Or choose another running metaphor! The Flash has picked up the pace. He's gotten on track. The show has become sure-footed! It's found its runner's high! Whatever hackneyed way you want to say it, the fact is that "Revenge of the Rogues" was one of The Flash's best episodes yet.
Of course, it wasn't perfect, and the show isn't near Arrow levels of quality yet, but it was excellent without being a pivotal episode, relying on its overarching mystery, or — and I apologize ahead of time for writing this, really — it wasn't flashy. It was a basic, run-of-the-mill Flash episode that just so happened to be very good.
It helps that "Revenge of the Rogues" brings back the show's best villain, Wentworth Miller's Captain Cold, now accompanied by Dominic Purcell's Heat Wave. The two Prison Break co-stars have a fun chemistry, especially when its twisted into the old, calculated Leonard Snart and the hotheaded, pretty much insane Mick Rory — and it bodes well that Captain Cold is watchable, especially when he's set to be on of the Flash's greatest foes.
In the show, Snart is already obsessed with the Flash — not out of petty revenge, but as the one real threat to his newfound powers. Cold sees it as prudent to take out the Flash, but Heat Wave thinks he's obsessed… and although Heat Wave is crazy as hell and thinks burning people alive reveals their true selves, he's not wrong in this instance.
In a plot development the 1966 Batman TV series would have called "A bit on the nose", some rich couple is bringing in a painting titled… wait for it… Fire and Ice worth $25 million. (The painting is half-red, half-white, of course.) But what Snart really wants is a chance to fight the Flash, who fails to show up to stop the duo.
Where is the Scarlet Speedster? After failing to stop the Reverse-Flash in the mid-season finale, he's training like hell in order to become faster and improve his powers for round 2. When he hears about the return of Captain Cold, his instinct is to go catch him, but Wells makes a salient point — the Reverse-Flash is a much greater danger, and the last time Barry fought Cold, a train derailed and Barry had to rescue all of the passengers. Wells posits that if Cold is looking for a fight, people might be safer if the Flash doesn't give it to him. Barry agrees! Unfortunately, in one of the episode's few flubs, Barry doesn't explain this solid argument very well to Joe when he explains why he's sitting this fight out, and Joe can immediately see Wells' influence in Barry' decision.
So what are the cops to do? Get special heat shields from Cisco and STAR Labs, that's what. They literally appear to be shields with heaters in them, and work great against Snart's cold ray — not so much against Heat Wave's "absolute hot" ray, which is how the pair are able to steal the thematically appropriate painting, and several cops are hurt.
Barry feels guilty, and he feels even worse when Snart and Rory decide to force his hand by kidnapping Caitlin (who's been investigating Firestorm, but more on that in a sec). They even somehow hijack all of television to tell the Flash to meet them for a showdown if he wants to Caitlin to live! It's a very, very silly ultimatum, but it actually has a major impact on the show — when the Flash does fight Cold and Heat Wave, he does so in front of a huge group of cops who have cordoned off the area — meaning the Flash is no longer an urban legend, but Central City's known protector. Add to that the fact that the cops have had to fight their first supervillain — a guy with a cold gun instead of a metahuman, but still — and the world of The Flash has just changed significantly. Turning supervillains into a regular part of the rest of the world of The Flash— as opposed to being a weird, secret fight club for Barry and his pals — is going to be really fun going forward, and definitely a major difference between Flash and Arrow.
The showdown between the Flash and the two Rogues isn't exactly an action-packed display of special effects, but it's fine; plus, I can't be upset when the only way for the Flash to defeat them is to make them cross the streams of their guns, which they all acknowledge is from Ghostbusters. The Flash has to basically take the hit from both beams in order to get the two villains to cross 'em, and not only are the bad guys caught, but Cisco gets his two very dangerous ray guns back.
So the main plot is, if occasionally hokey, a solid hour of entertainment, but what may make "Revenge of the Rogues" even better is that the show finally gives Caitlin something interesting to do! She's gone from passively being shocked by the appearance of her flaming hobo of an undead fiancé Ronnie Raymond into actively trying to figure out how to help him, and it makes a world of difference for her character. With an assist from Barry, she realizes that "Firestorm" — the word Ronnie uttered before flying off — is an acronym for a project that Ronnie happened to be working on… and co-wrote a paper about with one Jason Rusch.
Caitlin tracks down Rusch, who starts really detailing the background of the hero that will be Firestorm. To whit: Ronnie and Jason were working for one Dr. Martin Stein on a experiment to transmute elements. Stein took the experiments too far, the university shut them down, and Stein went off to seek new funding from a mysterious benefactor. At that point, Ronnie seemingly died in the particle accelerator accident, and Stein also hasn't been seen from since.
Comics fans know where Stein likely is, although I imagine they're confused how Ronnie affiliation with Stein is getting worked into his TV origin, where he appeared to work solely for STAR Labs (I think we can safely guess who Stein's benefactor was, though). Still, this is a genuinely interesting plot and a much better use of Caitlin's time than playing Fauxlicity or pining over her flaming hobo fiancé. Of course, her journey is interrupted when Cold and Heat Wave kidnap her to be a damsel-in-distress for Flash to fight over, but still, it's at least somewhat a step in the right direction.
And it's way better than Iris, whose big story is that she's moving to Eddie Thawne's place, which is well-handled but still a story that keep Iris as having no agency except as Barry's object of desire. Two things keep it from being wholly worthless: 1) Barry and Iris kind of reestablish their friendship by the end, so at least they'll be able to function on that level moving forward, and 2) Eddie actually uses one of Cisco's shields to save the Flash during his battle with CC and HW, which is keeping Thawne from being a stock romantic rival (although that doesn't really do Iris' character any good).
But still, this episode was overwhelmingly more good than mediocre, and it didn't need the Reverse-Flash to do it! I've talked before about Flash needing to follow in Arrow's footsteps, in order to take it to the next level — and it appears that it may have done exactly that over the mid-season break. We'll have to wait and see, because this race is not yet over! Nor, unfortunately, is my penchant for discussing this show almost exclusively in running and race metaphors.
• I dig the repetition of the opening narration this episode: "My name is Barry Allen. And I am not the fastest man alive."
• Captain Cold telling Heatwave to put on his seatbelt was delightful.
• Barry's backpack when he was little was red with yellow highlights, natch.
• If anyone can remember what F.I.R.E.S.T.O.R.M. stands for, please say so in the comments. Somewhere, Agent Ward is muttering, "It means someone really wanted this project to spell 'firestorm.'"
• For a painting worth $25 million, I find it somewhat odd that the absurdly rich couple that brought it to Central City did so without packing it or securing it in any way. Seriously, they carried it off the plane, by hand, by its frame.
• Remember that aside where Heat Wave fixes his ray gun after a cop shoots it, and he announces, "Man, I'm glad you made be learn this thing inside and out"? I'm 99% sure this is implying the two can now make their own weapons, meaning the fact that Cisco confiscated the original weapons is useless.
• Barry moves home with Joe. I wasn't sure how to feel about this, but when Barry said, "I'm a Millennial. It's what I do." I was sold. Still, I want no wacky roommate comedy from The Flash.
• Captain Cold's sister breaks him and Rory out of their prison transport van, because Cold always has a plan. In the comics, Snart's sister Lisa is the villainess the Golden Glider, who has the ability to glide on any substance, including air — originally because of special tech, but in the New 52 because of an actual superpower. We'll see which way The Flash TV show goes.
• Next episode: The Pied Piper!