Notice I swapped my usual running metaphor headline for an electricity pun? This isn't because this week's episode featured an Electro-esque freak o' the week. No, I'm feeling jovial because after last week's stinker, The Flash is back on track, courtesy of one Mr. Harrison Wells.
I had expected "Power Outage" to be a regular Freak o' the Week episode, and it kind of was. But what set it apart — as well as made it the most interesting Flash since the premiere — is that instead of ending the episode on a Mysterious Harrison Wells segment, it put the Mysterious Harrison Wells front and center, and his schemes, while remaining plenty mysterious, inform the entirety of the episode.
For instance, after the very brief origin of Blackout (he was on an electric pole with the particle accelerator explodes, shocker [hee hee]) it begins with Harrison in his secret room, making a Flash diary, and checking on the April 2024 newspaper, the one that says "Flash Disappears in Crisis!" He's upset because The Flash isn't making enough progress with his powers, and he think it's all the helping people that's slowing him down. Harrison does not care for this at all. Seriously, he's edging into straight-out supervillain territory, sneering, "Unfortunately his penchant for the heroic persists."
Unfortunately, Wells is pretty much proven right when the Flash meets Blackout for the first time at the local power grid (Blackout can shoot electricity, but he also needs to feed on it), gets zapped, and loses his speed! He has to get an Uber ride back to STAR Labs in his uniform. Wells is pissed until he enters his secret room and checks the newspaper — where The Flash is no longer mentioned. Barry has erased his own future, Back to the Future style!
So now we know the future is very much in flux, and Wells is trying to channel Barry's development not just for a specific cause but to a specific point. I think most of us had assumed that Wells was using whatever means necessary to prepare Barry for something heroic, but now it seems he may just need Barry's power for his own nefarious purposes. Fun! Anyways, this means Barry is powerless when Blackout stops by STAR Labs to kill Wells for turning him into an electricity monster that can't control his power and kills people. STAR Labs and the city are powerless, because somehow Blackout is able to short them all out.
Unfortunately for Joe, Blackout's blackout happens right when Iris is visiting and the Clock King is being transferred, and he takes advantage in the confusion to take basically a whole police department hostage. This doesn't make a lot of sense, but I'm down with it for three reasons: 1) it gives something for Joe and Iris to do that's pretty exciting while Barry and the Super STARS are basically trapped in the lab with Blackout; 2) Eddie Thawne tries to take out Clock King and gets shot, so this subplot pretty much dispels all thoughts that Eddie is secretly the Reverse Flash, at least yet; 3) Iris gets to save her own damn self. Fuck yeah.
Anyways, back at the labs, Wells has the idea to hook the back-up generator to the Cosmic Treadmill (fuck you, I know there's nothing cosmic about it on the show [yet] but we all know it's the Cosmic Treadmill and if you deny it you're lying to yourself) to basically restart Barry's speed powers. Cisco manages this, while Wells secretly frees Girder, offering the villain his freedom if he wouldn't mind killing Blackout on his way out. Wells actually goes so far as to get out of his wheelchair to free Girder, which means he knows two major secrets about our "heroes." Luckily for both Wells and Barry, who stupidly revealed his secret identity last episode, Blackout kills Girder before he can reveals either of their secrets.
Meanwhile, Barry's been electrocuted, but doesn't have his speed back — until Caitlin notices his cells are fine, so it must be a mental block. Once that's announced, it's pretty obvious where the episode is going, especially after Wells admits he freed Grider to give them time. Barry has some more legitimate Drama than usually yelling at Wells for sacrificing Girder — a charge Wells doesn't deny. It all culminates with Blackout confronting Wells with much the same accusation about not caring about people, then Wells lists off every person who died in the explosion. This (seeming) proof that Wells does care isn't enough to sway Blackout, but it's enough for Barry to get over his shit and use his powers to save Wells and the rest. Then it's just a matter of Blackout trying to absorb the Flash's powers again, but Barry overloading him to the point where Blackout actually dies.
This is probably the biggest problem in "Power Outage," in that it fails to draw anything but the most basic parallel between Wells' conscious sacrifice of others to achieve his goals versus Barry being forced to kill a villain to save his friends. There's a genuinely fascinating theme to be explored there, and The Flash just ignores it almost entirely; it also doesn't help that Barry actually murders a dude, even if it's accidental (Cisco says Blackout "choked" on Barry's power, which is certainly a striking visual). The second biggest problem is how the episode turns Barry's outrage over Girder's death into a moment of Drama instead of actual drama; Barry is momentarily super-upset without any kind of consideration for Wells' position, and then he's almost instantly over it.
But if "Power Outage" isn't getting the deeper level of storytelling right, then at least it's getting the basics down correctly, and the increased focus on Wells is immensely entertaining. The episode ends with Wells heading back into his hidey hole to check the newspaper, whose "crisis" headline has returned, where he says that now he believes Barry's attachment to helping people may be the key to advancing his abilities, a hokey sentment that Tom Cavanaugh manages to make sound genuinely ambiguous, as if Wells only sees it as a new tool to be used and discarded. Wells also takes a syringe of juice from Blackout's corpse, in order to discover how he was able to steal the Flash's abilities — but whether Wells is hoping to prevent a future occurrence or has something more insidious in mind is of course is unknown. But Wells also gets what he wants most of all — Barry, back at STAR Labs, rededicated to exploring the limits of his powers.
I could speculate about how the events of this episode may effect the future of the show, but screw that because next week is the big Flash Vs. Arrow two-parter! Holy god am I excited. I may not have ever been a big Flash or Green Arrow fan as a kid, but I literally cannot see two superheroes onscreen at the same time without my inner nerd basically exploding in glee, and every clip of the Flash and Arrow fighting each other delights me to the core of my being. If nothing else, it'll be great to see what The Flash looks like with more direct guidance from the Arrow team. I can't wait!
• I think this was the most genuinely funny The Flash has been. Barry's utter glee when some dude tries to mug him is hilarious. I also like Joe's test to determine if Barry has his powers, which is to basically knock shit to the floor like my cat. I especially love that for no reason at all, Joe doesn't trust what Barry actually tells him, until he watches Barry's mug shatter against the floor.
• Harrison's computer/helper is named Gideon. Any DC aficionados know if that has any significance to the comics?
• Joe doesn't tell Barry about the appearance/threat of the man in yellow from last episode. That… seems dumb. What is up with people not giving other people some very useful, pertinent information on this show?
• Man, I just love Robert Knepper as Clock King. Here's hoping he shows up in Arrow or The Flash again sooner rather than later. I really loved how he wrote the time he applied the tourniquet to Eddie in blood on his forehead — it's just so wonderfully weird and sinister.
• Caitlin's sudden refusal to electrocute Barry was also done given how they'd all established that Barry wanted it and they were all going to die if he didn't get his powers back. It also sucked that her mind was changed by Barry's extremely confusing pep talk.
• Also terrible: The Flash apologizing to Iris for being late and Iris saying, "My best friend is always saying that!" It's just insulting, if not to Iris, then to the audience.
• Those aforementioned hardcore DC fans will know better than me, but Well's list of people who died in the particle accelerator accident was pretty crazy, right? I know I heard Ralph Dibny, the Elongated Man in there — who else did I miss?
• Blackout has a better origin in this one Flash episode than Electro does in The Amazing Spider-Man 2. Just sayin'.