It’s a new year but the same old problems keep plaguing Barry Allen on The CW’s The Flash. Meta-humans wreak havoc across Central City, the demon speedster Zoom still holds Harrison Wells’ daughter prisoner and is hellbent on stealing The Flash’s speed, and Barry’s alter ego is making his personal life rather complicated. Unlike episodes of sister series Arrow, in which love interests are often killed off, The Flash uses a much more realistic version of heartbreak when it comes to relationships.
That style is probably best exemplified by tonight’s cold open. While Barry’s narration gets viewers caught up on his unusual relationship, the speedster zips to a fancy date night with his lovely girlfriend, Patty Spivot. In a funny twist, his superspeed causes his bouquet of roses to burst into flames; in a less funny twist, Zoom shows up to kidnap Patty and drop her off a high building to her death. Surprise! It’s just a dream, because Barry is haunted by the fear that Zoom will come for her one day and there will be nothing he can do to stop the villain. Little did he know that his own reluctance to come clean to Patty about his super-heroic identity would play a part in ending their relationship.
For the first half of our recap of the midseason premiere, “Potential Energy”, we’ll focus on the more realistic relationships between Barry Allen and his various cohorts. The major one in this episode, and for the season so far, is his romantic relationship with Patty. Things have been getting increasingly serious between the two, but Patty is ready to take the next step beyond just simply having fun. Barry’s all about it, too, but he’s worried that telling her that he’s The Flash will put her in even more danger because of Zoom and other supervillains who would seek to use her as leverage against him.
Barry’s hesitation allowed Patty to be put in harm’s way regardless and without all the information she might otherwise use to her advantage. She’s a cop, she’s smart, and she’s capable. Everyone else on the show knows Barry’s secret, so it seems a little silly that Barry would keep it from Patty as well. I’ll give him credit for trying, since every time he does, he gets interrupted by either a villain or the episode’s biggest heart-crushing moment. It seems that Patty was accepted to the forensics program at Midway City University, and she’ll be leaving Central City behind to pursue her dream of becoming a CSI. I’m not sure how far away Midway City is from Central City, but I’d imagine The Flash can get to and from it fairly quickly. Maybe this isn’t the end of Patty/Barry after all!
Now, as for the other relationships going on in this episode. The Flash has become known for how well it handles the father/son relationships, but the writers are putting a new twist on that dynamic with Joe West and his estranged son, Wally. The Feels here are not warm and fuzzy, they’re cold and stand-offish; anything otherwise would feel false. These are two grown men who had never spent any time together until very recently, so it’s fitting that there are some rough edges to their relationship right now. I also like the way that Wally West, aka Taillights, was revealed to be a street-racing speed junkie with a dangerous streak; I’m less enthusiastic about the excuse that Wally’s racing in order to get enough money to pay his mother’s hospital bills. However, the two Wests start to patch things up over some kung pao chicken before Wally heads back to Keystone City, so obviously they’ll start to warm to each other over time.
The last bit of relationship drama in this episode is easily the weirdest. Caitlin Snow and Jay Garrick continue to flirt behind the backs of their comrades, but Caitlin takes the dating game in a weird direction when she swabs Jay’s DNA from a champagne glass. She discovers that Jay’s sick and chastises him for allowing her to get close to him (How dare he!) since she lost her previous fiancé in a traumatic fashion. All that awkwardness aside, if they can find a way to stop Zoom, they can get Jay’s speed back and nullify his illness. Just another good reason to put Zoom down for good, even if it’s a strange one.
Now, onto the superheroics! Cisco and Harry Wells are playing the Odd Couple in the lab with Wells getting upset at his failures to make Barry faster. It’s then that Cisco suggests they take another tack: find a way to make Zoom slower. They previously tried that by shooting the demon speedster with speed-slowing darts, but that did little more than tick the monster off. So now Cisco reveals his White Whale, “The Turtle,” as a plan for stopping Zoom once and for all.
This is a meta-human, played in this episode by Aaron Douglas, who can manipulate energy fields around him so that he alone is able to harness kinetic energy while everyone else is trapped in a state of untapped potential energy. The Turtle’s particular modus operandi is to steal whatever is most precious to someone, normally in the form of priceless jewels or artwork. So while it’s important that Team Flash stops this criminal, they’ve had their hands full with more deadly villains up to this point. Now that The Turtle may hold the key to stopping Zoom, however, he becomes a number-one priority.
The Flash attempts to apprehend The Turtle on two occasions: once when he steals a prized ring and again when he thieves a priceless work of art. Both times The Flash gets caught in The Turtle’s energy fields, harnessing just enough of his kinetic energy to push an unsuspecting Patty Spivot out of the way of a falling chandelier. However, in saving her, The Flash revealed to The Turtle that he cares for Patty, making her something precious to the super-speedster. Here’s where the irony of Barry Allen’s reluctance to reveal his secret identity to Patty comes into play since she ends up in mortal peril just the same.
Now in The Turtle’s clutches, Patty is at the mercy of this madman who permanently put his own wife into an eternal stasis when she threatened to leave him. If The Flash wants to prevent Patty from ending up in the same state, he’ll have to time his approach perfectly, to within 2/10ths of a second. Unfortunately, The Flash’s zeal for heroics causes him to get caught in The Turtle’s energy fields not once, but twice. However, The Flash is so supercharged with energy that he’s able to bust through, knock The Turtle out, and save an eternally grateful Patty Spivot.
The moment of Patty thanking The Flash, whose identity she still does not know, was heartbreaking in retrospect. Of all the possible moments Barry had to reveal his identity, this certainly seemed like the perfect one; maybe he’ll get his chance sometime in the near future. As for The Turtle, who was temporarily locked up in the S.T.A.R. Labs pipeline, his future is much shorter than he probably intended. As Harry Wells narrates another one of his journal entries to his imprisoned daughter, telling her about a time when he lost her at a planetarium’s Mars exhibit and discovered the fear, panic, and dark side that gripped him in that moment, he pays The Turtle a visit, and jabs a syringe into the villain’s brain. Presumably, he was getting a sample for his research on taking down Zoom; equally presumed, The Turtle is now dead.
So that’s a pretty good return to The Flash since we got a lot of character drama, an interesting comic book villain, and some decent action scenes. However, it was pretty middle-of-the-road as far as the crazy level goes. They’ve out-crazied themselves in the past so “Potential Energy” had a high bar to jump over if it wanted to keep raising the stakes, but it doesn’t feel like they wanted to do that just yet. Even the ending stinger wasn’t anything completely shocking or jaw-dropping. It’s revealed that Reverse Flash has showed up … somewhere, wherever a portal happened to drop him on a tree-lined street in modern surburbia. We’ll get more on this version of Reverse Flash on next week’s episode and we’ll also see if The Flash kicks the energy back up a notch.
Rating: ★★★ Good
Iris: “I’ve always wanted a baby brother.” Wally: “What about the White Shadow?” Iris: “You’re joking, but that is what we used to call him.” Joe: “He’s been busy running all over lately.”
Cisco: “From Hell’s heart, I stab at thee!”
Apparently Cisco has a long list of potential meta-humans, which frees up the writers to bring new antagonists in from more than one angle.
Cisco: “I will say, she put bullets in King Shark and Harry, so as far as I’m concerned, she’s Team Flash material.”
Harry Wells’ story about how Zoom got his name was absolutely chilling. Tom Cavanagh continues to bring it in his various iterations of the character.
Patty: “You need to figure out what you want, and do it fast.” Barry: “Fast is my specialty.”
Patty: “What do you want from me?” The Turtle: “The thing most precious to The Flash … you.”
As creepy as Wells’ story about Zoom was, The Turtle’s reveal of what happened to his wife out-creeped it…
The Flash: “Hey, Turtle. Do you know to know my definition of irony? Now you are our most-prized possession.”
Reverse Flash: “Gideon.” Gideon: “Yes, Professor Thawne?” Reverse Flash: “Where the Hell am I?”