I’m calling it. This is hands-down the best episode of The Flash to date.
The Flash has been exploring themes like Fatherhood and Forgiveness for its entire run, but it rarely actually comes to any conclusions about them. “Running to Stand Still” is a Very Special Holiday Episode™ that’s all about Fatherhood and Forgiveness—and it actually brings several characters some much-deserved resolution.
After much soul-searching, Iris finally tells Joe the truth about their family: Francine was pregnant when she left him, so Joe has a son named Wally.
This is certainly a big moment for Iris. She doesn’t have to explicitly forgive Barry and Joe for their (relentless, interminable) secret-keeping, but she definitely understands exactly what it’s like to try to protect people from big, painful secrets.
Most of all, this episode is a huge turning point for Joe. He eventually forgives Francine for not telling him about Wally—and he even begins to overcome his own guilt about not being there for his son.
“Running to Stand Still” is all about honoring family traditions and exploring new connections. Joe looks forward to meeting his biological son, but also reaffirms his fatherly love for Barry. Barry finds himself daring to be “happy” with Patty, while Caitlin and Jay are growing closer (i.e. “thirstier”).
But enough about all that boring emotional crap. Did I mention that this episode is also hilarious? I mean, it starts with Zoom—who is still downright, honest-to-goodness terrifying—grabbing Harrison Wells 2.0 by the throat and growling, “Merry Christmas.”
Across town, a pretty Christmas snowstorm turns into a supernatural blizzard blizzed up by the dastardly Weather Wizard, Mark Mardon. (“Let it snow,” he quips, evilly.) Mardon releases Captain Cold and the Trickster from prison.
“It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas,” quips the Trickster. And I agree! Mark Hamill and Wentworth Miller hamming it up on the same cheese-tacular superhero holiday special is everything I could ever wish for. The one-liners fly fast and the holiday-themed humor flows freely. No one does silly TV villain like these two delightful comic geniuses. (Liam McIntyre does his best to keep up, bless his heart.)
Anyway “Marky Mark” Mardon is emboldened by the Flash’s very recent, very public defeat by Zoom. So he’s using Snart’s smarts and Trickster’s penchant for chaos to get his dastardly revenge on the Flash, once and for all.
Also, Mardon murdered Patty’s father back in the day, so she’s out for revenge—even if that means putting herself in danger, and even if that means killing Mardon instead of just capturing him. Beneath Patty’s cute, competent exterior, there’s a terrible desperation for justice at any cost. I really like this expansion of her character—it’s not an ironic contrast, but a piece of a complex character puzzle sliding into place. Patty’s not uniquely chipper and hardworking in spite of her grief and anger, but because of it. It’s good, thoughtful character development that doesn’t get too bogged down in pain and pathos.
And speaking of character development, Leonard Snart has a little change of heart, and decides to tell Barry about Mardon’s plan ahead of time. Barry and Iris come home to discover Wentworth Miller sipping cocoa out of a reindeer mug by the fire and smirking, menacingly, “Ho ho ho.” (This is the greatest single shot I’ve ever seen on television. I need to sit down. I am dead.) Captain Cold may not want to be a hero, but it turns out he’s a “pretty lousy villain”, too.
(Snart is in a snit! Look, I’m not going to lie—I’m not really interested in Captain Cold as a “morally complex” antihero. I’m just here to watch our generation’s greatest living actor destroy some campy Silver Age dialogue.)
Team Flash tracks the villainous trio to an abandoned toy warehouse—but not before Patty gets there. Did I mention she’s very angry and very reckless? Anyway, the Trickster attacks the Flash and Patty with some EXPLODING DREIDELS (sweet Christmas, I love this episode so frickin’ much), but the Flash manages to fly them to safety by fluttering his arms really fast (actual footage).
Meanwhile, the Trickster has dressed up like Santa Claus—yup, exactly as creepy as it sounds—and is handing out “surprises” to young children. Yikes. The Flash confronts Mardon at a tree-lighting ceremony, and some A+ comic book hero/villain rooftop banter ensues. And also, Mardon can fly now, apparently? While Hamill’s demonic Saint Nick looks on, the Flash chases the Weather Wizard, and there’s a totally badass slo-motion shot of Barry leap-frogging off of some spinning helicopter blades. The Flash’s brand of light, breezy CW tragicomedy may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but you can’t deny that is objectively awesome.
Anyway, it turns out that the Trickster has handed out presents to 100 random children throughout the city, and they’re all going to explode unless Barry surrenders to Mardon. Which he does, because he’s a hero, obvs.
While Barry gets his butt kicked all over the town square, Team Flash looks for a way to neutralize the bombs. (Cue a particularly dour-looking Wells 2.0 knocking on strangers’ doors and demanding that small children give him all their toys. Truly, this is great art.) Cisco and Wells come up with a totally absurd plan to put one bomb through one of the wormhole breaches, therein somehow causing the rest of the bombs to follow it, because… magnets? IDK, even for The Flash, this is some pretty terrible fake science.
But the important thing is that the terrible fake science works! The bombs all float up and explode in the sky, and the Flash ties up the Trickster and knocks out the Weather Wizard. Patty shows up, planning to murder Mardon, but the Flash talks her out of it, and she decides to just arrest him instead. It’s a nice scene about forgiveness and letting go and moving on—but how much nicer would it have been if Barry had unmasked himself to convince Patty of the right thing to do? Wouldn’t that have been meaningful and awesome and LONG GOSH-DARN OVERDUE? It’s maybe the only thing I’d change about “Running to Stand Still.”
Patty’s decision inspires Barry to do some “forgiving” of his own. He’s been struggling with the “hate in his heart” for Wells, so he makes the decision to forgive him and invite him over for Christmas dinner to show there’s no hard feelings. (Actually, he forgives Wells 2.0, who is the convenient substitute on hand, but it’s the thought that counts.) Wells 2.0 politely declines the invitation because he’s busy doing important stuff like CONSPIRING WITH ZOOM TO STEAL BARRY’S SPEED FORCE!
The episode ends with a very cute Christmas party scene at the West household. There are lots of funny, sweet little moments:
- Cisco and Joe drink eggnog and get
- Caitlin and Jay kiss under the mistletoe
- Patty wears an ugly sweater
- Barry gets compared to a Christmas goose at some point (not in this scene, but I just thought I’d mention it because it made me laugh)
- and little Wally (Keiynan Lonsdale) shows up on the doorstep like the Christmas miracle baby in a Hallmark movie.
There’s probably some elaborate Christian metaphor going on here. (Are the three villains the Three Wise Men? Is Wally the Baby Jesus? And wait—does that mean Joe is God? I think I’m onto something here.) Well, consider me a believer, because happy, cheesy superhero TV just doesn’t get better than this.