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When thinking of what score I should give an episode, a benchmark for me has been “The Flash of Two Worlds,” the second episode of the current season. The episode had some really awful moments (Martin Stein’s frustrating explanation of the multiverse, most notably), but it was able to compensate with a strong second half that encapsulated the best parts of the series. As a result, I awarded it a 6.5. Like most critics, I value episodes that make mistakes but take cool big swings more than those without serious errors or that I don’t have much of a reaction to – as was the case for “Fast Lane.” However, this week’s episode was an interesting example of one of Season 2’s most common problems.
The Flash has done a poor job this season of resolving character arcs in a timely and thoughtful manner. Keeping Patty from the truth felt like it was going to be a season-long charade, and just when I thought the end had come, the storyline was the focus of the next episode. In a similar fashion, after agreeing to help Zoom steal the Flash’s speed three episodes ago, Harry started to make good on his promise, felt guilty about doing so, and came clean about everything, with the episode giving time for Harry to be forgiven and the course for the next episode to be charted. Now, I actually liked the fact that Harry felt guilty and told the truth – I especially enjoyed the way Harry was forgiven, as the show usually isn’t smart enough to call out its own hypocrisy – but it all felt a little too neat given how big of a moment Harry’s deal with the devil seemed in “Running to Stand Still.”
The same could be said of Wally’s angst, but to a lesser degree. Again, I found myself relieved that this part of Wally’s storyline “ended” before he did something that made him unlikeable, and again, its conclusion felt a little abrupt. But not only did Wally enter the story with unresolved family issues (while Harry lurked around before becoming Zoom’s agent), his storyline never had the high stakes of Harry’s betrayal. Surprisingly, Joe’s dialogue went a long way to making this subplot almost enjoyable, as he was able to explain where he was coming from in a very refreshing manner (“This ain’t a blame thing. Just hear me out, okay?”).
Part of my annoyance with Wally’s storyline stemmed from Iris’ stereotypical big sister concern about his street racing. I thought her sounding this way was a product of last week’s overcrowded episode, but her asking “Is that why you’re still drag racing?” at the beginning of “Fast Lane” felt forced. Not only that, but isn’t her concern for Wally kind of hypocritical? I mean, she doesn’t get injured in the episode because of Wally’s racing…
To harp on Harry’s betrayal a little more, I thought it was weird that he wasn’t even trying to use Turtle’s brain matter to stop Zoom. How hard could it be to make the speed-siphoning process faster or have a greater area of effect? And while we’re on the subject, why did Zoom need Harry to steal Flash’s speed in the first place? Didn’t he do the deed himself with Jay Garrick? Where was Jay, anyway? Did he die off-screen like Francine (which, now that I think about it, was pretty weird)?
As for Tar Pit, he was easily one of the worst villains in recent memory. His presence in the episode demonstrated how constraining the villain of the week format can be, as “Fast Lane” built up his character with the usual before/after the particle accelerator explosion scenes, only for him to be taken out with little to no effort because he was secondary to the rest of the episode’s events. (I don’t think he even landed a hit on Barry in the entire episode, which is unprecedented.) The show also seemed to employ more narrative shortcuts than usual while they were going through the motions with his conflict. Instead of giving Tar Pit some kind of “no one’s going to stand in my way” spiel, he goes straight to attacking Barry after being goaded. Later, the problem presented itself again when Tar Pit somehow knows that his would-be killer is being used as bait, and not only that this is happening, but the exact moment when he should appear. Honestly, the best part of his debut was when he dumped the “drowned in ink” look for his more traditional comic book appearance.
“Fast Lane” wasn’t the sign of improvement I was looking for (and have been for a while), but next week’s episode should show what The Flash is really made of. The promise of Caitlin Snow’s Killer Frost has been building up since the series began, and the expectation of more insight into how different Earth-2 is will be a real test of the show’s ability to deliver compelling television (even though they failed to execute on Zoom’s original concept, for me).
All images via ComicBook.com.