Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (September 14, 2015)
Pity the Flash, one of the few major superheroes to leap to the big screen – so far, at least. IMDB indicates a Flash movie will hit multiplexes in 2018, so apparently the character will enjoy that exposure before too long.
In the meantime, the speedy hero gets his own TV series. We examine The Flash in this “Complete First Season” Blu-ray set. The package includes all 23 episodes from the show’s initial year. The synopses come from IMDB.
Pilot: “Nine months after the STAR Labs explosion, Barry Allen (Grant Gustin) awakens to find a lot has changed while he was in a coma. With his new friends and powers, Barry must try to right the wrongs of his new mentor, Dr. Harrison Wells (Tom Cavanagh).”
My screening of The Flash comes pretty hot on the heels of my time with Season One of Gotham. I’m far more attached to Batman than I am to the Flash, and I enjoyed Gotham so much that any other DC Comics-based series seemed likely to come up short by comparison.
While I doubt that I’ll like The Flash as much as Gotham, at least the “Pilot” gets it off to a pretty good start. I think it owes a little too much to Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man - down to the hero’s magical development of muscles – but “Pilot” manages to pack a lot of exposition into a reasonably entertaining program.
Fastest Man Alive: “Barry escorts Iris (Candice Patton) to a university gathering honoring scientist Simon Stagg (William Sadler). When six gunmen storm the event, Barry changes into The Flash and tries to stop them.”
Though I’m not sure how deep into the Flash’s backstory I’ll commit, the series does offer pretty good action and excitement so far. That’s where “Alive” excels, as the sequences in which Barry battles the baddie fare well. If the thematic/character elements catch up, this will become a quality show.
Things You Can’t Outrun: “As Barry and the team at STAR Labs work to capture Kyle Nimbus (Anthony Carrigan) - a.k.a. The Mist, a dangerous new meta-human with toxic gas powers - they revisit the painful night the particle accelerator exploded and killed Caitlin's (Danielle Panabaker) fiancé.”
As with prior episodes, “Outrun” works best when it focuses on action, as the thematic/character elements don’t fare that well. Because “Outrun” lacks as much action as its predecessors, it becomes less engaging than I’d like.
Curious casting footnote: Carrigan plays Victor Zsasz on Gotham. It seems odd to use the same actor for two different roles on semi-related series, especially given how distinctive Carrigan looks; the guy’s not exactly a chameleon.
Going Rogue: “The Flash stops a robbery but the culprits get away after shooting a guard, and The Flash chooses to save the man instead of following the criminals.”
While I like that we finally meet a villain who’s not a “meta-human”, it seems like Captain Cold offers a fairly tepid threat. No matter how hard the episode tries to sell a guy with a freezing gun as a danger, I just don’t buy it. The Flash should be able to nail Cold and end the problem right away. That side of things makes “Rogue” a less than terrific show, though I guess I’ll have to suspend this disbelief since Cold will play a fairly prominent role in future programs.
Plastique: “After a bomb goes off downtown, Army members led by General Eiling (Clancy Brown) roll in and take over the case, much to Detective Joe West’s (Jesse L. Martin) surprise. Suspicious, Joe tells Barry that he and his friends at STAR Labs should look into the Army's involvement.”
I like that “Plastique” introduces a meta-human who doesn’t pursue evil. However, that becomes arguably the episode’s only real strength. The show feels sappier than I’d like and doesn’t really go anywhere.
The Flash Is Born: “Many people are now aware of the ‘Red Streak’ saving lives, but Barry Allen is eager to make a name for himself.”
S1 rebounds fairly well with “Born”. The episode’s villain presents an interesting backstory and provides reasonable action. I wouldn’t call it a great show, but it satisfies after a couple of lackluster programs.
Power Outage: “The Flash goes up against Farooq, aka Blackout (Michael Reventar), a meta-human who can harness electricity.”
As I’ve mentioned before, The Flash works best when it accentuates action, and that helps make “Outage” a strong show. It boasts a mix of villains and presents interesting twists, especially when Barry loses his powers. "Outage” probably turns into the series’ best show to date.
Flash Vs. Arrow: “When a series of homicides cases involving a boomerang-like weapon brings the Arrow (Stephen Amell) to Central City, The Flash must also take care of a new metahuman who manipulates emotions.”
Flash already offered some crossover with Arrow in two prior episodes, but “Vs.” does so more actively. Though this feels like a gimmick, “Vs.” works, largely because it offers good excitement as well as character/plot advancements. I don’t like it quite as much as “Outage”, but “Vs.” turns into a solid show.
The Man in the Yellow Suit: “Iris and Eddie (Rick Cosnett) take their relationship to the next level. Barry faces his rival finally. A ghost of Caitlin's past returns. Cisco (Carlos Valdes) is asked for help. And there is a secret traitor among these people.”
“Suit” delivers a mixed bag. On one hand, I like the developments in the Reverse-Flash plot, and those add both intrigue and excitement. However, the side with Caitlin works less well, largely because Danielle Panabaker can’t act. She damages any scene in which she needs to show actual emotion, which makes her arc less successful.
Revenge of the Rogues: “As Barry is struggling to train his speed in order to beat Reverse Flash, his old friend, Captain Cold (Wentworth Miller), returns to Central City with the help of a new villain, Heat Wave (Dominic Purcell).”
At least as depicted so far, I still think Captain Cold is a mediocre super-villain since he remains a dude with a gun, but I do realize this comes straight from the comics, so I can’t criticize the series’ use of him. Besides, it’s fun to get a Flash foe who isn’t a meta-human, especially since Miller gives us a delightfully arch portrayal of Cold. “Revenge” doesn’t excel but it becomes a mostly enjoyable show.
By the way, what’s with the series’ obsession with Prison Break alumni? In addition to Miller and Purcell, Robert Knepper appeared in “Power Outage”. Nothing against those actors, of course, but it seems odd so many of them show up in The Flash.
The Sound and the Fury: “After his encounter with The Rogues, Barry must face off against a new villain, Pied Piper (Andy Mientus).”
Wells has been the series’ slipperiest character, and “Fury” manages to open that narrative a bit more. Pied Piper also offers a decent villain. Despite those positives, “Fury” lacks the zing I’d like to see and feels a bit flat.
Crazy For You: “Caitlin brings Barry out to a Karaoke bar, hoping they both meet someone new. Cisco thinks about Hartley's dangerous proposition. Henry's (John Wesley Shipp) snooping gets him into trouble.”
To a certain degree, The Flash lives or dies with its villains. That makes “Crazy” a less than enthralling show, largely because Peek-A-Boo offers a fairly blah baddie. Some moments still work fine, but the show as a whole lacks zing.
The Nuclear Man: “After Ronnie (Robbie Amell) attacks a physicist, Barry and the team go after him. Joe enlists Cisco's help in the reinvestigation of Nora Allen's (Michelle Harrison) murder. Barry struggles with his relationship and his duties as The Flash.”
Try as I might, I just can’t take much interest in the Ronnie story. Maybe that’s because it heavily involves the ever-boring Caitlin. At least the investigation into the murderer of Barry’s mother becomes more compelling.
Fallout: “After the nuclear explosion separates Ronnie and Dr. Stein (Victor Garber), Barry and the team believe both men are safe. Barry gets some important information about time travel.”
With “Fallout”, we find some of the same strengths and weaknesses as “Nuclear”. The Ronnie side still drags, but I like the murder investigation, and Garber proves enjoyable as Dr. Stein. Despite the weak elements, “Fallout” still offers a fairly good show.
Out of Time: “Having survived his apparent death during the black-matter explosion, Mark Mardon (Liam McIntyre) returns seeking revenge on Joe for the death of his brother Clyde and has the same weather-manipulation powers as his deceased sibling.”
Except perhaps for the “Pilot”, “Time” presents S1’s most significant episode to date. In addition to some good action, it comes with substantial revelations and the apparent death of a major character. “Time” turns into a terrific program.
Rogue Time: “The Flash learns that Captain Cold and Heat Wave have returned to Central City. This time Snart has brought along his baby sister Lisa (Peyton List) - aka Golden Glider - to help wreak havoc on the city.”
I’m glad I said “apparent death” when I discussed “Out of Time”, as “Rogue Time” reverses that immediately. I should be mad that “Rogue” negates much of the prior show’s drama, but it does so in a clever manner. While less dramatic than its predecessor, it still entertains.
Tricksters: “A copy-cat-killer who goes by the name The Trickster (Mark Hamill) starts setting off bombs in Central City.”
The Trickster feels more like a Batman villain than one who fits the Flash’s universe – at least as depicted in this series – but the episode works pretty well nonetheless. A lot of that comes from Hamill’s campy but effective performance. Sure, those scenes borrow a ton from The Silence of the Lambs, but they’re enjoyable anyway – and we even get an amusing quote from one of Hamill’s most famous movies.
All Star Team Up: “Felicity Smoak (Emily Bett Rickards) and Ray (Brandon Routh) come to Central City seeking help with Ray's suit. A scientist (Emily Kinney) releases deadly robotic bees. A group dinner does not go as planned.”
Though it advances some of the season’s global narrative elements, “Team” sags over all. I like parts of it – the crossover with the Atom can be fun – but the show lacks a lot to make it compelling. Kinney’s iffy performance as the “Bug Eyed Bandit” doesn’t help.
Who Is Harrison Wells?: “Joe and Cisco visit Starling City and ask Captain Lance (Paul Blackthorne) for help with their investigation into Dr. Wells. Laurel (Katie Cassidy) asks Cisco for a favor. Barry faces a new foe who can disguise himself into anyone he touches.”
“Wells” works fine for a while, but at its mid-point, it requires Barry to be impossibly stupid. Whatever positives the episode brings, that plot device stretches credulity to the breaking point -–and about 3000 miles beyond it. The parts that move along the narrative satisfy but the parts with the shape-shifter falter, partly due to that idiotic story choice.
The Trap: “Barry, Caitlin, Cisco, and Joe set a trap for Wells. Cisco uses himself as bait, which puts him in grave danger. Meanwhile, Eddie makes a decision regarding Iris, which leaves Joe a bit unsettled.”
Flash functions as something of a “reverse-Gotham”. The latter series fares best when it concentrates on its overall narrative, while Flash seems most interesting when it offers a Villain of the Week. Not that I dislike the overarching story points, but they don’t seem all that fascinating. Since those components dominate “Trap”, the show leaves me a bit cold.
Grodd Lives: “Barry deals with the latest threat from the Reverse-Flash. Dr. Wells distracts the team by releasing Grodd on the city. Iris and Barry have a serious talk.”
The season rebounds here, as Grodd offers one of Flash’s most interesting opponents. The gorilla gets a good introduction, and those moments mix with the overall narrative in a satisfying manner.
Rogue Air: “Dr. Wells reactivates the particle accelerator and Barry has to move the Meta humans away. To do that, he needs help and he chooses to ask Captain Cold for it.”
All the different elements combine well in the fun and satisfying “Air”. I continue to enjoy Captain Cold, and the addition of his catty sister adds entertainment as well. We head into the final episode on a high.
Fast Enough: “When the particle accelerator is back online, Barry will have to go back in time to stop Eobard Thawne (Matt Letscher) on the night of his mother's murder 15 years ago.”
Season One finishes on an emotional note. Parts of it stretch logic, but the choices work out in the end. “Fast” concludes S1’s overall narrative and sends us toward S2 in a compelling – though cliffhanging - manner.