Just about any second episode of a television series is going to repeat the pilot and its story beats to some extent. Now that the series is getting down to the business of actually being an ongoing series it has to set the story in proper motion rather than just sketching in the overall world and characters. That means for the second episode of The Flash we get a slight rehash of the death of Nora Allen, a reiteration of Barry’s decision to take up his newfound role as a super hero, and the cast coalescing around Barry and his quest for justice.
All of this works, mostly, but it can’t help but feel a little tedious, in particular because the episode opens with a voiceover from Barry where he promises to skip over all the boring parts and head straight to the fun stuff. When “Fastest Man Alive” really works it’s because it’s taking that sentiment to heart, blowing past tedious setup in favor of clever spins on well-worn material or inventive action set pieces. Despite that impulse it can’t keep up the pace for the entirety of the episode and finds its way into some narrative dead ends that it thankfully realizes are just that by the end of the hour.
One of the avenues that the series seems to have worked through at this point is Barry’s self-doubt about his ability to be a hero. We saw this in the pilot as Dr. Wells tried to hold Barry back from doing good in the world in order to make sure that Barry and his abilities could be safely researched, but here we see Joe West trying to stop Barry from interfering with police work, claiming that he’s not a hero. It’s a dull plot line that is smartly, and obviously cleared out by the end of the episode once Joe sees that Barry and the S.T.A.R. Labs team is right in their assertion that there are more powered beings roaming the world and that Barry is the only one who has the ability to stop them. By episode’s end Joe is seemingly on board with Barry’s heroics, and while it’s repetitive and tiresome to see him reach this point, it’s nice to see all the same that The Flash seems committed to quickly defusing some of the storylines that keep popping up in the early going of just about every super hero story.
One of the issues that the show doesn’t exorcise in this episode is Iris’ relationship with Eddie Thawne and Barry’s jealously thereof. I can’t say I expected this to occur, but this plot is weighing heavily on the series already, slowing almost every last scene to a crawl whenever the show devotes time to it. Eddie and Iris’ relationship still hasn’t been developed beyond the two talking about how they like each other without really displaying what makes them function as a couple, while Barry’s pining for Iris comes off as more pathetic than romantic. It’s the standard trope of love sick awkward guy unable to get his feelings out for the woman he loves and the storyline is doing the show and the characters no favors.
Despite this issue the episode still manages to make Barry’s relationship with Iris come alive for just a moment when it figures out how to intertwine Barry’s adjustment to his powers with his feelings for Iris. Midway through the episode Iris comes to see Barry and ask him just what has been causing him to act so strange. Barry clams up as usual, but then, as Iris starts pouring sugar into her coffee the world slows down and Barry’s off. He bounces around the room and says everything that he’s been bottling up, talking about how desperately he wants to open up to Iris and why he can’t do so. It’s not revelatory dialogue, or even particularly good writing as it’s just one more example of a super hero shows where the hero bemoans having to keep their identity secret from their loved ones. Despite all that the scene still works because it’s a surprising and exciting way to get Barry’s inner monologue out. The dialogue is essentially narration, but it’s handled in a way that’s both visually exciting and uniquely suited to the world of this series which allows the scene to work even as the base materials are suspect.
Similarly, the final action sequence which features Barry fighting a scientist who has become capable of replicating himself comes alive once it starts figuring out ingenious ways to deploy Barry’s powers in combat. Seeing The Flash zip around a multi-level office building, toppling clones, disappearing and causing enemies to accidentally shoot one another, and somehow managing to triumph over a rapidly growing mass of replicated villains is fantastic. It’s The Flash doing things that only The Flash can do and figuring out ways to best depict Barry’s powers visually.
“Fastest Man Alive” isn’t the most exciting of second episodes, but it does accomplish most of what it needs to do without slowing down too much. There are a few worrying plots that don’t live up to the rest of the episode, mostly anything to do with Iris, and a few too many redundant story beats, but what works here works very well. The Flash is shaping up to be exciting, visually inventive TV, and if it can keep putting its own unique stamp on the super hero story, it’s going to be worth keeping up with.