Two-part episodes are always a bit of a challenge. One of the bigger obstacles that comes with episodic television arises from the need to tell compelling stories that resolve themselves within a single hour. As the TV landscape has shifted to a serialized mode of storytelling this has become even more of a problem. Shows are expected to be compelling on both a micro and macro level at the exact same time. Giving viewers a satisfying conclusion each week and pushing towards some greater climax that will arrive further down the line is the common mode.
It’s a challenge that nearly every show fails to live up to at some point and two-part episodes can run into many of these same issues. It’s rare for two-part episodes to entirely justify their existence in the first half of their running time. The plot requires setup and building that can’t truly come to a head until the second installment and too often the episodes will wind up building and building to something that the viewer quickly begins to realize won’t occur in the episode they’re viewing. “Out of Time” doesn’t fall into all of these traps, in fact the very construction of its climax allows it to dive into bigger, more exciting sequences than one might expect for the first part of a two-part story, but there are still portions of the episodes that drag due to the extended run time that results from using two hour long episodes to tell a single story.
Case in point, the prevalence of the romantic subplot this week; “Out of Time” is an Iris heavy installment and that alone should have been a tip off that the writers were vamping for time since this is indeed the first part of a two part story. Iris has always been The Flash’s most problematic element, never managing to settle into the ensemble and being held at arm’s length from the rest of the show thanks to her status as both the object of Barry’s unrequited love and one of the few cast members still in the dark about Barry’s crime fighting secret identity. While Iris’ job at the newspaper and her mentor’s investigation into Dr. Wells has given her at least some role on the show outside of love interest and damsel in distress, the plot line hasn’t really sprung to life. Iris’ boss is annoying, Iris doesn’t seem to have much invested in her work, and, with the concurrent investigation into Wells from Cisco and Joe, it’s also redundant. “Out of Time” ends up spending a lot of time with Iris, and while it’s mostly building to the first shared kiss between Barry and Iris towards the end of the episode the material still can’t justify its place among the much stronger elements of the plot that surround it.
Compare the sequences with Barry and Iris to the final scene shared between Cisco and Dr. Wells. In it, Dr. Wells reveals his true nature to Cisco, indulging in a super-villain’s penchant to monologue about their goals and plans. The sequence could be just an info-dump, an exciting info-dump of course, but an info-dump nonetheless. It could very easily just be an excuse for Dr. Wells (or Eobard Thawne, if you prefer now that he’s exposed his true identity) to catch the viewer up on who he is and what he wants to do. Instead, the sequence is rooted in the real chemistry that has developed between Cisco and Dr. Wells, thanks to the writing and the performances from Tom Cavanagh and Carlos Valdes. Thawne doesn’t seem like he’s lying when he says that he truly has come to love Cisco but Cavanagh ably portrays both affection and indifference in his line readings as he snuffs out Cisco’s life, who stands in the way of his return to his own time.
It’s a strong sequence that emerges thanks to character development that’s been carefully developed over the course of the first season. While Barry and Iris’ kiss is almost sold thanks to Thor Freudenthal’s nifty swirling and warping camera technique the aesthetic pop of the scene still can’t make up for the fact that the kiss isn’t built on anything concrete. The romance side of the series has never really worked and it’s only more apparent how much this side of the series has failed when it’s paired with scenes that truly hit home thanks to relationships that have been properly developed.
It’s also around the time where Dr. Wells is monologuing at Cisco that it becomes apparent the episode is about to walk all of this back. Credit where credit is due (Barry running so fast he splinters back in time is a solid place to end the first part of a two-part installment of The Flash), but once Cisco was killed and Dr. Wells was fully revealed as the Reverse-Flash and Barry had kissed Iris it was all too obvious we were headed for some set of reset button. The episode wouldn’t be finishing up wrapped in a bow. There just wasn’t time to resolve everything in play with the time left in the episode and that fact brought some things, like the episode’s treatment of its antagonist, into focus.
The villain of the piece is Mark Mardon, the brother of the villain from the first episode of the series who shares his late brother’s ability to control the weather. Mardon is one of the casualties of the episode’s bifurcated nature, appearing in just a handful of scenes and contributing little of meaning outside of a few exciting effects sequences. Liam McIntyre’s a good actor, and continues the tradition of Arrow and The Flash mining Starz’s Spartacus series for guest actors. He invests a surprising amount of presence in his limited appearances, but it’s likely that he’ll only be able to dig into the role in the next episode as the episode ends, without resolving his character’s quest for vengeance. Mardon’s lack of presence in the episode felt a little strange at first, if not entirely out of place for The Flash, which has had issues in the past with fleshing out its villains. The reveal that he’d return in the next installment explained precisely why he was used so sparingly in his first outing.
Mardon’s lack of overall presence in the episode is just one of the symptoms of “Out of Time” being the first part of two, and while the episode doesn’t avoid all of the problems of two part stories, it still has enough thrilling sequences and emotion to keep it from feeling like a series biding its time before it can get to the good stuff. Cleverly, its big finish actually has big moments, but can erase them later. It’s a bit of a cheat, but it’s the kind of cheat that a viewer can live with since it allows for scenes filled with emotion and excitement even as it becomes apparent that we’re headed for an ending that’s going to leave us hanging, while simultaneously clearing the table of the messy developments that would have thrown the show into absolute chaos. “Out of Time” has its issues, but it pulls all its elements together in a way that makes it feel surprising and exciting even as it erases most of what the viewer has seen in its final moments. Making the first half of a story feel exciting and worthwhile even as it’s clear the real meat of the story has yet to come isn’t quite as hard as traveling back through time. But it’s a neat little trick.