“Rogue Air” is a near perfect penultimate episode of a season. It manages to reinforce the central themes and purpose of The Flash while simultaneously building off of all the material and characters the season has worked to develop. It’s a completely jam packed episode that doesn’t feel like it contains more than it can hold, bursting at the seams with ideas and fun all while remaining focused and tight. It’s a fairly remarkable feat and it’s only more impressive because there’s still another episode before this season wraps up.
In fact, the episode even ends with Eobard Thawne defeated, or at least seemingly defeated thanks to a team up with both Firestorm and Oliver Queen. It’s a big, shocking finish, partially because the episode has already had a big, climactic fight that was more than enough of a centerpiece to base the episode around. The bulk of the episode sidelines Thawne, instead building around the team’s attempts to relocate the prisoners residing within the particle accelerator after Thawne reactivates it and puts them at risk. When it turns back on they’ll all die, and that’s not something Barry can live with.
It’s a sound central plotline and provides ample opportunity for the show to highlight some of its creations from the course of season one. Bringing back five villains as well as both of the Snart siblings could lead to overcrowding but everything is surprisingly focused thanks to the episode centering the drama of the situation around Barry’s desire to save the lives of the prisoners and bouncing him off of Snart’s more mercenary impulses. Teaming up the hero and villain is an age old tradition, and “Rogue Air” proves once more why it’s a plot that keeps coming up.
Grant Gustin and Wentworth Miller remain fantastic together and Miller’s scenery chewing performance continues to be an excellent fit for the big, bold show that The Flash has become. Any excuse to get him on the series and have him mix it up with the main cast is welcome. “Rogue Air” does a good job of bringing him back in a new scenario as well when it casts him as Barry’s reluctant ally. Having The Flash and Captain Cold as tentative friends keeps the dynamic new and bringing Lisa Snart into the episode lets Peyton List have similar amounts of fun as she flirts with/antagonizes Cisco throughout the course of the episode.
Bringing the Snart siblings back provides for more than just some fun dialogue and a late episode betrayal though, it also underlines the thematic focus of the episode. “Rogue Air” highlights the hero that Barry has become. It does this by making Barry just a little bit grimmer to highlight how it’s not something he’s particularly good at. Barry’s dead set on saving the prisoners before Thawne’s machinations kill them. To do this he goes into Oliver Queen mode and assents to Snart’s demands to have his identity wiped from all criminal databases and ultimately winds up bungling things once Snart betrays him and lets the rest of the bad guys go as he continues to assemble his Rogues for future plans.
Despite Barry’s poor instincts in that regards it throws into relief what Barry is good at, being the bright, shining hero. He doesn’t play in the muck that people like Thawne or Snart do and that means they’re capable of things he isn’t, but it also explains just why Barry is the hero of this show rather than the morally complicated protagonist that Oliver is over on Arrow. The episode also uses this introspection to examine one of the more morally complicated features of the season to date, the prison in the particle accelerator.
As much as the particle accelerator has been a necessity, the metahumans can’t be placed in an average jail, it’s been a slightly sticky necessity since the team has imprisoned the villains there without due process and with next to nothing for them to do other than sit in a small box and stare out the window. It’s a harsh sentence, and Joe calls it out early on, aptly comparing the prison to a black site. For a show with a light touch the prison is a surprisingly dark feature and “Rogue Air” attempts to exorcise this demon.
The plan that the team hatches doesn’t really solve things, as Joe puts it they’re just swapping one black site for another, but it at least means that they’re saving the lives of the villains rather than simply letting them die. It also would relocate the villains out of The Flash’s world to Arrow’s as they’d reside on Lian Yu. Arrow’s a show that can deal with morally gray decisions but towards the end of the episode Joe makes it clear that The Flash is best when it lives in the light as he admonishes Barry against returning to the compromising area that he existed in during this episode.
It’s a point that’s reinforced in the episode’s closing moments. “Rogue Air” suddenly speeds forward to the confrontation between Barry and Thawne. The accelerator finishes charging and Thawne arrives at S.T.A.R. Labs. Barry races out to meet him; he can’t help himself even as Thawne has proven his better time and time again this season. Suddenly though both Firestorm and Oliver Queen arrive to back Barry up. It’s the manifestation of Barry’s heroism as he brings the heroes together to defeat the villain. Oliver said it long ago, that Barry is the kind of man and hero that people can rally behind, and after showing why this is the case throughout the episode the climax reinforces this point by literally rallying others to Barry’s cause.
It all leads to a spectacular sequence as the heroes and villain face off, each having their moments of triumph and defeat. The Flash has managed to nail its own brand of CGI fueled fisticuffs and this sequence shows it off wonderfully, allowing Thawne to menace with his glowing red eyes, Firestorm to zip around in the air while blasting Thawne with his nuclear powered blasts, and Barry to race across the entirety of S.T.A.R. Labs in a fight that’s fast and frenetic. It’s a conclusion that’s stunning both in how swiftly it arrives and in its depiction. It’s great TV and it’s even better for highlighting exactly why The Flash has been so good this season as it focuses in on the core of the series and underlines why it’s such a pleasurable and refreshing viewing experience.