This has been a big week for old people on genre TV. On Game of Thrones, one of the main characters revealed the true, ancient age hidden beneath their youthful, beautiful exterior. Then, on tonight’s The Flash, the metahuman villain-of-the-week is an 18-year-old man who ages whenever he uses his power. Who knew there were so many old people hiding in plain sight on our favorite youth-centric TV shows?
“Back of Normal” was ostensibly about Barry learning how to go about his daily life without his super speed after losing it to Zoom. We begin the episode with the classic voiceover montage of Barry using his speedster abilities to go about his day. Compare this to what his life looks like now: namely, slow. He has to wait in line for coffee like the rest of humanity. It is truly a dark existence. I would have liked to spend more time exploring Barry’s state-of-mind past self-pitying and sad because I think there is a lot of narrative meat there. However, this episode wasn’t really about Barry learning how to live post-powers. It was about our favorite former and current Earth-Two residents: Harry, Jesse, and Caitlin.
When we last caught up with Harry and Jesse, father/daughter “team,” Jesse had fled Central City into an Earth she has barely knew to escape her father’s controlling ways. In the relatively short time she’s been gone, Jesse has managed to find an apartment, roommate, and presumably a job. Not bad for a recent college graduate who is probably suffering from some serious PTSD following her months-long captivity. When Harry tracks her down, she is not interested in a loving family reunion.
Harry, on the other hand, has brought his super protective father mode up to threat level red, following Zoom’s acquisition of Barry’s speed. In layman’s terms: he’s freaking out. He is understandably angry that Team Flash decided to give Zoom Barry’s power. Team Flash and Earth-One were outmatched before he took Barry’s power. Of course, rather than work this out through some solid conversation, Harry must be kidnapped for these two to understand how much they mean to one another, and the ways they are willing to compromise to be together.
Of course, Harry’s capture at the hands of Griffin Grey was not only about him understanding why he needs to not be such an over-controlling douche to his own daughter. (It’s actually unclear how his brief stint as Griffin’s prisoner makes him understand why trying to control your adult daughter’s life is bad — one of the reasons why I think this episode of The Flash could have been better.) It was also about Harry finally realizing just how many people’s lives he uncaringly screwed up with his particle accelerator explosion. Sure, it was actually Earth-One’s Harrison Wells/Eobard Thawne who made Griffin into a metahuman, but Harry made plenty of metahumans on Earth-Two — including Zoom. It apparently takes meeting Griffin to know that.
Thematically, I’m with The Flash up until this point, even if I think Harry’s revelation that his particle accelerator didn’t feel particularly organic as part of a larger storyline that was ostensibly about his relationship with his daughter. However, The Flash lost me when Harry’s logical next step to this revelation is to create another particle accelerator explosion. It’s like the Avengers: Age of Ultron plot all over again: thinking that doing the same terrible thing over again will bring about a different set of circumstances, and then having it work not because it makes any narrative logical sense, but because it is the heroes who are doing it.
One of the reasons why The Flash works so well as a superhero show is because it insists that it’s not Barry’s metahuman abilities that make him a hero, but rather who he has always been as a person. It’s the very argument Iris makes in this episode as part of a Barry pep talk. If this is true, then everyone on Team Flash is a hero — even the ones who don’t have superpowers — because they choose to be good. They choose to fight evil.
That is inspiring because it means anyone can be a hero, that all of us are inherently worth something because we have the power within us to be kind, compassionate, and make some degree of difference in the world. By risking countless lives to create another particle accelerator explosion, Team Flash is saying that Barry’s heroism is worth something more than those lives. That he needs his superpowers because he can’t make a difference without them. From a meta level, of course Barry has to get his powers back. This show is called The Flash. But there are a million different ways The Flash could bring that about. As it is initially presented at the very end of this episode, I am not excited about the direction The Flash is choosing. But, again, Harry’s declaration went down at the very end of the episode, so who knows how this storyline will play out.
Meanwhile, on Earth-Two, Zoom continues to be a super creep in relation to Caitlin. She begs him to take her back home. She makes it clear to him that she will never love him. Unfortunately, Zoom is not having any of it. He has decided that he loves Caitlin and even the PTSD-level flashbacks in his head to that time his father killed his mother will not distract him from that fact.
It would have been nice to see The Flash try to nuance-up Zoom’s character a bit here, but “Back to Normal” had less to do with Caitlin and Zoom’s relationship and more to do with the meeting of Caitlin and her Earth-Two doppelganger: Killer Frost. Was I the only one underwhelmed with how this went down? There were some good moments. The two bonded over their frigid mother (that’s right — Caitlin actually got some backstory past the first of her tragic love affairs!) and their escape plan. Over the course of the episode, Caitlin managed to break Killer Frost out… and Killer Frost tried to kill her, then died, almost immediately.
Last time we saw Killer Frost, she was helping Team Flash escape from Zoom’s lair. Zoom has presumably had her locked up since then. It doesn’t make tactical sense (or even character sense, given what we’ve seen from Killer Frost previously) for her to go after Caitlin. Frankly, it wastes valuable escape time. Zoom comes in just as Killer Frost is about to send an icicle through Caitlin’s heart. He stabs it through Killer Frost’s chest. This came as a major letdown for me. I would have liked to see Killer Frost developed further. Oh, well. I supposed there are always other Killer Frosts to find out in the vast multiverse.
But it doesn’t end there! Zoom finally accepts what Caitlin has been telling him since she first began her stay at Zoom’s Hotel & Spa: that she wants to go home. In a classic example of Be Careful What You Wish For, Zoom decides to grant Caitlin’s wish. Next stop: Earth-One. Itinerary: Conquer it.
Tonight’s “C” plot centered around one of my least favorite superhero tropes: the Let’s Not Tell A Loved One About My Secret Identity Because Reasons. See also: Iris West, Season 1. It’s not really clear why Barry and Joe can’t tell Wally who The Flash really is — especially given that Barry isn’t even a speedster anymore and, as far as Joe and Barry know, will never be again. Wally is trustworthy. He straight-up worships The Flash. And he has absolutely no reason to spill the beans about Barry’s superhero alter ego.
Moving past the annoyingness of this narrative trope, Wally’s subplot in tonight’s episode involved him first asking Joe to tell him who The Flash is, then — when it becomes apparent that Joe is keeping mum — asking for a meet-and-greet so her can personally thank The Flash for sacrificing his powers to save his life. The two meet on the same rooftop Iris and The Flash used to meet on in Season 1, and it is pretty damn nostalgic. Wally thanks The Flash. The Flash thanks Wally. Wally smiles a Joe West-level grin. Amongst all of his (understandable) moping about losing his powers, here is a moment that it was worth it. Even if the sacrifice made no sense on a tactical level, he saved Wally West and Wally West has vowed to make that sacrifice worth it. Start working on your Kid Flash transition theories, kids.
Rating: ★★★ Good
-When Barry is hit with the particle accelerator wave, the super speed he gained came with a bonus six-pack. When Griffin Grey is hit with the particle accelerator wave, the super strength he gained came with an aging effect. In many ways, Griffin is The CW’s perfect villain because he represents what the network seems to think is its target demographic’s worst fear: getting old.
-Um, Barry steals people’s coffee? Not cool. I take back everything I ever said about him being a hero. (Editor’s Note: Don’t forget about the ice cream he stole in National City!)
-Did anyone else think it was kind of weird that Team Flash didn’t talk more about Caitlin? Like, I know Cisco vibed to make sure she was OK and there is not really much they can do about it, but it still felt weird that things were “back to normal” while one of their own was being held captive on another Earth.
-“That’s why I’m always dropping calls around you?” Note to self: don’t try to get service near an Earth-Twoer
-“So, what? You think you’re going to need that gun to convince her to come with you?” Iris West, patron saint of women with overprotective fathers.
-“Wow, that was fast… That was a poor choice of words.” Bless you and your sensitivity, Joe West.
-“Does this make you feel better?” “Nothing you could ever do could ever make me feel better.”
-“I know you think that I’m a monster. I understand why. But that will change.” OK, crazy theory for a second: What if The Man in the Iron Mask is James Zolomon. He has somehow found a way to switch consciousnesses with his own son. This is why Hunter/Zoom keeps getting flashbacks (albeit, shot from Little Hunter’s perspective). Because he feels guilty for them. This would mean that The Man in the Iron Mask is the body of James Zolomon and the mind of Hunter Zolomon. Yeah, it’s a crazy theory, but I’m trying to make this whole Jay Garrick business suck less.
-“You’re here because I love you. It may take a while, but one day you’ll start feeling that way about me, too.” This is, like, the first line in The Creeper’s Guide to Stalking The One You Love.
-Why did Jesse and Barry not mention The Man in the Iron Mask’s tapping code to Cailtin? Team Flash really needs to start instigating some debrief meetings.
-“You want me to tell you who it is? I can’t do that.” “Why not?!” Yeah, Joe, why not?
-“Great, let me know if I need to find a new roommate.” Jesse’s temporary roommates isn’t very empathetic, huh?
-“What, you think I’ll be safer with you?” But, seriously, Jesse is 100 percent safer not with Team Flash.
-“Listen, honey, there’s no way you’re making it down that cliff by yourself.” I’m really going to miss Killer Frost.
-“Five. Is that uncommon here?” “Girl, no. That is not common anywhere.” I would really like to get to know Jesse past the facts that she is really smart and is Harry’s daughter. Could we see her develop relationships with other people on this show, show?
-Seriously, though, it was great to get to know anything about Caitlin’s family. We’ve gotten to know every other member of Team Flash’s family, but know next to nothing about the Snows. (Wait… is she a bastard and the future ruler of Westeros?) Petition to actually have Caitlin’s mom as a character on this show. The Flash needs more mom characters — especially ones who don’t die. The Flash — where fathers go to thrive and mothers go to die.
-“So what? He needs to up his blueberry intake?”
-“I didn’t even know what I could do yet, but I knew that I could save you.” This week, on the Oh, Yeah — WestAllen is a Thing Front, Iris and Barry go on a brief road trip and the two have a convo about the first time Barry used his powers to save someone: Iris. I’m not sure what they’re doing with these two, but there was no mention of Iris’ revelation that she maybe, kind of might have feelings for Barry.
-“Griffin, stop talking… so I can concentrate.” Good to know that Harry is an equal opportunity dick — even to his captor.
-“Is everyone on your Earth this gullible?” Yes, Killer Frost, they are.
-“The only cellular dead zone I can find is the one in here.” *Looks at Jesse.* “No offense.”
-A metahuman watch — the gift that keeps on giving.
-“Why is it that bad guys always insist on having the creepiest hideouts?”
-Um, maybe Griffin should have just not used his super strength?
-Harry and Jesse share a room?! What, there isn’t enough space in the MASSIVE laboratory they all live in? There aren’t any open cells in the particle accelerator prison? This could explain their constant bickering. These two need some space.
-“My little Jesse Quick. I love you, too.”
-Sadly, we didn’t get to hear Jesse’s perspective on Senator Knowles’ “Lemonade” release. Sigh. There’s always next week.