‘The Flash’ Post-Show Analysis Season 2 Episode 19: ‘Back To Normal’
Welcome back to Up To Speed, in which Flash TV show veteran Dylan Todd and newbie Ziah Grace break down the latest episode of The Flash, dispense some Flash Facts, and talk about what works, what doesn’t, and where the series might be headed. But Ziah is on vacation this week, so guest commentator Chris Sims has stepped in to keep his spot warm!
This week, Barry has lost his speed and has to live like a boring norm, but can he still save the day when an elderly teenager threatens Harrison Wells? "Back To Normal" was directed by John F. Showalter and written by Brooke Roberts & Katherine Walczak.
Dylan: Well, that was certainly an episode, huh? After last week’s ramping up of the stakes, with Zoom taking both Barry’s speed as well as Caitlin Snow, we got… a pretty standard villain-of-the-week episode, actually. While Barry’s power loss and Caitlin’s kidnapping definitely affect the episode, this very easily could have been one of the earlier episodes of the season as opposed to a stopgap as we prepare for the season finale. We can dig into it a little more as we go, but did this sort of fall a little flat for you? I mean, for all of last week’s missteps, it at least had some sort of (no pun intended) momentum. Am I being too harsh? Or was this one kind of a turd?
Chris: I only started watching with this season, but yeah, these past two have been among the worst episodes I’ve seen so far. That’s not to say that there wasn’t stuff to enjoy --- Danielle Panabaker going Full Haley-Mills-In-The-Parent-Trap was a true delight --- but everything else felt… wait for it… slowed down.
Dylan: Ah, it’s like Ziah never left. Yeah, Killer Frost is always fun. I also enjoyed Twells walking around Opal City with a huge Destiny gun, looking for his wayward teen daughter.
Chris: Honestly, I think the problems started right from the opening. I kind of love the idea of Barry Allen’s speed being literal red liquid with lightning bolts in it that can be extracted into a jar and then shot up into Professor Zoom to fix his Slowing Down Disease, but the way that’s established here just felt off. I mean, I am long since resigned to the fact that Barry Allen is The Worst, but are we really supposed to feel bad for the guy because he has lost his ability to steal coffee? That’s what they show him doing, with the main emphasis being on the idea that he is now personally inconvenienced by no longer being the Flash! Could they not round up some footage where he fights a gorilla or something?
Dylan: Oh man, yeah, the opening montage set to Desmond Dekker’s “Israelites,” where Barry has to endure riding the bus like a Poor and doing his job without powers was some really silly business.
Chris: I think we can agree that the slavery metaphor of the song was, shall we say, ill-considered.
Dylan: Poor Bare-Bear, toiling in the wilderness of normal speed for forty years.
So this week’s villain is Griffon Grey, an 18-year-old dude who is super strong, nigh invulnerable and also, sadly, aging fast. Just like me. Just like all of us, really. Impulse readers may recognize a similar character as being Bart Allen’s friend who wound up dead via superpowers, (spoilers) not unlike our friend here. He manages to kidnap Harrison Wells --- who is really Earth-2 Harrison Wells but this dope doesn’t know that --- and wants to make him pay for turning him into a reverse-Benjamin Button.
Except this guy ages quickly, not in reverse. Which isn’t really a reverse-Benjamin Button, come to think of it, right? A reverse-Benjamin Button is just a regular person, and this guy is not a regular person. He’s a metahuman, and a pretty bitter one at that, which is normal for this show. In true supervillain fashion, he’s tied Twells up in a warehouse at an abandoned amusement park of all places, and is making him work on an antidote while he alternates between lecturing Twells about great power/great responsibility and bending metal with his bare hands. Normal villain stuff, I guess. What did you think of Griffon?
Chris: Pretty bland, as far as villains go, but any villain plots that involve Harrison Wells and that aren’t about the bad guys just flipping out and demanding that he stop speaking only in whispers aren’t really my… speed.
Dylan: Oy. I will forever marvel at Tom Cavanagh’s odd line delivery on this show.
Chris: I’m not even kidding when I say that I love it. Between this and Legends of Tomorrow, there are so many characters who have distinct voices. I just wish someone would mention that he always sounds like he’s about to tell them a secret at a slumber party.
Dylan: “You chose… ‘Dare,’ Barry Allen? Fine… I dare you… run faster or you’ll never. Beat. Zoom.”
Chris: Better that than a “Truth” question that ends with him talking about being destined to marry his adopted sister. I was informed that we would be done with that plot after season one, and all of you lied to me.
Dylan: I’m as upset as you are. More, maybe. It is literally my least favorite part of this show. It’s worse than Hunter Zolomon’s dad’s hat.
Chris: Getting back to Griffon for a minute, there’s not really a whole lot there, except for that completely bananas monologue he gives to Twells about how he screwed up Central City by “ridin’ in on his high horse, talkin’ about science.” Whatever the particle accelerator did to him somehow made him talk like an old timey prospector. That they didn’t add the “ding!” of him hocking one out into a spittoon after that sentence shows incredible restraint.
Dylan: That and his Old Man Makeup at the end of the episode, of which I am a huge proponent, made his whole episode worth it. Also, the kid who played Griffon was maybe the most Canadian person to have ever appeared on this television program. Like, borderline Strange Brew accent.
Chris: Trying to make a “Hoser-son Wells” joke, but it’s just not happening. I’m sorry, Dylan. I’ve let you down.
Dylan: Don’t apologize to me, Chris. Apologize to the children.
Speaking of Griffon, his quest for vengeance sort of works out for Twells, cuz he’s feeling pretty guilty for killing the Turtle to try and keep Jesse safe. See, Twells manages to find Jesse and tries to talk her into coming home (at sci-fi gunpoint, but still), but she’s understandably not all that keen on going home with her murder-dad, no matter how cool his hair looks.
Eventually she relents, which is good news, because with Caitlin on Earth-2, they need somebody to talk science mumbo-jumbo to Barry while they try and find a way for Barry to fight a super-strong, rapidly-aging metahuman without becoming a human piñata. Which is a fun visual. Barry all exploding like an overstuffed papier-mâché Elmo, his guts raining down like so many vanilla Tootsie Rolls and Dum-Dums. I’m sorry, I got lost for a second there. What were we talking about?
Chris: Did you expect this episode to have this much plot built around the differences of Earth-2 mobile phones?
Dylan: I did not. Did you expect that we’d finally get an episode where the solution for beating the bad guy wasn’t, “Well, just run faster, you dummy,” and was, instead, “Just get punched but only one time, you dummy”?
Chris: I don’t know, that string of episodes where Barry’s big plan was to literally just to back up a little more before running straight at the bad guy to hit them really hard is 100% my favorite thing about TV Barry.
Dylan: “He’s not real smart but he can run real good.” is probably on Barry’s business card.
Chris: As for the armor that can only take one hit, it’s a little video gamey, right? I mean, it’s an alloy that they put on his costume, in theory it’s still there after it gets punched. Did Old Man Griffon hit him so hard that it disintegrated, or are we just operating on Mega Man rules now?
Dylan: I also loved that the minute Cisco was like, “Oh, and you can only get punched once before it fails,” you knew that Barry was gonna get punched twice because he’s a goshdarned hero.
Chris: Barry shrugging and saying, “I guess I’ll try to only get punched once” is the most Barry Allenest bit of superheroing that he does in this episode.
Dylan: “He’s not real smart but he can run real good. Also, bad at plans.” There. better.
Meanwhile, on Earth-2, we see what Caitlin’s been up to, and it’s pretty much not eating and telling Hunter Zolomon he’s trash, because he is. We also see who else is sharing the makeshift prison with her: the Man In the Iron Mask, AKA The Tapper, and the evil alternate universe Caitlin Snow, AKA Killer Frost, who Zoom’s kept around cuz he’s sweet on Caitlin and wants to collect all the variants. This leads to a daring escape that is as well-thought-through as any plan is on this show, which leads to Killer Frost impaled on her own ice knife and Caitlin even more shaken than before. So, lose-lose.
Chris: I know I’m coming off as a grump with a lot of complaints so far, but this part was unreservedly fantastic. Panabaker did an incredible job, and I love that when she’s Killer Frost, she’s pretty much just doing an impression of Actual Human Kitty Cat Wentworth Miller, because that is how people with cold powers talk.
Dylan: The math checks out. It’s also nice to see Panabaker get to do something besides shout out her dead/dying/turned evil boyfriend’s name, say science junk when the plot demands it, and look sad.
Chris: One of the best things about superhero shows is that they almost inevitably end up doing an Evil Opposites episode (or arc, in this case), and that’s often where you see the actors really cutting loose and chewing up the scenery in a truly enjoyable way. Back when we were doing the Smallville reviews, we got to the episode where Tom Welling and Jon Glover did a body swap, and it was incredible.
Dylan: Oh man, I didn’t watch Smallville because life is too short, but dang; I gotta see that episode. John Glover is life.
Chris: I’d say “if you watch one, watch that one,” but it only really works if you have at least a couple under your belt where Welling is a snooze and Glover is a beautiful ray of sunshine that falls from Heaven onto an undeserving world.
But yeah, the same thing applies here: Killer Frost is just ridiculously over-the-top, and I love how it’s balanced out to push Caitlin to the opposite extreme. By which I mean she becomes a chatty, wide-eyed conspirator who is shocked --- shocked! --- when her evil duplicate from the world of evil duplicates betrays her.
Dylan: Oh, that part was wonderful. Caitlin Frost is way too trusting, which is how you wind up in a jail cell on Earth-2 while a super-fast serial killer brings you food and confesses his love for you. This is why I trust noone.
Chris: It’s a scene that’s even better for its super goofy flaws, like how Caitlin breaks Killer Frost out of her cell, and then looks over at the man in the iron mask --- a dude who is clearly imprisoned by Zoom to a point so extreme that we have to assume that he’s the key to defeating him --- and goes, “So what do we do with him?” Honestly, Caitlin, was, “We should probably just leave him here so he can continue tapping and trying to emote sadness with his shoulders” an option here? You’re already breaking out your own super-powered murderous alternate-universe duplicate, what’s one more?
Dylan: I’m still sort of curious who the man is in the iron mask, but given the way reveals go on this show, I’m sure it’s something out of left field that will sort of pass as a thing that’s been set up, but who knows? Did you manage to gather any more insight to this tappity-tap-tapping feller?
Chris: It has to be some variation on “the real Jay Garrick,” right? Like, there’s no way this show is actually going to commit to “Oh, Jay Garrick is actually a serial killer with a hilarious mugshot.”
Dylan: My working theory is that Barry will travel back in time, save Hunter Zolomon’s mom from murder at the hands of her husband, thereby creating an alternate universe Good Hunter Zolomon that Zoom will somehow capture and imprison so he can go about being a literal speed junkie.
Chris: That seems complicated even for this show. Heck, that seems complicated even for Flash comics.
Dylan: Oh Chris, you missed the whole “Harrison Wells isn’t Harrison Wells, but is instead some guy from the future who hates the Flash and traveled back in time, sucked the life essence out of Harrison Wells and pretended to be Harrison Wells so that he could create the Flash and then destroy the Flash” reveal from S1. Tidy reveals are not this show’s forté.
Chris: That’s true. Honestly, I just hope that whoever he is, he can somehow go back and retcon the scene where we find out that Jay Garrick’s Mercury helmet is actually a weird army helmet that his dad wore when he shot his mom out of existence. Despite my grousing, I like the show a lot, but that was as close as I’ve gotten to just tapping out on the whole enterprise.
Dylan: It’s the hat worn by the lesser-known Roman god of killing, Murder-cury.
I seriously get icked out whenever they replay that, “You’re gonna wanna see this,” soundbite. Just overly gross. I want to put the responsible parties for that scene in literal jail.
Finally, the sub-sub-subplot for this episode involved Wally going crazy-aggro on his dad about getting to meet The Flash. First off: he figured out Flash is buds with his dad in like less than one season, and B) he really pulls out all the stops on this, playing Joe like William Riker playing a trombone, which is to say, “masterfully.” How’d you like their meeting at the end of the episode? Too reminiscent of the season one Iris visits, or, having not having sat through those, did it work for you?
Chris: The show seems like it’s been having a hard time pinning down Wally’s relationship to Barry over the course of the season --- if the father/son dynamic is there with Joe, then how do we get to the “Uncle Barry” dynamic that we had in the comics, especially when those dudes are like two years apart in age? --- but here, it felt like they were actually getting to something. Keiynan Lonsdale did a really great job of seeming starstruck and grateful when he saw Barry on the rooftop in a way that felt like it was going to make it work.
Dylan: Yeah, they introduced him and then sort of had to find ways to slide him into the story that didn’t always make sense. Like, we know he’s gonna go fast somehow, just let the dude go fast already! It’s literally all he talks about!
Chris: Yeah, first with the fast, furious street racing, then with his new science engine that he’s building. I mean, it’s pretty clear that he’s going to end up getting powers when they try to recharge Barry with that particle accelerator, right?
Dylan: Dude was reading the diaries of Enrico Ferrari or whatever! But yeah, he’s gonna get powers somehow. Because these are the same people responsible for Arrow, where there are like 12 people in Oliver Queen’s crew running around, shooting arrows into crime.
Chris: Maybe he’ll get hit with the dark matter and his power will just be that he has a car. Or maybe they’ll hit us with a swerve and instead of Kid Flash, he’ll become Turbo Teen! “Yes, father… I shall become a car.”
Dylan: I ship it.
Chris: Maybe it’s just because I’ve spent the last week reading those big Death and Return of Superman collections that DC just put out, but I do kind of wish they’d gone all the way with a sort of Superman/Steel thing, with Wally thanking Barry for saving his life and Barry telling him to do something good with it, but I also realize that while that works for Superman, it could’ve come off as really annoying if Barry Allen said that. But at the very least, Wally seems inspired in a way that seems really promising --- and sets him up to not quite trust Barry since his family’s been keeping secrets from him once he finds out. I dug it.
Dylan: Oh man, can you imagine Barry Allen, who spent the first five minutes of the show bemoaning that he knocked over his coffee because he’s a klutz, giving a rousing speech about doing your best with what you have? Maddening.
Chris: Especially since he’s about to get his powers back by doing something that, last time it happened, gave powers to one (1) hero and like forty-five villains, including a guy who died because of it in this very episode.
Dylan: So many dead evil metahumans produced by these guys. Just a mountain of them.
Chris: Better start working on a new wing of that illegal secret prison they keep in their basement, just like Punisher 2099.
Dylan: Can’t wait for season 3!