Season One, Episode Two – “Fastest Man Alive”
By Molly Jane Kremer and Jarrod Jones. While it’s still very, very early on in the first season of CW’s The Flash, the general consensus holds that the show is already a raging success. When things are going well for a television series it’s easy to take its quality for granted, and when a show falters it can feel like the entire planet has crumbled underneath its viewers’ feet. Two episodes in, and it appears The Flash is losing absolutely no momentum from last weeks’ stunner of a premiere. Two episodes in, and it’s already running circles around certain other DC Comics television properties.
Picking up shortly after the events of last week’s episode, we discover our hero is quickly finding his footing as a burgeoning super-hero. We also begin to understand that Barry’s super-speed isn’t without limits, as he grows faint after exerting himself during a fire rescue and after chasing this episode’s villain: a former bio-geneticist fired from Stagg Industries who – thanks to the same collider-accident that gave Barry his powers – can split himself off into separate and controlled clones of himself. It doesn’t do to have a hero get wobbly-kneed when there’s a world that needs saving, so – after a quick jaunt on a souped-up treadmill – Barry’s team at S.T.A.R. Labs figure out that Barry just needs to eat more – a LOT more – to keep up with his new super-boosted metabolism. (If this new plot point doesn’t lead to scenes of skinny little Grant Gustin housing plate after plate of cheeseburgers like a monster, to the amazement of all around him, we will be heartily disappointed.)
With “Fastest Man Alive”, The Flash already feels like it’s hitting a stride before the show has any right to, but that’s certainly not to say the episode is without its faults. The best part about the show is that when it’s good, it’s great – so great in fact, that the minor gripes that materialize in episode two are practically swallowed whole. Any stumbling blocks the episode encounters are swiftly overcome by the show’s otherwise stellar writing, especially in how it manages to keep its keen focus on Barry and his storyarc. And while the show’s severely tantalizing mysteries look like they’re going to simmer on a slow burn for the majority of the season, the rest of the episode wisely spends its free time in the most pragmatic and satisfying way possible: with solid character building, and a determined eye directed ever towards the future.
A major relief about”The Fastest Man Alive” is that Barry’s co-conspirators, familial and otherwise, are becoming more realized as characters. Caitlin Snow (Danielle Panabaker) is thankfully beginning to move past being a shrill stereotype, and Cisco Ramon (Carlos Valdes) has the brilliant-kiddo-sidekick thing down pat. The character of Dr. Harrison Wells continues to be entertainingly played with ambiguous intention by Tom Cavanagh. Wells is never less than completely supportive of Barry and his efforts at heroism, and he even chides Barry’s would-be father Det. Joe West (Jesse L. Martin) for not believing in his foster son’s abilities, saying, “doubt is [Barry’s] real enemy.”
With a bit of depth added to what seemed to be the superficial role of “attractive friend/unrequited love interest,” Iris West (Candice Patton) is much more enjoyable in this episode. While Iris gripes about her future career in journalism as being “boring” (something that elicited serious eye-rolling), by the episode’s end she’s believably had a fire lit under her by the idea of investigating the mysterious “red streak” that’s been sighted fighting crime all over Central City. However, her forced chemistry with Det. Eddie Thawne (Rick Cosnett) doesn’t do Iris any favors as a character, and Eddie’s palpable sleaze is the least contemplated aspect of the show. Eddie simply appears and exits the episode much like he did in the pilot, almost as if the show’s writers are deliberately keeping the character at arm’s length. (Hmm…)
The standout of the show, aside from Grant Gustin’s dapper Barry Allen, is Jesse L. Martin. As Det. Joe West, Martin is The Flash‘s moral core, a thoughtful and charismatic supporting character that bolsters Gustin’s Barry Allen without ever overshadowing him. Whenever “Fastest Man Alive” threatens to cross the line into schmaltz, Martin arrives in the nick of time to right the ship. His presence is the strongest, most highly-functioning facet to the series so far. It’s fitting that a character named West would lend a show called The Flash a beating heart.
While they aren’t exactly high-profile, two new DC Comics characters are introduced in this episode: Simon Stagg and Danton Black (better known as Multiplex). Neither tend to be associated with the Flash, but their presence, coupled with a teasing mention of Caitlin’s late fiance “Ronnie”, reminds us that the CW’s DC Universe is ever expanding (and will soon include one Ronnie Raymond, also known as Firestorm). With that expansion comes the standard “villain of the week” trope, and while this hasn’t had an adverse effect on the overarching story (as yet), the series would do well in continuing to unveil DC’s cadre of spectacular badguys slowly, rather than cramming too many in as fast as *cough* another DC-based TV show *cough*, successfully making each villain – large and small – compelling and multi-dimensional.
After the credits roll on “The Fastest Man Alive,” the strident confidence we have in The Flash has only been fortified. Peeking ahead into the show’s future, episodes that boast names like “Going Rogue” and “Plastique” only serve to further pique our curiosities (not to mention whet our geeky appetites), and with this much talent flying around – with a solid reverence for its four-colored origins – no one can say The Flash is going nowhere fast.
Our esteemed EIC notes that he can’t walk 10 miles in a pair of Vans without wearing holes in them. Barry would run through ‘em in a second. Maybe Cisco should get to designing him some new sneaks.
The Matrix-esque bullet-dodging makes you realize that 1.) we’ve come a long long way to have such effects on a TV show, and 2.) has there ever been a more apt use for bullet-time, than for a character who’s faster than the speed of sound?
Thankfully, Detective West knows Barry has powers, and figured out that Barry has been using them to help people as the Flash. Having a detective as your foster-dad should mean that he can figure that crap out. We’ll see if Iris’ burgeoning investigative-journalism skills are as incisive.
We still don’t yet know anything about Dr. Harrison Wells’ motivations or origins. With a show so full of characters that have had multiple arcs and incarnations in other media, it’s decidedly more exciting to have a main character be such an inscrutable mystery. Murderous though they may be.
Eddie Thawne dating his partner’s daughter is a total creep-fest, but Barry’s deep abiding love for the girl who was practically raised as his sister? Not gonna lie, that’s a little creepy too.
BUT: the bit where Barry speeds around Iris, telling her how he truly feels about her before she finishes pouring the sugar into her coffee or hears a single word, was also pretty cute. So I guess their relationship is more like creepy-cute. Or cute-py maybe?
As far as cute things go though, Grant Gustin takes the cake. The entire cake. He’s completely loveable in this role, enthusiastic and sincere, exactly the personality of someone who would willingly risk his life with a new as-yet-unknown power-set to help complete strangers. He is perfect in this part.
While we saw a tiny bit of Barry working his “day job” as a CSI, they can do to show more of this aspect of his life, and how it can complement his everyday super-heroing.
Agree? Disagree? Let us know in the comments below.