“The Man Who Saved Central City” is a bit of a weird, awkward episode of The Flash. But, as a season premiere, I actually kinda like it.
The show feels torn between 1) wanting to recreate everything that made Season One work, and 2) wanting to do something a little different.
The result is–predictably–a bit of a mixed bag. But it’s a promising mixed bag–not so much for what it is, but because of what it promises for the rest of the season.
Season Two begins six months after Barry Allen and his team saved Central City from a dangerous wormhole. (A wormhole which they basically created on purpose, but let’s not get bogged down in details.)
Barry seems to be spending a lot of time fantasizing about what he wishes had happened on that fateful day. The episode starts with Barry’s very vivid (and very creepy) daydream that he singlehandedly defeats his rogue’s gallery, and that he’s surrounded by his adoring friends and family. Everyone (Caitlin, Cisco, Iris, Joe) keeps telling Barry how great he is, and everyone (Eddie, Ronnie, Wells) is still conspicuously alive.
Cut back to reality, and the present, in which Barry is very much alone. It turns out that he was only able to save the city because Ronnie sacrificed himself by self-destructing in the center of the singularity. Barry is so overcome by guilt that he’s disbanded Team Flash, electing to be a sullen CSI by day and a lonely vigilante by
night other times of day.
If you’re anything like me, you enjoyed Season One of The Flash in large part because it’s a feel-good superhero show and a charming ensemble dramedy. But this episode basically turns all that on its head. “The Man Who Saved Central City” starts with Barry’s creepily feel-good fantasy about everything being perfect. It’s too feel-good. Perversely feel-good. And after growing so close to each other, our charming ensemble cast starts their second season spread across the city: Caitlin is employed at Mercury Labs, Cisco is working as Joe’s scientific consultant at the Police Department, and Eddie, Ronnie, and Wells are gone for good.
But get this: despite Barry’s determination to Go It Alone, Team Flash reassembles itself. Everyone goes behind Barry’s back and just starts solving metahuman crimes again. This reunion is originally Iris’ idea–which is particularly awesome, given that she was so outrageously excluded from Team Flash all last season.
But it’s also particularly meaningful that Team Flash reassembles itself without Barry’s knowledge, or even his consent. Pointedly, the action does not depend on Barry’s decision about whether to work alone while everyone waits helplessly on his whim. This is an actual team in which individuals choose for themselves. (Yeah, clearly I’m still a little sore about Arrow Season 3. But that’s tomorrow’s show.) Iris convinces Joe to get the team back together. Cisco gets Caitlin back on board. Martin Stein (now simply a genius physicist instead of a genius physicist sharing a body with a Nuclear Man) comes along too, helping track down (and name!) Barry’s new nemesis, the Atom Smasher.
The Flash seems to have met his match: the Atom Smasher is super-strong, bulletproof, and can grow to twice his size. And, the SFX look kinda good! I mean, they don’t look good in that they look “good,” but they are super fun to watch. The Atom Smasher looks like a putty-filled Stretch Armstrong as he stretches and grows–which is a lot more entertaining than The Flash’s usual CGI metahuman effects, which often seem to boil down to various digital clouds, vapors, and streaks. Plus, Adam “Edge” Copeland is giving me a distinct “Baby Clancy Jones” vibe. I love it.
At first, Barry refuses everyone’s help, going after the Atom Smasher by himself and without his comm device. (“He’s on his own!” gasps Cisco.) It’s all very symbolic, I guess–by trying to be selfless, Barry ends up selfishly cutting himself off from help.
Barry’s Flash Family eventually gets through to him, pointing out that as much as he wants to carry the whole world on his shoulders, he’s actually clearly crying out for love and support. Barry has been spending his nights secretly cleaning and rebuilding the city buildings damaged by the singularity: he’s “trying to put it all back exactly how it was.” As Iris realizes, it’s all pretty painfully symbolic of Barry’s desperation to “fix” his broken relationships.
We also get a flashback about Barry learning to accept Joe’s care when he was a kid. “You’re not strong all the time… that’s why I’m here,” says flashback!Joe. And, later, Caitlin assures Barry that Ronnie’s death was not his fault (which is very sweet), but then confesses that she actually thinks it’s her fault (which is terribly sad, but oh well.).
Basically, the moral of this episode is that heroism isn’t just about self-sacrifice–it’s also about being strong enough to accept help.
Team Flash 2.0 works together to defeat the seemingly invincible Atomic Smasher, summoning him with (lol) a searchlight-mounted “Flash-Signal,” trapping him in a nuclear reactor, and bombarding him with more energy than he can absorb. (Science!)
Before he passes out, the Atomic Smasher confesses that he’s working for Zoom: “He said he’d take me home.”
So, while last season was all about the Flash fighting a series of metahuman villains, Season Two is shaping up to be all about the Flash fighting a series of time-traveling metahuman villains! (Jay Garrick shows up at the end of the episode, so you know I’m right.)
Anyway, the Villain of the Week is not really the point here. This episode is an emotional rollercoaster–not every emotional high and low totally lands, but never let it be said that this show wallows in its melodrama.
At some point a Lawyer Ex Machina comes by and gives Barry the thing he wants most in the world: a taped confession that exonerates Barry’s father. Henry Allen gets a sweet, happy homecoming, and then immediately tells Barry that he’s leaving town so that his son can grow into the hero he’s meant to be. (This makes exactly zero sense logically, but it’s a nice thematic moment, so let’s go with it.) Henry points out that Barry doesn’t need a father, because he already has a loving family all around him. Which is true! (Still totally illogical, but true!)
At Henry’s Welcome Home/Awkward Goodbye party, Martin gives a moving toast, centered around the Hebrew word “Kadima,” meaning “forward”. Martin isn’t saying that you have to completely leave the past behind, but that you have to embrace the future.
And that’s what I meant when I called this season premiere “mixed, but promising.” It doesn’t entirely work as an episode, but as a mission statement for its protagonist(s), and for the show as a whole, “forward” is where I hope we’re going: not wallowing in grief and self-doubt, but moving on to better, brighter, and funner things.
Image courtesy of the CW
Mad Moll Green writes in Los Angeles and Vancouver. She loves horror movies, comic books, and ironic spandex.