Welcome back to Central City, six months after a giant wormhole tearing the fabric of space and time opened up in the skies of the idyllic city (idyllic save for all the metahumans tearing apart the place, of course).
The Flash’s first season ended with that massive cliffhanger, as Barry raced through the debris being sucked up into the storm to save the day. Did he succeed? Well, Central City is still standing, and so it seems the scarlet streak completed his mission. But that’s not the whole story, and it’s not one “The Man Who Saved Central City” intends on answering in its opening minutes.
Instead, it’s content to paint a picture of that climactic moment’s aftereffects. Barry has isolated himself from the rest of Team Flash — it’s better, he reasons, but it’s seemingly relegated the glory days of his metahuman-demolishing deeds firmly in the past. S.T.A.R. Labs is empty, quiet, devoid of the once-bustling efforts being made to save Central.
For now, it’s just Barry, answering distress calls and speeding through the streets while calling 100 percent of the shots. Barry hasn’t necessarily stopped living his life, per se, but that moment still haunts him even as he continues to go about his day job on the police force.
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Today’s particular case comes with only a minor oddity or two. The deceased, a nuclear plant welder named Al Rothstein, was strangled by someone strong and large. No, it’s not Grodd, Joe (ASIDE: Sure the characters on The Flash lead ridiculous lives, but what must it be like worrying that at any moment a giant, psychic gorilla could appear? Who needs that kind of stress in their life? END ASIDE), but it does not appear to be the work of some normal foe.
Joe has more on his mind than the murder, though. He wants Barry to attend the Flash Day celebration being held in his superheroic identity’s honor for saving the city. That’s the thing, though — Barry doesn’t want to claim credit for saving the city. He was part of it, sure, but he wasn’t the one who gave everything to the cause.
The truth is revealed as one of several flashback/dream sequences that “The Man Who Saved” drops into the story at key emotional moments for Barry. The first comes at the episode’s onset, when he’s still surrounded by his team, fending off Captain Cold (Wentworth Miller somehow delivering his lines with even more wonderfully hammy glee than imaginable) and Heat Wave and returning back to base. There, he’s greeted with open arms by everyone, including a walking Harrison Wells and a still-accounted-for Eddie.
It’s an amalgamation of better times, a childlike ideal of hope that everything in the world could be perfect and happy. The sequence feels even brighter as Barry knocks down his foes with ease in the bright light of day.
But it’s an illusion he can only entertain internally. It will never be the real world. The real world, his real world, is a much darker one, and the truth of it is revealed after Iris also goads Barry into attending Flash Day. (Side note: Barry, guilt bearing down on his shoulders with an unceasing weight, has been cleaning up the city at night, adding carpentry to the list of the Flash’s superpowers.)
On that fated day, Barry did in fact run into the storm, spinning circles in the eye of the chaos, a callback to the way he dealt with his first metahuman. It’s not enough, though, and both Ronnie and Dr. Stein realize what must be done. They join forces as Firestorm and fly into the eye, pulling apart from one another with the hopes that the force of their separation will stop it. They succeed, and as they tumble down to the earth below them, Barry catches Stein and saves him.
NEXT: Does Flash Day go off without a hitch? Of course not.