“Revenge of the Rogues” clearly demonstrates how The Flash has mastered its tone, which may sound like faint praise, but is a true compliment considering just how young this series is. Less than halfway through its debut season, The Flash has a distinct voice and a focused approach to the material it is portraying. While the first season has its flaws and growing pains, this tonal clarity has been one of the strongest signs that the series needed only time to mature, rather than a serious overhauling to reach its full potential.
This command of tone is clear from the moment both Captain Cold and Heat Wave appear on screen together. Both Wentworth Miller and Dominic Purcell go for broke, chewing scenery and generally hamming it up together. Either of their performances could easily threaten to overwhelm many shows; they’re larger than life, affected, and mildly ridiculous, but they fit perfectly within the world The Flash has created up to this point. Snart’s calm, arrogant joy at setting his plans into motion and Rory’s obsessive love of fire are gleefully portrayed thanks to both the writers and the actors.
What’s more important is that the heightened nature of the characters doesn’t undercut their menace or the intensity of their scenes. When Snart and Rory capture Caitlin late in the episode, the danger feels real and Barry’s anguish over choosing not to engage with Captain Cold’s attempts to lure him out is palpable. It’s a tough line to walk, but the episode manages it nicely. Cold’s demand video is a perfect example of this. The video is shot tightly, bobbing back and forth as Snart lays out what he wants from The Flash in exchange for sparing Caitlin’s life. It’s perfectly reflective of Snart’s personality and his over-the-top characterization, but what truly sells the moment is how the video plays on the televisions at the police precinct, ably contrasting the dour police precinct with Cold’s outlandish super-villainy.
This week’s episode nails this mixture of serious, emotional punch with the lightness of superheroics. It’s the exact combination that The Flash has been delivering to varying degrees of success all season, and while the series has mostly succeeded at the light heroic side of the equation this is one of the first times where it’s felt equally effective in landing the other side of the equation.
On the more emotion packed side of things, this week represented a pretty big leap forward in depicting Barry and Iris’ relationship. After Barry revealed his true feelings to Iris in the last installment, the writers finally managed to free themselves from much of the tedium that Iris had previously represented. Gone were the scenes where Barry poorly concealed his emotions from Iris, instead replaced with sequences where two grown adults navigated the tricky consequences of their changed relationship. The scenes may not have been the best The Flash has ever put forward, but they still felt like an honest examination of two characters and their tangled feelings for one another as Barry and Iris tried to move past the awkwardness and land on a new status quo that would allow them some semblance of normalcy.
The final scene of the episode was a particularly strong example of this form of storytelling; at first highlighting Barry’s attempts to repair his relationship with Iris, who wound up further committing to her relationship with Eddie in the wake of Barry’s declaration, as well as reaffirming Barry and Joe’s father-son dynamic. With Iris out of the house, Barry elects to move in with Joe, ostensibly because it will be easier to maintain his superhero identity if he’s living with someone who knows about his double life rather than having to explain his comings and goings to someone who is in the dark. While that bit of scenery rearranging is functional and useful in putting Barry and Joe in a situation that gives them more reasons to interact, the moment ultimately works because of the warm chemistry between Grant Gustin and Jesse L. Martin. Joe’s pain at being separated from Iris is nicely undercut by the enjoyment that both he and Barry display at being thrown back together.
The scene is beautifully capped when Barry points out that the beer they’re sharing won’t cause him to get even the slightest bit drunk. It’s a beautiful, light grace note to the low-key finish of the episode. Sometimes an episode calls for a huge, blowout of a finale, and at other times all that’s desirable is a reminder of the reason why these characters get along in the first place. The Flash is demonstrating that it’s capable of both these things and that it knows when one or the other is appropriate as well as how to bounce both off each other for maximum effect. “Revenge of the Rogues” is a wonderfully fun, silly, emotionally involving hour of television, and it’s the strongest sign yet that this series knows exactly what it does well and just why that sets it apart from so many other shows on the air.