Wednesday, 11 May 2016

Review - 'The Flash', S02E21 - 'The Runaway Dinosaur'

Watching Barry Allen slowly disintegrate, as Harrison Wells's efforts to restore his powers went awry, had been a very dramatic not to end on for the previous episode of The Flash. For the audience, though, there wasn't likely to be any real question about whether Barry was truly dead (though, it would certainly have been a genuinely shocking twist if that had been the case). Instead, the true issue to be explored as we move into the latest episode is where Barry actually was – and, when and how he would make his inevitable return. And, of course, there is the similarly intriguing matter of what the fall-out would be for the rest of the cast – particularly Jesse Wells and Wally West, who had both managed to get caught up in this new particle accelerator explosion.

With that in mind, it's probably for the best that this episode didn't waste any time in revealing that Barry was, actually, still alive – and, in resolving the mystery of where he actually was, now. Barry, it seems, as been pulled into another reality – a world created for him by the Speedforce, the mysterious source of his powers. There, this mysterious entity intends on communicating with him, by taking on the form of those closest to him. It seems as though the Speedforce has a lesson that it intends on teaching Barry, or a test that it wants to put him through – or, perhaps, it's actually a bit of both. Whatever its intentions truly are, though, it seems that the Speedforce doesn't plan on simply letting Barry have the powers that he gave away back until he jumps through a few hoops.

Meanwhile, back in the real world, the rest of the team's efforts to get Barry back run into some unexpected complications when a villain from the first season, Girder (Greg Finley), puts in a surprise reappearance. I say 'surprise', of course, because Girder's last appearance ended with his death – and, it seems as though the energy from this most recent particle accelerator explosion has, somehow, reanimated his body. So, now, the rest of 'Team Flash' have to deal with what is, basically, a super-powered zombie – on that, much like in life, still appears to be disturbingly obsessed with Iris West.

As a viewer who hasn't been overly impressed with Barry's arc over the past few episodes, I do have to admit that this episode still managed to provide a pretty great resolution. Barry's experiences interacting with the Speedforce provided some great character drama, as this mysterious entity seemed intent on testing him for reasons of its own. Each sequence, as the Speedforce takes on the form of another person that Barry cares for, manages to be intriguing in its own way, as Barry is pushed toward confronting the deeply personal issue of his mother's death – something that he has never truly been able to accept.

Thematically, the idea that it would Barry's lingering grief over his mother's murder, and his guilt over choosing not to change the past and save her at the end of the first season, that is at the heart of what is truly holding Barry back feels very appropriate. And, the idea that the Speedforce would want him to confront this issue before allowing him to become the Flash, once more, is very interesting. As someone who isn't all that familiar with the way that the Speedforce has been portrayed in the comics, I have no idea how well any of this would match up – but, I still can't help but like the idea of it being an essentially benevolent force that actually seems to care about its chosen champion. Also, Grant Gustin managed to give a genuinely great job with material that was clearly intended to play on the audience's emotions – with those scenes between Barry and his 'mother' (played by Michelle Harrison) standing out as the episode's high-light.

While the 'real world' plot-line proved to be a perfectly serviceable attempt to add a bit more action and tension into the episode, it just couldn't match up with this episode's primary plot-line. Being little more than a super-powered bully with a disturbing fixation on Iris, Girder hadn't been the most interesting or complex of villains when he appeared in the first season – and, to a large extent, that remains true, here. Although, to be fair, he really didn't need to be with this episode. Being little more than a mindless zombie, Girder's only role in this episode was to provide a convincing physical threat – and, Greg Finley was able to play that role very well.

I do have to admit, though, that I'm a little bothered by the implications that the team have, apparently, been holding Girder's body in their secret morgue all this time. It's the same level of dubious morality as the secret prison that they ran in STAR Labs throughout the first season (or, the fact that they've been quite happy to simply kill meta-human villains throughout the second). Having the whole matter brushed aside with some flippant comments from Cisco doesn't really help, either. Unfortunately, it seems like this is one of those things that's never going to be directly addressed – meaning that I'm just going to have to accept it, and move on.

At this point, it looks increasingly likely that The Flash is setting up Jesse Quick to take on the role of Earth-2's new speedster hero – a development which I can honestly so I have no strong opinions about, either way. As a character, Jesse just seems to exist on roughly the same level as Wally West. Despite the fact that they are both drawn directly from the pages of the comic-books, neither has had all that much to work with on their time on the show. As a result, neither has been able to make much of an impression. In Jesse's case, what that means is that this episode's implication that she may have inherited her own super-speed abilities has still left me feeling rather indifferent.

Regarding Wally, in particular, I still have no idea what the show actually has planned for him, or what his role is intended to be – and, to be honest, it's actually starting to get a little frustrating. Here, Wally's only real contribution to the episode is a mildly amusing scene in which Joe momentarily suspects that he may be a meta-human, now – which occurred only moments before being sent to his room as Girder put in another appearance.

One interesting bit of trivia is the fact that this episode was actually directed by Kevin Smith – something which, I have to admit, I never would of realised if I hadn't heard about it beforehand. Beyond an entertaining cameo appearance from Jason Mewes, there really wasn't anything about this episode that directly pointed to Kevin Smith's involvement. There is, for example, no sudden shift into the crude brand of humour that you tend to get from his own films. By his own admission, though, Kevin Smith came into his role determined to respect the work that had already been done – so, from that point of view, he would probably take the fact that his episode looks and feels much the same as every previous one as something of a compliment. Although, it does create the impression that Kevin Smith being allowed to direct an episode was more for his own benefit than that of the audience.

In the end, this episode managed to find an emotionally satisfying end to a character-arc for Barry Allen that I hadn't been overly invested in. If, as seems to be the case, it also leads Barry into an entirely new stage of his super-hero career, then all the better. With the season's final two episodes promising to be heavy on action, this episode provided what feels like a very necessary moment of quiet emotion as we move into the season's final confrontation between the Flash and Zoom. Of course, with that out of the way, now, I'm definitely looking forward to the tense excitement that is still to come.

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