What I’ve most admired about The Flash is its indelible ability to have fun. From the beginning, the show has understood its unique place on television in that, every week, it showcases the impossible, which makes it impossibly cool. Unlike Arrow, Gotham, Constantine or any other show that derives its characters from the pages of comic books, The Flash relishes that what it gets to do is otherworldly.
But all these comic book shows are, more or less, billed as dramas with the occasional joke, and so it was inevitable that at some point The Flash would get serious. That point came last night, as the midseason finale delivered the heaviest episode of the freshman show, and also one of the weakest.
The problem with “The Man in the Yellow Suit” wasn’t so much writing, acting or lack of interesting ideas (as it was with the show’s worst hour, “Plastique”), but that there was simply too much of everything. Until now, The Flash has shown exceptional focus in regard to plotting, often opting for simplified storytelling that is, in my opinion, always a welcomed approach. In the midseason finale, however, the writers showed one thing more than any other, a jumpy trigger finger. This episode had three monumental reveals, all of which were worthy of their own time and place. Instead, they were crammed together for what, I’m assuming here, the writers hoped would be a bombastic end to the first half of the season. But it lessened the effect of all three, and left me wanting more in a whole different way than the writers intended.
Let’s start with the obvious, the man in the yellow suit. With all the buildup that has been given to Reverse-Flash in the first eight episodes of the season, it was a natural storyline to focus on for the fall finale. But, not much happened. Sure, Barry learned that Reverse-Flash is back in town and there was a showdown, but nothing of import for the Flash/Reverse-Flash saga occurred. The one “reveal” that capped the episode was hardly a reveal at all, but a confirmation of what viewers have hypothesized since the pilot. My issue with placing Reverse-Flash at the heart of this episode is that it is, essentially, unnecessary. The monumental reveal will be when Barry discovers the identity of his rival, which will likely come late in the season. Until then, not much else is needed beside the occasional hint, like those that have already been offered. The argument made against this thinking is that the encounter between Barry and Reverse-Flash proved that Barry isn’t fast enough to catch his mother’s killer, and thus this episode will fuel those to come. That’s a fair point to make, but it all felt rushed to me. On top of it, was the fact that this episode had competing storylines that greatly reduced what any of them could have been. Had this episode simply focused on Reverse-Flash, it likely would have felt like a more natural progression of Barry’s search for his mother’s killer.
I’ll get to the second-most important storyline from “The Man in the Yellow Suit” in a minute, but first we need to talk about Barry and Iris. Some astute Flash viewers have mentioned an egregious lack of on-screen chemistry between Grant Gustin and Candice Patton, something I had noticed, but overlooked, because it was frankly not all that concerning. There is truth to the statement, though. Barry and Iris don’t spark the way a romantic interest should with a show’s hero. Especially when that romantic interest is someone the main character has loved since he was a boy. Even worse is the fact that Gustin has, multiple times now, absolutely sparkled with Emily Bett Rickards (Felicity from Arrow). It’s hard to root for Barry to get the girl, when you decisively believe the girl he wants is not the girl he needs. But, back to the episode. Last night, because of Christmas and family and all the things that cold weather does to your brain, Barry thought it a bright idea to finally admit his love to Iris. It’s fine, and almost expected, to include something of that magnitude in a finale episode, but I come back to the lack of focus once again. It wasn’t just that a lot came to light last night, it was the fact that what came to light was so massive. Maybe not for the viewers, but for the characters. Everything that happened in “The Man in the Yellow Suit” was a life-changing moment for three key figures of the show, and each of the revelations deserved more attention than they were given.
This brings me to the most egregious mistake the episode committed—squeezing in the reveal that Ronnie Raymond (Caitlin’s fiancé) didn’t die the night the particle accelerator exploded. Viewers privy to DC Comics knew that Ronnie Raymond is the alter ego of a superhero named Firestorm, and that it was highly likely he didn’t die the night Barry became the fastest man alive. I had wondered what it would be like once Caitlin finally discovered her fiancé was alive. I’d thought about it nearly as much as what would happen when Barry discovered who the man in the yellow suit was. It was a huge moment, and I couldn’t wait to see how the writers would handle it. Sadly, they flubbed it, by forcing it into a bursting episode that already had too much to tackle. Caitlin has been the most underutilized character on the show, a fact I have pushed aside because the overall chemistry of the cast has worked so well. The truth is, Caitlin rarely has much to do, and unlike Cisco (who has become a lovable character that contributes to every episode), Caitlin often seems lost. The writers don’t quite know what to do with her, and their biggest opportunity to give her something worthwhile was Ronnie’s reveal. I can’t stress enough how strongly I believe this deserved its own hour. Something of this magnitude, that alters the life of a character in such a profound way should never be subjected to the B-slot in an episode. The Flash writing staff has done little to pick at thus far, but this was an enormous misstep.
?“The Man in the Yellow Suit” was a prime example of how finales, and the expectations that come with them, can thwart a show’s aspirations. The Flash has performed superbly in its first half, thanks largely to sharp writing and a clear focus in each episode. Those aspects were unsettlingly absent last night, leading to an episode that felt claustrophobic due to all its grand reveals. There isn’t less reason to be excited moving forward, though, as The Flash remains one of the best new shows of 2014, and easily one of the most fun. Given what they’ve done in the first half, I have all the reasons to mark this hour as an aberration, and something the writers won’t repeat in the future. If only I didn’t have to wait until January for it to be proven.
Eric Walters is a Detroit-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. For more of his TV musings, follow him on Twitter.