a walkie-talkie.
This should go a long way to fleshing out two characters The Flash wants us to care about, but instead it does the opposite. Cisco takes 10 seconds from his normal, dopey smile to get ready to apologize to Caitlyn for killing Ronnie, but she stops him, and Cisco is immediately back to his THC-buoyed happy place. But Caitlyn is even worse; her devastation over the loss of her fiancé has been her primary characteristic (at one point, she literally says of Ronnie "I didn't want him to be a hero, I WANTED A HUSBAND." Blegh); But between the flashbacks and a trip to the particle accelerator, she instantly gains acceptance somehow and ends the episode apparently with all emotional wounds healed. Ugh.
But even that's not quite as rough as the moment when the episode decides it needs some Drama, and suddenly Barry needs to be mad at his father figure Joe again. Barry starts yelling about his dead mom, and then starts yelling about how he can use his powers to break his dad out of jail as if Joe was somehow the one stopping him. Between the fact it comes completely out of nowhere, and that Barry is both good to break the law and too smart to not know how dumb this idea is, it's the worst moment of the show so far, and the fact it exists solely so Barry and Joe can have another little come-together moment at the episode's end just makes it even more unnecessary.
It does, however, lead to an interesting denouement. Joe, burdened by the weight of imprisoning his friend for 14 years for a crime he didn't commit — a pretty justified bit of drama, by the way — goes to visit Barry's dad for the first time since his conviction. I've talked about how good Jesse Martin and John Wesley Shipp have been on this show already, but man, do they nail it here — Martin is horrified at his mistake but strong enough to face his former friend; Shipp's face is full of betrayal and rage and relief that Joe has finally realized he's innocent. It's not a subtle scene, but one that works because of just how damn good Martin and Shipp are.
Meanwhile, the Super STARS analyze the poison gas, and figure out it's made of cyanide and a sedative… just like what someone being executed on Death Row would have in their system? For there, it's a quick Google search of The Big Database of Central City Executions database to figure out that a man named Kyle Nimbus (I know; I'll talk about this more in Assorted Musings) was being executed right when the particle accelerator exploded, and now he's killing the people who put him behind bars. Next on his list? The cop who arrested him… Joe West, naturally.
Of course, Nimbus — or the Mist, as Cisco dubs him — knows Joe is at the prison, and attacks him there. Barry has just a second to grab the one dose of antidote before sprinting off to the prison. He finds Joe poisoned and dying while his father watches from behind the glass — Barry uses his speed to blur his face from his father, and administers the antidote. And then he gives chase.
And it's actually a chase! Since Barry can't punch a guy who can turn into gas at will, all he can do after catching up to the Mist is run from him, and the Mist is surprisingly fast, even for a gas man. Luckily, Harrison realizes that's his weakness — the gas is so unstable that he has to reform eventually, and from there it's just a matter of the Flash tiring a big cloud of green gas out until it takes human form and Barry socks him in the face. And since this is the first of the superpowered bad guy that has managed to survive his encounter with the Flash, Barry and the SuperSTARS retrofit the cells of the dysfunctional particle accelerator to hold the Mist and future metahumans. The science is all pretty shaky, but it's still a hell of a lot easier to buy than pretending he is seriously mulling over breaking his dad out of jail.
All that's left is the hokiest Flash narration of all. Seriously, try this on for size: "No one can outrun pain. Life is tragedy. But it's precious, too. And it's sweet. And extraordinary." Flashfact: Life is a good thing! Thanks for setting me straight on that! At least we end with another Harrison Wells' moment of creepiness; this time, Harrison flashes back to the night of the explosion, where he enters that high-tech secret room from the first episode, turns on a computer and looks directly into Barry's lab… right before the storm hits. He knew what was coming. So whatever the hell is going on with Wells, the explosion didn't send him into the future — he's been planning for the arrival of the Flash for quite some time. Awesome.
I'm sure it seems like I'm completely down on this episode, but I'm not. I don't think it was as good as the first two, and I think some of the show's problems were a bit more apparent here, but it's so early I don't begrudge the show needing time to get in its groove. Sure, I'd love for it to move past the "Smallville", a.k.a. the "Freak o' the Week" syndrome, but I'm sure it'll get there sooner or later. Certainly Arrow did. I'm a little more worried about Caitlyn and Cisco, mainly because they were foisted on the Flash and the audience in the first episode, whereas Arrow was able to expands its cast slowly and more naturally. And last night's episode makes me worry that show has no idea what to do with them at all. But it's way too early to pass a verdict on the show yet.
One shouldn't rush to judgment, as the Flash might say. Or will inevitably say in one of his hokey upcoming narrations.
• I thought the STAR Labs as super-prison is a good idea, at least in terms of the show — much better to have a solution instead of killing off every foe the Flash faces. And the way the SuperSTARS talked it out made them seem like an actual functional team for the first time. Best of all, we'll inevitably get the super-jailbreak episode, which will be awesome.
• So the Mist is actually an old Starman villain who changed his name to Nimbus at one point. I don't know if he or his supervillain son ever said Nimbus was actually their last name, but it they did, it was stupid then and it was stupid on The Flash.
• One of the things I like best about Grant Gustin is that when they show needs to stress Barry is nerdy, he makes it look effortless — like he's just genuinely a nerd. His gusto in rating the movie on the zombie movie scale is a pretty great example.
• Iris and Eddie tell Joe they're dating, which Joe knows because that's how these things always go. It's the only thing Iris does. I know Iris is a more problematic character than Caitlyn or Cisco, but unfortunately she's problematic in the way romantic leads are always problematic in these types of things. See Laurel Lance in Arrow for more details (although she's definitely improved).
• Harrison Wells: "It feels like I've waited for this day for centuries." Uh…
• Any conversation Barry has with a person there appears to be at least a 15% chance he will mention the fact that his mother is dead. Jesus, Batman wasn't as obsessed with his dead parents as this guy.
• Looks like next week we get Felicity AND Captain Cold! I have some damn high hopes for this episode.
• I'm not too up on Firestorm, but I know it takes Ronnie Raymond and scientist Martin Stein (who will be played by Alias' Victor Garber) to fuse into the hero, and Stein is a voice in Ronnie/Firestorm's head. I was always under the impression that Ronnie was if not dumb, at least not very learned. If this Ronnie is a structural engineer on a particle accelerator, how much help will the scientist living in his head actually be? Moreover, how interesting with the dichotomy between the two characters be?
• I almost regret being a professional nerd because I'd love to not know that Thawne ends up being the Reverse-Flash. The show is playing him completely straight, not hinting at his future at all, and it's going to shock some viewers. That is, unless…
• Crazy-ass Harrison Wells Theory: Is Wells going to end up being the Reverse-Flash? I know Thawne is already there, but between the obvious time travel aspects and his obsessions with the Flash… well, let's just say I can easily see how it could turn to hate, especially once Barry finds out what he's doing and kicks him out of the Labs (or whatever). And it would be a hell of a curveball to throw to comics fans.