8.5

The Flash: “The Flash is Born”

(Episode 1.06)

TV Reviews The Flash
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<i>The Flash</i>: &#8220;The Flash is Born&#8221;

For six weeks I’ve waited for The Flash to disappoint. It’s only natural for a new show to hem and haw, with episodes reaching a new pinnacle one week, and new lows the next. Instead, what I’ve been treated to is model consistency, and one of the freshest takes on the crime-drama in recent memory.

The Flash’s sixth episode, “The Flash is Born,” continued the trend of consistency, delivering a solid (if not impeccable) hour that contained both an interesting main story, and moved several other plot points forward. The show is still beholden to the villain-of-the-week formula, but the formula is working for now. This week’s baddie was Tony Woodward (also known as Girder), an old grade school bully of Barry’s who, after the particle accelerator explosion, found himself with the ability to literally turn to steel. This proves to be a challenge (obviously) for Barry, as he’s presented with a foe that can, seemingly, diffuse his speed with pure brute force. The wrinkle of Tony being a longtime foe of Barry’s was a nice touch, allowing the main plot to have a more personal connection than many of those previous. Aided by (albeit slightly awkward) flashbacks, this episode gave viewers an even deeper understanding into the connection between Joe, Barry and Iris. What The Flash seems to understand so well already is that there needs to be a singular focal point in an episode. There is a clear main storyline, and it is given the proper time needed to unfold throughout the allotted 40-plus minutes. Last night was no different. The duel between Barry and Tony was allowed to stand front-and-center, with multiple rises and falls, culminating in one spectacularly nerdy finish. This isn’t to say that the show lacks in quality side stories, because it certainly doesn’t.

The most interesting of the B-sides this week came courtesy of Joe and Harrison. Joe, with the recent realization that metahumans are very real, is on the prowl to find Nora Allen’s real killer. We’ve seen Harrison Wells do peculiar and evil things thus far (leading many—myself included—to make assumptions about his true identity), and it was a delight to watch Jesse L. Martin and Tom Cavanagh play coy with one another throughout the episode. Cavanagh especially seems to be reveling in this opportunity to play a character so explicitly two-faced, shining in the darkest moments of Harrison’s personality. The other important side plot was a continuation of Iris’ encounters with The Flash, as her blog begins to gain traction. While it’s a perfectly natural direction for the show to take, borrowing from years of Superman comics, something about the Iris blogging storyline strikes the wrong chord with me. It’s not bad by any means, it’s just kind of lame, for lack of better phrasing. It feels like trodden territory and, more than anything, an easy way to get Iris both in harm’s way, and closer to finding out Barry’s secret. I suppose it’s fine, but for a show doing so well with spinning a familiar genre on its head, it’s a little disappointing to see them employ such an obvious trope. In the end, it’s nitpicking for nitpicking’s sake, because that’s all I really have at this point.

This all makes The Flash sound like a perfect program, which it is far from being. There are moments of serious awkwardness, poor acting, bad lines, subpar effects (a large fear when the show was originally announced given The CW’s substantially smaller bankroll) throughout all of its first six episodes, but they are minor when you compare them to the show’s big strengths. In a fall season filled with series that have been neutered by execs and muddled thanks in large part to the broken pilot system, it’s incredibly refreshing to find a show that has clear direction, and isn’t afraid to be what it wants to be.

A large part of this is thanks to the cast, which is solid in nearly every scene. The only real struggles come in the more dramatic moments, where star Grant Gustin still has some smoothing to do. But, within the core cast, there isn’t a weak link. The S.T.A.R. Labs team is anchored by Danielle Panabaker and Carlos Valdes, and the aforementioned Cavanagh, all of whom have built a great chemistry with Gustin, and together become a unit that could carry the show. Valdes, in particular, has been an especially pleasant surprise. Acting as the audience stand-in, Valdes’ Cisco reminds us on a weekly basis that it’s okay to have fun, because the mere fact that we get to see a sonic boom punch on a television show in 2014 is awesome. At the other end of Central City, the CCPD team is just as strong. I’ve sung my praises of Jesse L. Martin and the relationship between Joe and Barry before, and though there’s much reason to add another verse, I’ll spare you for now.

Even more promising than its cast, though, is the writer’s room. The Flash’s writing won’t blow you away, necessarily, but the understanding of how to properly unspool a plot is undeniably impressive. Especially coming off Gotham, a show fighting its own aspirations nearly every week, watching The Flash take a step forward with each episode, progressing the season story while retaining a single episode plot, is relieving, at the very least. The highest compliment I can give is that I have no worries for where the story is headed, only excitement for what’s to come.

The Flash is not on the same level as the great dramas that have dominated the television landscape in the last decade. It’s a different animal, altogether. Something lighter, with more metahumans. What it is doing, is slowly setting the standard for what a modern comic book show should be. It owes a lot to its older brother, Arrow, which laid the groundwork for The Flash to exist, but even Arrow would do well to take a few pointers from its little brother.

Eric Walters is a Detroit-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. For more of his TV musings, follow him on Twitter.