Oftentimes The CW’s The Flash conjures up a Villain of the Week whose meta-human origins and backstory merge seamlessly with the episode’s plot, pitting The Flash against a super-power that exploits his momentary weakness while forging stronger relationships between Barry Allen and his teammates. Then there are episodes like “Fast Lane” which pay relatively little attention to the villain, completely disconnect his abilities from The Flash’s shortcomings, and shoehorn in a B plot that feels forced.
Though Wally West (Keiynan Lonsdale) is a new addition to the cast and to the show’s plot, his character arc doesn’t quite jibe with the established order. That’s probably by design, we’re just feeling those growing pains right now. But despite the somewhat uninteresting side story about Wally being a hotrod-racing speed junky, “Fast Lane” sputtered off the starting line with the inclusion of a villain who could have been a lot of fun to play with, but ended up being forgettable.
In fact, the episode opens with Joseph Monteleone, aka Tar Pit’s origin story. Much like hoodlums tend to do, two no-goodniks are holding Joseph over a railing above a boiling vat of tar in order to extract a bank account number from him. He gives up the goods, but they drop him anyway, resulting in Joe suffering a fate worse than death: drowning in liquid tar while also being burned alive by it. And it just so happens that this is happening two years ago during the particle accelerator explosion and the resulting wave that turns ordinary folks into meta-humans. In the current timeline, Joseph emerges from beneath the asphalt crust in a puddle of molten tar. Tada! Tar Pit is born!
Since The Flash’s cursory battles against Tar Pit are easily the least interesting happenings in this episode, let’s get them out of the way. When Joseph resurfaces (ha!), of course he’s going to go after the two hitmen who were responsible for his sticky situation. He takes Daniel Burge out first, smothering him in a blanket of tar and involving the Central City forensics team. Now on The Flash’s radar, Tar Pit is stopped in the process of going after Clay. Does he use his Tar Pit powers to change the ground beneath The Flash’s feet into a sticky, speed-slowing morass? Does he allow The Flash to land punches and kicks only to let his hands and feet become stuck in the muck? Nope. He just misfires at a hydrant and douses himself in cold water which causes his molten body to lose its integrity, for some reason.
Tar Pit shows up again as paths cross between The Flash, the Wests, and his final target, one all-around bad guy, Clark Bronwen. This time, the meta-human changes the consistency of the road beneath the street-racers, causing them to crash. Not the best plan since The Flash manages to save (mostly) everyone from danger, so Tar Pit escapes to fight again another day. That final fight is easily his best as far as his appearance goes. It seems the production team spent the most amount of time and money crafting this version of Tar Pit, who resembles the Batman villain Clayface, only composed of molten tar instead of moulding clay. This moment, however, is short-lived since The Flash shows up just to toss a couple of nitrogen grenades at the meta-human, which reverts him to his human form long enough for Joe to land his second right cross of the episode. We don’t even see Monteleone hauled off to the Vault, he’s so inconsequential. It’s too bad. Tar Pit seemed like a cool villain whose speed-slowing abilities could have provided an excellent challenge for The Flash, but that opportunity was wasted thanks to all the extraneous stuff going on in Barry’s world.
But before we get to Barry and his personal demons in this episode, let’s take a little side trip with the Wests. As we learned on an earlier episode, Wally West is all about drag racing. He claims it’s to pay his mother’s medical bills, but since Francine West dies (unceremoniously and off-screen, I might add…) apparently all those bills are now paid off. So why’s Wally still racing for slips? Well as we soon find out, it’s the memories of driving down the highway with his mother, watching the scenery go by in a “flash” that keeps Wally jonesing for speed so that he doesn’t lose her all over again. I’d kind of prefer Wally to just be a speed-junky as an escape for his other problems, but we get what we get.
The irony here is that Iris is on the warpath against the dangers of street-racing, perhaps because the network doesn’t want the show making the deadly and illegal sport look enticing to young viewers, or perhaps to make Iris’ eventual injury during a race hit home for Wally. Though The Flash manages to save the racers from the crash caused by Tar Pit, he’s too slow – for reasons we’ll revisit in a moment – to keep a shard of glass from landing Iris in the hospital for an overnight stay. It’s here, when Wally shows up to apologize for his behavior and make sure his sister is okay, that we learn of his need for speed. It’s also this moment that Joe stops being Wally’s age-inappropriate buddy and starts acting like his father. They took a long and winding road to get there, but here we are at last.
Now, for the most interesting story in tonight’s episode that had little to do with everything we’ve already talked about. If you’ll remember, Harry Wells (Earth-2 Harrison Wells) is secretly working for Zoom to steal Barry’s speed in order to keep his daughter Jesse safe. He does so by crafting a device that siphons off Barry’s speed every time he taps into the Speed Force. While this has nearly irreversible results like dropping Barry’s max speed by 2%, damaging his chromosome structure, and almost robbing him of his speed completely, it was also indirectly responsible for Barry’s inability to prevent the shard of glass from reaching Iris.
Tom Cavanagh’s performance this season has somehow managed to equal and surpass his character’s duplicitous nature in Season 1. He has great chemistry with Cisco (Carlos Valdes) even if they’re the Odd Couple of the S.T.A.R. Labs team, and we get to see him interact with Barry (Grant Gustin) for the first extended period of time in this episode. Clearly, Harry wants nothing to do with Barry, not only because he’s working hard to steal his speed for Zoom, but because Barry’s proximity could get Jesse killed by foiling Harry’s plan.
While Cisco is showing Barry his new app tracking meta-human activity, Wells is meeting with Zoom down at the docks in order to feed the speed-junkie a shot of Barry’s electrifying speed. (Here’s the place to adjust your theories as to who Zoom really is.) Like any drug addict, Zoom continues to threaten Jesse, and will do so every day until Harry gives him all of Barry’s speed. All of this guilt and pressure adds up to the breaking point for Harry, who confesses to the team that he’s been sabotaging Barry to help Zoom; Joe walks into the room in time to hear the confession and land another right cross.
Though Harry spends a little time in the Vault, the team has a chat and decides that the best way to take down Zoom is to work with Harry, and they plan to do so by traveling to Earth-2. Some good has come from Harry and Barry’s cooperation, and even from Eobard Thawne’s Harrison Wells, since they figure out how to close all the breaches. A great plan, as long as they don’t end up trapped in Earth-2 and unable to return home.
With the exception of Harry coming clean to the team about his double-dealing, and the reconciliation among the West family members, there wasn’t a whole lot of story advancement in this episode. Hopefully we’ll get some more exciting moments when the team crosses the divide and comes face to face with their doppelgangers next week.
Rating: ★★★ Good
The Flash: “All the broken hearts in the world still beat.”
Iris: “You are really all about the speed, huh?” Wally: “Yeah, it’s what I love.”
Harry Wells: “Journal Entry 114: Turtle’s Brain.”
I love the news blurbs catching people up on the happenings in both Star City and this episode’s plot, in case you weren’t paying attention to either.
Cisco: “Did I just make meta-human Tinder?” Barry: “Mmhmm.” Cisco: “Nope, not starting that fetish.”
Cisco: “Who’s the best hacker in the world, people?” Barry & Caitlin: “Felicity Smoak.”
Joe: “What is that?” Harry: “Breach implosion reactor.” Joe: “Sorry I asked.”
Tar Pit is not the most incognito of meta-humans.
Iris is either made of tissue-paper or that shard of glass must have damn severed her arm off for her to be waking up on oxygen in the hospital.
Joe: “I’m your father, and I ain’t lettin’ you go.” Wally: “Okay.”
Caitlin: “Why’d you put him in there?” Joe: “Cuz if I didn’t, I would’ve killed him. Now let’s go find this tar freak.”
Caitlin: “If he would have kept doing what he was doing, Barry could have lost his speed permanently.” Cisco: “Even Evil Wells couldn’t figure out how to do that.” Joe: “We better send his ass back soon or I’m gonna shoot him.”
It’s sad that Caitlin has pretty much been reduced to spitting out random stats and nodding a lot. I hope she gets to do a lot more on Earth-2.