“Power Outage” is an ambitious episode of television; it’s filled with ideas, themes, and plots. All of which is nice to see, both in that it demonstrates the heights that the creative team is reaching for while also showing off the depth that exists in the world of The Flash at this early date. Sadly, the end results don’t quite stand up to scrutiny, the overwhelming quantity of components that make up the episode leave it with little time to effectively develop or deploy most of its ideas. Despite that failing it’s still an enjoyable installment, so bursting with ideas and invention that it’s hard to get too upset over its failings.
The primary focus of the episode deals with a metahuman who is determined to kill Dr. Wells for his role in the death of his friends. Farooq, who is posthumously given the name Blackout by Cisco, was with two friends on the night of the particle accelerator’s explosion, and while they attempted to revive him after the accident knocked him off a tower, his new powers manifested as they did so and ended up killing them both. Farooq blames Wells and he’s set on revenge. Farooq crosses paths with Barry before too long and when they do meet, Farooq’s electricity siphoning powers steal Barry’s speed.
It’s a natural development for this point in the series, Barry’s gotten used to having powers, so the show takes them away for an episode to reflect on what kind of person Barry is without his abilities while also exploring what those powers mean to Barry. It’s a common storytelling device, and “Power Outage” actually goes further with the concept than just examining what The Flash means to Barry, extending the conflict to multiple other characters, such as Dr. Wells and Iris West.
There’s a lot of moving pieces here, and they don’t interact in too many ways, mostly because the point of the episode is that now that Barry lacks powers, he’s unable to be the hero he’s used to being. That tension, contrasting Barry’s desire to be the noble hero with the realities of a powerless Flash, generates the thematic material that the episode attempts to dig into. Barry can no longer rush from place to place, juggling everything he hopes to juggle, which forces him to decide what he’s willing to risk to help others. Barry’s intent on being the noble hero, even without powers, which leads him to attempt to reason with Farooq, a course of action that quickly proves fruitless and sends the S.T.A.R. Labs team scrambling for ways to recreate the electrical shock that created The Flash in the first place.
Barry’s failure to talk Farooq down is what leads to other characters having to step up and demonstrate what they’re capable of when The Flash can’t just rush in and save them. For Iris this means realizing she’s capable of standing on her own, once The Clock King, who has escaped custody and taken control of the police precinct, determines that she will be the hostage he uses as leverage while fleeing. Iris is forced to save herself, and she does so with the help of Joe and a wounded Eddie Thawne, who manage to guide her to a spare pistol Eddie keeps in his ankle holster. The plot doesn’t truly highlight Iris’ resilience, she’s mostly relegated to hoping The Flash shows up until the crucial final moments where she steps up to stop The Clock King, but it does a decent job of showing that Joe, Eddie, and Iris are at least capable of dealing with situations on their own and won’t require constant saving from The Flash.
It’s a good point for the writers to make, if only because Iris is a character who has mostly existed as a romantic object for Barry and a damsel in distress for The Flash to rescue up until this point. It took bringing in a non-powered character from Arrow while simultaneously depowering Barry to demonstrate this, but the writers still smartly seized on a scenario that would allow such a development, which at the very least shows they’re aware of some of the problems that the character of Iris is presenting, even if “Power Outage” doesn’t quite figure out how to solve them for the long term.
The lack of The Flash also brings out Dr. Wells’ darker side when he releases Tony Woodward from containment to buy the team time while Farooq is attempting to track them down. Smartly, the writers don’t keep this fact a secret from the rest of the S.T.A.R. Labs crew as Dr. Wells outright admits that he sacrificed Tony for the benefit of the others. This plot takes some strange turns, Tony winds up getting a noble death despite having never demonstrated a noble impulse in any of his time on the show, and it’s the main victim of the overstuffed nature of the episode as Barry and Dr. Wells conflict is relegated to just a pair of short scenes.
There’s real conflict to be mined here between Barry’s noble desires and Dr. Wells’ more pragmatic approach to the scenario, but the episode has to focus that rift into just one or two scenes which robs it of any real chance at complexity. Similarly, Tony’s appearance is as bare bones as it could possibly be, consisting of just three scenes (his entrance, a tidbit of his fight with Farooq, and his death) that don’t end up allowing for any real emotional punch to his appearance. That’s a problem, because selling his death, and the callous way that Dr. Wells allowed him to die would fuel the fight between Barry and Dr. Wells’ opposing ideologies. Instead the sketched in nature of Tony’s death doesn’t create enough emotional investment to make the tension between Dr. Wells and Barry feel as important as it needs to be.
While the sheer quantity of things going on in “Power Outage” forces just about every plot to function at its most abstract, the stuffed nature does lend a solid sense of momentum to the affair. At first the episode seems like it will be another metahuman-of-the-week affair, starting as it does with the depiction of the night Farooq got his powers, but before long Clock King has crossed over from Arrow, Dr. Wells is pitting villain against villain, and Barry and the team are left trying to figure out how to kick start his powers. It’s jam packed, and while that undermines much of the thematic work the episode attempts, there’s even an eye roll worthy “believe in yourself” component to the story when it’s revealed that Barry’s problem is both physical and mental, it gives the proceedings an unpredictability in terms of the plotting which is appreciated.
“Power Outage” is a flawed installment of The Flash. It bites off way more than it’s capable of chewing, but it’s only able to do so thanks to the world and work that has been put into the show up until this point. The episode’s flaws aren’t ones that are representative of a series thinking small; they’re flaws that show the folks making The Flash trying something big and not quite nailing it. That the series is even capable of painting on this broad of a canvas this early in its run is a heartening sign, even if the end result isn’t particularly impressive.