Thursday, 8 October 2015

Review - 'The Flash', S02E01 - 'The Man Who Saved Central City'

The first season of The Flash displayed a wonderful willingness to fully embrace its status as a 'comic-book' show - something which effectively distinguished it from Arrow, the show from which it sprung. While Arrow is often serious and sombre, The Flash was allowed to be light-hearted and fun right from the start. Throughout the first season, the audience was treated to a series of fun, and increasingly outlandish, villains who never would have been allowed anywhere near Arrow - up to, and including, Gorilla Grodd. Barry, himself, also made for a much more easily likable hero than Oliver Queen - being someone who clearly enjoyed his new abilities, and regarded using them for the greater good to be a privilege, rather than a burden, and who also hadn't spent the first season of his show ruthlessly murdering people.

And, to top it off, the first season came to a close with the spectacular sight of the Flash hurling himself into a rapidly expanding black hole in a desperate attempt to disrupt it, and save the world.

The first episode of the second season picks up a few months after this epic moment, though - showing us a city that had clearly been saved, but leaving the details about exactly how momentarily vague. Publicly acknowledged as the one responsible for saving the city, the Flash is now a recognised hero - there's even going to be a celebration in his honours, where the Mayor intends to award him with the key to the city.

But, Barry has no intention of taking part in this celebration - insisting that he isn't truly a hero the city thinks he is. Why does he feel this way, though? While we are, at first, left to assume that it is lingering guilt regarding Eddie Thawne's sacrifice that weighs on Barry, we soon learn that that isn't entirely true. Through flash-back, we are shown that it wasn't actually the Flash that closed the black hole opening over Central City, at all - it was Firestorm. Not only that, but the act of hurling himself into the singularity alongside the Flash left one half of Firestorm, Ronnie Raymond, once again lost and presumably dead. So, it's actually the guilt of not one, but two, tragic deaths that currently weigh on Barry - along with the city's insistence on celebrating an achievement that he does not feel was truly his.

In the aftermath of all of this, Barry seems to have entered a fairly conventional phase of a hero's development - that period where he tries to push away those closest to him in a misguided effort to protect them. It's a fairly standard character arc for this sort of show, admittedly - and, I have to admit, that I was a bit disappointed to see Barry Allen forced into it for the start of the second season. But, I also have to admit that, given the circumstances, there is at least some sense to it.

So, with the Flash working alone, the rest of his former team are left to take on new roles. Joe has been given the go-ahead to form an official 'anti-Meta' task force to deal with the increasing threat of super-powered villains, with Cisco being brought on-board as a scientific adviser - a situation that promises a fair bit of entertainment for the audience, as Jesse L. Martin and Carlos Valdes clearly play well off of each other. Caitlyn has taken a job at Mercury Labs, where she actively tries to avoid anything that might remind her of the second loss of the man she loves. No longer able to merge into Firestorm, Dr. Martin Stein is left to fall back onto his previous career as a genius scientist. It seems that Iris is the only one who still has any real hope of bringing the team back together - but, so far, her efforts have been largely unsuccessful.

It's not long, though, until Barry finds himself in need of help, despite his best efforts, as a new villain emerges who Barry simply isn't capable of taking on alone - the Atom Smasher (hilarious named by Dr. Stein, to Cisco's enthusiastic approval), a meta-human powered by radiation who seems to have a particular interest in killing the Flash.

The Man Who Saved Central City blends humour, character drama, and action as well as any episode of the previous season - it is, overall, a legitimately great opening to the season that should go some way toward alleviating the concerns of any audience member worried that the series may not be able to maintain the quality of so much of the first season. There are issues, though - not the least of which is with Atom Smasher, himself. In a series that has already struggled to give some of its cast of villains proper focus, Atom Smasher seems to suffer worst of all. It is not until the very end of the episode that we receive any hint that he is anything more than a fairly generic super-powered thug - but, there's also the possibility that his role isn't quite over, yet, so there's still some hope for greater focus in the future. The early hints at the presence of parallel realities introduced by his presence in Central City (appearing at the same time as a murder victim who just happens to look exactly like him) are definitely fascinating, at least. I do have to admit, though, that the CGI that went into creating his super-powered and enlarged form wasn't entirely convincing - but, I can appreciate the show's willingness to challenge itself with those sorts of special effects on a television budget, so I'm willing to overlook that.

Also, while I have to admit that I wasn't too eager to see another variation on the classic 'hero pushes his friends and loved ones away' arc, it did at least feel warranted here - and, it was over and done with by the end of the episode, anyway. It's also disappointing to see Ronnie Raymond so abruptly removed from the series so soon - an absence that clearly indicates that we wont be seeing much, if anything, of Firestorm, as well. Though, there is also the clear possibility that this is intended to lay the ground-work for the upcoming Legends of Tomorrow - so, I'm willing to accept that there might be a greater pay-off coming up in the future.

Those are clearly only minor faults in a legitimately great episode, though. And, to top it off, the episode even managed to fit in a legitimately clever reference to Batman when Cisco, who seems to be displaying an increasingly potent ability to catch glimpses of other time-lines and alternate realities, suddenly found himself inspired to build Barry a 'Flash Signal'. Of course, Cisco doesn't remember where he got the idea, and seems willing to attribute it to something he might have seen in a comic-book - but, the implication is there for anyone willing to see it. Honestly, that moment alone probably represents everything that I've come to love about The Flash.

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