As Doctor Wells notes in one of the progress reports he’s filing on the Flash, Barry is getting a little cocky. While generous with his powers — and forever preoccupied with helping those in need of help — he can’t resist the occasional moment of frivolity, like serving coffee to a group of impatient cafe patrons. And he’s overjoyed when a mugger pulls a gun on him, delighted that, of all the people in Central City, he’s the one getting held up. Naturally, it’s time for the kid to learn a brief lesson in humility, which he gets from a young man named Farooq (codenamed Blackout and introduced in 2011’s Flashpoint Vol. 2 #1).
Caught climbing an electrical tower in the midst of the particle accelerator explosion, Farooq is transformed into an electricity vampire, with the ability to feed off, convert, and generate energy. Confronted by the Flash, he zaps the speedster — whose abilities were gained via a bolt of lighting — and robs him of his powers. Helpless and distraught, Barry is searching for a way to regain his speed when Farooq attacks S.T.A.R. Labs, seeking vengeance from Wells, whom he blames for the death of his friends, a pair of folks accidentally fried while administering CPR to him after his accident. To make matters worse, William Tockman (a/k/a the Clock King, a villain returning to the DC TV Universe after his introduction in Arrow‘s second season) has been taken into Central City police custody, and breaks free when Farooq causes a city-wide blackout. Taking Joe and Iris hostage, Tockman too is driven by the death of a loved one, and shoots Eddie when the young detective tries to apprehend him.
With Barry still powerless after subjecting himself to a massive dose of electricity, Wells is determined to protect him and releases Tony Woodward (“Girder”), whom the team incarcerated in last week’s episode (“The Flash Is Born”). After a brief struggle, Farooq kills him. Cisco deduces that Barry’s power loss is as much psychological as physical, and that if he “connects” with his powers instead of “thinking about them” he’ll regain his speed. Barry does so just in time to protect Wells from Farooq’s electrical blast, burning out the young antagonist as he pours his energy into him. Now more powerful than ever, Barry is set on saving Joe and Iris, but learns that Iris has already stopped Tockman with Eddie’s gun. The episode ends with Wells secretly testing Farooq’s body to see how he was able to steal the Flash’s powers.
“Power Outage” again finds The Flash‘s writers and producers experimenting with their show’s format, examining its limits in much the same way that S.T.A.R. examines those of Barry Allen. Centered around a “power loss” plot — like those found in Superman II and Spider-Man 2 — it’s also a base-under-siege story, of the kind seen in The Thing and countless Doctor Who episodes. While its “B” storyline takes place entirely at the police station, and mainly serves to showcase Iris’ increasing self-reliance. Bottle shows, even semi-bottle shows like this one, are usually intended to save money, but “Power Outage” re-channels The Flash‘s budget into its special effects in order to show off the powers of three metahumans — Flash, Blackout, and Girder. In so doing, it brings live-action superhero TV to an impressive new level.
The heart of the episode, however, is Wells’ relationship with Barry, who’s given his first reason to doubt his mentor’s nobility when he allows Girder to die protecting him. Wells regains his trust when he names those who were killed in the accelerator explosion to Farooq, revealing, perhaps for the first time, the depth of his guilt. Of course, though Wells expresses regret over Farooq’s death — reminding Cisco that he too “had a name” — his actions in the closing scene prove his chief concern is his still hidden agenda.
— Is it just me or does Caitlin demonstrate more than her usual motherly-like concern when she leans in towards the powerless Barry after he explains why he loves being the Flash? She even compares him to her late fiance when she confesses she doesn’t want to lose him as well.
— Among those Wells says were killed by the accelerator accident are at least two future Justice Leaguers: Ronnie Raymond (introduced in “Things You Can’t Outrun,” and better known in the DCU Firestorm) and Ralph Dibny (the Elongated Man, the Flash’s longtime friend and ally). Here’s hoping we’ll see them both return from the grave.
— Just how fast is the new supercharged Flash? In last week’s episode, we saw Barry could run 761 miles per hour (Mach 1 at sea level). Now it comes down to how fast the electricity thrown by Farooq travels towards Wells. If we’re to believe it’s as fast as a bolt of lightning, that means Barry can top 224,000 miles per hour.
— Those of us worried about what would happen should Girder ever escape S.T.A.R. Labs’ prison with the knowledge that Barry is the Flash can now breathe easy. Though the former bully’s death is unexpectedly moving.
— Cisco’s answer to Barry’s outage is reminiscent of Spider-Man 2‘s solution to Peter Parker’s power loss, but I can overlook the similarity. Especially since Farooq is a far more satisfying electricity-based villain than Amazing Spider-Man 2‘s Electro.
— With the brief glimpse we see of the Mist in his cell, this episode actually presents the powers of four metahumans. Can a Justice League episode be that far off? For now we’ll have to settle for some Brave and the Bold action, because…
Next week: It’s the crossover event of the year when Oliver Queen calls on Barry for help against a metahuman threatening Starling City in “Flash vs. Arrow”!
What did you think of this week’s episode? Let me know in the comments below or on Twitter (@JMaCabre).