Synopsis of 2×09: Christmas comes to Central City and family bonds are put to the test as Weather Wizard stages a prison break and Joe learns that he has a son.
“Every Earth has The Godfather, Vito.”
It truly is a perfect universe.
According to Harry, The Godfather is not only the greatest film ever made, but a multiverse spanning piece of art and perhaps the only thing to unite every corner of the cosmos. But this is more than just a throwaway joke. The Flash writers are too smart for that. The Godfather is the perfect selection for “Running to Stand Still,” an hour of television as dedicated to family as any I have ever seen.
No one’s mind will be blown to hear The Godfather talked about as a family movie. The film and its sequels are an epic about the family Corleone, struggling from the beginning as Sicilian immigrants only to rise to become the predominant crime family in New York. Children learn from their parents, and try to continue their legacy while not making the same mistakes. It is the best and worst of familial relations, pushed to the extremes of what one will do to protect and honor the ones they love for better or Michaelian worse.
The Flash has always been about families, impromptu and otherwise. Barry had his family taken from him at a terribly young age, but he found a great substitute with Joe and Iris. Joe’s devotion to his children has provided many of the show’s most heart-wrecking moments. For many (like myself), what we consider to be “family” are the friends we make, the ones we choose to spend our time with as opposed to those we are assigned by chance. Team Flash has always been a family of sorts. They love and support each other. They bicker but when it all comes down to it they have each others’ backs until the end.
“Running to Stand Still” brings The Flash’s affection for family front and center (and just in time for Christmas, the most family-y time of year). All three of the plots this week come back to a heart at their center that beats for yuletide togetherness. Two separate parties track the Trickster’s whereabouts because of a Mr. Jiggle Wiggle bear involved in their own Christmas gift exchange. Patty wants to put down Mardon because of what he did to her father. Iris is torn to pieces by the family secret she’s keeping from her father. Harry is driven to betrayal by his loving devotion to his daughter. Because of my own troubled family history, I often have trouble with stories about the importance of family but when you care about all of the characters as much as I do about Team Flash, it’s hard to not get swept up into the spirit of the season.
The Flash has been setting up this episode since Patty’s earliest days on the show*. The moment she revealed that the Weather Wizard killed her father, any cunning television fan just knew this emotional moment was coming. For a show usually very good at making its villains personal to our heroes, this was a particularly good set-up. Not that Weather Wizard really needed the boost. In Mardon’s last appearance he summoned a tidal wave so powerful that it would have wiped out Central City if Barry hadn’t accidentally gone back in time. It’s a proper superpowered showdown for the ages. But that is rarely enough to satisfy the mad geniuses that make The Flash.
*Which was only seven episodes ago if you can believe it.
Because it’s Christmas for the viewers as much as it is the residents of Central City, Mardon teams up with two of our favorite villains. The inclusion of Leonard Snart will never be amiss where I’m concerned, and Mark Hamill makes a surprise return as The Trickster just in time to remind us that he’s in the new Star Wars. Snart quickly breaks off from the crew. Mardon only wants to kill Barry and cause chaos and Snart isn’t really feeling murderous villainy this week because he loves Barry so darn much.
He’ll never admit it, of course, but Snart’s soft spot for Barry only grows as time goes and with the season it seems that Captain Cold’s heart grew three sizes this day. If “Running to Stand Still” has a fault it’s that Cold doesn’t re-enter the fray at the end of the episode to swoop in Solo-style and save Barry’s neck. Snart disappears after a few scenes to go hang out with his cool new friends on Legends of Tomorrow. If this is the last we get of Snart on The Flash for a while, at least he went out whining about the absence of tiny marshmallows in his cocoa.
Hamill’s Trickster will never not be a delight, as its basically his all-time great performance as the Joker rendered live action. When the Trickster takes over the airwaves of Central City, it’s impossible for any Batman: The Animated Series fans to not have serious flashbacks to “Christmas with the Joker.” He’s campy and maniacal and positively insane. He uses weaponized dreidels and takes off his Santa beard just to make extra clear that it’s him under there. It’s an impossibly watchable performance I hope we see more of.
The Weather Wizard himself proves to be as formidable as ever. His control over the elements has only increased. In his downtime between showdowns, he’s learned how to fly. He paints the fastest man alive into such an impossible corner than only some of Harry’s capital ess Science can get them out of this mess. Liam McIntyre plays Mardon with an incredible growl. You can really see why Patty wants to kill this guy so bad.
This week’s Joe West Award for Making Me Cry Watching a Superhero Show goes to Patty Spivot. With just a pair of scenes revolving around her emotional struggle, Spivot brings down the freakin’ house. She blames herself for her father’s death. Because she was off having fun and not at work, her dad was the one making the deposit at the bank that day when Mardon was at his most arch. For just a few hundred dollars, the father Spivot lost his life and Patty has never forgiven herself.
The standoff at episode’s climax where Patty holds a gun to the downed Mardon as Barry (in full disguise) pleads desperately that she does not go through with it is a showstopper. Later at the Christmas party when she says she’s ready to come clean to Barry about everything, it is a moment of winning earnestness. You want so desperately for these two to get along. It was one secret identity reveal away from being absolutely perfect.
The spirit of coming clean permeates throughout the episode as Iris gains the courage to tell Joe he has a son, one Wally West. This rocks Joe’s world. He is overcome by guilt that he hasn’t been there for his son. It is only when he forgives the mother of his children for her mistakes that he’s ready to meet his son. Which is good news because he shows up at the door, played with a pleading earnestness by Keiynan Lonsdale. We meet Wally West for but the briefest of moments, but one can tell they’re going to like this kid already.
Patty and Joe aren’t the only ones that learn a little forgiveness this week. Barry learns he can forgive Harry for the crimes of his counterpart. Though he is not the same Harrison Wells that ruined Barry’s life (who wasn’t really a Harrison Wells at all), just speaking to the face of the person that has wronged him just feels cathartic. It’s a good strategy. There are people in my own life I avoid talking to for fear of drudging up old feelings of being wronged. The first Wells told Barry he could never be happy, but there’s enough going right for Barry right now that he knows that not to be true. It’s a small victory, but a necessary one, although one that also may have come too early.
Harry has been forced into a most terrible position. After a thrilling chase inside S.T.A.R. Labs I was sure was a dream sequence, Zoom presents Harry with a choice: help him steal Barry’s speed or never see his daughter again. After an episode of wrestling with this decision and getting one much-needed hug from his daughter as proof of her existence, Harry agrees to help Zoom. He’ll train Barry to get faster and feed him into a trap. What a cliffhanger. I love this show.
After a crossover event that left me cold, “Running to Stand Still” is an almost perfect episode and such a stellar one to send us on hiatus for over a month. It is all the best of The Flash on display and an episode that allows the time for character moments and more than its fair share of emotionally devastating exchanges.
Also, Jay and Caitlin kissed. “Finally,” said Cisco. I agree, buddy.
I’ll see you all on January 17th…