The moments that work in “The Flash is Born” mostly occur around the edges of the central plot. The main focus of the episode isn’t a total bust, but it is pretty standard material featuring a villain who never gets much development and doesn’t shed much light on Barry or any of the other cast members asides from unsurprisingly noting that they all were bullied outcasts to one degree or another as children. Despite that, there are more than a few extremely compelling scenes in the episode, mostly borne aloft by strong acting or a commitment to the over the top theatrics that are possible within superhero stories.
While many of the previous episodes have featured at least a few scenes with Barry and Iris together this episode mostly pulls them apart, at least while Barry’s in his civilian identity. The fight between the pair in last week’s installment has them acting chilly towards one another even as Barry, in his role as The Flash, keeps trying to warn Iris off writing about his new costumed identity. This move works quite nicely as it allows some of the characters to pair off into new groupings and expose some new facets of their personalities.
This primarily manifests in Barry and Eddie spending a good number of scenes together this week. Eddie’s been a largely problematic character up to this point in that he’s existed mostly to keep Iris occupied and out of Barry’s romantic reach. Whenever he’s shown up Eddie’s either been playing second fiddle to Joe on the police side of things or been joined at the hip to Iris in unconvincing romantic scene after unconvincing romantic scene. But, when Eddie’s split off from his usual scene partners he becomes a much more interesting character, opening up to Barry about his past while also bonding with him around a punching bag and boxing training.
Rick Cosnett’s been mostly lifeless in his scenes with Candice Patton, so it’s a little surprising that he livens up so much when he’s paired off with Grant Gustin. The two share an easy chemistry that makes their budding friendship particularly convincing, especially as Eddie starts humanizing himself by admitting to being intimidated by Barry’s friendship with Iris. What we learn of Eddie’s past isn’t exactly Shakespearian or notably deep, but it still manages to flesh out his character enough to finally ingratiate him to the audience at least somewhat, and the natural chemistry that Cosnett and Gustin share doesn’t hurt in making Eddie more relatable either.
Similarly, Joe West and Dr. Wells get thrown together for a more extensive plot for the first time and it works beautifully thanks to just how damn good Tom Cavanagh and Jesse L. Martin are in their scenes together. Joe’s still digging in to the night when Barry’s mother was killed, and he’s determined to unearth exactly how someone who may have the same powers as Barry could have existed 14 years before the particle accelerator exploded. It turns out the Dr. Wells arrived in Central City just one month after Nora Allen’s death. Joe’s understandably suspicious, and he makes those suspicions clear in a scene that’s beautifully played by the two elder statesmen of The Flash’s cast. (Being anywhere over 35 years of age tends to make you an elder in a show airing on The CW.)
In particular, Tom Cavanagh excels at playing Dr. Wells’ pointed charm, presenting a character that is endlessly appealing all while just barely masking an inner darkness that is becoming more and more pronounced with each passing episode. Martin on the other hand plays the even-keeled Joe as the perfect father figure, calmly laying out his intentions and suspicions, even as Dr. Wells ultimately seems to prove that he had no role in Nora’s death. The two actors work beautifully together, sketching in far more nuance and depth than the writing they’re working with gives them, which makes the understanding the pair ultimately reaches seem all that much more fruitful. By the end of the episode the two are believably bonded and seemingly on their way to a friendship, although it could be a one-sided friendship depending on how things develop with Dr. Wells.
What makes the main plot mostly unexciting is just the other side of why these smaller plots ended up working, chemistry. Tony Woodward, as played by Greg Finley, is just dull. He’s a big brawny guy whose power involves turning into metal and Finley plays Tony as the prototypical hopped-up meathead. He’s not too bright, insists that Barry’s a girl for running away from a fight, and generally just far too dull to leave any sort of lasting impression. Tony never really sparks with any of the other characters and it hurts just about any scene he appears in. The plot only comes to life in its final moments as Barry races towards Tony in a last ditch effort to knock him out with a supersonic punch.
It’s a big finish, and while it at first seems like a boring solution, Barry’s basically just punching Tony really, really hard, the folks behind The Flash sell the hell out of the moment. Barry, rocketing towards Tony comes literally flying through the doors of the school, hurtling through the air in a splashy, fancy display of the show’s CG capabilities on his way to delivering the punch to end all punches. It’s a moment that shouldn’t really work, but The Flash finds some improbable way to sell it by going all in and committing to the fact that it’s just kind of inherently cool to showcase someone punching someone at the speed of sound.
“The Flash is Born” is a far from perfect episode of television, but there are more than enough bells and whistles adorning the lackluster central plot to keep things bright and exciting. The actors are starting to click, the writers are mixing things up, and the visuals are consistently exciting and bold. The Flash isn’t yet everything it has the potential to be, but what’s here is still keeping me happily entertained while I wait for the better version of the show to arrive.