What They Say:
Pilot – Orphaned by tragedy and raised by his best friend’s father, brilliant CSI Barry Allen gains powers when lightning strikes him during a freak storm.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
The Arrow series took a real risk when they brought in Barry Allen to the second season of the series with what they were doing with him. By going back to the Silver Age character alone it was going to rankle some fans and then going with Grant Gustin, well, it wasn’t the traditional view of the character. But the Arrow team has really worked wonders on that series and they did things so well that their planned events for the end of the season got cut short and The Flash was spun off into its own series, which is what we get here. I’ve been a long time fan of the character, though Wally West is “my” flash, but I grew up reading the exploits of Barry towards the end of his run in the original comics and the culmination of his sacrifices in the Crisis on Infinite Earths. With this interpretation, what has me the most excited is that we’re now able to start really working on some of the metahuman side of the world by what he represents, as well as bringing in a bit of the costumes. And we also get some great nods to the previous Flash TV series from the 90’s that broke some great ground.
The gives us a fun vibe right from the start with how Barry is so into being fast, but it gets a little sad and dark just after that as well as we go back to when he was in elementary school and suffered at the hands of bullies because he wasn’t fast enough to get away from them. But what we also see in the past is the mysterious death of his mother at the hands of some intense lightning in the house that came out of nowhere. It ended up transporting him outside, but as we see over the course the episode, his mother was lost, his father accused of killing her and sent to prison. That put him in a whole other life path because of what happened, though it’s one that has a big positive to it as he’s ended up focusing on being involved in police work, which is why he’s working for the CSI division in that kind of brilliant but quirky way that people like him are like. When we see him on the job, it’s neat in how he views the clues and we see it displayed in text on the screen. It’s a kind of way of viewing the world that most people will never be able to, but it gives him what he needs to really excel.
Connecting to events we saw unfold in Arrow, everything is moving towards an event in Central City involving the STAR Labs particle accelerator that’s about to be utilized for the first time, which will reveal, in his words, a whole new way of looking at things. Having seen the unfolding of events through the lens of the other series, we get a lot more context here as we see Barry and his “sort of sister” Iris attending it and the presentation given by Harrison WElls for it. But it takes a dark tone when some kid swipes Iris’ laptop bag which has her dissertation in it. Sadly, Barry’s not able to deal with it since he’s not the most physical of people, and the situation gets saved by Detective Eddie Thrawne who shows up to save the day. All those events end up pushing Barry back to his lab instead of attending the accelerator event live. Naturally, it’s a good thing since the accelerator event causes the lightning bolt that strikes from the sky and transforms who Barry will be.
As an origin story, well, it’s certainly a familiar one that works off of the relatively recent comics update that brought Barry Allen back to the books after being gone mostly for decades. Mirroring events from his past when his mother was killed adds a personal touch to it and works that whole lightning doesn’t strikes twice saying in a fun way. What’s interesting is that while he does manage to survive the event, he’s in a coma for the next months and has been transferred to STAR Labs to be watched and analyzed. Even more curious is that when he wakes up, being poked and prodded by Cisco Ramon and Caitlin Snow, his body has undergone some real changes. He should have atrophied in his muscles, but instead he’s at peak physical condition. The explanations come a bit quick and detailed with why he was taken to the labs and how things unfolded at STAR Labs, but it gets the origin stuff moving along nicely as Wells fills him in and we get a cute nod or two about other things, such as the cage with Grodd that was busted out of.
Barry’s not that interested in hanging at STAR Labs much though since he’s alive and moving and wants to see Iris, and he does just that with some other fun reconnecting moments. But he’s also starting to realize his body has changed in other ways as he can see things slow down during key moments, he can move very fast when necessary and then, well, his body goes all out when he runs – right into a laundry truck of all things. The naturally curious type, he finds it all to be quite a thrill, which is great to see instead of the usual panic and denial of what’s going on. Luckily for him, those at STAR Labs really want to know what’s going on with him and have seen clues about his abilities during his comatose time, so naturally there’s a good working relationship that establishes itself. Once again, too quickly, but the pilot is trying to get through a lot of stuff rather than drag it out while also keeping to that kind of hyper aspect that makes up part of what Barry can be and is at times.
Barry’s exploration of his abilities is something that will go on for quite some time, but the thrill of those first experiences is a real delight to see. It is one of the harder things to bring to life on the screen since it involves some awkward camera tricks, but they do a really good job here overall to give it a life of its own. What’s nicely done with all of this exploration is that Barry realizes there are ties to his past with it as well with the speed he’s using and how it impacts him in the present. Realizing that the things he saw in the past are now more possible than he could have imagined before, it breathes new life into his motivation to figure out what happened there to try and save his father, who has been rotting away in Iron Heights all these years.
Running in parallel with Barry’s discovery and exploration of his power, we get a bank robbery that is unusual to say the least as the robber causes a storm inside of the bank before making off with the money. This turns out to be the third one in recent weeks as we see how other storms were used to create situations like this that can’t be explained. Coincidences kick in quickly with all of this though as Barry ends up accidentally coming across Mardon, the robber, while out with Iris – which comes after he discovers she’s been dating Thrawne for the last few months. That gives us the reveal of Mardon’s powers and ability to create and control weather, which certainly makes Barry realize that he’s definitely not the only one out there with these unique powers.
With the accelerator having opened up a slew of theoretical elements into the world, largely through Central City to start at the least, Wells reveals how they’ve been searching for what they call metahumans and what kind of abilities they may have. Barry is intent on using his abilities to try and deal with this, but Wells wants to keep him at the labs in order to do research on him in order to further helping the world in countless ways. With the way Barry idolizes him, and coming on top of a really big takedown by Iris’ father over what had happened in the past, he’s in a really emotional state and processing it is certainly not easy. Revisiting more of the past at this stage, having Barry actually see his mother in the state she’s in, is one of those things that puts him in the position he’s in of making sure that nobody else ends up like that.
And who better to talk to about it than Oliver Queen in Starling City to try and understand what he should really do. Oliver’s an interesting semi-mentor of sorts to go to since it’s a position that you can see him not really wanting, but he’s also the type to be forward enough about what it is that Barry can do that he can’t, which is really great to see. I’m a big fan of Oliver and the whole Green Arrow mythology, but Barry’s able to be a different kind of hero, less of a vigilante and more someone that can be out in the public eye in a really great way that Oliver can’t be. It’s a small cameo, but the kind of connection that you want to see and to get excited about what they can do when they really cross over in the future.
Barry’s perspective as he goes back to STAR Labs to try and get them to help him is one that’s definitely different since he had spent time with Oliver before and understands what kinds of things he’s doing and the value of it. He’s inspired by him even while going a similar but different route. He’s able to rally together Caitlin and Cisco to his side, both of which have their own potential motivations to be brought into their reasons for it, but at the moment it gives him the support structure he needs. And at least in general, Barry (and Wally) almost always had a close relationship with STAR Labs so it makes a lot of sense. With Mardon as his first opponent to deal with since, it’s going to give him the kind of challenge he needs to really test himself as well, since Mardon has been experimenting for quite some time and he’s now feeling the role with the suit he’s got as well. Visually, it’s a little awkward in some points, but it’s a learning curve that should only go up in the end.
Pilot episodes are always a bit rough in some ways since they have so much to do and this one has the added piece of connecting to Arrow where we had seen pieces of the origin story already. What the show does in general is really good here though as we get a solid cast introduced, solid exposition of character and what they stand for and the support team in place with some new motivations to carry them forward in a really fun way. Barry’s past is also an area that I’m really glad they touched upon his true origin with what happened to his mother and father and the way it really molded him into who he is. There’s more than enough places this can go – decades of stories from the comics prove that – and with the addition of metahumans and a mission of sorts giving it the launching point, The Flash is off to a great start. It’s not trying to mirror Arrow in what it does with its arcs and flashbacks and is really finding its own way, its own tone, while still being a part of the shared universe. This is exactly what I had hoped for.