There's literally no non-obnoxious way for me to tell you The Flash pilot… well, it moves a bit too fast. It also starts clumsily, much like Barry Allen does when discovering his powers, and eventually finds its step. But I have no doubt the show will find its stride and finish strong! And now that we've gotten that out of our system, let's discuss.
As horribly obvious and cliché as the above race/fast/speed-related wordplay above is, it's also completely accurate — The Flash moves fast. Here's everything that happens in the show's first 10 or so minutes: We get a flashback to Barry's mom getting killed by a mysterious yellow blur. We see Barry as a CSI, complete with Sherlock-ian (as in, visually with cool graphics on-screen) investigative skills). We meet his boss and adoptive father played by Law & Order's Jesse Martin, and meet his daughter and Barry's love interest Iris. We learn Barry is nerdy and science-y when he wants to see the first test of STAR Labs' nearby particle accelerator, and we see Barry has a good heart because he tries to stop a dude from lifting Iris' bag, although he fails. And he goes home, reveals a clue board that shows he's been investigating the death of his mom for his entire life and then the particle accelerator is going and a storm hits and chemicals starts flying around and Barry is hit by lightning and goes into a coma.
One commercial break later, he's woken up from his coma, said hi to Iris and Jesse L. Martin, discovered his new powers, and is testing it with help from STAR Labs' guru Harrison Wells (played by the always excellent Tom Cavanaugh, striking a perfect balance between charming and enigmatic) who's now wheelchair-bound, and his two young assistants Caitlin and Cisco. It takes less than five minutes, and that's with the commercial break.
It's true the show has a lot to unpack, but it's also clear that it wants Flash out being a hero as soon as possible — and more specifically that it wants the series to reach the current dynamic Arrow has, as opposed to taking its time like Oliver Queen did over his first season, as he slowly acquired a team and moved from vigilante to hero. Maybe it's a calculated move on showrunner Greg Berlanti's part to bring The Flash up to speed with Arrow (sorry), or maybe it's impatience; either way it's not the worst problem for a pilot to have, and one that's very likely to be fixed as the season wears on.
Once all these preliminaries are out of the way, the show settles down a little to show us what the formula of the series will be — a new villain with a power granted by the same particle accelerated storm that gave Barry his powers arrives, and the Flash must stop him. For his inaugural outing (I was about to say first lap), it's the Weather Wizard, a bank robber who Jesse Martin had tried to catch earlier in the episode but who seemingly died in the particle storm. He uses his powers of generating extremely unconvincing CG fog to rob a bank or two.
With the super-conflict established, it's back to the info dump: Barry can heal very fast, as he finds out when he accidentally runs into a pile of barrels and breaks his wrist! (It heals in three hours.) Barry learns that Caitlin's fiancé died in the storm and she's still pretty bummed about it! Barry learns Cisco is some kind of a tech inventor genius, even though he seems kind of dumb! And most importantly, Barry has a flashback to his mom dying, where he suddenly remembers there was a man in yellow in the lightning that killed her — a man who might have had powers just like he does! Also, Iris is dating Jesse L. Martin's douchebag partner Eddie Thawne, but this will be an issue for later episodes.
Most importantly, Barry sees the Weather Wizard in a car chase (saving Iris from getting run over) and gives chase. Of course, it's only a few seconds for Barry to reach the car and run inside — at which point he realizes he has no idea what to do. The Weather Wizard activates his powers and the car flips — causing another wreck as well, which causes Barry to come to his "with great power comes great responsibility" moment." After a quick jog to Starling City and a pep talk from Arrow, Barry vows to stop all the bad guys with powers caused by the particle storm, and convinces Wells, Caitlin and the possibly stoned Cisco to help him. And, after the ceremonial receiving of the uniform which was ostensibly made for another purpose (an experimental heat-resistant suit intended for firefighters) but which still looks uncannily like a superhero outfit, that's what the Flash does.
Jesse Martin and his partner Douchebag Eddie track W.W. down to a farm where he had hid out originally, where he's having delusions of grandeur about being a god. His first divine act is to make a big tornado and send it towards Central City. Anyone who knows anything about the Scarlet Speedster knows that he spends like 15% of his time running counterclockwise in tornadoes, and of course once the Flash spies the tornado heading to town, that's his first plan. Of course, his top speed has previously been established at 200 mph, and the tornado needs him to run at 700 mph to defuse it; but all it takes is a pep talk from Harrison Wells and the Flash discovers he has a new top speed.
Of course, he's pooped and the Weather Wizard is not happy; this is when Jesse L. Martin saves the day, shooting the W.W. and discovering not only that Barry saved the day with his insane powers, but realizing that Barry's insane theory about his mom being murdered by a lightning bolt — and not his dad — was probably true as well. All it takes is one trip to jail to visit his father — played by John Wesley Shipp, star of the '90s Flash — to tell him he may know how to track down the real killer, finally. Of course, his dad is proud of him no matter what.
And with that, pretty much everything The Flash wanted to establish is established — Barry Allen has his powers, his suit, his day job, his team and his duty. The super-powered threats are out there, and he needs to stop them, probably one per week for the foreseeable future. He's pining over Iris who's dating an asshole, his dad is in jail for murdering his mom, although he's innocent, and thus Barry also has a mystery to solve over the course of the season. It's all pretty standard stuff, really… until Harrison Wells enters a secret room in STAR Labs, where he gets up from his wheelchair, hits an impossibly advanced computer display, and sees a newspaper with the headline "FLASH DISAPPEARS IN CRISIS!"… from 2024. Is he friend? Foe? From the future? What's his deal?! It's a mystery so perfectly comic book-y that it cements the tone of the series as much as the Flash's outfit — the show is clearly not going to shy away from any comic book insanity, and I for one couldn't be more excited.
But that's hardly the only reason I think The Flash works so well. First of all, it's basically turned square-jawed DC hero Barry Allen into Peter Parker. Sorry, DC fans, but this younger, less swaggering, nerdier Barry is much more interesting than the actual comics character; it may not be the most original change, but it's a character type that invariably works.
Second, it's a great cast. I think Gustin is a perfect counterpart to Arrow's Stephen Amell, all easy smiles and earnestness as opposed to glowering and angst. He's going to be a ton of fun to watch. As are Tom Cavanaugh as the mysterious Wells and Jesse Martin as Detective West — I have no doubt they'll anchor the show just like Arrow's extended cast have done. And how about John Wesley Shpp's as Barry's dad, huh? Maybe it's pure nostalgia on my part, but that casting still seems so perfect I can absolutely buy how Barry grew up to be such a good guy.
It's also nice that the Flash's running effects look pretty great. I wish I could say the same of the other VFX — again, the Weather Wizard's weather was pretty pitiful — but it's a CW show, and as long as the title character's powers look good, I can't begrudge them for not having more millions to blow on the villain of the week.
Last but not least, I think the show already knows what its trying to do for the season, and if I'm right, I definitely approve. Obviously The Flash is skipping the assembling of the team and evolution of a hero that Arrow did, and that's fine. Barry's anger at himself for not knowing how to handle the W.W. in the car chase makes me believe the first season will be about Barry learning to use his powers not just responsibly, but well. Thinking before he acts — given that he can more or less act instantaneously — is a pretty good developmental arc for the character, and one I look forward to seeing. Crossing my fingers.
Not everything in the show is perfect; besides the aforementioned pacing problems, I worry about the characters of Caitlin and Cisco — well, I worry about Caitlin, and I kind of hate Cisco already. Caitlin's sole defining characteristic is that her fiancé died, and Cisco seems like a dude born to play "good-natured but dim-witted comic book store shopper," not "young tech genius who creates incredible inventions with a lightning bolt motif." Again, it's the first episode, and there's time for both characters to develop.
• I have said this before, but in case you missed it: Grant Gustin's Barry Allen is the best Peter Parker I've ever seen. Funny, charming, innately good and super-nerdy — it almost makes me sad that he's playing the Flash instead of Spider-Man. But again, he's basically playing Peter Parker on The Flash, so oh well.
• I wonder if that Sherlock/CSI stuff is something the show will continue to use, or if the showrunners thought about and then abandoned in it in later episodes?
• Line o' the night: "Lightning gave me abs?"
• Second line of the night, spoken by Jesse L. Martin to Weather Wizard as he starts jabbering about his delusions of grandeur: "Shut the hell up." It's in the delivery.
• There were a delightful amount of DC easter eggs in the pilot, including Brry doing his initial speed tests on a Ferris Air runway and a cage — clearly broken out of — labeled Grodd. If The Flash actually features its title character fighting a giant, super-intelligent ape, it will automatically be the greatest show of all time.
• On the DC reference beat, tonight the Weather Wizard's real name was Clyde Mardon, who in the comics is actually the brother of the real Weather Wizard, Mark Mardon. I assume they did this so they could kill Clyde and then have Mark show up later with the same powers and a grudge. Hey, they were both in the plane when the particle storm hit…
• Can I admit something? Even though it was obvious and cheesy and not at all surprising, I totally geeked out to see Arrow and Barry commiserating. There's just something about seeing two heroes — that is, two headlining heroes — meeting up onscreen that is always totally awesome. Whenever they have the real crossover, where they're both in costumes, I will likely love it even if it's terrible. Just FYI.
• One thing I didn't mention as a problem was Wells' little "Barry Don't Be a Hero!" speech in the middle of the episode. I thought it seems pretty trite and a clear set-up for the emotional shift at the end… but given the episode's final scene, I think Wells probably did this intentionally to force Barry to come to the decision on his own, and I think the show wants us to at least suspect this is a possibility. I may be wrong, but I'm happy to give The Flash the benefit of the doubt for now.
• One of Flash's powers they didn't mention? Whenever Barry runs without his suit on, his hair remains perfect.
• In case you're wondering how the premiere did, not only was it the CW's biggest premiere in five years, it beat Agents of SHIELD in overall ratings. Outright. A CW show beat not only an ABC show, but an ABC based on the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Just sayin'.