I think I’ve figured out why I love The Flash so much. It goes along with something Christelle mentioned in her recap of Episode 6 last week; namely, that the show is very reminiscent of another CW superhero show. Not Arrow, but Smallville. And last night’s episode, “Power Outage,” was no different. While it took 12 episodes before the Smallville writers stripped Clark of his powers1, The Flash needed only seven before having Barry figure out how to be heroic without being super.
I’ll get to the play-by-play of the episode in a minute, but I want to stick with this Smallville comparison a little longer. What I think is refreshing about The Flash is that, like the early seasons of the Superman origin series, there’s a ton of heart. As amazing as the special effects and superheroics are, the real appeal of the show are the characters and how they relate to one another. Smallville was always defined by Clark’s relationships with others — his friendship with Lex, the unrequited love for Lana, the familial bond with Jonathan and Martha. Similarly, The Flash excels when we get to see Barry interact with his peers and mentors. Barry’s scenes with Joe are easily the best parts of every episode, but increasingly, his friendship with Cisco and (especially) Caitlin provides the emotional core of the series thus far.
At the same time, Smallville purposefully hindered itself by sticking to a self-imposed “no tights, no flights” rule for most of its run. That show didn’t start really embracing its superhero comic roots until Season 6. Fortunately, The Flash has been a full-blown live action comic book from the jump2. Other than that, Clark and Barry’s early adventures are eerily similar. Case in point, both shows rely on a narrative contrivance to explain why people have superpowers. In Smallville, the meteor shower that accompanied Clark’s arrival also infected the residents of Smallville with super powers. Here, the particle accelerator explosion is the event that introduces metahumans into the universe. The difference, though, is that the meteor freaks on Smallville weren’t villains found in the DC universe. So far, every villain featured on The Flash has been ripped directly from the four-color pages. And this is where, dare I say it, The Flash just might transcend Smallville in my mind.
The other thing The Flash is ambitious enough to attempt? Cramming not one, not two, but three supervillains in a single episode! Usually, that spells doom for lesser superhero movies (coughSpider-Man3cough), but in this case, it actually works. The first one we meet is actually in a flashback to ten months ago3, when a guy named Farooq climbs an electrical tower to get a better view of the particle accelerator being turned on. First, there’s no way that will end well. And secondly, what were Farooq and his friends planning on witnessing in the first place? Turning the accelerator on isn’t like a fireworks display.
Now Farooq is an electricity-sucking vampire known (posthumously) as Blackout. If you’re searching your DC supervillain database for Blackout, don’t bother. He’s essentially a throwaway character in Geoff Johns’ Flashpoint story arc; though the fact that they’ve brought in a Flashpoint universe character into the show could hint at plot elements that might develop over the course of the season (or series).
Meanwhile, we’re also given a bit more information on how Dr. Wells’ secret compartment operates. Apparently, it isn’t just a place for Wells to read newspaper headlines from the future. It’s actually a fully functioning operating system named Gideon that Wells uses to keep a log on Barry’s progress towards becoming Future Flash. Wells’ first captain’s log is nicely cross-cut with more scenes of Barry using his super speed to accomplish everyday errands like brushing his teeth, getting coffee, and pantsing would-be muggers, before heading into S.T.A.R. Labs.
Wells continues to pressure Barry into testing the limits of his abilities before he’s called away to the scene of yet another bizarre Central City homicide. Upon arrival, Barry finds a body that’s more extra crispy than original recipe and he proceeds to snap photos so Cisco can use some fancy S.T.A.R. tech to I.D. the vic, though I’m pretty sure they could have just used dental records (or is that only on C.S.I.?) Through some more sleuthing, Team Flash figures out Blackout is the perp, and Barry goes to apprehend him. Unfortunately for Flash, Blackout doesn’t just shoot electricity beams Sith lord-style, he actually siphons all kinds of energy and eventually saps Flash of his speed force. Barry has to Uber it back to the lab — because, evidently, he runs slow for a normal person — so they can figure out what’s happened. And for a while, it seems that Flash is no more.
The stakes are extremely high for Wells who confirms with Gideon that Barry is no longer the Flash in 2024. Somehow, Farooq stripping Barry of his powers has made the timeline diverge (again, maybe there’s something to all of this Flashpoint business) and Wells freaks the fuck out. Joe, on the other hand, reacts a little differently. Upon finding out Barry is powerless, he proceeds to straight up murder his favorite mug.
Back at the lab, Wells, Caitlin, and Cisco are still trying to figure out a way to get Barry his powers back when Blackout shows up. Of course, he blames Wells for his present condition (though, maybe you shouldn’t be climbing electrical towers, eh?) and the death of his friends. Team Flash refuses to let him in, and without Barry’s abilities to save them, the team has to find a place to hide from the killer at the door.
To show our heroes who they’re dealing with, Farooq starts to drain the lab of its electricity. This massive power outage causes a chain reaction and blacks out the entire city. And it couldn’t have come at a worst time for the officers at Central City PD. The blackout hits just as a prisoner transfer is going down. For some reason, William Tockman (aka Clock King), who was last seen in Starling, is being transferred to lock up in Central City.
The blackout, though, gives Tockman enough of a distraction to free himself from his shackles and get the jump on the cops. Of course Iris just happened to be visiting her father at the time, and now we have a hostage situation4. So while Team Flash is essentially held hostage by Blackout at S.T.A.R., Joe — who, turns out, is a human Wikiquote — and Iris are holed up at CCPD with the Clock King. Both of these parallel storylines are really tense and a nice change up from the typical narrative structure of the series. It also allows an opportunity to see other characters get to be the hero.
Back at the lab, Caitlin and Barry have several tender moments among the chaos, and a thousand ships are launched into the night. I’m pretty sure the writers are trying to make #SnowBarry this show’s #Olicity. And you know what? It kinda works. Dana Panabaker and Grant Gustin’s chemistry is off the charts. And then this happens.
— Christelle • she/her (@MsChristelleGo) November 26, 2014
With Barry out of commission, Wells’ Plan B involves releasing Girder (aka the Douchebag of Steel from last week) from his underground prison cell to take down Blackout. Girder actually sorta redeems himself too. Unable to withstand Blackout’s powers, Girder puts up a valiant effort before telling Barry to run with his dying breath. And kudos to the writers for making me feel sympathy for the guy who was a total asshole just a week ago.
Barry eventually gets his powers back through a convoluted series of technobabble involving sending an electric current through the treadmill that mimics the original lightning bolt accident (but shippers know that his powers returned only because Caitlin believed in him). Though he has the Speed Force again, Barry’s mental block is preventing him from tapping into it (hence the need for Caitlin’s pep talk). Before he confronts the villain one last time, Farooq has it out with Wells and gets the mad scientist to atone for the deaths of his friends. And folks at home should have had their Easter baskets ready because Wells name drops the entire DC Universe. From Ralph Dibney (aka Elongated Man) to Al Rothstein (aka Atom Smasher) to Grant Emerson (aka Damage) to Will Everett (aka Amazing Man) to Bea DaCosta (aka Fire). Will all of these heroes show up on the show? Who cares? To know they exist in the CWverse is enough!
Afterwards, Blackout is about to deliver a final blow to Wells and seeing his mentor in danger is the final trigger for Barry to regain control of his powers. He super speeds the doctor to safety before donning his costume and defeating Farooq once and for all. And to be honest, it’s a little unclear exactly how Barry does it. When Farooq attempts to drain Barry of his energy again, rather than losing his abilities, it’s as if Barry starts charging up (did we finally see the Speed Force?) that Blackout seemingly overdoses from the energy and dies.
Meanwhile, at CCPD, Clock King continues to hold a bunch of hostages — including the Wests — on the floor of the precinct. Iris is unfazed because she knows The Flash will come and save them. Joe is slightly more fazed because he knows Barry lost his powers, so there will be no super saving tonight. A quick scan of the hostages on the floor reveals that there is one cop unaccounted for: good ole Eddie Thawne. Joe spots him out of the corner of his eye, and Eddie has his gun fixed on Tockman and is even able to fire off a couple of rounds.
Unfortunately, the Clock King had on a bulletproof vest and returns fire, hitting Eddie in the shoulder. Though it isn’t a fatal wound, Eddie will bleed out on the floor if help doesn’t come. Since there’s no superhero in sight, the police have to give in to Tockman’s demands and send a helicopter to allow him to escape. He decides to take Iris with him as a hostage to ensure there’s no funny business from the cops — and also because Iris has to be the damsel yet again.
Before they leave, Joe convinces Tockman to let Iris have a final goodbye with her boyfriend Eddie before he dies. Tockman relents, and Iris gives Eddie an impassioned kiss on the floor. Unbeknownst to the bad guy, Eddie also slips Iris the gun in his ankle holster. When Clock King brings Iris to the roof, she’s able to get a shot off and frees herself from his clutches. Once Barry finally reaches police headquarters, Clock King is safely in custody and everyone is okay. Even Eddie, who gets rushed to the hospital to have his gun wound treated.
Barry visits Eddie and the Wests in the hospital, and Rick Cosnett gets a chance to play Thawne stoned out of his mind. Even better, Joe uses the opportunity to test if Barry has got his powers back by knocking a vase of flowers off the table. Of course Barry speeds the flowers back to safety, but not before Eddie witnesses the impossible. Then again, he’s high, so what does he know, right?
— Christelle • she/her (@MsChristelleGo) November 26, 2014
After some Flash flirting in the hallway with Iris, Barry returns to S.T.A.R. and tells Wells he’s ready to start pushing himself even further. Meanwhile, Wells confers with Gideon that Flash’s future timeline has been restored and realizes that Barry’s connection to people is actually a strength instead of a weakness.
Before we start to think maybe Wells isn’t so bad after all, the end-scene shows him taking a blood sample from the recently departed Blackout in order to find out how to steal the Flash’s abilities. And we are once again reminded that Dr. Wells is really Dr. Evil.
It doesn’t stop there, though. Because we’re just now getting to the good stuff. If Flash wasn’t already entertaining enough, we’re being set up for the eagerly anticipated Flash/Arrow two-night crossover epic next week!
Seriously, how can this not be good?
- In the season 1 episode “Leech,” Clark gets his abilities taken away by Jimmy Olsen’s twin brother. Okay, not really, but Shawn Ashmore (Iceman from the X-Men movies and twin brother of Aaron, who played Jimmy in Seasons 8-10) played the episode’s FOTW. ↩
- Even Arrow took a season and a half before it really embraced being a superhero show. ↩
- This was the first episode all season to not incorporate a flashback structure. Honestly, I’m glad they aren’t as beholden to this conceit as Arrow is. ↩
- Hey Joe, maybe being the daughter of a cop is just as dangerous as being the friend of a superhero? Just saying. ↩