NOTE: Full spoilers for this episode of The Flash, including a possible major character death, are present in this review
The Flash returned on an outwardly chipper note for the start of Season Two, but Barry didn’t seem to be feeling the joy, even as the episode begins with him rounding up Captain Cold and Heat Wave, before a hearty congratulations by all his friends. Business as usual? Except, Eddie is there? Turns out, it’s a fake-out, a woulda, coulda, shoulda situation that gave way to an empty, abandoned S.T.A.R. Labs chamber. Barry stands alone, now a lone superhero, and rushes off, failing to notice a whoosh that he knocked over a rather conspicuous letter addressed to a ‘Bartholomew Henry Allen’. That tease for Kid Flash/Impulse was definitely not an accident, as the shot zoomed and held on it. A tease of big Allen family developments to come for later in the season?
Anyway, Barry and Detective West find the body of a nuclear power plant worker named Al Rothstein, who was murdered for mysterious reasons. West also uses this opportunity to grill Barry about attending a rally that the city is holding to honour The Flash, and present him with the Key to the City, after the Scarlet Speedster saved the city (and possibly even the world) by successfully closing the singularity that opened, and founded that cliffhanger that Season One ended on. Barry adamantly refuses to attend, enhancing the mystery of why he’d be so afraid to take credit for saving everyone.
Turns out, things didn’t happen the way you’d think. The show flashes back to the day of the singularity soon afterward, with Barry speeding around the portal and successfully stabilizing it. By himself however, he can’t close it. Dr. Stein and Ronnie decide to merge into Firestorm and lend a hand, with Dr. Stein theorizing that if they separate suddenly in the middle of the singularity, the expulsion of nuclear energy should separate the two layers of the event horizon, and lead to the portal closing. They implement this strategy, though only Dr. Stein falls out of the event, with Barry catching him and bringing him safely to the ground. Ronnie has disappeared, and appears to have been absorbed by the portal, seemingly killing him. Barry is left with no choice but to apologize to Caitlin, when she sees that Ronnie is nowhere to be found.
So, this would explain why Ronnie isn’t present with Dr. Stein in the promos for next year’s Legends of Tomorrow series. Given that Ronnie Raymond is half of the main incarnation of Firestorm in DC lore, it was a very bold move to kill him off, or at least appear to, though this also means that The Flash can start weaning off of Firestorm as a handy Deus Ex Machina character, as the nuclear-powered hero prepares to make his way to Legends of Tomorrow in a new form. Naturally, this creates considerable drama with Caitlin, who apparently left her gig at S.T.A.R. Labs to take up a new gig in Mercury Labs, unable to deal with the decision she made to force Ronnie to stay in Central City back when he was first recovered in Season One.
Cisco meanwhile is the key scientific advisor of an all-new task force authorized by Captain Singh, specifically designed to help the CCPD battle metahumans. Along with Iris, they’re attempting to think of ways to encourage Barry to put the team back together, but for now, they just have to hope that he shows up at the rally.
Fortunately, Barry does ultimately decide to accept the award, taking credit for Ronnie’s heroic sacrifice at the arm-twisting of his friends, though there’s little time to celebrate, as a new villain attacks the rally, changing in size, conveniently rendering Cisco’s new invention useless, and laying a pretty bad smackdown on The Flash! Even stranger is that his face perfectly resembles the murder victim from the nuclear power plant. Hmmm…
If you aren’t already an avid DC fan that was tipped off by the name of the victim, I’ll clarify here that this size-changing, super-strong menace is another DC Comics baddie, this time being Atom Smasher, who actually isn’t a metahuman, but a different threat entirely. Atom Smasher is a very cool bad guy in the comics, but on The Flash, he’s frustratingly reduced to being yet another villain-of-the-week, even with the show making a big deal about stressing that he’s not a metahuman. The character ultimately ended up poorly developed and half-baked, and despite some decent, albeit brief throwdowns with The Flash, he failed to make any kind of impression. Sadly, even in Season Two, The Flash is still suffering from some uneven villain-of-the-week quality.
After Barry gets his ass kicked by Atom Smasher initially, who is eventually forced to retreat due to the police presence, Cisco, with some help from Caitlin, proves that Atom Smasher’s size-changing powers rely on him absorbing radiation, which is why every X-Ray and CT machine in the vicinity suddenly went dead when he attacked the rally, something that Iris was researching for her reporting job, and brought to Cisco’s attention. The group uses this information to point Barry in the direction of the villain, but Barry, still angsty, takes off without his communicator and gets clobbered again, with Cisco triggering the alarms at Dr. Stein’s suggestion being the only thing that allows him to escape while Atom Smasher is distracted. Unfortunately, as soon as he reaches S.T.A.R. Labs, Barry passes out from the exertion.
Here, we get a good flashback scene of how Barry responded with anger at the death of his parents, and how Detective West talked him through it as a child. Barry then wakes up to find Detective West giving the same advice, which was a nicely heartfelt moment. Barry is encouraged to let his friends in, and not hog the grief and guilt. Detective West is right when he points out that everyone made decisions that day, after all, and both Eddie and Ronnie made their own decisions, and there’s nothing Barry can do about it.
Fortunately, this is enough to get Barry becoming a team player again, particularly when he’s handed a mysterious recording that contains a recorded confession to his mother’s murder by Harrison Wells, which allows him to get his father released from Iron Heights Prison! Caitlin even hatches a plan to trap Atom Smasher in a radiation chamber and overload him, though considering how dangerous he was before, this plan had him going down pretty easily. There was also a groan-inducing line by Cisco about the idea to make a ‘Flash Signal’ to get the villain’s attention, with Caitlin asking where the idea came from, and Cisco shrugging and saying that he read it in a comic book somewhere. Ohhh, very funny, The Flash! Assuming that Batman does indeed exist in some unseen corner of the DC Television Universe, does this mean that he, or perhaps the GCPD, also got the idea for the Bat Signal from the same comic book? That certainly raises some interesting questions about the kind of comic books that would theoretically be sold in the DC Universe, and what kind of following they may have.
Regardless, Atom Smasher reveals that he was displaced from some other timeline or world, and that someone or something called, “Zoom” promised that if he killed The Flash, Atom Smasher would be returned home. This is the first mention we get of Season Two’s big bad, Zoom, who is an incarnation of Flash arch-nemesis, Professor Zoom, a character that is most frequently the alias of Eobard Thawne, though in the DC Television Universe, Eobard Thawne was undercover as Harrison Wells. Looks like the identity of Zoom will be another big mystery in Season Two, though the outstanding Harrison Wells/Reverse Flash mystery from last season will be a tough act to follow!
Afterward, Barry’s father is released from prison, and the group has a party to celebrate, though Henry soon after tells Barry that he’s leaving the city, since he’s worried about dragging Barry down. Honestly, this was incredibly frustrating, and another thing that sort of dragged down the episode’s appeal. The show finally freeing Henry from Iron Heights, only to write him out, felt cheap and annoying, not to mention transparent and lazy. Maybe the showrunners just wanted to get rid of John Wesley Shipp, but why was this necessary? Henry suddenly wanting to abandon his son when Barry never gave up on him in prison makes no sense whatsoever, and honestly, it’s sort of a slap in the face to Barry, after he dedicated so much of his life to trying to clear his father’s name!
Oh, but at least Barry gets the Key to the City right? Caitlin came back to S.T.A.R. Labs too! Cisco even touched up Barry’s suit to include the white lightning emblem! Apparently, S.T.A.R. Labs even got enhanced security measures too (how did anyone on Team Flash afford cutting-edge security technology?), which immediately prove hilariously ineffective, as a man simply walks in to S.T.A.R. Labs, and says that he’s Jay Garrick, and Barry’s world is in danger. Hooray, it’s the original Flash from the 1940’s Golden Age of comics! I guess we’ll figure out what his deal is next week.
“The Man Who Saved Central City” was a good episode for the most part, though some of its writing was a bit irksome. Atom Smasher disappointingly ended up being another bland throwaway villain-of-the-week, and some elements of the story felt a bit contrived, namely Henry deciding to inexplicably skip town because he’s worried about somehow dragging down his son. Maybe this would have made sense if Henry was somehow a deadbeat, or had some other such issue before he landed in prison, but the show has never played him as anything less than the perfect father, so this exit rang completely hollow. That said, there were plenty of promising new elements teased for the new season, between Zoom, the after-effects of the singularity, and a whole new wave of extra-dimensional threats for Barry to battle against. The stellar Season One will be a tough act to follow, but The Flash still has all of the groundwork in place for an equally fantastic second season too. It just has to find the right way to place them together.
- Comedy and drama are equally effective
- Whole cast get interesting new development
- Dr. Stein fitting in with the team so well
- Henry's exit is contrived and lazy
- Atom Smasher is another bland villain-of-the-week