Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Flash Watch: Season 2 - Episode 1 "The Man Who Saved Central City"

Last year I tuned into the CW hour-long superhero action/drama The Flash expecting the same crippling disappointment I've found with most things DC Comics in recent years, Dark Knight Trilogy aside.   At my core, I always want these things to work, so you got to show up and see what they do.  And, in this case, I think The Flash is doing it right.

Sure, the show dabbles in some of the angst and romantic melodrama you've come to expect from the network that turned Superman into a weepy teen for a solid decade with Smallville, but unlike doe-eyed Superman, this show understood that a program needs momentum, not endless circling of the drain when it comes to character and plot development.

Of course, the creatives behind The Flash was never embarrassed of the source material to begin with, but then they went ahead and just swung for the fences, because Barry Allen does not do "slow burn".  In Season 1 we got a huge amount of the Flash's Rogues Gallery on screen, up to and including Gorilla Grodd (and I got Captain Cold, who is secretly one of my favorite villains anywhere in comics).  And we saw a lot of other DC heroes running around, like Firestorm.  All of that would have been a lot of fluff and of no consequence, if, at the center of it, we didn't also get a pretty solid story about a kid who saw his mother die in a blur of mysterious red and yellow, and saw a man in yellow kill his mother right in front of him.

The season ended with the reveal that Harrison Welles, the mentor for Team Flash, was, in fact the villainous Reverse Flash from the future, Eobard Thawne, who had killed Barry's mother and who had been working at counter-purposes with Team Flash in order to propel himself back to his own time.  His failure, thanks to heroic self-sacrifice from The Flash's romantic rival - Eobard's great grandfather many times removed, meant Eobard disappeared, but this, in turn, led to a whole opening up in the sky, which Barry had to close.  The season ended on a cliff hanger as Barry leaped into the maelstrom.

The show had a lot of recurring themes - a lot of fathers-and-sons stuff as Barry had at least three father figures, all of whom were pretty terrific.  There was unrequited romance, defining friendship, and, of course, actually has a pretty darn good idea that there's a difference between cleaning up your own messes and actually proactively doing good for others because it's the right thing to do.  

In Season 2 I'll do some recaps and whatnot.  Why not?  I watch the show, it's in my wheelhouse, and hopefully I can talk about the program without just descending into fannish gushing, despite the fact it's the only non-sports-related programming viewed at my home that elicits double fists in the air on a routine basis (there was outright cheering during a few Captain Cold moments last season).

We're gonna talk about this like you watch the show, so expect spoilers without warning.

So, with that preamble...

Season 2, Episode 1 brings us back up to speed with Team Flash (see what I did there) in "The Man Who Saved Central City".   It's been six months and Barry Allen has gone solo in his heroing.  Caitlin, our doctor/ scientist, has gone to work for Tina McGee at STAR Labs (more on this).  Meanwhile, Cisco is working for Central City PD as a sort of engineer and advisor as they mount up for additional metahuman trouble.  

The Flash is trying to reconstruct the city at night, cleaning up and rebuild like the cobbler's elves, and the city decides to throw him a Flash Day party.

I like my grim'n'gritty in superheroes in doses, but I also like to see it balanced by a bit of sunshine, and, frankly making superheroics all feel a bit worth it.  I appreciate the X-Men are the heroes who do what they do in a world that fears and hates them and Batman's gig is sticking to the shadows, but it's also kind of cool to see a superhero that people actually like.  If the public always has a reason to hate your hero, maybe...  maybe they're doing it wrong.*

Of course ,the Flash Day party, complete with key to the city, is attacked by a mysterious new villain who looks a whole lot like a dead guy Barry and Joe just put in the morgue.  Comic nerds will already know this was Atom Smasher, and while the CGI was pretty spotty on the episode and Al's growth, it was still entertaining to see him show up on a TV show (one day I'll get my Giganta in a live action Wonder Woman project).

But Atom Smasher is really the episode's B plot.  The A Plot is getting Team Flash reunited and clearing the way for the cast in season 2, who's in and who's out.  Plot C is the establishment of the DCU Multiverse, suggested by the appearance of an Atom Smasher who is a bit of a badguy, and the "shock" appearance at the end of the episode of Jay Garrick, who, literally, everyone knows is The Flash of Earth-2.  I think we can all guess Ronnie disappeared to another Earth, and we'll see him again shortly.

Probably the biggest question is how and why Al Rothstein/ Atom Smasher was a bad guy when he's traditionally been tied up in Justice Society America and Infinity, Inc.'s heroic activities, short that stint with Black Adam.  I'm at least curious to find out.

Also, that is not what a nuclear reactor looks like, how they work, nor would you want to be Barry and just hanging out right next to the rods, hot or not.  You're going to be crackling with radioactive fun.  But, whatever.

I also take exception to the writing that took The Flash's dad, Henry Allen, out of play.  (A) I really liked that character, and he is a doctor, so it seems they could have found a way to keep him busy if the budget allowed for it, and (B) the reasons he gave for leaving the show made no sense.  At all.  That's TV logic creeping in, and it didn't feel true to either character or the show.

On the plus side, we really are building a Team Flash family, and I am thrilled to see so much of Vincent Garber's Dr. Martin Stein (they even brought back his wife in a lineless role).  The show has done a really good job of not just building a diverse cast of ages, jobs, affiliations, etc... but the characters are written differently enough that it doesn't have the echo-chamber effect of the Smallville team scenes when it felt the writers were hellbent on one-upping each other's lame popculture referencing even way past the breaking point.

Hats off to the cast for remaining likable and fun to see together.  And especially to Grant Gustin, who has to be in 90% of the scenes, and manages to make Barry Allen an incredibly likable character without a whiff of the "boring" tag that followed the character for so many years in comics circles (and, frankly, which I think is unearned after having read a whole bunch of old Flash comics in reprint).  He's maybe more of an "everyman" hero than we usually see in superherodom.  He's not an alien or mystic or eccentric billionaire.  He's a middle-class guy trying to do good with what he's got, which is a keen mind, good moral compass and superspeed.

We've got plot threads dangling from last season, at least emotionally, and we're headed into all-new uncharted territory that will still pay off for longtime DCU fans, one would hope.  It was the strongest episode, but season premiers rarely are.  Whether it's The Flash or Mad Men, you spend so much time connecting the dots and building bridges to the coming episodes, you have to just pay attention and get through it until the real action starts in an episode or two.  But, even at that, this one wasn't all bad.

I look forward to seeing the "Flash of Two Worlds" episode next week, and talking a bit about the comics and how we never recovered from the Jay Garrick/ Barry Allen team-up.  Also, I noticed a certain relative of Iris West is due to show up here pretty soon, so keep your eyes peeled.

And, they finally made the circle behind the Lightning Bolt white.  They can do whatever else they like with the suit now (one that works surprisingly well given the very cartoony design from Carmine Infantino  in the original comics).  I can breathe easy knowing they got that fixed.

*  In fact, life tip:  if literally everyone hates you for what you're doing, no matter how well-intentioned - just stop it, Barba Streisand


picky said...

We just watched last night, and I was super excited. I just nodded my head through most of this recap.

I gotta say, though, Barry's dad - that entire bit made me so angry - in fact, I wondered if it was really his dad or if some villain had taken over his body or something. Because there has been absolutely nothing to indicate that he would leave. I mean, why? Like you said, his excuse was pretty ridic.

I'm just hoping for a bit more to Caitlin and Iris this season. I like Iris better now, but both of them seemed like the weak points last season.

The League said...

Iris was never the best written character in comics. In fact, she got killed off for a while in the comics because nobody really cared. Hopefully they can find a better groove, because the actress isn't bad at all and can handle a lot. Unshackled from the love-triangle bit, maybe she can grow.

As per Caitlin... we'll have to see. I suspect they've got something in the works.

Yeah, there's a lot of new characters coming in this season, and I think Henry Allen was just written off to make room, story and budget wise. It was really a disservice to everyone that that's how they handled it.

Simon MacDonald said...

The Flash was one of my favourite TV shows of last year. Besides Doctor Who it is the only TV show I watch in real time vs binge viewing. The season 2 premier was kinda weak but I understand they are just rearranging the chairs to catch everyone up on how last year ended and bringing on new viewers. So I'm more than prepared to give it a pass and I'm still excited for what is coming this season.

The whole thing with JWS leaving the show was weird. Maybe they just couldn't afford to give him a bigger role with all the other things going on in season 2 and he wanted to be released to go work on other stuff.

The League said...

I agree on both your points. They were definitely getting squared away for season 2, and I think it's best to judge in context against the other episodes as they come.

And, yeah, once you've sprung Henry Allen, there's only so much they could really do with him, and I am sure he cost something to have on the show, but I assume we'll get him back as a guest star from time to time. I don't blame them from not stringing out the "dad in jail" bit longer than they felt it was useful. This show hasn't been guilty of sticking to plot points just because it keeps tension going (they abandoned the whole Iris-doesn't-know bit after a few episodes unlike Smallville that did that for years).

Simon MacDonald said...

I'm so glad they did away with the whole thing where Iris didn't know. It was pretty embarrassing for an investigative reporter not to figure it out. It makes more sense to me that Iris is on Team Flash.

The League said...

It went on so long in the comics that Iris and Barry were married before he told her. Like, they were married for a while. It was just weird. When he finally did tell her, she non-chalantly said "yeah, I know. You talk in your sleep." and went on with her day.

Simon MacDonald said...

Oh, that is priceless! I never really followed Barry Allen/Flash. I really didn't get into him until he died in COIE and by then it was too late. I was always a Wally West guy who I followed from Teen Titans to his own Flash series. I'm really psyched that Wally is supposed to appear in this season of the Flash BTW.

The League said...

Oh, I didn't get into Barry Allen stuff until the last ten years. Those Showcase Presents editions were like candy when they came out. I'd read a little bit of other Barry Allen, but I got into Flash via Wally, which I read on and off, but not sticking with it until Geoff Johns too over the book and then up to the New52.

I've only read a tiny fraction of Waid's Flash output and keep hoping they collect it over at DC, but get the feeling Waid's broken relationship there means that won't happen.