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I want to start off this review by apologizing for at least occasionally simplifying the role that everyone else on a project can play in changing the script. I realize I’ve placed blame at the feet of the writers of series before, and while they aren’t completely innocent in most cases, in the similar way that Victor Garber can make poor dialogue enjoyable on The Flash, a poor actor can make excellent dialogue garbage. As Max Landis said on the subject of reading critiques of his movies (and his own criticisms of projects he’s been a part of), “you can’t write a movie, you can only write a script.”
Now that that’s out of the way, let’s talk Flash.
The Flash has had a pretty uneven season so far. Sure, there’s been the excitement of Barry discovering a new ability, Iris moving on from her limited role in the previous season, and moments of great humor courtesy of some unlikely characters. But I can’t help thinking the series has taken a noticeable step backwards. Season 1 wasn’t perfect by any means, but by the time Barry ran up into the wormhole in the season finale, I felt like the series had improved beyond the need for the largely terrible storylines and characters we’ve seen in Season 2. Perhaps it’s the lack of a central conflict, a la Season 1’s focus on the conflict with Reverse-Flash? In any case, I was incredibly interested to see what note The Flash would leave us on with its midseason finale, “Running to Stand Still.”
From the get-go, I had a feeling the episode wouldn’t do too much to reverse my (and my Arrow counterpart, Jean Henegan’s) negative feelings about the Flash/Arrow crossover event. The weird, non-canon-y opening where Zoom wishes Harry a “merry Christmas” just felt like a waste of real estate. But it was our first look at Patty Spivot that was really telling of the episode’s quality. If you recall, in “Legends of Today” Patty got a little trigger happy with Harry, and instead of telling her what was going on, since it’s not like he can do anything anyway, Joe basically played the role of a production assistant blocking the street so a film can be shot there. As a result, I was more than a little disappointed to see that there was no mention of this to Barry in her first scene. And it was kind of all downhill for the character from there.
From Patty viewing Mardon’s handiwork and saying “I should have expected this” to herself like she’s Batman, to her briefly incapacitating Barry and holding a gun up to Mardon, the episode was clearly overcompensating for the fact that Patty’s inner turmoil has not been made very clear to us. This doesn’t have to be the case to make it interesting (it could be the best part of a similar storyline in another work), but it felt like they temporarily messed with the character to give her an arc for the episode, which is unfortunately common practice with superhero shows these days. Also, I cannot believe they still haven’t let her in on Barry’s secret. I keep saying it’s just around the corner because there doesn’t seem to be any good reason not to, but with the midseason finale continuing to exclude her from the fun, I don’t see it happening any time soon.
Patty’s characterization speaks to a larger issue that has been carried over from Season 1: the story is almost always better suited to levity and excitement rather than being dark and grim. When Cisco gets caught up in the question of whether his powers are a blessing or a curse, it’s not the engaging turn of a normally comical character becoming more hardened and brooding. For a series like the Flash, there is no such intentionality. Similarly, whenever Barry Allen threatens someone, it doesn’t come across as, “oh snap, you probably shouldn’t have messed with a guy who could end you.” Instead, it feels like an annoying way of making Barry seem like he leads with his fists rather than his brain. These moments of over the top drama are rarely adequately set up or earned, but I also find the performances in these situations simultaneously over the top and lacking.
I don’t think there’s been a single romance on the show this season that has been entirely fun to watch. Jay and Caitlin finally kissed in this episode, but because of my immense dislike of Jay’s un-character and the fact that the series has given me no reason to care about the two of them together, both this and the build up to it were just tiring. I know making Jay younger than his comic book counterpart was kind of necessary due to Barry being a younger Flash, but I feel like de-aging him took away what was so interesting about the character. At this stage, he could almost be called Good Guy 1. Meanwhile, Barry and Patty’s relationship suffered for them trying to portray her as a more revenge-driven character than she should be, as they went straight to her isolating herself from the people who care about her. I know I’ve vacillated in my opinions of her and them together, but the show is just so inconsistent with their treatment of her and their relationship.
Mark Hamill’s return to the series was a welcome one, as he was having a visibly good time playing the Trickster again. However, the whole storyline he was involved in was repetitive and insubstantial. I liked that they didn’t forget what they were doing with Captain Cold’s character (probably because it ties into Legends of Tomorrow), but having Weather Wizard and Trickster rehash the same old grudge without much more to it then “kill the Flash” was pretty weak. I also can’t believe Barry was going to explain what the wand did to Weather Wizard before Mardon fell off the building. Not that holding a metal rod is very inconspicuous, but at least try to hold on to the unnecessary advantage given to you almost every time you face an enemy. My only consolation with this episode is the fact that they didn’t have a ridiculously stupid fight scene, although perhaps they looked at the C4 dreidels in the script and decided to stop there.
On top of me being wrong about Patty learning Barry’s secret in this episode, I was also wrong about Harry not hiding a betrayal up his sleeve. Surprise, surprise, he has agreed to help Barry get faster so Zoom can take more Speed Force from him. I feel like this was a major structural misstep, as we knew about Zoom holding onto his daughter a while back. If Flash was going to reveal a betrayal, why not do it then, at the moment we realize Zoom has collateral? In place of that, we got a rather strange period of time where Zoom was borderline courteous and allowed Harry to think things over, which took away from the danger he should present every time he’s on-screen.
While I was still reviewing Supergirl, I used to think The Flash was far superior. Like, I didn’t want them to touch for fear that Supergirl‘s mediocrity would be contagious. But more and more I’m seeing insubstantial episodes like this one, where no one is really given anything particularly interesting to do. As I’ve mentioned before, it might be a case of them saving a tighter narrative for the second half of the season (as they’re certainly doing with a sick shot of Barry, Jay, Wally, and maybe even Jesse Quick speeding towards an enemy), but it’s just disappointing to see characters seem continuously off week after week. I’m glad the midseason break is upon us, as harping on the same issues on such a long term basis makes me feel way too nitpicky. After introducing all of the major new cast members that we know of, I hope the show is able to come back with a clear idea of what it wants to do with the rest of the season.
All images via ComicBook.com.