In its first four weeks, The Flash has firmly established itself as a show to pay close attention to. More than any other new series this season, I find myself giddy at the prospect of seeing where this one’s headed. It understands what it is, and seems to have a solid grasp on who its characters are. But, more than anything, The Flash knows how to have fun. It’s a comic book show, and unabashedly so.
Unsurprisingly, the show has also fallen victim to relying too much on formula. Like Gotham, Arrow and a host of other shows that don’t involve characters from the DC vault, The Flash is a procedural. The setting being Central City rather than, say, New York City allows certain natural twists on the genre (metahumans, etc.) but all the hallmarks remain. Every episode, thus far, has involved the appearance of some sort of metahuman wreaking havoc, then team Flash assembling to disassemble the culprit, and Tom Cavanagh’s Harrison Wells doing something spooky. It hasn’t bothered me though, because the writers have built a world that I like being in, with characters I like being around.
Episode five, “Plastique” seemed fully prepared to stick to the formula, and then it turned. And then it turned again. This week’s metahuman was Bette Sans Souci, bestowed the nickname Plastique by Cisco (and by her original comic creators, Gerry Conway and Pat Broderick), a veteran of the Second Gulf War who acquired the ability to turn anything in her hands into an explosive. How? The explosion emanating from S.T.A.R. Labs, that released a wave of energy turning many normal humans into something more, caused the shrapnel in Souci’s body to fuse with her cells at a molecular level (as it does every week, The Flash asks its viewers to just go with it). Souci then became a top asset of the U.S. military, in particular General Wade Eiling, an archetype tough army character with deep—and interesting—ties to Wells. I was expecting this episode to unfold similarly to this spring’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier, with Souci playing the Winter Soldier role, being used or employed by General Eiling to blow up as much of Central City as possible. Instead, Barry is able to stop Souci early on in the hour, and bring her to S.T.A.R. Labs for testing. It may not seem like an interesting or important change, but every other metahuman besides Barry has been using their abilities for nefarious means thus far. The fact that Souci very much didn’t want to hurt anyone, really didn’t want to be a metahuman at all, is a different wrinkle to The Flash’s formula, and one that was welcomed.
Of course, an episode still needs a climax, and that can’t come if the entire second half is spent merely testing a person who can make things go boom with her hands. This is where the second interesting wrinkle of the night comes in. We’ve seen Harrison Wells do a number of odd and dark things in the first few episodes, all done in the name of “protecting Barry.” But, unless my memory fails me, Wells has never directly impacted the main storyline in the way he did last night. Instead of allowing Souci to remain at S.T.A.R. Labs, instead of trying to assist her in the way he assists Barry, Wells convinces Souci that she needs to kill Eiling, sending her on an ultimate path of destruction. The show has done a nice job of slowly revealing and progressing Wells. Each week, he takes a further step into the darkness, building the anticipation evermore until the moment when he is fully loosed, and Barry has to deal with reality.
Not all was well in “Plastique,” there were awkward lines, and Kelly Frye’s performance as Souci was stiff. But enough of it was solid, and that’s really all you can ask of a new show only five episodes old. The Flash is already bursting with confidence, and it has so many bright moments that those few duds (like the awkward conversation between The Flash and Iris this week) are relatively harmless.
A big factor in its success is the fact that the show knows how to hit comedic moments well. Even more impressive is how the comedic bits are built. More often than not, the writers use the unusual circumstances of someone like The Flash existing to create humor. This week, it was Barry’s inability to get drunk thanks to a superhuman metabolism. Watching Barry throw down a gauntlet of shots at lightning speed is silly, yes, but in the best way imaginable. My favorite moment came later on, though. Joe (Jesse L. Martin) came to talk with Barry about Iris’s burgeoning blogging career centered on the Scarlet Speedster. When Barry mentions that The Flash had his own talk with Iris, Joe is rightfully confused. How could Barry risk Iris finding out that he is the fastest man alive? Barry then explains that he can vibrate his vocal cords fast enough to disguise his voice, and when he displays the feat to Joe, all the detective can do is laugh. Because it’s both ludicrously funny, but also super fucking cool. In this moment, the two characters revel in the fact, for just a minute, of how cool it is that this is their life. That’s one of The Flash’s greatest attributes, the understanding that everything happening on screen is incredibly cool, and there is absolutely no reason not to enjoy it.
?I can’t wait to see where The Flash is headed. As much as I anticipated the CW series, never did I think that it was destined to become my favorite new show. There is a lot still to come, and a lot of growth that needs to happen, but the future seems brighter than that bolt of lightning that struck Barry all those weeks ago. He may be the fastest man alive, but even Barry can’t make the next episode of The Flash come soon enough.
Eric Walters is a Detroit-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. For more of his TV musings, follow him on Twitter.