The Flash series premiere recap: 'Pilot'
Do you remember when you were young and watching superhero cartoons made you want to be a superhero? Well, The CW’s The Flash comes close to recapturing that feeling; in fact, watching the pilot of The Flash, an Arrow spin-off, is probably the most fun you’ll have watching TV this fall. The hour relishes in how awesome it is to be a superhero, which is something not seen in the DC Universe for quite some time. I mean, did you hear Barry Allen’s (Grant Gustin) opening voice-over?
To understand what I’m about to tell you, you need to do something first. You need to believe in the impossible. Can you do that? Good. You see that red blur? That’s me! That, too! There I am again! My name is Barry Allen—I’m the fastest man alive.
Could you imagine those words coming out of Stephen Amell’s mouth? I don’t think post-island Oliver Queen even knows what enthusiasm is. For the past several years, everything in the DC live action world has felt overly serious; being a superhero was always portrayed as somewhat of a burden. The best example of course is Arrow, a show that, if we were being super reductive, could best be described as Nolan Lite: from its Hans Zimmer-like score to its forever brooding and “feels” of protagonist Oliver Queen/The Arrow. The Flash, however, is quite different; there’s too much color in the pilot for there to be even a hint of Nolan. What we get, instead, is a confident hour of television that recognizes the campiness of its narrative and embraces it, making The Flash more reminiscent of the dearly departed Smallville. The episode definitely isn’t flawless, but it’s hard not to be seduced by the show’s charm.
And although DC Comic’s Holy Trinity may get all of the attention, The Flash is still arguably the most important character in the DC Comics universe: In the Justice League/Justice League Unlimited animated series, it’s his death that turns the Justice League—Earth’s defenders and champions—into emotionless despots. In the comics, almost every universe-altering/retconning crisis usually involves the death, disappearance, or in one case resurrection of a Flash (there have been multiple: Jay Garrick, Barry Allen, Wally West, Bart Allen); he’s basically continuity’s sacrificial lamb. Flashpoint, the crossover event that gave birth to the continuity of The New 52, DC’s relaunching of every monthly title, was a Flash/Barry Allen centric story line. And yet, with all of his importance, The Flash never stopped being one of DC’s main forms of comic relief. In short: The Flash definitely isn’t a second-tier superhero, and it’s a very big deal that he’s coming to television—albeit for the second time—because it opens the door up to something that’s been missing for a long time in superhero adaptations: that aforementioned fun!
But enough fanboying over how awesome The Flash is, let’s dig into the episode.
After a speedy opening with the above voice-over that introduces us to Barry Allen’s home of Central City, we jump back to childhood Barry running away from bullies. The flashbacks establish that Barry has always had a heroic streak in him. We are then shown the night Barry’s mother died, where Barry sees his mother—encircled by red and yellow blurs—as she screams at him to run. His dad comes down, and says, “Run, Barry, run!” and before he knows it, Barry’s mysteriously transported miles away from his home. We’ll later find out that the cops arrested and charged Barry’s father, Henry Allen (fun fact alert: he’s played by John Wesley Shipp, who portrayed The Flash on the CBS series in the ’90s). Henry Allen was eventually sentenced to life in prison, and since then, Barry has been trying to figure out who, or what, murdered his mother.
NEXT: The impossible happens. #TestTubeHero
In the present day, Barry is a CSI forensic investigator for the Central City Police Department, where he works with his surrogate father, Detective Joe West (Jesse L. Martin). Barry shows up late to the scene of a robbery that was committed by the Mardon brothers. He arrives just in time to save his job by doing his best Sherlock Holmes impression: He figures out the model of the getaway car just by looking at the tire marks left at the scene. From his appearance on Arrow last year, Grant Gustin felt like the perfect guy to play Barry Allen—he’s immediately likable and relatable. It’s hard not to root for him.
But of course this wouldn’t be a real CW drama without giving Barry an unrequited love, and the show gives us that in the form of Iris West (Candice Patton), Detective West’s daughter and Barry’s childhood friend/quasi-sister. She shows up at Barry’s lab as he’s working, and in a scene that doesn’t do her character justice, the two make plans to go to S.T.A.R. Labs to see Dr. Harrison Wells (Tom Cavanagh) turn on his particle accelerator; you know, that thing we kept hearing about in the first half of Arrow‘s second season.
Unfortunately, Barry and Iris don’t see the particle accelerator turn on because someone steals Iris’ bag, which contains her laptop with her dissertation on it. Ever the hero, Barry chases after the guy. Thankfully, he is stopped by Eddie Thawne (Rick Cosnett), the CCPD’s newest detective, a.k.a. Detective Pretty Boy.
While this is going on, Detective West and his partner track down a lead for the robbery case on a farm, where they find the getaway car Barry identified earlier. The villain, Clyde Mardon, shoots Detective West’s partner as he runs to a small plane piloted by his brother… where they are promptly struck by lightning.
Barry returns to his lab and checks out his evidence board, where he’s keeping track of his mother’s murder. (It’s all very Wall of Weird from Smallville.) Something goes wrong during the opening of the particle accelerator, and Barry watches from his window as it blows up and creates a storm. As he’s closing the skylight in his lab, the chemicals rise out of the beakers, just as the water in his fish tank did on the night his mother died. Barry is then struck by lightning. Even though we saw this scene at the end of Arrow‘s midseason finale last year, it’s still awesome.
Flash-foward nine months when Barry wakes up from his coma, and everything has changed: S.T.A.R. Labs was classified as a Class 4 hazardous location and is no longer in operation, Dr. Wells has lost the use of his legs, Iris is dating Detective Pretty Boy (our patented CW love triangle is born!), and Barry has abs now. During his time in the coma, Barry was cared for by Cisco Ramon (Carlos Valdes) and Dr. Caitlin Snow (Danielle Panabaker). Some things do remain the same, however, like there are still bank robberies going on, except this time they are proceeded by freak weather events.
NEXT: Run, Barry, run!
It’s not long before Barry’s powers start to manifest themselves. First, at the coffee shop where Iris works, when he watches a waitress drop a tray in slow motion, and then later at the precinct when he stops a perp from stealing a cop’s gun. But it’s when Barry goes into the alley behind the precinct that things really start to get fun, from the exciting score to Barry’s triumphant yelling to the POV shot of him running. Things only get better from here when Barry tests out his new powers with the S.T.A.R. Labs crew at Ferris Air (Green Lantern Easter egg!), during which he flashes back to the night of his mom’s murder and realizes he saw a face in the yellow and red light. Distracted by his memory, he runs into barrels of water and fractures a limb, which is okay because with superspeed comes super healing.
Everyone’s worry going into the pilot was whether or not this show would be able to render Barry’s superspeed on a CW budget in a way that wasn’t cheesy, and from the look of the Ferris Air scene, I think we can rest easy; The Flash shows a marked improvement from Clark’s superspeed on Smallville.
Barry has a run-in with the storm-creating bank robber, and we find out that it’s Clyde Mardon—who, after the explosion, didn’t die in a plane crash but instead now has the ability to control the weather. Unfortunately, Detective West doesn’t believe Barry when he tells him this and instead tires of Barry’s wacky supernatural theories:
“There’s no controlling the weather, Barry. Just like there was no lightning storm in your house that night. It was your brain helping a scared little boy accept what he saw… Your dad killed your mother, Barry!”
It’s kind of heartbreaking. To add insult to injury, when Barry confronts Dr. Wells about Clyde Mardon and other meta-humans, Wells cruelly tells Barry that he’s not a hero. The introduction of meta-humans hints that The Flash may be taking a freak-of-the-week approach similar to that of Smallville: particle accelerator exploding = kryptonite meteor shower.
Needing a self-esteem boost, Barry visits the one person he can talk to about all this: Oliver Queen. Although their meeting is probably the weakest (and definitely corniest) part of the pilot, it does indicate how the writers view Flash in the Arrow-world. Essentially, he’s the Superman to Arrow’s Batman. Their scene on the Starling City rooftop is reminiscent of so many of those Batman/Superman talks seen in the comics; you know, the ones where both superheroes are completely frank with whatever is going on and really show why they’re the greatest. Barry tells Oliver that he doesn’t think he can be a vigilante like Oliver, and Oliver says he doesn’t have to be:
“You can be better because you can inspire people in a way that I never could… watching over your city like a guardian angel… making a difference, saving people [dramatic pause] in a flash.”
With renewed confidence, Barry travels back to Central City to deal with Clyde Mardon. Cisco conveniently has a costume that is perfect for Barry. They find Clyde Mardon on the farm from earlier, and Barry rushes off to save the day. Detectives West and Thawne are already on the scene and are bearing witness to Clyde Mardon’s powers. Jesse L. Martin’s delivery of “shut up” after Clyde calls himself a god is priceless.
When Barry arrives, Clyde Mardon creates a tornado and starts heading toward Central City. Barry decides the best way to stop him is to run around him in the opposite direction to counteract the tornado. The first time he tries it, he fails, at which point Dr. Wells gets on the radio and gives Barry a much-needed confidence boost that ends with him emphatically saying, “Now, run, Barry, run!”
And run Barry does. As to be expected, Barry saves the day, but not without a little help from Detective West, who shoots Clyde. Witnessing Barry’s powers has turned West into a believer, and he says he’ll help Barry get his father out of jail, but that Barry must not tell Iris about his powers. The Barry-Detective West-Iris setup is very Oliver-Laurel-Detective Lance.
After Barry pays his imprisoned father a visit, the episode ends by setting up this season’s mystery: Who the hell is Dr. Wells, and what the hell is he up to? We see Dr. Wells enter some hidden, futuristic-looking room in S.T.A.R. Labs, where he stands up! He moves toward a console, places his hand on it, and a newspaper from the future appears with the headline: “FLASH MISSING, VANISHES IN CRISIS” (along with many other Easter eggs on the page). What the what?!
NEXT: THEORIES THEORIES THEORIES
The Flash shows a lot promise in this pilot, and it’ll be great to see where it goes from here. However, the show does have a long way to go to reach Arrow status. For one thing, most of the younger supporting cast needs to fleshed out a lot more, especially Iris. At the moment, Iris, Cisco, and Caitlin feel less like characters and more like placeholders for characters. Furthermore, Jesse L. Martin needs to be given more to do because his role feels a bit too Law & Order. Then again, he might be this show’s grounding force. What’s great about the pilot is how it readily embraces some of the most out-there parts of the Flash’s mythology—I’m looking at you, time travel.
Wall of the Weird and Unexplained:
–Welcome to recaps for The Flash‘s first season. Not every recap will be as long as this one, but there was just so much going on in this episode (maybe too much), that I felt a beat-by-beat recap was necessary. Going forward, the episode will define the format. In this section of the recaps, I plan on diving into the comic book mythology to make sense of episodes and theories about what’s coming next. I’m also recapping Arrow for EW, so there will probably be a lot of cross-talking between those recaps.
–Who the hell is Dr. Wells? Since the pilot leaked over the summer, there have been many theories floating around about Dr. Well’s real identity. The most likely candidate is Professor Zoom/Reverse Flash/Eobard Thawne. I know some of you comic book fans out there are like, but “What about Eddie Thawne?! Isn’t he Reverse Flash?!” That’s what I thought, too, but then I remembered what Greg Berlanti and company did on Arrow; they had two versions of Deathstroke on the island, both Roy Harper and Thea (whose nickname is Speedy on the show), and two Merlyns. I think Detective Eddie Thawne is meant to distract us from Dr. Wells. If there are a few things that are clear about Dr. Wells, they are (a) He’s definitely from the future and (b) He was there the night Barry’s mother was murdered. In the episode, he says, “Run, Barry, run,” which is exactly what Henry Allen said to Barry to the night of the murder. That can’t be a coincidence. Perhaps, Eddie Thawne is Dr. Wells’ ancestor.
–Other Dr. Wells theories I’ve seen on the internet: Future Barry Allen, Jay Garrick (Golden Age Flash), and Chronos. Some have also suggested that Eddie Thawne may be Cobalt Blue, a.k.a. Malcolm Thawne, Barry’s long-lost twin brother and Professor Zoom’s ancestor.
–Easter eggs from the 2024 newspaper: “WAYNE TECH/QUEEN INC MERGER COMPLETE” and “RED SKIES VANISH.” [SPOILER ALERT]: The crisis mentioned in the Flash headline is Crisis on Infinite Earths, DC Comics’ first major crisis that ended with the death of Barry Allen. Unless this show runs for 10 years, odds are we’ll never see this crisis on the screen, which is a good thing because—even though superspeed was handled fine—I doubt the CW’s budget could handle that.
–Based on the conspicuous shot of a broken cage, we’ll likely see Gorilla Grodd, a DC Comics supervillain with psychic abilities, at some point in the future.
–In the comics, Cisco Ramon is the superhero Vibe and Caitlin Snow is the supervillain Killer Frost. Wonder long it will take for their powers to show up…
—Did you see the teaser for the rest of the season at the end of the episode? Definition of awesome.
–Finally, check out EW‘s wishlist for The Flash and Arrow.
After the success of Arrow, Barry Allen (a.k.a. the Flash) gets his own CW treatment in this comic-themed spin-off.