DC week is officially upon us, and with the dawn of Legends of Tomorrow Berlanti and Co.’s featured projects can finally do away with warming us up to its upcoming sister series and return to focusing on their respective main stories. In The Flash‘s case, that main story revolves around the swirling intrigue of Zoom, and the potential danger his presence assumes nowadays. We’ve already seen the kind of difference he’s had on Barry, but that does little to solidify exactly where this second half of the season will take us as a whole. There are stakes elsewhere, and thanks to a strong supporting cast this show has proven over the past year and change that Barry’s constituents bare a similar importance to the impact of whatever events unfold in Central City.
Through “Potential Energy”, The Flash brings us back up to speed (no pun intended) rather quickly, fleshing out a number of story threads with varying degrees of success, frustration, and downright failure. In keeping with the toils of serialized television featuring a relatively large pack of characters, this week’s chapter does all it can to give each individual a chance to shine in a number of ways. However, such efforts don’t spring positive results when they lack cohesiveness, or when certain plot twists seem sewn in for the sake of things.
I don’t like to have to relate that latter bit with Patty leaving Barry to pursue her long-coveted career in C.S.I., but I can’t help but feel shortchanged here. Grant Gustin and Shantel VanShanten share an incredibly easy chemistry together, and seeing Barry’s relationship with Patty evolve has been satisfying. So, before I hop back into my initial argument regarding Patty’s departure; why the hell couldn’t Barry just tell her that he’s the Flash? What possibly could have been holding him back from exposing himself to her? Zoom? Or was it that he really just did not love her that much to begin with? I’m lost here. And yes, in the back of my mind, I’m reserving the still-possible development that Barry does make an honest man out of Iris one day, and they begin to experiment a love of their own together. This current loving connection was never meant to last forever.
But here’s exactly where I’m lost in all of this: Barry has absolutely nothing to lose if he just told her the truth and stopped playing games. Sure, he’d look like a jackass and Patty would refrain from his charms for a bit simply because he did lie to her for quite some time – but could that have been what braced Barry back here? First of all, they’re too good together for even this level of deceit to split them apart. Then there’s the fact that Patty made it abundantly clear that she loves Barry enough to stay in Central City and neglect the allure of chasing her dreams. The old “her knowing you’re a superhero could make her a target” excuse wouldn’t fly for me, either; he’s told Iris about him being the Flash, Zoom has previously confronted her at work, and yet Barry hasn’t made any immaculate adjustments in protecting her from future invasions. In addition, nothing about Patty leads me to believe that she’d outright dismiss Barry for having superpowers of his own.
On top of all of this: who doesn’t know about Barry’s alter ego at this point? With Patty, we’re talking about a police officer who’s capable of handling her own (despite this week doing a poor job of showing that), with adequate detective skills who works at the exact same precinct as her man. When the episode’s villain-of-the-week (Aaron Douglas’s “Turtle”) interrupts an art gala, Barry dispatches himself from the comfort of a sweet little slow dance with her, and on a dime the Flash shows up to challenge the adversary – with Patty literally in the middle of this series of events. Even here, where our hero’s disappearing and reappearing act is clear as day, Patty is utterly incapable of putting two and two together. It’s extremely upsetting as a viewer, and even more infuriating when this extreme lack of common sense partially leads to Patty’s ultimate decision at the conclusion of the episode. She should’ve known about Barry, or at least had an idea that perhaps he was playing superhero dress-up. Her complete ignorance in this regard seems extraordinarily contrived, especially considering the extremities that are asked of her day job.
The episode wants us to believe that Patty’s leaving because she feels Barry doesn’t love her enough to tell her everything, and that Barry simply said nothing because he’s afraid of the implications of Patty staying with him long-term. I’d be content with all of that if any of it was palpable here, but it never is. I felt like I was constantly being asked to suspend my disbelief so that the show could find an excuse to push Barry’s emotional plight forward; that Patty’s very existence was simply to tell the audience that Zoom is so dangerous Barry can’t risk having an honest relationship right now. It’s poor, rushed writing: seeking a means to an end that wasn’t necessary at this juncture, just to highlight the threat of the antagonist.
“Potential Energy” is far from a bust, but you can tell – even elsewhere – that this installment wasn’t handled with the usual level of care that we’ve come to expect with The Flash. There’s definitely potential (I swear that’s also not a pun) in a lot of what’s going on, but so many of the episode’s developments try to do too much or prove too little. I want to care more about Joe’s push-pull relationship with his long-concealed son, Wally. When the two converse, there’s an irreparable damage to their interaction that illustrates the affects of their decades-long disconnect. They become a compelling case when the dialogue takes over, but the episode takes it upon itself to provide a concrete reason for Wally suddenly showing up in Central City that messes everything up. I refuse to take his street-racing antics seriously, especially as a source of finance to help his mother. Yet here we are, forced to feel remorse for a kid who’s apparently too emotionally torn to apply for a real job. Point is: don’t feed us any of that extra crap. The more this story arc hones in on the father-son dynamic, the better.
If The Flash hinted at Jay’s illness earlier, instead of constantly hitting us over the head with the realization that his powers may not ever translate over on this Earth, maybe I would’ve felt a bit more sad for Caitlin. Unfortunately, it pops up as yet another contrived discovery we now have to suddenly feel emotionally attached to; it’s bad enough that Jay’s presence recently has been decidedly nonexistent. There are better ways to jump back into Caitlin’s poor luck with relationships, and since I’m invested in her as a character, I feel it unfair for the show to randomly throw a curveball like that at the expense of her happiness.
Aaron Douglas guest-starred as the supposed link to stopping Zoom, and his work as The Turtle effectively portrayed some of the “purely good” material in “Potential Energy”. I liked the tense creepiness he displayed, especially in the final showdown between him and Flash, and although his backstory definitely left a lot to be desired, I generally enjoyed seeing him nonchalantly terrorize Central City with his time-slowing prowess.
Having Wells be the one to cite the potential link between Turtle’s abilities and Zoom’s weaknesses also worked, with his yearnings to save his daughter heightening by the hour. It’s amazing how nuanced Tom Cavanaugh’s performance has been this season, but his biggest contribution to the show is keeping us deeply enthralled in this troubled, unpredictable human being. Even as his actions grow more and more volatile, I find myself rooting for Wells to defeat Zoom because his intentions are honorable. He knows more about what his enemy is capable of than anyone else, and is willing to take considerable risks in the hopes of besting him for the sake of his only child. Since earlier flashbacks have distinguished the father-daughter relationship Wells seeks to recapture, I personally want to see him succeed. Team Flash may not agree with everything Wells has recently been up to, but perhaps that’s the point here: for us, the viewers, to have that underlining connection to Wells, and witness how it clashes with the gang going forward. At least he’s got Cisco on his side at the moment.
One last thing: What are we supposed to make of Eobard Thawne miraculously returning? Anyone else thinking that maybe he’s been in Earth 2 conspiring with Wells somehow? Perhaps he was even called by Wells himself to take on Zoom?
Quite a bit happened in “Potential Energy”, and for a post-break installment, that’s usually the preferable choice; you want to get the ball rolling quickly after a long stretch of stagnation. The problem here is that some of these story threads could’ve used either less exposition, or more time fleshing themselves out. In trying to give everyone their fifteen minutes, The Flash finds itself having a hard time being The Flash, and behind some grounded drama and impeccable performances; arbitrary, implausible circumstances ensue throughout.
+ Joe, Wally disconnect explored
+ Wells finds a power play to defeat Zoom
+ The Turtle was a solid villain-of-the-week
– Absolutely no reason to write off Patty
– Jay’s developed a sickness all of a sudden?