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The Flash – Potential Energy Review

"In which Barry Allen is a dick."

I was really happy when we hit the midseason break for The Flash. The show has been making a lot of silly mistakes with characterization and plotting this season, and I thought if they were saving the good stuff for later, the back half of Season 2 would be the time to roll it out. However, it was not meant to be. “Potential Energy” revealed that The Flash still doesn’t really know what it’s doing, which makes me question if the final confrontation with Zoom is actually going to be satisfying.

Wally West (Driving) - The Flash
Photo: Jack Rowand/The CW — © 2016 The CW Network, LLC. All rights reserved.

“Potential Energy” seemed like an exercise in rehashing the worst parts of the season, with Barry’s nightmare of Zoom killing Patty being particularly indicative of this. Barry already had his moment of doubt and crippling fear in “Gorilla Warfare,” and it’s been two episodes and a midseason break since then. True, the storyline might have served as a reminder that Zoom really messed the Flash up, but it seemed like an excuse to give Barry some hesitation before revealing his secret to Patty—which, you know, he didn’t end up doing. More importantly for the rest of the season, it continued The Flash’s bad habit of making every Zoom appearance less and less threatening, with last episode’s non-canon-y “Merry Christmas” from Zoom immediately coming to mind. I still think they made a mistake not saving his first true appearance for “Enter Zoom,” which would have allowed us to better share in Team Flash’s surprise by his character design.

Unsurprisingly, Barry’s dream led into another frustrating mainstay of Season 2: Patty not knowing Barry’s secret. It feels like I’ve been writing about The Flash’s need to let Patty in on the truth forever, and after so many episodes where it didn’t, it felt like the showrunners were laying the groundwork for an annoying, ignorant-of-the-truth death at the hands of Zoom. But with “Potential Energy’s” opening nightmare, I knew we wouldn’t even get that. Instead, we got an episode that pretended to be concerned with Barry letting another character into his secret life, while setting her up for a Reverse-Linda Park (as at least she got to know the truth before being narratively tucked aside).

Barry Allen, Patty Spivot - The Flash
Photo: Katie Yu/The CW — © 2016 The CW Network, LLC. All rights reserved.

In any case, when I talk about Patty and Barry together, I really mean Barry, because his characterization was absolutely atrocious in this episode. When Patty goes to talk with Barry about what’s been bothering him, he pulls the dead mom card, which is just not cool (and kind of a disservice to Patty’s character since she starts walking away even though she knows something’s wrong). Similarly, Barry taking issue with Iris and Patty talking was complete garbage, as 1) When someone consistently wakes up with nightmares, they tend to ask people who might be more in the know what’s going on; and 2) When you treat your secret identity with as little care as Barry does (and it would honestly be less drama for all involved if you didn’t in this case), I have no sympathy for you. Making matters even worse (bear with me), he plans to invite her to somewhere potentially dangerous, and when Cisco asks him if it’s a good idea to bring a date to a crime-fighting session, he replies that he’s going to tell Patty he’s the Flash, like that explains putting her life at risk. Not to mention he flat-out lies to her under the pretense of “[sharing] more”… God, this show/Barry’s character is so awful.

Patty Spivot - The Flash
Photo: Katie Yu/The CW — © 2016 The CW Network, LLC. All rights reserved.

I would argue that the best part of the entire episode were Patty’s lines, as it was so nice to see her finally stand up for herself. Her being aware of how much she had to deal with (“I’ve been a really, really cool girlfriend”) and putting Barry in his place when he tries to play off the whole thing with embarrassed humor (“I’m actually really upset”) just made me so happy. Barry Allen was a complete dick in this episode (and has been for most of this season), so it was great for at least one character to call him out.

The easiest thing the episode could have done to outweigh the bad would have been to get Wally’s character right, but even here there were missteps. Wally’s snarky comment that Joe was “obviously not [‘a hell of a detective’]” was delivered in a way that made Keiynan Lonsdale’s Wally West bitter, but not a dick. I wasn’t sure how that would play going forward, but it was reassuring to think that the show was going for something more nuanced than simply providing him with a massive chip on his shoulder. Sadly, though, the show later gave him the expected issues with Joe trying to be a father to him now, without giving much substance to his feelings. If he demonstrated awareness of the kind of person his mother was when she split from Joe, in addition to saying how ironic it was that the first thing he learned about his father was that he was a detective, there might have been more meat to their back and forth in this scene. And though the tension seemed to cool between Joe and Wally over take-out, after seeing how long it took The Flash to deal with Barry’s mental state following his fight with Zoom, I’m not confident we’ve seen the last of Wally’s teen angst.

The appearance of the Turtle was another thing that was pretty frustrating, but it didn’t really affect the quality of the episode because of Barry’s eclipsing poor characterization. I liked how proactive Cisco was in figuring out a way to take down Zoom, and I appreciated that Harry didn’t go straight to betraying Barry, but it seems like they’re setting Harry up so he can only be redeemed by dying for somebody at the end of the season. It might be interesting to see the show fill the void left by Tom Cavanagh, but he provides the essential something that allows intense moments to feel as epic as they should be.

The Flash - The Flash
Photo: Katie Yu/The CW — © 2016 The CW Network, LLC. All rights reserved.

My only real problem with the Turtle’s appearance was that it emphasized another of Barry’s annoying character traits: thinking before he acts. Flash obviously ended up relying on more speed and willpower to get through the Turtle’s “pulses” than any set-in-stone plan, but the fact that they had no ideas on how to defeat him before setting their trap was yet another example of Team Flash hoping for the best in life or death situations. On top of this, the show tried to be smart by highlighting that the Flash saves everyone, so Patty isn’t by definition someone of “immense personal value” to him, as the Turtle assumes. But why would he think this in the first place? Using her question as a segue into talking about your villainous origins doesn’t automatically make the lack of logic okay!

Caitlin Snow, Jay Garrick - The Flash
Photo: Katie Yu/The CW — © 2016 The CW Network, LLC. All rights reserved.

Based on the first ten minutes, I expected “Potential Energy” to be pretty average. Devoid of energy, perhaps (ha…), but not so awful that Jay Garrick not being completely screwed up again became a positive. I’m really concerned about what the rest of the season is going to look like, as while it’s heartening to reach the end of a tired storyline like Patty not learning Barry’s secret, the show consistently manages to throw something new in the way. Hopefully, though, “Potential Energy” was just the series shaking itself off after being forced into so many Legends of Tomorrow tie-ins, so the show can get back to how I remember it being in Season 1.

The Slowpokes:

  • I loved the way Joe childishly replied to Iris saying “You’re not needed,” with “I am needed…somewhere.”
  • Harry seemed to show restraint when he was throwing stuff at the beginning of the episode, which wasn’t such a huge issue, but it took me out of the experience somewhat.
  • I didn’t really understand why “thirty-something, metahuman, not-a-ninja-turtle” was so amazing.
  • It was amazing that, in reaction to Harry saying Zoom will take Patty away, Barry walked away in a very somber-yet-dickish manner, like, “up yours, Harry,” but also, “read you loud and clear, Harry.”
  • The energy of Joe’s hi-fives is very telling of his emotional state. Before Wally bailed on him, a resounding clap. After Wally bailed on him, not so much.
  • Barry saying he has to go, and then Patty looking all around her when, if Barry had used superspeed, she would have seen him just speed away, reminded me of that scene where she sees Harry loading stuff into his car and immediately thinks it’s Harrison Wells. Just trying a little too hard to get to the next story beat.
  • Wally’s dig that Joe didn’t know about him despite being a detective might have landed better if he hadn’t said it earlier.
  • I knew the showrunners couldn’t resist the irony of Wally being “fast” before he was Speed Force fast.
  • Every time the series shows Pipeliners the people Flash surrounds himself with, I die a little inside. He clearly really cares about his secret identity.
  • To elaborate on me saying Jay Garrick became a positive in this episode, he finally got a storyline. It’s kind of vague because they don’t say what he’s sick with, what the symptoms are (beyond eventual death), or how Jay knows for sure getting his speed back will cure him, but it was nice for the show to remember to give him something to do. Granted, this only happened after a very awkward scene where it looks like it’s going to be about his speed and ends up being about drinking your obligatory beaker of champagne, but still.
  • It would be pretty cool if the Barry Allen of the past is what instills Reverse-Flash with his hatred for the Scarlet Speedster of the future.

All images via ComicBook.com.

Rating
4.5
Pros
  • Patty putting Barry in his place
  • Jay Garrick not being awful
Cons
  • Patty not being told Barry's secret, despite ample opportunity (and intent!)
  • Barry being a dick to Patty
  • Barry being an idiot
  • The Turtle taking Patty for a baseless reason
  • Wally West's undercooked daddy issues

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Comments

  • Irish Jim

    I was very disappointed with how they dealt with Barry/Patty. I assume that eventually Barry has to end up with Iris, so any relationship Barry has with a girlfriend has to end, but they were pretty good together and I liked her a lot, more than I like Iris. Generally I want the hero to be happy and dating Patty was making his character happy.
    I don’t like that they made it such a big deal for Patty to be told Barry’s secret, especially when they have been so careless in keeping it a secret. Captain Cold knows! He told Linda Park when there was really no reason to do so. They told Hawkgirl when she was just a cute barista who Cisco barely knew. He won’t tell Patty who has a need to know because she is hunting meta-humans and a personal reason to know as she has to know if Barry is going to stay with her long term.
    This break to Patty-Barry reminds me a Oliver’s girl friends in the first season of Arrow. He would date someone really nice and pretty (there was a detective hunting Oliver/Arrow who broke and ankle and moved) and then she would be gone abruptly. Back then I think they were saving Oliver for Laurel but that changed with the emergence of Felicity.
    I don’t like the Wally story line. Wally West is supposed to be happy and carefree, sort of like a young Tony Dinozzo. They have made him angry and brooding. It fits the story line, but he is not Wally West, just like the Jay Garrick portrayal isn’t right for the character.
    Now they bring back the Reverse Flash, in addition to Zoom. At this point, I just want them to deal with Zoom. For a villain who wants to destroy the Flash he sure is taking his time.

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