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. [pagebreak]
Ronnie, however, is nowhere to be found and assumed dead. (Let’s be real, though. Unless there’s a body, no one is ever truly dead on TV, especially in a world filled with parallel universes and multiple timelines.) In the wake of that loss to Team Flash, Barry couldn’t stand the idea of letting another friend remain in harm’s way. Caitlin, of course, also took the loss hard, and went to work at Mercury Labs, Cisco has joined Joe as part of a metahuman task force the police have put together, and Stein has tried to settle back into his normal life.
Central City is not about to let the team off the hook though, as a new threat presents itself in the form of a man who attacks during the Flash Day ceremony. Luckily, Barry decided to show up and accept his key to the city, so he’s there to save the mayor from a rogue hot dog cart and face his oversized opponent.
Unfortunately, the wannabe Dark Knight Rises Bane proves too powerful for Barry to take on, particularly when he suddenly increases his body’s size on the spot after Cisco (who also had a disturbing flash of his own, which will likely be addressed as the season progresses) attempts to use his metahuman-trapping Boot gun. Barry and Joe fend him off with propane tank-fueled explosions. Before he retreats, he reveals the face beneath the CGI mask, and it’s…Al Rothstein, the dead welder they found? Well, that’s suspicious.
Cisco does some digging and discovers that Rothstein’s body was in the morgue all night and that he wasn’t even in town when the S.T.A.R. Labs explosion first set loose a wave of metahumans on the city. Just as concerning was the showdown itself — Barry could barely compete with this new foe’s brute strength, and Joe isn’t going to let him continue to take on Central City’s woes alone.
And so they go about reforming Team Flash as best they can. Cisco enlists Caitlin’s help — when the metahuman grew, all of the nearby x-ray machines faltered instantly. They reckon he’s feeding off of radiation, and so they try to locate a radioactive dumping ground that is suspiciously lacking in the stuff. That’ll be where they can find this, this…Atom-Smasher, as Stein gleefully names him, earning a hug from his new best friend, Cisco.
Barry arrives at S.T.A.R. Labs to find the team deliberating about Atom-Smasher after having been alerted to an unauthorized entry to the now-dormant facility. He thanks them for their help but immediately moves into isolation mode. He wants them gone, and he doesn’t want any further help from them, so he goes to investigate the location they pinpoint without his communication gear.
He finds the Atom-Smasher chowing down on some radioactive waste as he once again proves too powerful for Barry to beat, even with his now-signature arm-tornado move. Luckily Cisco has broken into the building’s security system and watched the fight, so he triggers the alarm, distracting Atom and letting Barry run for his life.
Barry returns to S.T.A.R. beaten to a bloody pulp, and it’s Joe who’s there to save him. Another flashback showcases one of the earlier, integral moments to their relationship, as Joe teaches Barry the importance of allowing himself to feel, of dealing with his emotions rather than burying them.
It was an important lesson in the wake of his mother’s death, and it still rings true in the aftermath of Ronnie’s. Joe can’t tell Barry it isn’t his fault, but he also doesn’t want him hogging all the credit and blame for that day. Everyone made choices that day — Eddie and Ronnie sacrificed themselves of their own volition, not because Barry asked them to. “Stop with this hogging all the blame and regret. Live with it; move on,” Joe advises him and suggests he focus on rebuilding not the city around him but his own life.
NEXT: It takes a team to finish off a metahuman [pagebreak]
He takes Joe’s words to heart, and heads to Caitlin’s lab. He apologizes for Ronnie’s death, but Caitlin doesn’t blame him at all. If anything, she blames herself for not leaving with Ronnie last year when he wanted to start a new life with her. It’s a sweet moment for a platonic friendship that I’ve always enjoyed whenever the show explores it, and the respect and love as friends they have for each other is reinforced when Caitlin offers to be by Barry’s side during an important moment.
A lawyer showed up to his apartment with a video message from Harrison Wells. In his will he bequeathed S.T.A.R. Labs to his protégé, but Barry’s inheritance is at risk unless he watches the message. He’s not entirely sure he wants to, but with Caitlin’s help, he faces whatever the Reverse-Flash-as-Harrison-Wells has to say.
And what he says is a shock. Although he chides Barry as someone who will never be truly happy, he gives him the one gift Barry would want most — his father’s freedom. He gives a video confession with enough specific details to implicate him as the true murderer of Barry’s mother.
Joe, working with the DA, passes the video along and is able to secure Henry Allen’s release from prison.
There’s one other problem to take care of, as that pesky Atom-Smasher still looms over them. Caitlin suggests they give him exactly what he’s looking for, just a whole lot of it.
They summon the Atom-Smasher using a Flash Signal, which is exactly what you think it is, Batman fans. A giant lightning bolt is projected via floodlight, or FlashLight, into the sky, an idea Cisco got from a “comic book somewhere” (Does that mean there are Batman comics in the DC TV universe?), which brings the Atom-Smasher out of hiding. He chases Barry to a facility where the Flash traps his foe in a room that the S.T.A.R. Labs team floods with radiation. It’s too much for this Rothstein to take, and so Barry confronts him as the life fades from him.
He attacked Barry because he was promised by someone that he would be allowed to go home. Who made such a promise? Why, Zoom, of course.
This Zoom character will have to wait, though (for the sake of those who haven’t kept up with pre-premiere information, read the comics, or fallen down a Wikipedia rabbit hole, I’ll refrain from talking about what this means until the show has expressed more about the character than a name) because Barry is having a joyful reunion with his father. (Having loved the dynamic Barry has shared with both of his father figures, it was damn nice to see Henry Allen outside the bars of a prison for good.) And so the festivities begin, but it is sadly short-lived. Henry tells Barry he can’t be around for now. The world doesn’t need Barry to be Henry Allen’s son at the moment. It needs him to be the Flash, and Henry doesn’t want to be a threat to that.
I don’t completely buy this as a realistic explanation outside of the machinations of a TV show, but the door is certainly left open for Henry to be in Barry’s life when he needs to be. There’s also a moment between Joe and Henry that suggests this was something the two of them agreed upon, or at least that Joe understood the situation. And John Wesley Shipp, Grant Gustin, and Jesse L. Martin are always so fantastic when playing off one another that I can only hope Henry isn’t away for too long.
Even if the reunion ends on that bittersweet note, it’s punctuated by a speech Stein gives, urging everyone with the Hebrew word “kadima,” which means “forward.” They must look forward, not dwell on what they’ve faced, and prepare for whatever challenges lie ahead, or they will never succeed.
It’s with that sight in mind that Barry’s latest challenge appears. As the might of Team Flash comes back to S.T.A.R. Labs, including an upgraded Flash suit and supposedly increased security, a mysterious figure emerges from the shadows of the facility. He comes, after popping up throughout the episode following Barry, only with a name and a warning: “My name is Jay Garrick, your world is in danger.”
Meet a new Flash, same as the old Flash? Unlikely, but only by moving forward will Barry, and viewers, come to learn what’s truly at stake.