This week’s episode is not what I was expecting. Based on previous outings, I was expecting 1) a mopey Barry Allen and 2) another villain-of-the-week who would use the slowing, sticky power of tar to negate Barry’s speed. Instead, we were treated to one of the stronger episodes of this second season of The Flash.
The theme of this week’s episode was what it means to be a family and the lengths one will go to in order to protect his family. This is done with two focal storylines. The first centers on the Wests. That’s Joe, Iris, and Wally. Not Barry, which was evidenced during Barry’s opening voiceover. Barry arrives at the West’s house for dinner, but doesn’t go inside when he sees the three Wests sitting down together.
The problem here is that Joe is so busy trying to convince Wally to be a part of his and Iris’ lives that he’s not being the father that he was to Iris and to Barry. Iris isn’t having any of that. She received worse punishments growing up for doing far less than the illegal street racing that Wally is involved in. When Joe refuses to plant his size twelve shoes upside Wally’s rear, Iris takes it upon herself to get the street racing shut down. Because she cares about Wally so much that she wants to take the one thing that’s important to him away from her newfound brother.
First, Iris goes to the race promoter and tries to threaten him with an expose in the newspaper. You know, because guys with a criminal past who are engaged in criminal activities are usually scared of stuff like that. Remember Iris’ expose on a guy running a construction and housing racket earlier in the season? Sure you do… she had to call Barry to rescue her when she jumped off of a building while being shot at. This guy seems to be just as convinced as the last guy Iris tried to shake down.
Wally tells Iris to back off. He doesn’t need a big sister. Iris tells him that’s too bad, gives him an Indian burn, and tells Wally that if he doesn’t stop she’s going to tattle to daddy. Wally blows a raspberry, holds his finger inches from Iris’ face while repeating “I’m not touching you”, then walks away. Or, maybe that was my kids while dad was trying to watch The Flash. Sitting here typing this recap, it’s hard to remember which.
So, Iris brings Joe along the next time she pops in for a night at the races. At least she had a better reason to be there this time, having identified the race promoter as the likely next victim for Tarpit’s revenge.
On the other hand, we have the Barry-Wells-Jessie dynamic. With Barry giving the Wests room to work through their issues, he has time to hang out at STAR Labs and bug Wells. It’s clear that Wells doesn’t want to get close to Barry or to feel any more a part of this team than he already does because he is willing to sell every one of them and all of Earth-1 to Zoom in exchange for his daughter. Wells has said it time and again over the past few weeks: this is not his Earth-1. Wells already likes these plucky do-gooders more than he ever wanted to, knowing his betrayal of the team is sudden but inevitable.
Barry’s hanging around makes it hard for Wells to find time to implant a device in the Flash suit that will siphon and drain the Speed Force from Barry every time he taps into it. Once the device is implanted, Wells tries to clear his conscience by warning Barry that he will betray him. When Zoom requires Wells’ cooperation (which he already has), Wells will give it (which he is doing). Wells is all but doing that head-nod thing people do when you’re talking about someone behind their back and that person walks up behind you and you don’t see them.
Proving his skills of observation and deduction are more inept than Patty’s were when she figured out that Barry is The Flash or than Joe’s were when he didn’t squander departmental resources to check up on his ex-wife to see whether she had a son that Joe never knew about, Barry misses all of Wells’ signals. Instead, Barry ignores the fact that he’s losing speed and forces Wells to think about closing the 52 breaches in Central City that have been open for nearly a year now.
At least that goes as well as could be hoped. Wells creates a device that will shut down the portals, so he and Barry rush off to give it a go. One down, 51 to go. That’s when Barry receives the call from Iris that Tarpit is at the race. Oh, and Tarpit causes Wally to crash… I’ll bet no one watching at home saw that coming.
The two storylines converge at this point. Barry is able to save Wally, but thanks to Wells’ device siphoning off the Speed Force, is unable to save Iris from the flying debris from the wreck. Iris will be fine, of course, and Joe uses this time to set Wally straight. I’m not your friend, I’m your father. Iris and I care about you and we always will. You can’t run from that, so run toward it.
Barry is worried that his getting slower means that he’s putting the safety of others at risk. He doesn’t want anyone else to get hurt. Already tormented for betraying this good guy and his team of people who don’t do much but really mean well, Wells confesses that it was he who stole Barry’s speed and gave it to Zoom. And he’d do it again and again. Every time, if that’s what it took to save his daughter.
Joe’s had enough. He punches Wells and throws him in one of he metahuman cells at STAR Labs. Wells has impaired Barry, which led to Iris being put in the hospital. Wells doesn’t get to chose to save his own daughter by putting Joe’s kids in danger. Barry, for his part, tries to put himself in Wells’ place. Who on that team wouldn’t do the same thing? Who among them hasn’t already done the same thing?
Just sending Wells back to Earth-2 and closing the portals isn’t good enough. That’s condemning Earth-2 to death by Zoom. That’s not what this team does. That’s not what The Flash does. They don’t run from danger, they run toward it. They’re going to Earth-2.
What worked well this episode?
1) Carlos Valdez as Cisco, Tom Cavanagh as Wells, and Jesse L. Martin as Joe continue to churn out great performances every week. Wells as the conflicted genius who both loves and hates Team Flash (regardless of whether he’s the Reverse-Flash or Earth-2 Wells) is both subtle and menacing. Joe continues to be the heart and moral compass of this show. When Joe loses it, everyone feels it. Cisco is the best DC character not named Heatwave on TV right now and consistently delivers the humor.
2) Barry wasn’t moping! When he didn’t join the Wests for dinner early in the show, I couldn’t help it. Here we go again, I groaned. But he didn’t sit around pouting. He went to work on the problem at hand, for the first time since, well, all season. And, he only mentioned Patty once, that being an “I miss her,” not a “why did she leave me”.
3) Barry used his head. The guy’s a leading forensic scientist. He was Patty’s idol, for Flash’s sake. Instead of trying to muscle his way through a dilemma or using his speed as his only recourse for solving a problem, Barry used his head in both of his match-ups against Tarpit. First, getting Tarpit to blast the fire hydrant, thus cooling Tarpit and negating his abilities (I know, Barry moved out of the way, but he didn’t attack… he used Tarpit’s aggression against the aggressor). Next, by beating Tarpit with science, not with speed.
4) Barry is starting to realize that #Earth2LivesMatter.
5) Zoom appears! And he has 2% of Barry’s speed! That’s a 4% speed-swing, when these two meet again, for those keeping score at home.
6) The Tarpit effects worked much better than some we’ve seen on this show.
What didn’t work so well?
1) Caitlyn (still) didn’t really have much to do.
2) Iris doesn’t deal with her responsibility in what happened to her to land herself in the hospital. Her injury is all about how it impacts Wally and Barry and Joe. At some point, the female characters have to stop just being motivation for the male characters and start being self-realized, right?
Next week: Earth-2!