Thus far, the wish fulfillment The Flash has offered has been as reliably unconventional as that of the best superhero sagas. For example, although our hero has gained extraordinary powers he still hasn’t gotten the girl of his dreams. In “The Flash Is Born”, however, the show indulges those of us who once had — or still have — sand kicked in our faces by the class — or office — bully, as Barry confronts his grade school nemesis Tony Woodward, who’s now his alter ego’s grown-up super-nemesis, having fallen into a vat of molten scrap metal during the particle accelerator explosion. Hence, his nickname: Girder. (Created by writer Geoff Johns and artist Ethan Van Sciver, the character, whose powers resemble those of the X-Men’s Colossus, first appeared in 2001’s Flash: Iron Heights.)
The episode — and Grant Gustin’s acting — nicely emphasize Barry’s inexperience with hand-to-hand combat. And the idea that while Barry’s powers allow his injuries to heal quickly, those injuries still cause him as much pain as they would a normal human. A fact of which he’s reminded when he first reunites with his old crony. The importance of brains as well as brawn is also highlighted, as Barry gets some boxing lessons from his romantic rival Eddie Thawne, while his S.T.A.R. Labs friends arrive at the solution to defeat Woodward — hit him at supersonic speed. That Barry’s team has found a way to defeat each threat he’s faced at least as often as he himself has could serve as a source of frustration for longtime Flash comic-book fans, accustomed to their hero, more often than not, solving his problems on his own. But since the ensemble cast is the cornerstone of today’s network television, I’ve come to accept Barry’s team as part of a collective entity the show labels “The Flash.”
Breaking with tradition, “The Flash Is Born” opens with Iris’ narration, rather than Barry’s, allowing a new perspective into the Flash’s ever-widening world. Still refusing to end her blog devoted to the scarlet speedster’s activities, the journalist-in-training again receives a surprise visit from Central City’s “guardian angel,” and while he may not be happy with her stubbornness, he’s slowly coming to terms with it. The one thing he cannot accept, however, is her referring to him as “The Streak.” Which by episode’s end, is finally dropped in favor of the nom de plume we all know and love — in a line of Iris’ voiceover identical to Barry’s at the end of show’s pilot episode: “A friend gave me an idea for a new name, and something tells me it’s gonna catch on.”
“The Flash Is Born” also finds Joe West making good on his promise to reopen his investigation into the murder of Barry’s mother. Confronting Dr. Wells with his discovery that he moved to Central City a month after the tragedy — and his theory that a second, yellow speedster was somehow responsible — he learns that the S.T.A.R. scientist was prompted to move by the sudden death of his own wife. Whether or not, he’s to be believed (and by now we have ample reason to doubt Wells’ word), it’s a treat to watch seasoned pros Tom Cavanagh and Jesse Martin go head to head. Though with Joe getting a chilling warning from this “other” Flash in the episode’s closing moments — one that puts his daughter’s life at stake — and all of his case notes stolen, it remains to be seen how much longer he’ll be willing to help Barry.
— If the results of the particle explosion are ever made clear to the general public, I expect it would become the biggest scapegoat since the family dog. “I’m sorry I forgot our anniversary, honey. My memory just hasn’t been the same since that particle accelerator explosion.”
— Bonus points for the Karate Kid reference.
— “Interesting, a man of steel.” Oh, how I wish producer Greg Berlanti and company were responsible for Batman v Superman…
— It’s clear the show wants longtime aficionados to suspect Dr. Wells is the Reverse Flash (Barry’s yellow clad archenemy), but is he? In the comics, the villain’s alter ego is Eobard Thawne. Whoever he is, might he be related to Eddie Thawne? Could Wells’ knowledge of the future instead come via time machine, or is his name just too obvious a red herring?
— After incarcerating Woodward in S.T.A.R.’s prison, Barry proudly reveals his identity to him. I wouldn’t be surprised if this rare moment of hubris comes back to bite him one day.
— “All I want to know is which other childhood bully are we gonna take down next, mine or Caitlin’s? I vote mine.”
Next week: Is Barry pulling a Spider-Man 2 when he experiences a “Power Outage”? Hope not, because in two weeks it’s “Flash vs. Arrow”!
What did you think of this week’s episode? Let me know in the comments below or on Twitter (@JMaCabre).