Tuesday, April 26, 2016

REVIEW: 'The Flash' - Barry Adjusts to Life Without His Speed While Still Being a Hero in 'Back to Normal'

The CW's The Flash - Episode 2.19 "Back to Normal"

A meta-human with super strength named Griffin Grey mistakes Harry for Earth-1 Harrison Wells and kidnaps him, demanding that Wells cure him from his current condition. Realizing another brilliant Wells could help track Griffin's location, Barry asks Jesse to help. Meanwhile, Wally corners Joe about The Flash.

Moody has never really been a good emotional fit on The Flash. This is a show that gave its main character an incredibly tragic backstory. But part of why it has always been so successful was because of its upbeat, optimistic and humorous approach to storytelling. Over these two seasons, the show has done some very formulaic things but has been able to get away with them because of its tone. When Barry decides to mope around and question his purpose as a hero, the narrative as a whole starts to drag. That's essentially what happens to him in the wake of losing his speed to Zoom in order to protect Wally in the last episode. That was a thrilling conclusion that really intensified this war with Zoom. And yet, "Back to Normal" slows things down and isn't really sure what to do with itself.

Right now is a huge adjustment period for Barry. He's learning how to be a normal human being again. He no longer has his speed so he has to adjust to how the world works at a normal pace. All of his abilities are gone. And yet, his skill set as the Flash only increased the heroic sensibilities within him. Without his powers, he still has the same yearning to help others in this world. But now, he has to find a different way of doing that. Central City is suspicious about the rise of crime and the possible disappearance of the Flash. But the city really hasn't started to panic yet. It's still largely business as usual. Barry and the team are confined to this world adjusting to a new reality while Zoom is staying put on his Earth for the time being. So again, the show needs to find a purpose in this episode that makes it just as exciting and compelling to watch. The answer that it puts forward really isn't that great though.

"Back to Normal" features the most formulaic and bland meta-human of the week the show has ever done. Griffin Grey was given super strength by the particle accelerator explosion. It's one of the hallmarks of superhero abilities. And yet, he is cursed by his powers because they are chipping away at his lifespan. He is rapidly aging based on the amount of exertion he uses. The more he uses his strength the closer he gets to his death. It's a tragic character. But it's also one with absolutely no depth whatsoever. He kidnaps Wells-2 believing him to be the Wells of Earth-1 and demands that he cure him of his powers. That's simply not possible but Wells-2 has to go through the motions until Barry and the team find a way to save him from this situation. But Wells-2 in captivity doesn't bring out anything interesting in that character. It's ultimately just a generic story about powers being just as much a curse as they are a blessing. Plus, the people who led this to happening need to take responsibility for their actions. It's a message that can apply to a number of storylines. But it largely just feels tacked on here to give purpose to the story even though it's painfully telegraphed pretty early on in the episode.

All of this is only building to the reunion between Wells-2 and Jesse. It turns out he just needed to think about things hard enough to track her down. So, that really makes all the mystery of where she was over the past few episodes feel completely unnecessary. More importantly, the interactions between Wells-2 and Jesse just feel like a rehashing of character beats from earlier this season. It's just not interesting to see both of them continuing to struggle with the knowledge that Wells-2 killed someone in order to save Jesse from Zoom. This whole experience with Griffin does bring them back together. And now, Wells-2 is going to do whatever it takes in order to prove himself as a good father again. But so much of this plot happens just to give Team Flash a new scientist to replace Caitlin while she's being held prisoner on Earth-2. Jesse fills that role quite nicely. She continues to be a useful presence at STAR Labs. But again, it's a formulaic story that happens in order to move onto bigger and better things in the future.

That future includes Wells-2 planning on recreating the particle accelerator explosion in order to give Barry his powers back. It sounds like an incredible crazy and reckless idea at the end of this episode. But it too felt like the inevitable conclusion to make. Barry needs his speed in order to fight Zoom. He is able to take down Griffin without his powers because he has the support of his team who gave him the tools to succeed in battle. He's still an effective hero in this world even without his speed. The Flash still means something to Central City even though the circumstances have changed. The Flash's sacrifice has inspired Wally to take his life much more seriously. It's still a frustrating story development because Wally is still in the dark about Barry being the Flash. It's very reminiscent of Iris' own characterization last season. So, it's ultimately hard to care about Wally's plight here because it too feels inevitable that he'll learn Barry's secret and become a more interesting character.

And yet, Wells-2 plan for the future still sounds like an idea worth exploring. That's especially true considering Zoom's plans for the future. He spends the majority of this episode trying to force Caitlin into loving him once more. She fell in love with Jay Garrick. But now that she has learned who Hunter Zolomon is on Earth-2, she wants nothing to do with him. It is fun and amusing to watch Caitlin and Killer Frost team up in order to escape Zoom's prison. But it's also a rushed ending for a character who was very engaging and entertaining earlier this season. Zoom kills Killer Frost in order to protect Caitlin from her. They made a deal and Killer Frost double crossed her. It shows Zoom in a rare heroic moment. But Caitlin can hardly form any real love for him considering his plans for the future include conquering a number of worlds in order to test his true strength and power in the multi-verse. It's a big declarative statement for the concluding part of the season. But it happens in an episode that just really doesn't know what to do with itself.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Back to Normal" was written by Brooke Roberts & Katherine Walczak and directed by John Showalter.
  • The aging special effects with Griffin weren't impressive at all. In fact, they kinda looked cheap. It made every scene with him seem a little too laughable which ultimately took the stakes out of the majority of the main plot.
  • Wally knows that Joe must have a special connection to the Flash considering Zoom kidnapped him for a reason. And yet, he doesn't press Joe for any answers as to why that happened. Instead, he just wants to meet the Flash in order to thank him for the sacrifice he made in order to protect him.
  • Even Wally's meeting with the Flash is identical to the setup last season when Iris was cryptically meeting with the Flash on rooftops. The show really shouldn't be propping up those visuals because they only lead to further frustrations.
  • Before Killer Frost betrays Caitlin, they are able to share some details about their pasts that provide some new mysteries for the audience. Killer Frost had a brother who died which then turned her mother into a horrible parent. Meanwhile, Caitlin reveals that her mother has always been that way with no tragic event necessary. Will any of this be important again? Who knows or cares?
  • Zoom had to have known that as soon as he let Caitlin go free from her chains that she would wander to the prison section of the lair and want to help Killer Frost and the man in the iron mask escape, right?
  • Also, the man in the iron mask schtick is starting to feel very repetitive. He was an effective image when he first showed up when Barry was held prisoner. But now, both Caitlin and Wally have had the same type of interactions with him only to gather no new vital information about him.
  • So, Cisco opened the breach to Earth-2 but the team hasn't decided to close it by now. Why? They are just giving Zoom the possibility to come back into this world at any moment. Sure, they need it open to rescue Caitlin. But can't they close the one in the hospital and have Cisco open a new one later on so that they can control the situation?