It was only a matter of time until The Flash finally decided to dive head-first into the West family’s latest dilemma, as “Fast Lane” sacrificed some screentime elsewhere to give Iris and Joe a few opportunities to clear the air with Wally. Considering how much screentime this drama consumes here, the episode relies heavily on whether or not it sticks with the viewer. And while some probably ate it up and enjoyed the fleshing out, I wished the episode focused on its other, more interesting plot developments instead – including one in particular that totally fell flat on its face.
My main issue on that front is with Wally – not Keiynan Lonsdale’s performance, but the show’s handling of the character. Those who are well aware of Wally West’s comic book persona will get a kick out of his thirst for speed and how it correlates with his troubled history with his mother, but when it came to restructuring his relationship with Iris or Joe The Flash got all arbitrary again. Iris, being the big sister she is, goes completely out of her way to rescue Wally from his drag racing lifestyle (she even threatens to publicly expose the ringleader of the events), but Wally doesn’t truly acknowledge the extent of her concerns until one of his races leads to her getting seriously hurt. Given the context of their sibling relationship, it’s thematically plausible for him to prematurely brush her off up to that point – but having him come to his senses after the fact is too easy. How else was he supposed to react to his actions almost getting Iris killed, other than tending to her care in remorse? I get that he’s spent his whole life not knowing he’s had a sister and is currently reserving some emotions, but the road to that moment between them in the hospital is paved in contrived writing decisions. The episode – and a vast majority of the season beforehand – has Wally play all moody and full of restraint once Iris tries to open his eyes to the reality of his nightlife, then Iris pays for her efforts and all of a sudden he finally wants to have a heartfelt conversation with her?
At least the Wally/Joe dynamic paid reverence to its own context with the show allowing their ruptured father/son relationship to slow burn into the progress we see it experiencing now. The last few episodes of The Flash have painted a decent enough picture of how these two gentlemen feel about one another, and this week made serious strides in finding a middle ground where they could actually bond. Joe initially searched for that middle ground by playing the “cool” dad, welcoming Wally’s past ambitions and his current street-racing engagements. When that didn’t fly with Iris (who, by the way, was pretty darn fantastic this week) and Wally’s antics eventually cost them, he finally realizes what it takes to be the father his son’s been seeking for over a couple decades. That talk with Wally over at the hospital defines the improvement Joe is gaining from their interactions, and afterwards Jesse L. Martin really consumes himself in the role with a swift, well-performed release of anger and vengeance following Iris’s injury that leads to a pair of unnerving physical encounters (that punch to Wells’s face was easily my favorite part of the episode).
Barry’s clinging to Wells following his breakup with Patty immediately reminds us of the budding student/teacher dynamic they Barry had with “fake” Wells a season ago. Both the playfulness and profound underpinnings of a deeper relationship made a stark return, and considering how long it’s taken for Earth-2 Wells to warm up to the S.T.A.R. Labs crew (and vice-versa), I liked the payoff of nostalgia we got here. Grant Gustin and Tom Cavanaugh work extremely well together, but they also understand how to work in the baggage their pasts have produced. So, when Zoom expedites the deadline for Wells to siphon Barry’s speedforce, and Wells can only hint that he’s in deep shit, I can understand why Barry would decide to help Wells save his daughter after Wells admits to his trickery within the team’s headquarters – and I can sympathize with Wells for trying his best to stealthily pull through with his plan for the sake of his own flesh and blood. It’s nuanced stuff, and The Flash treats this material with excellent care this week.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about the week’s latest metahuman, as the episode fails to capture any pathos or compelling interest from either Tar Pit or his backstory. In fact, The Flash never seems to know exactly what it’s going for with him showing up in Central City, and it shows in how sporadically he pops in and out of the story. The intro brings us up to speed on who he was and how he became a metahuman, but the revenge story that follows never gets the slightest chance at fleshing out Joey Monteleone any further. As far as I know, he’s just another run-of-the-mill baddie who was wronged in his past life, and is using the powers he gained from a freak accident to get back at those of which he holds a serious grudge against. His molten/liquid-y powers are cool enough – and the CGI holds up pretty well in that regard – but even they amount to nothing, especially not in the ridiculously brief climax where Joe (!) subdues him. I can’t remember the last time The Flash handled a featured villain so poorly and inconsequentially.
“Fast Lane” is definitely a place mat for next week’s episode of The Flash, considering how Wells’ actions have gathered the team together for an exciting trip to Earth-2. In some ways, that’s a great distinction – the build-up leading to Wells’ confession to the crew is handled magnificently via some fantastic Barry/Wells material. In others, you can tell that the show was pressing to kill time in order to move on to bigger and better things. It’s not that I’m completely against the soap-y West family stuff, or Tar Pit being the featured villain; both aspects deserved better, less-rushed treatment than they got. And as a result, this week’s episode becomes a matter of sitting through some good – and a whole lot of bad – to get to where the show really wants to go.
+Everything about Harry’s struggles to save his daughter and protect his reputation with the team
+Wells/Barry dynamic from last season
+ Joe and Iris each having some standout moments
– Terrible use of Tar Pit and his backstory
– Wally’s warming up to Iris feels too designed