Synopsis of 2×01: Six months after the Singularity appeared over Central City, Barry has struck it out on his own to protect those he loves, even as the city itself has come to revere him. But when a new Atom-Smashing villain appears, Barry may be out of options and out of time.
Rating: ★★★1/2 out of 5
There is just nothing on television that can take the place of the inspired lunacy and pure bright-eyed commitment of The Flash. No other show would dare end a season with its main character running really fast in a black hole, or feature a telepathic gorilla as a secondary antagonist, or ask us to take seriously the threat posed by a character utilizing colored light named Roy G. Bivolo. And you never know just how necessary a show like that is until it’s gone, and you’re sad, and you just want to see Caitlin Snow again. More than you’ve wanted anything in a long time.
And that brings us, finally, to “The Man Who Saved Central City.” Six months have gone by since Barry raced through the particle accelerator and a last-minute act of courage from Ronnie saved the city from turning inside out. Barry, distraught over the loss of those he couldn’t save, has gone off on his own, attempting to keep Central City safe without Cisco, Caitlin, or even Joe. Why anyone would want to live without these characters is beyond me, but Barry does have his reasons.
Slowly over the course of the hour (after a dream sequence featuring Captain Cold, who I wish was in every episode), Barry learns, as we expect he must, that the only way to keep the city safe is to work as closely as possible with Team Flash, which now has 100% more Victor Garber. More teams should have Victor Garber on them. By episode’s end, Team Flash is back albeit two members short, as strong as ever and comprised of every friendly who knows that Barry is The Flash, which by my count is half of Central City.
Most importantly, “The Man Who Saved Central City” pays off the show’s greatest dangling plot thread. Henry Allen is out of jail. Before Harrison Wells’ passing (read: Eobard Thawne), a crisis of conscience — or, more likely, a sinister plan of intricate design — prompted him to leave the full confession for Nora Allen’s murder that Barry and Co. tried so hard to procure near season’s end last year. Wells is clever, knowing exactly what to say to free the elder Allen from jail, and it’s made all the more heartbreaking by how brief the moment is.
Though still restrained (other inferior shows likely would have killed Henry Allen by now), Henry’s leaving so that his son might be the hero everyone needs him to be is one of the most gut-wrenching moments this show is likely ever to render. What could have felt incredibly contrived is handled deftly, and it dodges around what must have been an intimidating figure on the horizon for the writers. The Flash is the story of a father and son tandem redemption arc, not a father and son squabbling over lost time. Barry already has all the father figure anyone could ever ask for in Joe, and he has more than his fair share of advice-dealers. The show didn’t need one more, no matter how much I love John Shipp in the role.
Barry isn’t the only one ailing this week. Six months on and Caitlin is still tackling the loss of her husband Ronnie, whom she lost on her wedding day, for the third time (more on all this later). Fraught with guilt and grief, Caitlin fled to Mercury Labs, where there were memories of naught but bee women to hang over her head. But leaving doesn’t work, as it rarely ever does. Caitlin isn’t happy away from the team, from Barry. And she is ultimately the one who can bring Barry back in.
Caitlin was always the emotional center of Team Flash. While Cisco was the fan favorite and Wells was off being mysterious and mentor-y, Caitlin was consistently the one bringing the emotional weight into S.T.A.R. Labs. Her (occasionally romantic) relationship with Barry was built rock solid, as one could always be there to challenge the other or bring them back to bedrock. And that’s exactly what we see here, as plainly emotional as they ever were. And as great for each other. I know Iris is Barry’s soulmate, but I will always be Team Caitlin if such a thing even exists.
As this is The Flash, there is also a Villain of the Week here in the mix, handled near-perfectly as is par for the course for the show even among all the ground this episode had to cover. A fellow named Atom-Smasher has popped up on the scene, here to get big and throw hot dog carts and he’s all out of hot dog carts. He eats radiation and bears a striking resemblance to a corpse that pops up early in the episode.
The Smasher himself never gets much in the way of personality, but he lays the groundwork for the dimension-hopping (more on that later) and arch nemesis (also more on that later) that are coming our way this season. But Smasher, like every actor on The Flash, deserves a special Emmy of some variety for handling this show’s terminology with a straight face. In this case, the man managed to rasp out the word “Zoom” and make it sound menacing and only vaguely reminiscent of old Mazda commercials.
“The Man Who Saved Central City” was an abnormally bummer episode for The Flash. Though out of character, this was likely the right way to go for this premiere. Three of the people close to Barry died in the events of last season’s finale, and it wouldn’t feel right if the Scarlet Speedster was jetting around this his usual zip. This isn’t the poster child for the whole season to come, but merely a necessary step in keeping The Flash rooted in the real emotions that have always kept it moving forward. And what a forward it shall be…
For the Fans: Fan shout-outs this week include Cisco deriving his Flash Signal from “a comic book,” and characters finally acknowledging the irresponsibly lax security at S.T.A.R. Labs. Now if only they could explain how they manage to keep the lights on…
But They’re Not Really Dead Right?: I have reason to believe some, if not all, of the casualties from “Fast Enough” may still be alive. It’s a general rule that no one in TV is dead until we see the body, and we have none of our bodies. Harrison Wells disappeared, written out of existence Marty McFly style, but who among us doesn’t suspect Tom Cavanagh to pop up as Zoom before too long?
Eddie disappeared into a wormhole, which, if it took him into a future where gunshots are more easily-curable, may have been a Get Out of Jail Free card. And do I even need to tell you that Ronnie exploding inside an interdimensional wormhole and not falling out of it leaves open the very likely idea that he’s just stranded in some foreign dimension? Poor Caitlin. The emotional whiplash on that woman must be terminal. Ronnie’s turning into a regular Jean Grey.
Hints of What’s to Come: Well, there’s this Zoom character everybody’s talking about. And this Jay Garrick fella who popped up to cliffhang us like a big, shadowy jerk. And it all seems to revolve around dimension-hopping (my own personal theory as to what’s going on with these duplicate bodies). I have purposefully avoided any and all information about this new season to keep it fresh and clean for myself so all of these bits have me equal parts interested and dumbfounded. Let’s just see what happens!