The Flash proved that even the superpowered and superpowered-adjacent can’t escape the holidays unscathed by family and friend drama. There just happens to also be some life-or-death drama surrounding it during “Running to Stand Still.”
It’s the dichotomy between the two that demonstrates just how strong The Flash’s character work can be when it isn’t about the heightened stakes of a world full of metahumans. No, much of the most affecting turmoil in “Running” is of a much more human variety, as Joe is confronted with the truth of why Francine actually came to town, Patty finally finds the chance to exact revenge on her dead father’s behalf, and Harry grapples with a dark secret in an effort to save his daughter. Barry is, knowingly in some cases and completely oblivious in others, wrapped up in all of them, but the emotional struggles of those around him make his actual battle with the returning Weather Wizard and the Trickster look like any average brawl.
But it’s a welcome return for two of Barry’s most memorable foes, as well as a third who opts not to take part on his path to legendary status. Mark Mardon the Weather Wizard is back on the scene, and he has an offer for both Captain Cold and the Trickster (Mark Hamill at his most gleeful).
Breaking the two out of jail, Mardon asks if they’ll join his crusade to finally, finally kill the Flash. James Jesse is in, of course, because if the multitude of Flash drawings on his cell are any indication, he hasn’t thought of much else since his last battle with Barry. Lenny Snart, however, is less enthused by the idea in his slow transition to, if not a hero, at least someone with a conscious.
That conscious leads Snart to tell Barry just what Mardon and Jesse have in store, breaking into his home to do so. By this point, Barry’s already had a bit of a day, though. Iris has revealed to him the secret of her previously unknown brother, sitting alongside Iris as she finally breaks the news to Joe. (Cue the first of many times Jesse L. Martin broke my heart in this episode. That man knows how to do a “fighting back the tears” face like few others.) The name is what really gets Joe — Wally is short for Wallace, which is what they would have named Iris had she been a boy.
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He needs time to process the news, and he’s not the only one frazzled by the day’s events. Before the revelation, he fills in Barry on the reason Patty may be working a little more fast and furious on this case. Knowing that Mardon killed her father, Barry tries to be there for her, not wanting her to be reckless, but she believes zeroing in on Mardon isn’t being reckless. It’s doing her job.
Barry is going to try to do his job, too, even if Patty thinks he’s so far behind on the Central City gossip that he doesn’t even know about Harrison Wells. He has Cisco work on the wand he used to previously defeat the Weather Wizard. Well, previously meaning in another timeline, before Barry set back the clock last season to prevent Mardon’s tidal wave from killing everyone. Jay is there to help, when he isn’t flirting with Caitlin (“Just kiss already. Oh dear lord the thirst is real,” as Cisco puts it, sums up that flirtmance perfectly), so it seems feasible that another wand can be built as an early Christmas present for Barry.
NEXT: Christmas with the Trickster
He’s going to need it, too, as Snart fills him in on the plot to kill Barry. He’s not going to assist either side, preferring to enjoy his freedom, but that still leaves Barry with two murderous foes to stop. And those two remaining villains aren’t going to give the Flash much time to collect himself and plan their demise. The Trickster makes a public announcement calling for the Flash’s death, and a hidden clue in the message leads Barry right into his first trap. Unfortunately, it also sends Patty into the line of fire.
(ASIDE: It’s tough not to have the iconic Batman: The Animated Series episode “Christmas With the Joker” in mind throughout the episode, from the Trickster mentioning “Harley” to him singing “Flashy the Red-Nosed Speedster”: “Flashy the red-nosed speedster had a very shiny suit. And if you ever saw him, you might even want to puke.” It may not go down in history as iconic as “Jingle Bells, Batman Smells,” but it’s nice to see Hamill delighting in the chance to once again bring a devilish character to life. And he does so with such enjoyable fervor it’s bound to crack more than a few smiles, even if those smiles are thanks to a murderous psychopath. END ASIDE)
The two separately follow a reflection in the video to an abandoned factory — here’s your weekly reminder that half of both Central and Star cities is just neglected real estate that a realtor could clean up with the right buyers — only to fall into the Trickster’s first trap. He has the two surrounded by spinning dreidels ready to explode. (James Jesse doesn’t let something like religion get in the way of a good, deadly trick.) But Barry uses his windmill arms to propel him and Patty out of the facility, missing the ensuing explosion but leaving Patty only more enraged. She opens up to the Flash in a way she hasn’t to Barry about her father.
Patty blames herself for her father’s death, having inadvertently caused him to be at the bank where Mardon shot him. Killing Mardon may not fix things, but she believes it has to improve her life enough to be worthwhile. The Flash tries to warn her not to be reckless. (Barry specifically uses that word again, just as he did as himself earlier in the episode. I suspected Patty would maybe catch on at that point, but it seems the secret-identity revelation is meant for another episode.) But she can’t give up the chase just yet.
Barry, outside his super suit, is having even worse luck connecting with Patty, who won’t answer his calls as he prepares to do battle with Mardon. The wand to quell the Weather Wizard’s powers is ready to go, and Cisco is able to pinpoint his location. Unfortunately, Mardon is able to outrun Barry once the two meet out in the city thanks to his newfound ability to fly. Barry eventually takes him down, only to learn what Mardon actually has in store.
All day, Jesse, disguised as Santa Claus, handed out presents to 100 random children in the city filled not with coal or toys, but with bombs. All of those bombs will go off unless Barry lets Mardon kill him in a public showing for all of Central to witness. Barry agrees while Cisco, Jay, and Wells work on Plan B.
Pinpointing the location of one bomb, Wells uses Cisco’s drone to carry it into a breach to Earth-2. The magnetic pull causes all of the other bombs to fly into the portal as well (I missed the science class on interdimensional magnetism, so I can’t speak to the veracity of this plan), just as Barry has taken quite the beating. With the bombs out of the picture, Barry subdues Mardon and Jesse with ease. It’s when Patty shows up that the problems really begin.
NEXT: A surprise guest arrives for Christmas
She holds Mardon at gunpoint, securing a lock around the Flash’s leg so he can’t rush to stop her. His superpowers useless, Barry uses the only other power he has, even if he can’t admit to it — his connection to Patty. He appeals to her once again, telling her Mardon can’t take anything else away from her unless she lets him, and killing him will take away a part of her.
In the end, Barry’s speech works (and brings the Trickster to tears), as she forgoes killing him to arrest him.
And with the physical trials of the day out of the way, it’s time to face the emotional ones of the holiday. Joe confesses to Barry early in the episode that he blames himself for his son having grown up without a father. He could have gone after Francine, could have given Wally a father figure and brought into his life the son he always wanted. Of course, he had a son all along in Barry, and he remembers the importance of that by the episode’s end. He gives Barry the watch Joe’s father gave him, which he always promised he’d give to his son. “And now I have,” he says to Barry, cueing the holiday waterworks yet again.
Joe was able to forgive Francine, and Patty, if not able to forgive Mardon, found it in herself to not seek simple revenge. Barry knew he too had to forgive someone, but with Wells dead, he used the next best thing — Earth-2’s Wells. Unbeknownst to Harry, working in his lab behind the glass, Barry speaks to the other Wells. He tells him he can’t continue to hate him. Barry wants to prove him wrong and find happiness in his life as he’s been trying to do, and so he forgives Harrison for everything he did.
These are all important progressions for these characters, and in an episode filled with some of the series’ most memorable baddies, it’s impressive how well The Flash pulls them all off. Jesse L. Martin has continually proven how great he is in the tougher moments from Joe, while Grant Gustin has continually grown into the role and nailed a few of Barry’s most trying emotional crossroads. And though she’s been with the show for much less time, Shantel VanSanten has so settled into the role of Patty that her pain feels earned in the episode, as does her joy in the possibility of finally opening this aspect of her life up to Barry.
She finds that opportunity at the West homestead during their Christmas party, as Caitlin and Jay also find a moment to finally have their first kiss under the mistletoe. But the night truly belongs to Joe and Iris, as a surprising guest appears at their doorstep. Wally West shows up for the evening, introducing himself merely as Francine’s son. But, as the stunned expressions on Joe and Iris’ faces clearly show, he’s so much more than that.
The show ends with a less joyous reunion, however. Harrison has been acting weird throughout “Running,” as several characters note, and it has to do with his sporadic clandestine meetings with Zoom. Zoom wants Wells help in improving Barry’s speed force so that when Zoom kills him, there’s all the more for the taking. With the promise of his daughter’s safety and a brief opportunity to see her, Harrison agrees to help steal the Flash’s speed.
Looks like 2016 isn’t going to be any easier for Barry.