Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Review - 'The Flash', S02E19 - 'Back to Normal'

Given how frustrated I had been by the way in which the previous episode of The Flash had ended, it would probably be fair to say that my expectations for this episode weren't quite as high as they could have been. It wasn't the idea of Barry giving up his powers that bothered me, of course (since, that sort of thing can often be a source of some great drama, where super-heroes are concerned) – but, instead, it was with the way in which it happened.

The way in which that entire ending sequence had been staged had seemed, to me, to be incredibly problematic. First, we had the moment in which Zoom clearly let Wally West go – willingly relinquishing the only real bargaining chip that he had. Then, we had the moment in which Barry Allen decides to allow Zoom to take his speed, anyway – seemingly, for no other reason than that he had already given his word and so, naturally, couldn't back out of the deal. Rather than being tense and dramatic, and a display of Barry Allen's selfless nobility, this entire sequence of events had simply made him look foolish.

Honestly, the fact that all of this resulted in Barry almost being killed, and Caitlin being kidnapped, was really the best that they could have hoped for, given the circumstances.

The most frustrating aspect, though, would have to be the fact that, if this sequence had simply been scripted differently, we could very easily have had a situation in which Barry gave up his powers without looking like an overly noble fool. It was an easily avoidable issue – and, going in to this episode, it was one that I hoped would be quickly resolved. The one concession that I was willing to make, in my review of the previous episode, was with the possibility that Barry may have had a back-up plan, of some description, that was still to be revealed – something that would justify Barry's foolishness.

But, unfortunately, as the episode begins it quickly becomes obvious that this simply isn't the case. Here, we are treated to an opening sequence depicting Barry's very unsuccessful attempts to adapt to no longer having his power. It is a sequence that is clearly intended to fully display the cost of his choice – yet, for the reason I have already outlined, I found that it was very difficult to have any real sympathy for him. It was, similarly, also difficult for me to feel any real sympathy when Barry was forced to endure criticism from Harrison Wells. While I often that the impression that the audience is supposed to disagree with Earth-2's version of Harrison Wells, and his harsh methods, I found that I actually agreed with him entirely, here.

With Barry's powers gone, and Cisco's recently opened breach connecting the two Earths once more, Wells is understandable concerned for the safety of his daughter, Jessie (Violett Beane) – clearly fearing that Zoom might come after her, once again. Fortunately, though, Wells has also managed to come up with a new way to track her down, himself – though, their reunion isn't quite as pleasant as he had clearly hoped it would be.

Later, too, Wells's little side-adventure encounter more significant difficulties when he is tracked down by Griffin Grey (Haig Sutherland) – one of the many to have developed strange new abilities as a result of the particle accelerator explosion. Griffin's particular power happens to be highly enhanced strength – though, there is also a fairly significant side-effect in the fact that it also seems to be responsible for his rapidly accelerated ageing. Despite appearing as a 40 year old man, Griffin is only 18 years old – and, giving the circumstances, he is understandably worried that he doesn't have much time left. So, mistakenly believing that Earth-2's Harrison Wells is the person responsible for his current predicament, Griffin is quite eager to take the opportunity to demand a cure. And, with Barry still powerless, the rest of the team are find themselves at a significant disadvantage in their efforts to track them down.

While many of the show's previous 'one-off' villains have tended to be rather poorly developed, it is somewhat refreshing to observe that the same can't really be said for Griffin Grey. Filled with a very understandable anger, given the circumstances he has found himself in, Griffin makes for an instantly sympathetic character – the sort you could easily imagine the team wanting to help, rather than defeat. It is unfortunate, then, that the episode's treatment of Griffin Grey goes on to be so problematic.

In a fairly stark contrast to so many of the show's earlier villains, it seems quite likely that this episode simply did too good a job of making Griffin into a sympathetic character. With the revelation that Griffin's rapid ageing was tied to his use of his enhanced strength, Barry immediately beings formulating a plan to force Griffin to use his powers (in what seems to amount to a fairly blatant attempt to trick Griffin into killing himself) – which, given the fact that they are clearly dealing with nothing more than a scared boy, here, comes across as especially callous. While the previous episode made Barry look like a bit of a fool, this one manages to make him seem almost cruelly indifferent – which, I'm certain, was not the writer's intent, either.

In the end, Harrison Wells seemed to display more sympathy for Griffin's plight than Barry did – not that that really amounted to much either, of course.

While all of this was taking place on Earth-1, Caitlin seems to have found herself on Earth-2 – in a secondary plot-line which, I have to admit, is significantly more successful. Finding herself a prisoner in Zoom's lair, Caitlin has to deal with the somewhat disturbing idea that Hunter Zolomon is still in love with her – and, is convinced that she might be capable of loving him. Her already precarious situation takes another strange turn when she discovers that her own Earth-2 double, Killer Frost, is also Zoom's prisoner – and, so, she might have an ally, after all.

There are a couple of reasons why I feel that this plot-line was the more successful of the two. First, there was the simple joy of seeing the two, very different, versions of Caitlin Snow interact with each other. Killer Frost may have been a somewhat one-dimensional villain, but Danielle Panabaker was still able to give an entertaining performance – and, that continues here. Also, while Jay Garrick may have been a somewhat bland character, Hunter Zolomon is quickly proving to be a very entertaining addition to the show's cast of villains. Teddy Sears, it seems, has finally been given something worthwhile to do on the show – and, so far, he has managed to give a great performance as the violent, and unhinged, Hunter Zolomon.

Beyond this episode's primary plot-lines, it was also great to see that Wally West, too, had some of the best material he has been allowed to have in his time on the show. It was a simple character arc, of course – one concerning his very earnest, and genuine, desire to meet the Flash so that he could thank him for saving his life. But, it was very well played by Keiynan Lonsdale – adding a genuine warmth to the episode that was missing, elsewhere.

So, despite my issues with Barry's behaviour over the past couple of episodes, this was still a fairly decent episode for certain members of the supporting cast – so, it wasn't a total loss. At this point, I just have to hope that we get to the inevitable point at which Barry's powers are restored fairly quickly, so that we can put all of this behind us.

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