Season One, Episode Six – “The Flash is Born”
By Molly Jane Kremer and Jarrod Jones. With five episodes in the bag, and with all the solid world-building and character development that goes with it, there still seems to be an essential cog missing to CW’s The Flash. Everything looks to be in place: Barry Allen (Grant Gustin)’s love life remains as uncertain and wonky as ever, Dr. Harrison Wells (Tom Cavanagh) continues to shift his eyes suspiciously underneath an innocuous pair of science glasses, and Det. Joe West (Jesse L. Martin) remains the solid moral foundation upon which this entire enterprise rests. Superficially, all appears to be well.
But as Iris Allen (Candice Patton) – ever the developing reporter – continues to cover the exploits of our hero, and with Dr. Cisco Ramon (Carlos Valdes) too busy slapping monikers on every antagonistic baddie with a superpower and a grudge, Barry Allen has had no choice but to be designated as “The Red Streak”, a rather clumsy and uninspired sobriquet that doesn’t flatter Central City’s only superhero, to say nothing of Iris’ burgeoning career path. (Imagine a young Vicki Vale calling Batman “The Black Bludgeon” and go from there.)
With episode six being titled “The Flash is Born” that particular gripe looks as though it’s about to be rectified. And even though it takes an entire episode to kick out Barry’s new code-name (never mind what Wells mutters in his darker hours), the episode also manages to maintain the narrative strength that the series has continued to perfect, while strengthening each character’s personal growth. It even bothers to include one of the show’s more ancillary characters – Det. Eddie Thawne (Rick Cosnett) – into all the fun.
Kicking off the episode’s opening sequence isn’t a typical monologue from Barry (which has begun to border on the Raimi-esque), but rather a blog written (and read aloud) by Iris herself. After five episodes of watching Iris talk about being an aspiring online journalist, “The Flash is Born” features Joe’s favorite daughter heading out to do some actual reporting, with Barry’s subterfuge only fueling her intrepid spirit. (A rooftop rendezvous, however, offers an unfortunate parallel to Lois Lane’s showdown with an absentee Kal-El in Superman Returns.) Everything about Iris’ career pursuits look like they’ll end in disaster, but Barry’s shadowy warnings don’t seem to shake her. Something far more sinister is going to have to do the trick.
Enter Tony Woodward (Greg Finley), a muscle-bound brute with a connection to Barry and Iris’ past, and a thick-necked punk who enjoys wanton violence now that S.T.A.R. Labs has inadvertently bestowed him with the superpower of turning his skin to metal. (The visuals that power offers strongly elicit those of Daniel Cudmore as Colossus in Bryan Singer’s X-Men franchise. Tell us they don’t.) Though this new-found strength may give Tony the ability to toss around Central City’s finest, the need to hurt those around him doesn’t come from an iron-clad epidermis, but rather from the fact that Tony is kind of a jerk. (Flashbacks to Barry’s younger days show that Woodward’s history of violence manifested at an early age.) Now that he’s virtually unstoppable, the rest of the episode leaves Barry, Cisco, Harrison and Dr. Caitlin Snow (Danielle Panabaker) left with the thankless (and undoubtedly painful) task of taking Tony down. Thankfully, science has an answer for everything.
While the episode’s villain du jour is about as simplistically blunt as one might expect from The Flash, “The Flash is Born” has vastly more intriguing things to show us. Here, Joe takes a backseat once again, this time to investigate the death of Barry’s mother, Nora. And while this mystery has been slowly unfolding for the viewers at home, the series’ cast of characters have been left mostly in the dark by it (save for Wells, who visibly knows more than he’s letting on). This episode allows Joe to play catch-up, finally utilizing his detective skills to make good on his promise to the incarcerated Henry Allen (John Wesley Shipp), and to do more than chase after an ever-growing army of metahumans with a bemused look on his face. All of this seems like a great idea until Joe’s few leads bring him to the doorstep of S.T.A.R. Labs.
While Joe begins to dig into the past, Barry’s superhero skills strengthen in this episode from an unlikely source. For the last five episodes, Eddie Thawne – all implications that name might have notwithstanding – has had very little to do in The Flash, save for standing in the way of Barry’s quest to win Iris’ affections. With Joe’s investigations taking him off of the episode’s radar (at least from the havoc that Woodward has wrought), Thawne has a stronger presence in the show, a seemingly deliberate move on the part of the series’ writers, who definitely know they need to find some footing for the man who may (or may not) be Zoom. Actor Rick Cosnett confidently accepts the challenge, giving his Thawne the chops necessary for a man about to show the Flash how to throw a punch.
It’s all very good timing, considering that we’re only two episodes away from CW’s big inter-channel crossover with Arrow: Oliver Queen has been doing this superhero bit for two whole seasons now, and if Barry wants to appear nearly as effective as Stephen Amell’s Emerald Archer, he’ll be needing to employ that new-found conviction sooner than he realizes. That level of narrative timing is indicative of a show so well-crafted and thoughtfully assembled, that even a toss-off episode like “The Flash is Born” feels essential. With this much going on at once, The Flash is a series that continues to inspire confidence, one whose strident run through twenty-three episodes feels like a breeze.
When Barry vibrates his voice to disguise it, he sounds an awful lot like Max Headroom.
Woodward tells Barry – both as a child and as the Flash – that it “looks like you were born to take a beating”; but it looks like Woodward was born to have shitty tattoos and steal humvees.
The pop music in the background in this episode was more enjoyable than usual (for MJ more than for Jones, at least).
Eddie Thawne needed that tiny peek into his past; he’s that much closer to being a slightly sympathetic character.
Iris unequivocally proves in this episode that she should NOT have her name on that Flash-blog, or we foresee MANY more rescues to come.
Never thought that this li’l comic book renaissance would mean that a barrel-scrape like Girder would get his day in the prime-time sun, but here we are. And here we go. (It’s likely that co-showrunner – and Girder co-creator – Geoff Johns had a hand in this.)