This is by far The Flash‘s most ambitious episode because it has not one crazed hostage situation, but two crazed hostage situations: one with a metahuman, the other with a former Arrow villain — the Clock King!
Confession: I have always loved hostage episodes in films and TV. Instantly, it raises the stakes for all parties involved, and when done well, it doesn’t feel forced. Unfortunately, the hostage situation is an overplucked narrative device on action shows, designed to stir up some third act trouble and drama. When done poorly, it’s weighed down.
But The Flash, like I have stated before, is so much fun to watch that it doesn’t matter that the material is recycled. It feels fresh because it’s fun. It ain’t gritty or nitty or dark, but a sci-fi comic book dramedy. I’ve probably seen versions of this episode on at least half a dozen shows (for some reason, Smallville is the first one to jump in my head), but The Flash borrowing tropes from other series and stories is not new. It’s welcome because once it masters these stories to flesh out its characters and dynamics, the show will experiment. This is what a 22-episode season looks like.
What’s really encouraging to see in this week’s episode, “Power Outage,” is that it splits up the hostage situations between the science fiction/metahuman comic books and the powerless comic books. It’s like a teaser for next week.
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Powerless, Pun Intended
Often, in hero narratives, the characters loses what makes him or her “special” only for everyone else to realize that the real superpower is something that cannot be taken away. A classic episode of Buffy does this, where she loses her powers only for her to defeat a vampire using her brains and skills. Buffy’s real power, in my opinion, was her mind.
The same thing applies here. For heaven’s sake, Wells says it in his little diary entry in his secret lair. It almost seems a little early for The Flash to take away Barry’s powers — although temporarily — but we’ve seen how much Barry genuinely loves having them. They really are a part of him now. Look at his glee at getting mugged! (Side note: Grant Gustin is having a blast in this role and this scene, and it’s a sight to behold.)
Barry’s real superpower is his compassion for people anyway. He loves helping people and putting away bad guys, and he’s become a little too comfortable at S.T.A.R. Labs. Wells — on a deadline of an impending future where the Flash disappears — wants to expand the limit of Barry’s powers and views Barry’s compassion as a weakness.
Enter the metahuman/freak of the week who sucks up Barry’s powers! He’s deranged and diseased, like a vampire who just wants tons and tons of energy. The show sort of explains that Barry’s DNA has been permanently altered, so they can jump-start his powers back to life. But then, Blackout, as Cisco would have named him, arrives at S.T.A.R. Labs, ready to cause some trouble.
Barry tries to put his real superpower to the test — his compassion — by trying to talk to Blackout. It works until Blackout is reminded that his powers are responsible for killing his friends, or really, that Wells is responsible for this. So what’s Wells to do? Release another metahuman to buy them more time. Yes, Barry’s childhood bully is back to get his butt whooped. And then get killed warning them to run.
Barry hasn’t quite figured out that Wells is a Machiavellian figure at best, but he does when he has Tony’s blood on his shirt. Barry blows up at Wells’ lack of regard for other humans and other metahumans, and Wells defends himself and his mission.
Don’t worry, though — Wells proves he’s not the absolute worst when he sort of sacrifices himself on behalf of Team Flash by distracting Blackout. Wells does know every person who died because of his invention, but Wells is all about the greater good. It’s becoming clearer that Wells had to create the particle accelerator so that Barry could be struck by lightning and become the Flash. Barry, who’s powers have been triggered again only to be mentally blocked, runs to save Wells. A surge of energy rushes between Barry and the Blackout, making Barry even more powerful. Finally, Wells recognizes that it is Barry’s compassion that is his greatest strength, not his speed, and Barry respects Wells again.
Though a little early, maybe even premature, Barry losing his powers temporarily underscores his working relationship with Wells. He already has a father and now he has a mentor. A mentor manipulating the present to ensure a better future, but still.
The Clock King vs. Normal Civilians
It’s nice to see that there is that divide between the metahumans and what feels like the other half of the DC comic book verse — the regular crazy villains. The other hostage situation is run by the familiar Clock King, one of Arrow‘s more threatening villains because this guy is lethal, brilliant and desperate. It doesn’t take long in the power outage for the Clock King to steal a gun, shoot a cop and force a room full of trained law enforcement and Iris West to stand down.
Iris is so adamant that the Flash will come and save them — Barry himself is fighting so hard to get his powers back once he learns the Wests are in trouble — that it takes Eddie getting shot to snap her back into reality. Note to ladies: it is not wise to expect a hero to come save you.
No worries, though, because Joe West (apparently very well read on time quotes) manipulates the Clock King to let Iris give a final goodbye to Eddie, a goodbye the Clock King was deprived of giving to his dying sister. Iris steals Eddie’s gun and apprehends the criminal. She needn’t any saving.
At the hospital, Barry is reunited with the Wests and Eddie, higher than a kite. While Iris wanders off for a coffee break, the Flash comes to her, apologizing for not being there. Iris mentions her best friend a lot during their conversations, but nevertheless her faith in the Flash remains. Also, probably a lingering crush from the looks of it, which pleases Barry to no end.
Although Joe remains the world’s best dad and the shining light on The Flash, the normal civilians hostage plot line is a lot weaker than Barry’s “loss of powers” arc. I’ve pinpointed it to one precise reason: the Iris and Eddie situation. Eddie is a non-entity on the show, a character the writers haven’t really figured out what to do with. We know very little about him other than that he grew up as a politician’s son and that he wants his partner’s approval to date his daughter. We don’t know what he thinks about the Flash or Barry, and he seems to have very little agency of his own. Iris at least has a blog. Caitlin and Cisco have their toys. Eddie now has his drugs.
The most logical thing to do would be for Eddie to be vehemently opposed to the Flash, creating tension with his relationship with Iris and the rest of the show. Or maybe just have Eddie do something. I didn’t even realize he was in the police station or in the episode at all until the shot of him behind the desk.
— I believe you are officially a superhero when you begin punning. Barry does so this week and it is so good. This theory also explains why Ollie wasn’t a true hero until season 2 of Arrow, when he lightened up.
— Theory Corner: Wells is from the future and he ships Barry and Iris together because they one day end up together.
— I’m not really sure about whatever was happening between Barry and Caitlin, as it felt more forced than anything. Speaking of, why on earth was Iris touching Barry so much?
— Hey! We finally see where Barry lives and it’s kind of a crap hole. Sounds about right for a 25-year-old with plenty of college debt (I’m assuming).
— Joe testing if Barry’s powers worked by knocking things over will be my favorite thing besides turkey this week.
The Flash airs Tuesdays at 8pm on The CW.
(Image courtesy of The CW)