What the second episode of The Flash lacked in the first episode's surplus of exposition, it more than made up for with cheesiness. But amidst the standard early questioning of "am I qualified be a superhero?" was a fun episode that's already shown a jump in quality from the premiere.
Since the show sped through the traditional "should I use my new powers for good?" conflict in the first episode (no pun intended), "The Fastest Man Alive" can begin right with Barry already using his powers to help people, even if he's still learning how to handle them. I love that he begins the episode by running to a building on fire to rescue people inside, but first overshoots the building by six blocks. Ominously, Barry feels a bit faint afterwards.
Helping save a bunch of people's lives makes him late for his job as CSI, and boss/father figure Joe West (Jesse L. Martin) does not approve of his lateness or his newfound penchant for putting himself in harm's way. This will come to a crux later, but for now Barry investigates a crime scene where only one gunman was seen on camera, but Barry sees six sets of footprints (all the same size) indicating it's a gang.
Iris stops by Barry's weirdly large personal crime lab to force him to come explain the science behind a press conference held by clearly evil scientist/CEO Simon Stag for some sort of stem cell cloning breakthrough, so Iris can do an article on it. Of course, the same "gang" attacks the press conference, and Barry is forced to use his powers to save a guard from being shot (no one sees him because he's super-fast); he tries to confront the gang as they escape but faints before he can do so.
Back at the lab, the Flash gets seriously fussed at by Caitlyn for hiding his fainting spells, which is obviously going to be her default personality for now (it's not great, but she's better off than Cisco, who is basically Shaggy from Scooby Doo but somehow also a genius inventor). Team Flash very quickly figures out Barry's blood sugar is low, because he's using so many calories when he runs — a limitation on the Flash's power from the '80s comics that I'm pretty sure the original TV show also used (and which I'll talk more about below).
Barry's new habit of running into dangerous situations and fainting puts his father figure Joe West on edge; he tries to convince Barry to stop playing hero, pointing out pretty correctly that he's fast, but that doesn't make him invincible. Or, as it turns out, particularly good at fighting — the next night, while West questions Dr. Stag if he thinks the attack at the press conference may have been personally motivated, the gang attacks — which has grown thanks to the ringleader's ability to make copies of himself. The Flash runs arrives and helps West, taking him to safety before trying to battle the bad guy/guys, which he fails at badly because Barry can't fight. Eventually, he has to flee to safety.
That's more than enough for Barry to assume West is correct and he has no business trying to stop bad guys, thus answering the standard "am I qualified be a superhero?" question with a resounding no. Meanwhile, Team Flash realizes that the metahuman behind the attacks is Danton Black (a Firestorm villain named Multiplex from the comics), a former Stag employee doing stem cell research to save his dying wife, but had his research stolen by Stag and then was fired.
With Barry undergoing his "Flash No More!" moment, it's up to Harrison Wells to scoot over to the police station to talk to West. It basically comes down to Wells telling West the only thing holding back Barry from being a hero is that Barry doesn't believe he can do it, mainly because his father figure West is telling him he can't do it. It's a cheesy scene that works partially because of the weird creepiness Tom Cavanaugh gives off as Wells, but primarily because of the paternal care for Barry that Jesse L. Martin radiates as Joe West. The episode has shown a few flashbacks — er, Flash-backs — of young Barry in the West household, where West had the less than easy job of caring for a traumatized boy suddenly ripped from his parents, which reinforce the issue, not that it was particularly unclear. While the dialogue is corny as hell, the emotions Jesse Martin brings to the scene seem genuine.
At that point, things move quickly (again no pun): Barry returns to the lab where he makes the discovery that the Team has grown an entire Danton clone from a cell, just to see if they could; so there's a living, unthinking bad guy just hanging out in the STAR Labs. It's delightfully weird, but the point is that they discover the clones are basically receptors for the prime— if the Flash can knock out the main Danton, then all the other clones should collapse without the person giving them orders. Then Joe West shows up and recants his earlier concerns, telling Barry in fact not only can he stop these bad humans he's the only person who can. It's a silly 180, but if it's cheesy it's charmingly cheesy, again thanks to Martin.
So Barry suits up and heads to Stag's HQ, where a whole bunch of Dantons are on the attack. Now, I said last week that The Flash had clearly blown its VFX budget on its title character and not the villain, because the Flash looked pretty great in action, while the Weather Wizard looked like crap. I wouldn't say the clone division of Multiplex looked as bad as W.W., but it still wasn't great. However, who needs VFX when the show is literally going to hire 80 guys to wear the same suit and charge the Flash?
It may be kinda cheap, but it's still pretty awesome to see a giant mob of villains running towards the Flash, even if Barry has to make one more "I can't do it!" call to home base and Team Flash has to tell him "You can do it!" At this point, the Flash runs at top speed through the crowd until he finds the Danton under the most strain (from controlling all his clones) and punches the hell out of him. Multiplex, having achieved none of his goals, very rudely decides to toss himself out a window — Barry manages to snag him before he plummets, but can't hold on and drops him (although I'm not sure why he couldn't have run downstairs and caught him before he landed, since he's the Flash and all. Oh well).
With the metahuman/villain of the week dead (OR IS HE?!) it's time for everyone to head back to STAR Labs to cheese it up. Seriously. This scene begins with Barry telling Team Flash, in all apparent seriousness, "When I'm out there, it's like you're all out there with me" and "You know, I think that lightning bolt hit all of us." No one smacks Barry or spits in his face for this After-School Special-level schmaltz, so I guess Barry feels fine giving an additional "You were my real dad all along!" speech to West when he stops by his apartment later and promises to help him figure out who or what killed his mom.
Between this nonsense, the peppy narration that opens and closes each episode, and the bright colors and seemingly low stakes of the show so far, The Flash is just ridiculously cheesy. And here's why I'm not worried at all:
After Barry's "BOY BEING THE FLASH IS THE COOLEST" epilogue, we get another scene of Harrison Wells, this time talking to Simon Stag. They both reveal they know about the metahumans, and Stag can already see the potential of the "red streak" in terms of advancing science and making a profit. Which is when Harrison calmly gets up from his wheelchair and stabs Stag in the gut with a knife, apologizing for the murder, but the Flash "must be left alone."
So beyond the "Harrison Wells has a secret agenda" we discovered last week, now we know "Harrison Wells has a secret agenda and he's willing to kill unarmed people in cold blood" to further it. Given that he's seemingly trying to help the Flash achieve his full potential as a hero — if/when Barry discovers his primary mentor is willing to commit unspeakable act for his own good, this reveal should be catastrophic and amazing. If the show is willing to turn Barry's Yoda into a secret Darth Vader in episode two, then this is not a show that we need to worry about being too light-hearted. I have a hard time imagining what Barry's first narration after discovering Wells is a killer will sound like, but I doubt the world "cool" will be uttered once.
• Another fun power-discovering moment back at the lab: Barry realizes he can replicate a centrifuge with just his hand.
• Oh, speaking of powers: So the comics introduce the "the Flash has to eat a lot" is a way to limit his powers a bit, but watching a character eat in comics is dull, so DC eventually changed his power to the Speed Force. However, I think this limit makes way more sense for a TV show that can't have Barry running all the time, either in terms of story-telling or in terms of VFX. Anyone have a problem with this?
• Does any one think that the guy who plays Eddie Thawne looks a bit like Stephen Amell/Arrow? Except with a shit-eating grin?
• Turns out Caitlyn's dead fiancé was named Ronnie, which I believe we can probably guess is going to be Ronnie Raymond, half of the duo that becomes the DC hero Firestorm — already cast on for The Flash's first season. So I guess we can assume he might be coming back in some form.
• Iris' new story: To find out the deal about this "Red Streak" thing. I'm most amused by Iris because she seems most interested in reporting stories because she has deadlines, not necessarily because she has some burning need for the truth, which I appreciate.
• The amount of tacos Cisco determines Barry needs to eat to maintain his energy: 850. Nice try, Cisco, but I still don't like your character.